The 30th June 2017, the feast of Blessed Gennaro Sarnelli, marks a special day in the history of the young V. Province of Majella. The V. Province of Majella was invited by the Bishop of Nashik Diocese in Maharashtra, India, to take up the pastoral care of a small rural parish consisting of 10 villages covering an area of 10 Kms with a total of 196 Catholic families in these villages. The Bishop solemnly inaugurated the Redemptorist Mission Community and Presence in the Mission Station of Panodi in Nashik Diocese dedicated to St. Joseph. A contract was signed by the Bishop and the V. Provincial of Majella for the Redemptorist Presence for two years with the hope of a more permanent foundation and the erection of a parish after two years. The Redemptorist Mission community for the present will consist of two confreres Fr. Neville Fernandes and Fr Merwin Victor with Fr. Neville as the Priest in Charge of the mission. The mission (10 villages which are part of a larger parish of 60 villages) is now handed over to the Redemptorists to care for the pastoral needs of the people and from this mission to serve in the Diocese through preaching missions, retreats, recollections and offer a unique Redemptorist presence in the Diocese, truly being witnesses to the Redeemer in solidarity for mission to a wounded world.
These 196 families who are all daily wage labourers in the farms of the rich landlords were converted to Catholicism in the 1950s and 1960s by the work of the German Jesuit missionaries. In the years that followed due to a lack of vocations to the Jesuit order, lack of interest among the local clergy to care for the pastoral needs of the poor of the countryside many of these villages were not served. At the moment each village is able to see a priest and celebrate mass once in 2 or 3 months. As a result, many of these families have left the Catholic Church and have either gone to different Christian sects or do not just practice the faith. The work is simple and plain: Truly Alphonsian, a call to re-evangelize these people and care for their pastoral needs. Each village will now have a weekly mass, the regular celebration of the sacraments, catechesis, evening prayer services and gradually different social projects that will enable them to live their faith with joy and vigour.
On the 30th June 2017, there were 300 people who sacrificed a day’s wage by not going to work but came for the inaugural mass some of them walking 5 to 6 Kilometers to be present for the celebration and to welcome the missionaries. For the moment the two Redemptorists will live in the sacristy until suitable accommodation is built behind the little chapel dedicated to St. Joseph. The people themselves with gratitude are building the residence for the Redemptorists as they are overwhelmed to have for the first time not just one resident priest but a Religious community in their midst.
The Missionary Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help which is in the V. Province on pilgrimage and which will remain in the V. Province was carried for the occasion and the people welcomed the Mother of God with traditional festivity. It is under her patronage and blessing that this Redemptorist outreach to the abandoned poor of the countryside has begun.
Joseph Ivel Mendanha, C.Ss.R.