SILVASSA, UT. OF DADRA & NAGAR HAVELI
St. Thomas Church, Silvassa, has a unique place in the history of Syro Malabar Church. It has its humble beginnings in the deep rooted desire of migrant Syro Malabar catholics to live their Christian life in accordance with their tradition and patrimony. The community started with Holy Mass in Syro Malabar rite in April 2003 onwards by getting priests from different places and from June 2003 itself the community started catechism classes for the children of this community. The teachers were volunteers from the community itself. The medium of instruction was English and Malayalam as the children are studying in English medium schools. The text being followed was brought from Kalyan diocese as the priest who pioneered the catechism classes in Silvassa was the Diocesan Director of Catechism in Kalyan diocese. There were about 30 students in the beginning. The basics of Christian life was taught in Malayalam, Hindi and English combined as the children were not fluent in any particular language. Along with the English text brought from Kalyan diocese, the official text of catechism of Syro Malabar Church in Malayalam was also followed. The children were also given some foundation in learning Malayalam language.
I came to Silvassa in December 2008, deputed by Syro Malabar Church and appointed by the Goa Archbishop as priest in charge of Syro Malabar Catholics of Silvassa and Daman after the Goa Archbishop accepted the reality of existence of St. Thomas Church, Silvassa. From the academic year of 2009 itself, I divided the classes from 1st to 10 dividing them in accordance with their age and their school standards and introduced the official text of the catechism classes of Syro Malabar Church in English language. I also persuaded 10 people to volunteer as teachers. Though the text followed and exam conducted are in English language, the teachers explained the lessons in Malayalam also. There were 45 students in the first year. All the 3 terminal examinations were conducted as is the practice in Kerala. Catechism classes are conducted from 9.00 AM to 10.30 A.M. This is followed by half an hour study of Malayalam language. For this text and practice books are brought from Kerala.
Various persuasive methods were adopted to have regular attendance of the students and also some extra curricular activities were also conducted with the entire parishners in attendance. Attendance register is maintained and regularly checked. All the 3 terminal examinations were conducted and strict evaluation of the answers was done. Parents were exhorted about the need for the religious study and persuaded to bring their children regularly for the Holy Mass and catechism classes. After completion of each chapter, class test is done, terminal examinations and final exams are strictly conducted. Promotion to the next class is done only on passing the final examination. Tests for Malayalam studies were also conducted. Children are given practice in the songs sung during the Holy Mass and it is very heartening to note their active participation.
At present there are 63 students. During the last summer holidays first scholarship examination was conducted and 18 children participated and all of them passed. Prizes were also distributed for the first 3 places. Syro Malabar Church catechism texts are the most systematic texts and after strictly following the syllabus and the examination schedules of our Church, the children have become very much interested in the studies, especially the development and interest of students in the standards of 1st to 6th are very encouraging. This year we have started 11th standard also. The children of higher classes do all the readings during the Mass and I coach them on Saturday evenings for this reading. Because of the systematic method followed in the text books, it has become easier for the children to grasp the matter. This is evident from the progress the children have made. Every child is using the Malayalam handbooks for the Mass. I go round the classes during the catechism and ask questions in each class and this makes the teacher and students more alert and interested.
14 children received First Holy Communion and Confirmation on August 15, 2010. Catechism teachers prepare the children for monthly confessions and children are encouraged to follow this practice prevalent in Kerala.
In the 1st semester examinations conducted this year, out of 63 students only 2 failed and in the re-examination conducted for them, they passed with very good marks. All the catechism teachers are also very co-operative and follow the instructions given to them and the methodical work done during the past 3 years have started showing results in the overall development of the children. From last month onwards we have started conducting cultural competitions for the children from 11.00 to 11.30 AM on the last Sunday of the month and all of them participate very enthusiastically. The interest in learning Malayalam language is also growing. In order to inculcate the missionary spirit in the children, we are planning to involve them in activities of helping the poor and needy.
Syro Malabar Catholics from the neighbouring areas of Vapi and Daman visit the Silvassa church sometimes and they are very much impressed with the progress made in St. Thomas Church, Silvassa. The 50 odd Syro Malabar families in Daman who are also under my care have started conducting catechism classes in the same pattern in their houses as the parish priest has still not given them permission to conduct the classes in their parish church.
Fr. George Kurisummoottil
Priest in charge of Syro Malabar Catholics of Silvassa & Daman