The Delegation of Brothers in India’s involvement in Tsunami services followed the devastation caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami that hit South India on 26th Dec. 2004, and led the Brothers eventually to have a permanent presence and educational ministry for the victims of the tsunami particularly in Nagapattinam. The timely response to the signs of the times which followed commitment after commitment is also a spiritual journey relived in the footsteps of the Founder, as desired by the 43rd General Chapter. It is out of this sense that this expansion has taken place in the Delegation. This new centre was named as “La Salle Kadalisai”. The name Kadalisai (a Tamil word) denotes “the music of the sea”; the name reminds all the people of Nagapattinam that the ocean of La Salle is not frightening or threatening but is music which comforts and brings new life. Bro. Alvaro Rodriquez, FSC, the Superior General approved the Delegation’s move of having this community in Nagapattinam in his letter May 21, 2005. The new community was officially inaugurated by Bro. Mark Murphy, FSC, Delegate, on June 26, 2005. The members of the new community were Brothers Uvari Antony, Director and in charge of the Juniors, Britto Pinto and Josephraj. The Brothers were engaged in the beginning at St. Thomas’ School, Nagapattinam and St. Joseph’s School, Kameshwaram. The Tuition centres and Balwadies (Day care centres) were established with the professional assistance of SJDT. A Juniorate was started and the newly recruited candidates were placed in the community itself, making them to experience the way that the Brothers are ministering to the youth and children of Nagapattinam. There were in the beginning 8 juniors, who studied at St. Antony’s, Nagapattinam.
Bro. Joseph Reid wrote his own observations on Nagapattinam after attending the formal opening of the new community shortly after his arrival in India:
The New Community at Nagapattinam. 25-26 June 2005
Nagapattinam is on the east coast of Tamil Nadu State in South India. It is a place that was devastated by the terrible tsunami of 26th December 2004 and that event will remain forever etched in the memories of those survivors that are there now. The coastline of Tamil Nadu State is a long low lying sandy and shingle beach where many that live close to the shore eke out an existence at fishing. Most of the persons who perished there on that fateful day were directly or indirectly involved in the fishing industry. Many people from all over India reacted to the terrible catastrophe by sending volunteers to help with the clean-up and to give comfort to the survivors. Such was the scale of the devastation that apart from the people who lost their lives there was rubble strewn everywhere and buildings that once were homes were reduced to ruins. Everywhere along the shoreline unimaginable destruction was still very much in evidence long after. The Brothers and their colleagues in our schools got involved in helping the survivors to try and come to terms with the aftermath by collecting the bodies, providing shelter, food and sitting and praying with the survivors. As anyone who has experienced a sudden and unexpected family bereavement will know, it is a time when ones very presence is the only thing that matters to the next of kin. Sitting down with and praying with the survivors is as much a part of the recovery process as the ability to provide material comforts. The Brothers, their colleagues, and students did what they could to attend to the needs of the bereaved and organize the children into school and play groups in the aftermath. Brother Lawrence took twenty-five boys from Boys Town Madurai, to Nagapattinam and Velankani, two of the areas worst affected by the tsunami. They helped in clearing rubble, mending nets and clearing broken boats, and repairing houses. They also set up programs for the children and did their best to help them overcome the shock and fear through various group activities, building up their confidence and trying to instill hope for the future. Other Lasallian groups went to other areas also affected along the long coastline of Tamil Nadu and integrated their efforts with the other Church groups in order to try and maximize the effectiveness of the program of reconstruction. The Brothers were so moved by their experiences that they later decided to become more long term involved in providing a ministry to people profoundly affected by that massive tidal wave resulting from the undersea earthquake off Banda Aceh in Indonesia.
