By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 4, 2015
NORCROSS—The Indian Catholic community in the Atlanta Archdiocese celebrated the feast of the Assumption of Mary with the statue of Our Lady of Vailankanni (Our Lady of Good Health)—the officially sanctioned Marian apparition of India—carried in the procession as Mass began, decorated with flowers and garlands.
The Indian culture on Saturday, Aug. 15, at St. Patrick Church, Norcross, was seen in other ways, too. The Prayers of the Faithful were read in several regional Indian languages. The choir sang a Communion meditation in the Tamil language. Some women wore traditional brightly colored saris.
The day was organized in gratitude for the Indian priests and sisters who left their homeland to serve the church in the Atlanta Archdiocese, said organizer Danny Sequeira, a longtime parishioner of St. Patrick Church. It was arranged with the help of the Atlanta Indian Catholic Association.
In the past, American priests went to India as missionaries and now Indian priests are serving here, he said. A highlight was to see the harmony among people of different faiths, nationalities and backgrounds at the celebration, said Sequeira.
Several priests who are natives of India joined Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, the main celebrant, at the altar.
There are three native Indian priests among the clergy of the Atlanta Archdiocese and one of Indian descent: Father Neil Dhabliwala, pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Church, Dahlonega, who was born in Canada of Indian parents; Father Balappa Selvaraj, on assignment in India; Father Jose Kochuparampil, parochial vicar at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta; and Father Gaurav Shroff, parochial vicar at St. Joseph Church, Athens. Father Dhabliwala was not able to attend the Mass due to a scheduling conflict.
There are other Indian priests serving in the archdiocese who are members of religious orders, particularly the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales. Those concelebrating the Mass included Father Joseph Mullakkara, Father Sunny Punnakuziyil and Father Mathew Varkey, who are from that congregation, and Father Joseph Puthuseril. Blessed Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity who serve at the Gift of Grace House in Atlanta also came to the Mass.
Father Shroff said in an email that he hadn’t been aware of the activities of the Indian Catholic community until recently.
“I was thrilled when I got the invite. That the archbishop would come to celebrate Mass with us was a tremendous delight and blessing,” he wrote.
The day coincided with the 69th Indian Independence Day. Among the civic leaders in attendance at the Mass were the consul general of India in Atlanta, Nagesh Singh, the vice counsel general, Thimothy Jetty, and a representative of Gov. Nathan Deal. Sequeira said more than 400 people attended.
Father Shroff said he was glad to see the representatives of the Indian government.
“We are tremendously grateful for the support and presence of the representatives of the Indian Republic at a time when the minority Christian community in India faces suspicion and persecution in some places,” he said by email.
Sequeira said there are cases of persecution against Christians across Asia, so he made a point to invite Catholics and Christians from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to join in the celebration. Since it was also a civic celebration, Sequeira invited Muslims, Hindus and people of other faiths from India to attend. After Mass, a dinner and a cultural show highlighted the food and dance of the country.