By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Gracious and Hospitable People

You know, I really can't remember the last time I saw an elephant being hauled through town on a flatbed truck. That sight certainly caught my eye as I was being driven through the city of Kottayam, India. I arrived in this country last week to visit five religious communities, some of whose priests are serving in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. The purpose is to meet with the superiors and thank them personally for their generosity towards us.

From my impressions of these first few days, I would say that "generosity" describes well the Indian people. Their welcome has been most gracious and their hospitality very warm. They are even sensitive enough to have mercy on my taste buds and warn me when the food might be spicy and hot! Terminology, I've discovered, is certainly relative. What they describe as mild nearly blows my head off!

My visit will be limited to the state of Kerala in the southwest of the country. It is truly beautiful here; like living in a rainforest. The effect would be very calming, were it not for the driving. Getting in a car here is definitely not for the faint of heart. Road markings are purely decorative, it would seem. Drivers play an endless game of "chicken" with approaching traffic as they overtake cars ahead of them. This is to say nothing of the cows that suddenly decide to enter the melee. Quite conducive, though, to prayer, I must say. As I hang on for dear life, Hail Marys are flying every which way!

Every state has its own language, and that of Kerala is Malayalam. I'm sure I could never learn it. At the same time the national language is English, so communication is not a problem. In fact, the graciousness of the people is a language unto itself. Without a word being spoken, a message of welcome is conveyed.

So, too, is a message of faith. Christians make up only two per cent of India's population, but that small percentage of over a billion people translates into a lot of persons. Most are found here in the south. The faith is strong. Eighty to ninety per cent of the people practice their faith. Small wonder, then at the abundance of vocations to priesthood and religious life. I met many young seminarians last night when I joined the local Bishop for supper at the seminary, and again this morning when I concelebrated mass with him at his cathedral. They are fervent and joyful.

The faith also spills out into the culture. This is the time of year for parishes to celebrate their patronal feasts, and those celebrations invariably include public processions. One also can't help notice an abundance of roadside shrines located frequently along the streets and roadways.

This is a fascinating place with a gracious populace. Spending time with them is a true blessing.