The Brothers brought their dream to fruition when they opened a community on 26th June in the town of Nagapattinam. The community consists of three Brothers and seven Junior Novices. The congregation had longed wished to open a new Juniorate away from South Tamil Nadu in order to attract aspirants from areas other than the Deep South where they are most numerous presently. The stumbling block for a long time was finding a diocese willing to allow the Brothers set up a training centre for to recruit vocations. Naturally, if a young man decided to join the Brothers it was viewed as a possible loss to the priesthood and some viewed the Brothers as being in competition when it comes to attracting young men to join the religious life. Parents, who would otherwise be willing to allow their sons to join the Juniorates at Mangalagiri near Tuticorin or at Kessara in Andra Pradesh State, baulked at the long distances involved in traveling from outside these centres. They, like all parents need to be able to visit their children to see how they are getting on and if they are happy being away from home. Any journey that involved more than one day’s travel was too much in these circumstances and the Brothers needed to be able to extend their apostolate to other parts of India. When the opportunity came for the Brothers to assist in the Tsunami Appeal at Nagapattinam the bishop also graciously consented to allowing them to establish a longer-term presence in his diocese. In doing so he entrusted fourteen village communities to the educational care of the Brothers.
The journey from Madurai to Nagapattinam involved some five and a half hours northeast by road, a distance of about 260 kilometers. The Postulants at Boys Town were engaged to provide music for the liturgical celebration. For many days before the event they practiced the singing and instrumental pieces that they were going to provide. They set off for Nagapattinam at 10.30pm the previous evening and hoped to reach there in time to catch a few hours’ sleep before the time of the liturgical celebration began. The bus wasn’t big enough to accommodate all the sixteen postulants and three remained to travel with the two Brothers who had gone to Boys Village to celebrate the birthdays of two Brothers there. On returning they decided to catch a few hours’ sleep and set off next day at 3.00am to arrive in Nagapattinam at 8.30am. Because of the heat it is more pleasant to travel at night compared with daytime. The vehicles are not replete with air conditioning as might be the case in other countries so the only way to stay cool is to travel with the windows down. One becomes familiar with the noise of other vehicles as well as your own and the smells of countryside and towns and villages not to mention the fumes of the other vehicles plying their way on the narrow winding roads of south India. Some volunteers from California and one young man from Canada joined the Brothers and postulants. By the time everyone was assembled at Nagapattinam there was a large gathering. Brothers, postulants, juniors, volunteers and children from the other Brothers’ apostolates were also assembled. The Mass liturgy was led by Fr. Xavier the parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish nearby and was assisted by two more priests. The postulants provided the singing and music. Brother Mark Murphy the Institute Delegate declared the new community of ‘La Salle Kadalisai’ officially and canonically open and Brother John Fernando the Delegation President delivered the obedience’s to the three Brothers assigned to the new community. After the Mass liturgy ended Brother Britto Pinto one of the new community members organized the felicitations and became the toastmaster. There were speeches, presentations to guests and music. Children from the St. Joseph’s Development Trust Genguvarpatti presented a beautiful dance set to traditional music, as did the children from the houses beside the new residence. When the felicitations were completed the room was rearranged and food and sodas were served to all present. It was a delicious meal.
