Sr. Nirmala Lazar, FMA Provincial –
The triennial celebrations of the mega centenary of the Figlie di Maria Help of Christians or the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA), affectionately known as the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco, to mark the arrival of the six pioneering European missionaries ended on September 3.
The European missionaries who first set foot on November 22, 1922 in Tanjore, in what is now the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The advent of six Salesian sisters in the pre-independence era in 1922, in Tanjore Chennai, was indeed the year of the opening of a door for the mission. Since then, the congregation has grown more and more and spread all over India.
It was indeed a happy conclusion to the memorable mega centenary celebrations of the FMA India and the INM Province from August 31 to September 4, 2022. The culmination of the celebrations was the visit of the head of the institute Mother General Rev Sr Chiara Cazzuola accompanied by the two general councilors Sr Runita Borja and Sr Ruth del Pilar Mora. Their stay was indeed an important stage in the annals of his Province. The South Asia region also received the Rector Major, Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime, for the celebrations of the centenary of the presence of the FMA in India.
They arrived from Bombay and received a warm and loving welcome inside Chennai Airport at 11:30 a.m. with airport officials inside and outside with members of the educational community. When they entered the provincial house of Kodambakkam, the pupils of the school of Fatima, the Marialaya children of Nandambakkam and the hoteliers of the Notre-Dame center lined up from the door to the gates of the convent, greeting them with pompoms sparkles and waves of scalloped shiny net fabric. The provincial councilors and animators of the Chennai zone expressed their joyful welcome by donning the garland, ponnadai (shawl) and the students by their rhythmic dance and song and arathi (a ceremony in which lights are lit and offered to the gods) according to typical Tamil culture. Mother General responded to the affection of the assembly by thanking the entire Educating Community and praising it for its presence and involvement. They were accompanied to the chapel for a brief moment of prayer during which Mother Chiara lit the traditional Indian lamp (Kuthuvilakku) and said a prayer of thanksgiving.
Later, they were taken to the sanctuaries of Saint Thomas the Apostle, patron saint of our province: Little Mount, Thomas Mount and Santhome Cathedral. A very beautiful and significant event was the Holy Eucharist at the tomb of the saint in the chapel of the crypt of the basilica. The celebrant, Reverend Father Maria Arockiam Kanaga SDB, during the homily, shared the credibility of the presence and martyrdom of Apostle Saint Thomas in Chennai, making it a holy place.
The centenary event began with fervent morning prayers at the chapel of the Convent of Fatima, Kodambakkam. Mother General offered a symbolic tree having many branches with its nests representing all the Sisters, children, young people, women and all our beneficiaries who came under the tree, found refuge and who in turn devoted with zeal to revitalizing the Charism of Don Bosco and Mother Mazzarello responding to the signs of the times in the current socio-ecclesial situation.
The Eucharist was presided over by the beloved Rector Major, Reverend Father Angel Fernandez Artime and concelebrated by the SDB Provincials of Chennai, Trichy and Hyderabad, Bishop I. John Robert, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Vellore, and more than 50 diocesan and Salesian priests. During the homily the Rector Major expressed his joy at being able to thank God together with the whole FMA world for his 150 years of service in the Church and in particular for the marvelous growth of the Salesian charism in India. He recommended to the Salesian Sisters, fidelity to the Charism especially in the service of poor young people and women, saying that there will be a second centenary because of our fidelity. He encouraged young people to always be happy. All participants were overwhelmed with joy and delighted to take personal and group photos with the Rector Major and Mother General. The auditorium was packed with over 1000 people. Many acclaimed that the Generalate of the FMA SDB is in Katpadi, Vellore, with the presence of the Leaders of the two main branches of the Salesian Family. A rare and memorable event indeed!
The next day, the Rev. Sr. Chiara Cazzuola unveiled the Human Resource Development Center (HRDC) plaque. Mother Chiara and the General Councilors exchanged with nearly 1,000 young people from schools in the INM and INT provinces of Chennai. Mother General raised the centenary flag and declared the centenary celebrations open. The joyful occasion was marked by the release of 100 tricolor balloons marking 100 years of presence of the Salesian sisters in India. The doves were released, as a sign of joy, peace and harmony. The presentation on the theme ‘Laudato si’ – ‘Let us take care of our common home – the Earth’, was the highlight of the meeting. Sr. Runita Borja, the General Councilor for Youth Ministry, in her message to young people urged them to take the message home repeating “I belong to you, you belong to me, we belong to God and together we make the world “. “Mother General blessed the gathering with her special message.
The culminating event of the glorious centenary festivities of the FMA presence in India at the PCI level has begun in the vast, nostalgic and enchanting Auxilium campus! All united in unison to raise their voices and sing the praises of the Almighty for the marvels He has accomplished in the lives of our pioneer missionaries and of all the FMA of the past and present.
The grand finale of the celebrations which marked the centenary of the Salesian Sisters in India began with great fanfare at the premises of Auxilium Campus School, Katpadi. The procession of guests began with the release of the doves and with the NCC parade from the Auxilium College of Arts and Sciences Katpadi to the Auxilium Girls Upper Secondary School Marching Band while the beautiful young women of the Auxilium College of Education marched escorted guests to the auditorium with colorful umbrellas.