In search of St Thomas and his legacy

10 Feb 2008

By The Record

dsc03236.jpgBy Joanna Lawson, columnist helping the working poor in Goa, India

The balmy days spent at Kanniyakumari were over, it was time to say goodbye to the Missionary of Charity Brothers and the residents of the Santhi Bhavan home, though it caused much pain to leave them behind.
The last leg of my journey through India had begun and I was destined for the metropolis of the south, Chennai.
My travelling companion and I had decided to go our separate ways for three days and were destined to meet again at Madras Central station, where we would pick up our pilgrimage and visit the tomb of Saint Thomas the Apostle.

However, to get there I needed to travel by myself for
fourteen hours, which to a slip of a person like me was a little daunting.
My small frame is certainly no match for even a fit teenager, let alone a
man intent on laying his hands on the contents of my bags (only dirty
washing by now, but that would hardly sway the criminally minded).
While travelling, fellow passenger informed me that I wouldn’t be getting off at
Madras Cenral at all, as this train bypassed it and went straight to Egmore,
the end of the line which meant that my friend would be waiting in vain for
me at the wrong station.
I immediately began to sweat, thinking of him looking forlornly at trains depositing passengers on the platform but never seeing me. I resolved to catch the first train I could and find him.As is
universal law, everything went wrong, and he, realizing the train would stop
at Egmore dutifully deposited himself there, while I got off and found my
way to Madras Central.
What an unfortunate swap. In those hours, trying to find each other, not knowing exactly where we were or what to do, it was easy to envision what missionary life must have been like for the pioneers
of our faith: confusion, fear and a keen sense of vulnerability being the
odd one out in a sea of people who are quite at home in their city.
People were eating hot parathas and drinking steaming coffee. Some were already
making their way to work and nimbly hopping on trains to work, but I was
powerless, unable to speak a word of this ancient language of Tamil that
sounds like it bubbles up in the mouth and gracefully slips off the
Saint Thomas may have felt the same way when he arrived in India in
52AD, a lone man representing an infant Church to a people whom he knew
nothing about.
The only things he had to keep him going were providence and
an evangelist’s zeal, probably heightened by the fact that he still felt
silly for doubting the resurrection.It was with much relief after about
three hours my friend and I were reunited.
We made our way to Santhome Basilica which is built directly over the saint’s tomb, and we descended the
stairs to pay our respects and to pray to this man chosen in a special way
by Jesus to carry on His church.
Carrying our precious package of intentions written out by friends, family and fellow parishioners, we offered up the petitions for his intercession.
Saint Thomas, a man who brought Christianity to India and made it a cradle of the faith in the world now lies quietly under a marble block.
But he continues his work by inspiring those who are lost, afraid and doubtful to stay close to Jesus and find their way back to faith, the Church and the life that comes with it.