Author: George Aranha Genre:
ISBN: 978-93-80739-54-0 Price (PB) : Rs. 400 Mail Enquiry
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These memoirs highlight powerfully the agony and the ecstasy of a religious vocation and the call to priestly ministry. Through real-life experiences, Fr. George, who is widely known as an engaging storyteller, shares his journeys and discoveries. The narrative covers his childhood and family upbringing, growing up Catholic in India with its multi-cultural and multi-religious landscape and all the joys and challenges of becoming a priest and living the priestly life as an immigrant, international priest in the United States of America. “I am where God wants me to be” is Fr. George’s life defining ‘aha’ moment, which enables him to love being a priest and to conclude that Everything is Grace.

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INDIAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS FIND A GROWING NEW ROLE IN THE WEST

The tide has turned so much so that today a growing number of Catholic priests from India travel to, stay on and settle in the United States to minister to the needs of the faithful there.

The just-released second edition of a book looks at this trend, and at the priests’ challenges there and what their new lives means to them.

For some centuries and till quite recently, India was itself a destination for missionaries, with some settling here from the 14th century onwards, a process that picked up with the
advent of the Portuguese in the late 15th century.

*Everything is Grace*, by the earlier Bombay-based priest George Aranha, Ed.D., says: “More and more of the priests who are active in this country (the US) are immigrants like me from other countries. The fact of the matter is that I have never seen myself only as an immigrant priest. Wherever I go, I adapt and I feel right away at home.”

Aranha’s 328-page book is now in its second edition, and seeks to explain to audiences at two distant ends of the globe issues from the lives of priests both in their original
and new homes.

“These memoirs highlight powerfully the agony and the ecstasy of a religious vocation and the call to priestly ministry. Through real-life experiences, Fr. George, who is widely known as an engaging storyteller, shares his journeys and discoveries,” introduces the blurb.

Aranha cites figures to point out that, between 1965 and 2005, the number of Catholic diocesan and religious priests in the US fell from 58,632 to 42,839. At the same time, the
US Catholic population grew from 45.6 million to 64.8 million. Ordinations, seminarians, religious brothers and sisters have also declined in number, while the parishes have grown.

“The number of Catholics in the United States has consistently grown because of an increase in conversions, births as well as in immigration from Mexico, Central America, South America, the Philippines, Vietnam and several other countries. Yet, the number of priests has not kept up with the demands and the needs of the Church,” he writes (p.204).

“There are fewer priests because of deaths, retirements and a shortage of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life,” notes Aranha (64), who is still remembered by some for
his work in the parishes of Bombay (now Mumbai).

He says that in the last two centuries too, the US itself had being receiving missionaries from elsewhere — to serve the needs of immigrants from European nations. But they were
Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese, with the vast majority coming from Ireland.

Between the 1940s to the 1960s, there were many “homegrown” vocations. Then, in 1965, the US Congress passed laws to allow immigration from parts of the world other than Western Europe, he notes.

Aranha celebrates his own choice, as the title of his book suggests. He says: “[E]ven after thirty-five years of continuous, active, sacerdotal ministry, I love being a Catholic priest”. He is currently serving at the Santa Teresa Parish, on Calero Avenue, and first arrived in Santa Clara near the west coast some three decades ago. The tide has turned so much so that today a growing number of Catholic priests from India travel to, stay on and settle in the United States to minister to the needs of the faithful there.

The just-released second edition of a book looks at this trend, and at the priests’ challenges there and what their new lives means to them.

For some centuries and till quite recently, India was itself a destination for missionaries, with some settling here from the 14th century onwards, a process that picked up with the advent of the Portuguese in the late 15th century.

*Everything is Grace*, by the earlier Bombay-based priest George Aranha, Ed.D., says: “More and more of the priests who are active in this country (the US) are immigrants like me from other countries. The fact of the matter is that I have never seen myself only as an immigrant priest. Wherever I go, I adapt and I feel right away at home.”

Aranha’s 328-page book is now in its second edition, and seeks to explain to audiences at two distant ends of the globe issues from the lives of priests both in their original and new homes.

“These memoirs highlight powerfully the agony and the ecstasy of a religious vocation and the call to priestly ministry. Through real-life experiences, Fr. George, who is widely known as an engaging storyteller, shares his journeys and discoveries,” introduces the blurb.

Aranha cites figures to point out that, between 1965 and 2005, the number of Catholic diocesan and religious priests in the US fell from 58,632 to 42,839. At the same time, the US Catholic population grew from 45.6 million to 64.8 million. Ordinations, seminarians, religious brothers and sisters have also declined in number, while the parishes have grown.

“The number of Catholics in the United States has consistently grown because of an increase in conversions, births as well as in immigration from Mexico, Central America, South America, the Philippines, Vietnam and several other countries. Yet, the number of priests has not kept up with the demands and the needs of the Church,” he writes (p.204).

“There are fewer priests because of deaths, retirements and a shortage of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life,” notes Aranha (64), who is still remembered by some for his work in the parishes of Bombay (now Mumbai).

He says that in the last two centuries too, the US itself had being receiving missionaries from elsewhere — to serve the needs of immigrants from European nations. But they were
Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese, with the vast majority coming from Ireland.

Between the 1940s to the 1960s, there were many “homegrown” vocations. Then, in 1965, the US Congress passed laws to allow immigration from parts of the world other than Western Europe, he notes.

Aranha celebrates his own choice, as the title of his book suggests. He says: “[E]ven after thirty-five years of continuous, active, sacerdotal ministry, I love being a Catholic priest”. He is currently serving at the Santa Teresa Parish, on Calero Avenue, and first arrived in Santa Clara near the west coast some three decades ago.