Before the liturgy celebration got under way and soon after breakfast was served, there was a little time to look around the town. The seashore was just a matter of about one kilometer from the new residence at the nearest point. Brother Alfred and I set off to view the beach opposite the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes. The church was across the road and opposite the lighthouse. We made our way down to the beach and observed the few boats there setting off to catch fish. They looked like new and probably were recently acquired. All around there was rubble from broken and smashed up houses lining the foreshore. It seems that fisher folks had built their houses on the edge of the beach and lived almost at the sea’s edge. All the houses were vacated except for one. While we stood there taking in the scene, a boy of about twelve years cycled down and stopped beside us. He began to relate to Bro. Alfred that he and his family had once lived there. On that fateful morning when the Tsunami struck, he and his whole family had gone to visit their grandmother on the other side of town. When they returned home later that day, he told of seeing bodies strewn everywhere. Most of the houses were destroyed and about two thousand perished in that place alone. The Government forbade the residents who survived from occupying the houses that were not knocked down. On a freshly painted wall near to where we stood there was a long list written in Tamil language of people who had benefited from financial assistance. There were many one off payments of Rupees 32,000 to fisher folks who owned and operated non-mechanized fishing boats. A much shorter list of persons who owned mechanized fishing boats showed that each was paid a once off payment which varied according to the size of the boat that was destroyed. Further along the shore there was evidence that boats had been lifted from their moorings and carried far inland where some still rested. Not many people were to be seen down on the beach even though the town centre wasn’t much further than a stone’s throw away. Piers and jetties were broken and mangled and concrete slabs lay at awkward angles in the vicinity of the large lighthouse. The lighthouse itself was about the only structure that seemed to be completely unscathed by the momentous events of 26th December 2004. It was receiving a fresh coat of paint as we stood there looking up at it. Our attention was drawn the electricity lines that ran along the edge of the beach. The wires overhead could not be much higher than about five meters at most from the ground but we were told that they were completely covered by the water. The water might even have risen to twice the height of the electric wires.
In Velankani near to Nagapattinam there is a shrine that is a renowned place of pilgrimage for patrons from all over Tamil Nadu State and beyond. It was arranged for the postulants to visit there after the celebrations at the Brother’s residence had ended. The basilica of ‘Our Lady of Good Health’ has a strikingly European style about it and indeed Portuguese missionaries founded it. There Our Lady appeared to a young boy whose obligation it was to deliver milk to the King each day. On being asked by Our Lady to give her the milk, he gave all that he had and had nothing to bring to the castle. When he reached there he explained what had happened and was severely scolded for not bringing the milk that he had given away. On his leaving the castle the residents were inundated with milk and it was so much that they began to drown in it. The boy was instructed to ask that a shrine be built in the place where Our Lady had appeared and today a beautiful shrine marks the spot. The scene is also marked over the sanctuary in the nearby parish church that is situated much closer to the beach. Market stalls run from the Church of Our Lady of Good Health right down to the shore. It is a busy thoroughfare being there to benefit from the many pilgrims who go there in droves from all over the state and beyond. Many of the traders live in the small houses behind the market stalls. I’m told that when the tsunami struck, bodies were washed right up to the door of the basilica. Many also drowned inside their houses on that fateful day. However, the practice of making a pilgrimage there has not stopped and many visitors were there when we arrived. A sandy path runs from the basilica to the shrine of Our Lady and on each side of it are the Stations of the Cross and the decades of the rosary spaced at intervals of about twenty-five meters apart. Pilgrims made their way on their knees from the basilica to the shrine on along the sandy path. From here we retraced our journey back to Boys Town reaching home at around midnight.
The residence of the new community is a rented house in the town centre. It is a small dwelling and has no garden attached it. The accommodation is just about adequate for the three Brothers and their seven juniors but will not be adequate for any larger group. To begin a teaching apostolate in Nagapattinam the Brothers will have to try and acquire property to begin a school. They have their eyes on a suitable site and have learned that it will take about $25,000 US to purchase it. It is a very reasonable figure considering the location and the extent of the site. The problem is that they don’t have money to purchase it. As Nagapattinam stands to benefit from the opening of a major canal project between the India mainland and the island of Sri Lanka the cost of property will increase with time. That money amount will not be enough to purchase the site or a similar one in the near future. The Brothers need some generous person or persons to assist them in acquiring a site so that they can plan to build up an apostolate in a town that is very much in need of their presence and educational expertise for the many very needy citizens there.
The Brothers through the assistance of Bro. Thomas Walsh received a project donation in summer 2007 from the ‘Irish Missionary Development Fund’, later to be known as “Misean Cara” (Mission Friend), for the construction of a school building at the newly bought premises acquired earlier by the Brothers where they built the new community residence. A group of Irish volunteers under the guidance of Miss Oife Rush a volunteer leader for many years with Bro. Thomas in Africa came to assist in erecting the building. Hardly had this project gotten under way when problems began to surface. The Thanjavur diocesan authorities raised objections to the Brothers having a school in Nagapattinam. Their grievance was that the school would be in competition with other diocesan institutions competing for children and they were adamant that the Brothers do not set up a school there. Added to these difficulties was the geographical location of the buildings. They were subject to flooding during the wet season. The whole area was a flood zone and access to the buildings became almost impossible during times of heavy rains.
