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Goan Catholic families to open homes, hearts to 2,000 delegates

Nov. 11, 2013

For three days, over 2,000 delegates from across the country will break bread and share a roof with Goan Catholic families in a unique intercultural bonding, aimed at sharing the faith and strengthening small Christian communities (SCCs).  The occasion is the first-ever SCCs national convention to be held in a pandal outside the Basilica of Bom Jesus from November 19 to 21, with Goa's scenic ambience and cultural heritage as a backdrop.  The guests will start arriving on November 17 and 18 and head straight to their "homes" in various parts of the state. "We hope they will enjoy our hospitality for which we are famous and carry back a good image of Goan people," says John Paul Noronha, a parishioner.  The Noronhas, like many other families in the state, will host a delegate in their Aldona home. "Goa has 150-odd parishes, but not all will host them due to various reasons. Still, we are trying to ensure that as many families as possible can accommodate guests across the length and breadth of Goa so that many may benefit from the historic event," says Fr Anthony Fernandes, executive secretary, diocesan pastoral secretariat.

The Catholic church in India sprawls over 164 dioceses. "Each diocese headed by a bishop will send its leader and 20 representatives. At the moment, 120 dioceses have confirmed their participation," says Fernandes.  The mega event is being organized by the national service team for SCCs under the guidance of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI). A total of 8,000 delegates from dioceses as far as Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Gujarat to Tripura will converge in Goa to live in small communities. "SCC is a grassroots movement of the church that endeavours to build caring and serving neighbourhood communities, like the early Christian communities. This paves the way for the establishment of small communities bringing about national integration," explains Fernandes. Fr Leonardo de Souza, convener of the diocesan organizing team for the convention, says that "religion is not the only activity of the soul, but it is the whole being that matters and how we interact with others and grow in the neighbourhood". "SCCs translate to better bonding in the neighbourhood," he says.

Preparations for the mega event began a year ago, but the excitement and apprehensions of playing host to national delegates emerged recently. "This will be a great experience for us, as the event is being held for the first time in India, and in Goa, after over 40 years of SCCs. Though they may be from different regions, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ and we belong to one community," says Noronha.  The interesting assemblage of cultures has attracted many families to volunteer as hosts. "I feel this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and agreed to host a delegate in my family," says Albert Fernandes, a teacher from Saldolxem, 4km off the NH 17 in Canacona.  Agreeing with him, Maria Helena Souza, a resident of Calangute and moderator of the diocesan pastoral council, says, "We are privileged to have people of different cultures, speaking different languages to live with us. It will help us reconnect with God and our fellowmen."  The parish of Curtorim is abuzz with quiet preparations, as it will play host to 200 delegates. "It is a blessing to be chosen to host the delegates, as we will learn from each other and our faith will grow," says Cynthia Clemente, a local resident. Many families had misgivings about accommodating strangers, but these were easily dispelled by church leaders and moderators. "We will definitely learn something about their culture, although conversing with them may be difficult due to the language issue," adds Clemente, whose mother is excitedly sprucing up the house in anticipation.  In Sadolxem, parishioners have agreed to share responsibilities. "They will provide meals in turn to guests," says Albert.  Goa's church leaders are viewing this event as a unique opportunity. "It is not only about an experience to the church in Goa, but also to the state of Goa to showcase its rich natural, cultural and religious heritage," says a church leader. Clemente summed it up saying, "If we have love and unity in our somudai (community), our family and parishes will become strong. Our children will learn to share and care for people." Agreeing with Clemente, diocesan pastoral council moderator Maria says, "Ultimately, it is all about building relationships - that is the ultimate goal."

Source: Times of India

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