On a Mission

Macrh 17-23, 2005
VOL 124 NO. 10
On a Mission
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
NORWICH — Father Douglas Cunningham and members of the parish of the Church of the Holy Apostles are on a mission to help improve the lives of people in Africa and India.

The mission began four years ago, when St. Bartholomew’s Parish and St. Paul’s Parish combined into one parish — the Church of the Holy Apostles. After realizing that he needed assistance in managing the newly-expanded parish, Father Cunningham made arrangements for four sisters from the Sisters of the Holy Cross in India to come to Norwich. The headquarters for the Sisters of the Holy Cross is located in India, but it has missions in 14 other countries. The original Sisters of the Holy Cross order was founded in France in the 1800’s. The mission in India sent the four sisters to Norwich with the understanding they would send any money that they didn’t need for their support to the mission in Tanzania, Africa. The sisters have sent 80-90 percent of their money to Africa, with the intention of educating the African sisters to become teachers, nurses and physician’s assistants.

The four sisters, who are from the Trichy Province in India, have been extremely helpful to the parishioners. “We love having them here,” said parishioner David Kirsch. “They are wonderful women.” Sister Harry Gnanaprakasam (Sister Alice) teaches religious education and Sister George Sheena (Sister Sheena) teaches computer technology at Holy Family School. Sister Cellappan Jacquiline Mary (Sister Jackie) and Sister Soosai Raj Rose Mary (Sister Rosy) both serve as parish ministers.

Last September, the provincial in Trichy asked Father Cunningham and parishioners David and Marianne Kirsch to visit her mission in Africa, as it was about to celebrate it’s 25th anniversary. All three decided that it would be a wonderful opportunity. They stayed in Africa almost three weeks. David and Marianne were invited because they had helped the sisters in their transition to living in the U.S. The Kirschs were interested in visiting Africa because of the fields in which they work. David is a music teacher at Perry Browne Intermediate School and Marianne is director of nursing at the Chenango County Nursing Department.

When Marianne first considered taking the trip, she was worried about the diseases they would be exposed to in Africa. But she then realized that there were precautions they could take against contracting the diseases. The trio drove through the outback of Tanzania and Kenya as they visited six different missions.

The sisters in the mission houses oversee the school and medical care in each area. Marianne was impressed with the sisters she met. “They are the most incredible women I have ever met,” remarked Marianne. “They are strong, faithful, courageous and are working against all odds. I was wishing some of my nurses could see the conditions I witnessed. The problems we have here are nothing compared to what the sisters deal with. They have next to no drugs for treating malaria, cholera and typhoid. They have no clean water.”

David thought the trip to Africa was a wonderful experience. “It was a fantastic opportunity to go, and it changed me forever,” said David. “I’ll never be the same.” One element of the trip that impressed him was an elementary school in the city of Dar es Saalam in Tanzania. David provided 250 kazoos (a small instrument) to each of the schoolchildren. He remembers how their faces lit up when he gave them the kazoos. “They had big grins on their faces,” said David. “They went home and put them under their pillows as they slept.”

David witnessed heartbreaking poverty as he toured Africa. The group encountered the poorest of the population in Mololo. In that community, the children walked for two hours to get to school after not having breakfast. If the sisters working in the school had any excess money, they prepared porridge for the children. The teacher had one piece of chalk and a rag to work with. David noticed that despite the poverty in which the children were living, they appeared to be happy. “The trip made a lot of sense to me because I am studying to be a deacon,” explained David. “I’m more aware of what the need is because I’ve been there.”

The 25th anniversary celebration in Morogoro was meaningful for Father Cunningham. He was impressed by the joyfulness of the natives. The celebration consisted of a Mass that was filled with music and dancing and was attended by sisters from six different missions. African music was played while children from the local schools performed native dances. Swahili was spoken throughout the Mass.

As they were travelling in Africa, the group encountered the Masai tribe. The nomadic Masai tribe is fierce and warrior-like. “The tribe was wonderful to us,” said David. “The natives taught us about God. They have a deep faith.” During the welcoming ceremony, the natives spoke about what they had to be thankful for and about how God was present in their lives.

After the trio returned to the U.S., the parishioners of the Church of the Holy Apostles decided to help the people in Africa. Because they were concerned about the lack of clean water, the parishioners wired money to the natives in Mololo so that a well could be dug. They also sent money for purchasing solar panels so that they would have a source of power. In an attempt to help, Father Cunningham listed the needed medical and school supplies in the church bulletin. He asked the local hospital for any medicines that could be donated for the cause. As a result, the sisters were able to open another clinic in Africa with the medicines that were sent over.

The parishioners of the Church of the Holy Apostles also found it in their hearts to contribute $12,000 to help the victims of the tsunami disaster. In January, Father Cunningham and his two sons, D.J. and Alex traveled to India to give these funds to the sisters’ community in Trichy.

Father Cunningham and his two children visited schools, an AIDS clinic, a hospital, a university, an orphanage, an alcohol rehabilitation center and a retirement community while they were in India. At each place they visited, they were anointed on the forehead. While touring the Trichy Holy Cross Orphanage, Father Cunningham was especially moved when he saw a baby that had been abandoned at birth. The sisters told him that they had named her “Star” since she had been born on Christmas.

The sisters feel that they are doing God’s work. Father Cunningham has ultimate respect for the sisters. “They are willing to leave what they have in order to help other people improve their lives,” remarked Father Cunningham.

Traveling to Africa and India had a profound affect on Father Cunningham. “I felt the power of sacrifice and the Spirit in other parts of the world,” said Father Cunningham. “My journey gave me hope that the true meaning of Christ is still around us. It deepened my roots and helped me to look up to the sky.”

Contributions to the “Helping Hands for Tanzania” can be made by contacting the Church of the Holy Apostles at (607)-336-2222.

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