Fr. General’s visit to Ambikapur, the land of Jatangi flowers, on February 25-26, 2017 will be engraved in gold in the history of Madhya Pradesh Province. Fr. Arturo Sosa, the 31st Superior General of the Society of Jesus, made a historic journey by 10-seater chartered plane PC-12 NG from Jabalpur, popularly known as Sanskardhani, a city of culture to Ambikapur, 441 kms east of Jabalpur in Chattisgarh State. Ambikapur is the heart of Surguja District predominantly inhabited by tribals.
Landing at Darima airport, 17 kms west of Ambikapur, in low light was a major concern for the pilots because there is no night landing facility. Though the take-off from Jabalpur was already late, the pilots planned the trip so skilfully that there was a perfect match between the touchdown at Darima airport and the sunset. Fr. General and the team kept their fingers crossed and released a deep breath of ease at the successful touchdown and applauded the pilots for the safe landing.
Fr. General was accompanied by three General Counsellors - Fr. Vernon D’Cunha (Bombay), Assistant ad Providentiam and Regional Assistant for South Asia, Fr. Lisbert D’Souza (Bombay), General Counsellor and Regional Assistant for South Asia, Fr. Tomasz Kot (Greater Poland), General Counsellor and Regional Assistant for Central and Eastern Europe.
On de-boarding the plane, Fr. General and the General Counsellors were received by a big group of Jesuits, Religious Sisters, lay collaborators and government officials including Dr. Ajay Tirkey, the Mayor of Ambikapur. The 35-minute drive from the airport to Ambikapur through fields and small hamlets was fascinating. Along the road there were many hoardings in welcome of Fr. General by different organizations both government and non-government.
The sight in the campus of St. Xavier’s School cannot be captured in words. The school children were standing on both sides of the road from the main gate to the school building, almost quarter-of-a-kilometre, waving colourful flags in welcome of Fr. General. The students of B. Ed College performed beautiful tribal dance at drum beat. The drum beat was so captivating that Fr. General could not remain non-responsive; he joined the jubilant group with a slow and graceful swing matching with the drumbeat.
Keeping the traditions of tribals, the feet of Fr. General and General Counsillors were ceremonially washed at the entrance of the Jesuit Residence. This marks the highest honour given to the guests in tribal culture. The evening was coulored with colourful tribal exhibits. The students of St. Xavier’s’ School, Teacher Trainees and the Koraku Tribal children of Dhanwar performed seasonal Oraon, Chhattisgarhi and Sondo dances. Fr. General, in his brief address, drew some similarity between our tribal culture and the culture of his country, Venezuela.
St. Xavier’s campus houses St. Xavier’s Elementary, Middle and Higher Secondary Schools, Minor Seminary, B. Ed. College, and Loyola Hostel for college students. It is one of the oldest educational hubs in the town.
February 26 started with the blessing of the newly built Minor Seminary (Apostolic School) by Fr. General, Fr. Vernon D’Souza and Fr. Tomasz Kot followed by the deliberation of Fr. General and an interaction with the Jesuits working in Chhattisgarh in the new building. At the outset, Fr. Satya laid in a nutshell Fr. General’s works and achievements. Fr. Kalyanus Minj presented tribal jackets as tribal souvenirs to Fr. General and his Counsellors. The deliberation and interactions were very lively and enriching. Fr. General highlighted the important fruits of GC 36 in four words: life-mission, discernment, collaboration and networking.
Immediately after the interaction with the Jesuits Fr. General celebrated Holy Eucharist in the cathedral of Ambikapur diocese which was concelebrated by Rt. Rev. Patras Minj, SJ, the bishop of Ambikapur Diocese, His Grace Rt. Rev. Pascal Topno, SJ, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Bhopal and nearly 150 priests. “Rowing into the Deep” was the theme of the Holy Mass. Three groups of women with kharsa (pots decorated with ears of rice) on their heads led in procession the clergy from the entrance of the church to the altar. The Mass was celebrated in English but the singing was in Hindi. Homily was bilingual – Fr. General preached in English and Fr. Kalyanus Minj translated it into Hindi. At the end of the Mass many faithful flocked to have a handshake with Fr. General and many were seen with tears of joy after meeting him.
The afternoon was devoted to the collaborators. Fr. General told the collaborators that all Christians are collaborators in doing the mission of Christ. Underscoring the importance of the role of lay collaborators he said, “Future of the Catholic Church depends on laity. Therefore, the work of the Church continues through laity. This is why the GC 34 stated that we should continue the mission through collaborators.”
~Fr Jerome Minj, SJ & Fr Ranjit Tigga, SJ