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25 YEARS IN HIS STEPS


By Johny Nedungatt sdb
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Kolkata, Feb. 23.

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The Novitiate of Kolkata province, Nazareth Bhavan celebrated its silver jubilee on the 18th and 19th of  February  in the presence of the provincials of Kolkata and New Delhi along with the former novice masters, the ten silver jubilarians and a large number of  religious and priests.
The silver jubilee celebration consisted of a Salesian gathering on the 18th evening and a Holy Mass on the 19th with the religious and clergy of the dioceses of Jalpaiguri and Bagdogra.   Speaking of the special Salesian gathering, organized in the typical novitiate ‘family gathering’ style,  Fr. Puncha, the first novice master and currently working in Bolivia, said, “The name Nazareth was chosen to have the spirit of the family of Nazareth and that was seen in this evening’s  programme.” About 40 Salesians came together to relive the ‘precious memories’ of yester years of the novitiate community.  The Jubilee was also an occasion for the ten Salesians from the first batch of 21 novices to gather and celebrate together their stories of faithfulness. Fr. James Chacko, a silver jubilee celebrant said, “It was a joyful experience to come together with the master.”   One of the high lights of the gathering was the ‘press conference’ with all the novice masters conducted by the novices.  On asked whether it is easier to be a missionary or to form a missionary, Fr. Puncha  said that it is easier to be a missionary  than to form one.  As the gathering took momentum there were moments when in groups of past bursars, socius, assistants competed with one another to a  win a prize from the various items.   The grand finale was the Basket ball match between the Salesians from the first year with those of the second batch played typically in Salesian style where even Br. Varkey, the first bursar of Siliguri forgot his age !!!

The second day began with a prayer experience taking those present down the memory lane, reliving the graced moments of  Nazareth Bhawan.  Welcoming everyone to the celebration of thanksgiving, the Director of novices said: “Our celebration can be summarized in three words: remembering, rejoicing and renewing. … Turning silver would mean to do repair work where needed, providing support system where it is missing,  and  reinforce the weak links of life.  We have a collective responsibility.”   The Holy Mass presided over by the provincial with over 40 concelebrants along with a large number of religious and friends of Nazareth Bhawan community was the focal point of the celebration.  In the homily Rev. Fr. Provincial  reminded the assembly that the jubilee, particularly of the novitiate,  is a celebration of the fidelity of God. “We are called, said Fr. Provincial, “to discover what God wants.”  The two-day celebration came to an end with a festive meal.

Nazareth Bhavan, the novitiate community of Kolkata Province will complete 25 years in formation ministry in the present location  in May this year. The novitiate began temporarily in 1980 at Polsonda More, a mission parish managed by the Salesians in the district of Murshidabad in W. Bengal.  While the novitiate formation process commenced in Polsonada More the construction of the building  in Siliguri was taken up in November 1980.  The first batch of novices at Polsonda More under the direction of Fr. Joseph Punchekunnel, affectionately known as ‘Fr. Puncha” began a process of formation, the fruit of which is visible in the  quality services rendered by the ten Salesians of that first batch of Nazareth Bhavan.

The spirit of Nazareth Bhavan planted in Polsonda More was transplanted to Siliguri on the 31st of May, 1981 with the arrival of 19 pre-novices to commence their novitiate.  That marked the long journey of 25 years in Siliguri – serving as the gateway to 555 young men, including the present group of novices, many of whom opted to remain as  Salesians.  The hard work put in by the novices of the early years have borne fruit  in transforming a barren and deserted place into a greenery land dotted with fruit trees and vegetable gardens.  

Turning silver beckons the men who were at the helm, Fr. Joseph Punchekunnel, Fr. John Berger, and Fr. Mathew Pulingathil and their associates to rejoice for continuing that fidelity of God even in the midst of weak and fragile human response.  We rejoice for out of 537 novices who have passed through this novitiate, 109 are in Salesian ministry as priests or brothers and 129 are in various phases of formation.  Celebrating jubilee  is reassuring our future of the constant faithfulness of God and to recognize the space God provides in our collective lives for those who struggle and stagger both as formators and formees.
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