His book is full of reminiscences. The 1950-born Konkani-origin priest of Mangalorean origin describes what was like “growing up Catholic in India” in times which were tough for India. Gender inequality, poverty, and the author’s Portuguese-influenced name (which literally means ‘Spider’) are also explained.

“Sometimes today an America might ask me: ‘But what is your real Indian name?’ Americans are generally surprised that both my parents and all my siblings, including me, have strong English and Christian names,” he writes.

His growing up in a large family — with parents and nine siblings living in one large room — makes for the setting for the story, the Bombay of the 1950s and 1960s. There were childhood games of Seven Tiles, Spinning Tops, Marbles and Gilli Danda (“a game with a long stick that is used to hit a smaller, sharpened piece of wood, while your opponents try to catch it with their bare hands”).

Aranha talks about his crushes as an adolescent, and his latter entry into the seminary. “The year 1967 was a banner year for Holy Name High School (in Bombay). Six seniors from my class, including me, decided to become Catholic priests. One entered the Jesuit novitiate, and the others joined Pius X College Seminary, in the suburban town of Goregaon, Bombay.”

In those times, Spanish Jesuit professors and administrators ran the Seminary. Today, notes Aranha, India itself has the second largest number of Jesuit priests and brothers in the world, only giving further hint of changing trends.

The mosquito-ridden locality of Goregaon’s seminary looked wealthy but really wasn’t. “Since we all came from relatively poor families, no fixed tuition was expected, just whatever the family could afford to donate,” says he.

Seminary discipline, feasts, religious with a talent for cartooning, white cassocks with blue sashes, the sudden death of an elder brother, visiting their grandparents’ farm as city slickers, his parents’ families, and leaving for Rome to study Philosophy and Theology with the then maximum-allowed limit of just 21 British pound sterling in his pocket… all went into making life then.

Falling back on the story-teller skills of a skilled preacher, Aranha tells how at the Via di Torre Rossa in Rome, he gained inter-cultural experiences with students of multiple languages and ethnic origins.

“Thus, I got introduced to new foods and new cultural habits. I began to notice some of the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies of my classmates. The Nigerians taught me to play tennis, and I also noticed that they would always laugh heartily, while bobbing their heads, when a new person was introduced to the group.

“The Sri Lankans were generally quiet and well mannered, almost to the point of being shy and reserved. The Australians were difficult to understand, at first, because they spoke English with a heavy ‘down under’ accent…. Besides India, there were representatives from other British [ex]colonies like Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, Liberia, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and so on.”

Aranha narrates his travels through Europe, picking up new languages through immersion in the summer — French, Spanish, German, Italian. He also hitchhiked through Europe.

We learn of the strange story of what happens at the airport when the author returns back eagerly in 1975. He was assigned to the Sacred Heart parish in Santa Cruz, Bombay, and narrates his experiences with poor children from the Golibar slum nearby.

Suggesting that much remains to be done, he also sets the context: “Catholicism has made a huge positive impact in India through her schools, colleges, hospitals and care for the aged and the needy. Even Indian politicians who hate the British and the colonial past of Europe want to send their children to Catholic schools and colleges.”

Aranha mentions his encounter with the Jesuit popular speaker Fr Anthony de Mello, SJ; his stint at the St Ignatius Church, at the Sath Raasta locality of Bombay which was surrounded by poverty; his shift to the wealthy suburban parish of St Andrew’s; and being part of the team of the Charismatic ‘Life in the Spirit’ Charismatic retreats all over India.

From there on the scene shifts to Boston, and travels through Europe — but at each place there are some lessons to be learnt from the incidents emerging. Aranha studied audiovisual technology in Europe, with advice from the well-known Spanish Jesuit, Fr Balaguer.

Some tough home-truths of returning to a home he longed for get described. In Chapter 7, titled ‘A Fish Finds the Ocean’, Aranha gets permission from the archbishop to serve as a priest in the USA. Much of the remaining 125 or so pages of the book is based on his life there.

“Some want to know why these immigrant priests are coming here when they are needed more urgently in their own mission lands…. At one time priests from the United States went to other countries to evangelize; so it’s only fair, [others] say, that immigrants now come in this direction to spread the Gospel,” he comments.

In discussing the issue, he mentions the decline in religiosity in the West, and “may be a lack of desire for long-term commitment” with modern culture being dominated by “instant foods, quick fixes and multiple choices”. Aranha comments: “This makes a priest an endangered species.”

Aranha narrates his own experiences with gaining US nationality, while earning his PhD also becomes the source for a number of take-home lessons. In his view, a priest needs to have a number of co-existing abilities: be a believer, a reconciler, a celebrant of divine and human mysteries, a listener, a preacher, a man of prayer and an administrator.

Encountering casinos, the lessons that golf teaches you, and so on are other themes that get focussed on. (“It is said that Golf and Prayer are alike: in both of them it’s important to keep your head down.” p. 217) And: “research conducted in parishes has shown that people who come to church look for good music and an inspiring homily.” (p.226)

One learns from the example of Louise Benson, the founder of Martha’s Kitchen — a collaborative network that provides literally millions of free meals and has a mission to “feed the hungry with dignity, no questions asked, no judgement made”. She, incidentally, was a parishioner at a church that Aranha served.

This is a story suffused with personal experiences, unexpected twists, lessons learnt from the most ordinary of events, and the overall sense of gratitude for the blessings of daily life. It also list the triumphs and tribulations of religious life. Aranha attempts to dig out the lessons learnt and share them with his readers in two continents.

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Price in India: Rs 400
Price in the US: US$25.