The exercise came up for discussion in many Council meetings and consumed many hours of deliberation among the Delegation councilors as to why there were apparent road blocks with this project. Several studies were undertaken as to what children this school could cater for as the extracts from some of the many Council Minutes show.
Minutes of 19 Jan 2008:
NAGAI STUDY REPORT: The Council was informed that Brothers Ignaci and Antonyswamy were assigned by Bro. President to go to Nagapattinam and explore the possibility of running a school in the present campus after the floods. After going through the report, the members observed the following:
Bro. President informed the Council that the building of the school would go ahead. At a later Council meeting on 13 Dec 2008 further difficulties were revealed.
NAGAI SCHOOL: The Council was informed that the Parish Priest was not ready to give in writing that he will not say Mass in the community. Bro. President said that he would meet the Bishop of Thanjavur only in January/February. Some members recommended that he should follow legal and canon law procedures with regard to starting of Institutions there in Nagai.
NAGAPATTINAM UPDATE: At a later Council meeting Bros. Jegan and Vinnoly were invited to attend and update the councilors on the situation. After listening to their report and deliberating on it the following comments were made by the council members:
Bro. Vinnoly then explained what the present difficulties were:
The Council suggested that the following should be done:
Bro. Alfred and Bro. John Paul along with the Management Committee would form a committee to help Bro. Vinnoly and bring the necessary proposals to the Council for consideration at the next meeting.
The Council and the Brothers were not told by Bro. President that the Bishop of Thanjavur had expressly written to him ordering him not to start a school in Nagapattinam. This information only came to be known when Bro. David Hawke, Delegate made a visit to Thanjavur to meet with the bishop concerning the Brothers school at Nagapattinam. He told the Council that the diocesan consulters were meeting of 8 Jan 2010 would discuss the matter and inform the Brothers of their decision.
Council meeting 20 Dec ‘09
Bro. David’s meeting with Thanjavur Bishop:
Bro. President had already handed over a letter of apology to the Bishop with Bro. Arulsamy for starting the school in spite of his written refusal. In this context, Bro. David met the Bishop and though he was in praise of Brothers’ rehabilitation works, he was not at all happy about starting a school. Therefore, when Bro. David asked him about his opinion on continuing the school, the Bishop said that ‘this will be discussed in the January 8th meeting of Consulters and a decision will be taken at that meeting’. The Council Members felt that Bro. President should have passed on the written refusal of the Bishop to the Council; some said that it has been a problem since its inception; one member wanted the school to be closed down. The members felt that Bro. David formally should write a letter requesting the Bishop’s permission and wait for his response in January.
The Thanjavur Diocesan Consulters recommended to the bishop that the school having been started should continue but that the Brothers are forbidden to upgrade it to a higher level. They further recommended that the Brothers continue with the works of running Tuition centres and Balwadies that they had already started when they first came to Nagapattinam.
This decision was unfortunate given the location of the school which was just a stone’s throw from a housing estate of four thousand tsunami relief houses built by the government to house those displaced by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Further to the west side, of the school were another two thousand tsunami relief built houses just a walking distance from the La Salle Kadalasai Nursery & primary School. The relief services that the Brothers provided at Nagapattinam in the running of tuition centres after the tsunami was dependent on tsunami relief funds that had since become exhausted. These tuition centres had ceased functioning as a result. The Brothers continued running La Salle Nursery and Primary School, Nagapattinam but under severe constraint from the diocese due to the bishop’s refusal to reconsider his decision to allow the school to be upgraded.