The long Wait for the opening of the door’s to India : Perhaps today we would be celebrating 150 years of Passionist presence in India if in 1849, Fr Antonio Testa of St James had agreed to the request that was made for a Passionist foundation in Bengal. He replied that in light of the foundation that had just been made in England, additional personnel were not available. During the service in India of Bishop Leo Kierkels, C.P., first as Apostolic Delegate and then, following the independence of the country as Pro- Nuncio Apostolic, there was no move to found the Congregation in India except during the final years of the presence of Bishop Kierkels, One reason might be that the missions were the responsibility of a single province and these were oriented towards areas where language or other ties to the mother country existed that would facilitate their work.
A Dream Come true : The decision concerning the foundation in India was made within the new General Curia in light of progress of the foundations in Japan, in the Philippines and the beginning of the promising foundation in Korea. However the Catalyst for the re-opening of the discussion on his matter was a letter from Fr. Raymond Pulvino, a missionary in the Philippines, to Fr. Norbert who suggested that a foundation in India be attempted. The consultor Fr. Norbert Dorsey, was assigned to carry out the project.
In the PIB of January 6, 1980 the General informed the congregation at length about the long road that had been traveled in order to archive at the decision to open a Passionist community in India. In the state of Kerala, in the city and the diocese of Cochin. He explained the plan for the religious who were about to enter India, in accord with the ordinary, Bishop Joseph Kureethara: to preach; to promote experiences of prayer and promote vocations to the congregation. He also noted that the future development of the congregation should be the fruit of the gradual growth of the community.
In the consults of 18-20 March 1980 the choice of volunteer was made for the community that would be establishment in India. They were Fr. Walter Kaelin ( CRUC) who was designated superior of the community., Fr.John Hanion ( Paul). Fr.Philip Smith ( LAT) and it was further decided that their departure would occur as soon as the documentation was ready, hopefully in October 1980.
Patiently awaiting entry visas and residency in India : Frs. Philip Smith and Walter Kaelin went to Cochin on 21 and 22 March 1981 respectively and were warmly received by the Bishop who presented them to the clergy and the catholic community. They immediately began the preaching of missions and retreats. They renovated the house already existing on the property in Pallichal road, a little more than an acre, which was donated by the bishop it was formerly a timber-yard. They called the first community Ashram J.X.P., which the Bishop then blessed on 27 May 1981. The entry had to be done by means of a tourist visa and they had to arrange the length of their stay in the community in such a way that there would always be religious available to replace those who had to leave the country in order to renew their visa. Vocation promotion was blessed by God. The Bishop himself offered four candidates, of whom one preserved and went on to be the first one to be ordained to priesthood. On 13th June 1982 the first 14 candidates began the three-year formation program consisting of one year of vocation orientation and two years of ‘pre-university’ study. On 18th May 1985 the first four novices celebrated their Vestition and subsequently professed vows in 1986. Meanwhile, the chances of obtaining residence permits for foreigners were becoming increasingly difficult. It was beginning to affect the stability of formation due to regular changes of formation personnel who had to exit the country for the purpose of renewing the visas. To address this problem, it was decided to transfer the students to Arusha, Tanzania to study Philosophy and then to Nairobi for theology. On 26th August 1989 the first Passionist Indian religious professed perpetual vows and on 6th April 1991 there was great rejoicing when the first ordination of an Indian Passionist took place in the Cathedral of Arusha. At that time the Indian community had grown considerably and was organized as a Vicariate dedicated to St. Thomas the Apostle, consisting of 7 students of Theology in Nairobi, 5 students of Philosophy in Arusha and 25 postulants in Cochin.
During the Chapter of 1991, the CRUC Province of the USA was given responsibility for the THOM Vicariate of India in 1992 the novitiate was initiated in Bangalore while additional students professed perpetual vows. On 20 May 1993 the student house entitled, “Passionist Jyotir Bhavan” was blessed. There the students who had initially begun their formation in Arusha and Nairobi continued while the top two classes finished all their studies in Nairobi. On 31 may 1993, seven novices made their first profession of vows.
Gradually all formation was again carried out in India with Indian Passionist formation personnel. With assistance of the Congregation and in particular the CRUC province, seven houses were opened and in 2009 the Vicariate was composed of 34 religious in perpetual vows, among them 28 priests, 1 brothers, 4 deacons, 14 clerical students in temporary vows and 2 novices.
The great dream of those who at various points in time desired and attempted to make the Passionist Charisma present in India became a reality. Fr. Walter Kaelin, who had worked so delightly and so lovingly in India is now part of the heavenly communication of saints while ever remaining an example of a religious who was dedicated to the Congregation and who was characterized by a great spirit of human compassion.
Fr. Walter Kaelin wrote in one of his articles entitled, “Life for Life: Paul of cross and world of India.” He wrote “Paul wanted to make himself all things to all people that ‘I might win them for Christ.’ He would do it by preaching the Passion in word and deed. We must never lose that vision.” And he added: “One of the reason why we are in India is because Mother Teresa urged us to come and preach the Passion in a country where there is so much suffering. In particular, she made this appeal”’ Help my sisters pray the Passion, so that they can ever see might lose their vocations.’ Our final though is from a 1751 letter of Paul of the Cross: “Christ’s Passion is the greatest and most astounding work of Divine Love.’ Life for Life. His Life for our Life.”
(this short historical sketch was presented partially by most Rev. Fr. Ottaviano D’ Egidle, C.P., our superior general, on the occasion of the closing ceremony of the silver jubilee celebrations. it has been edited.)