08/02/2019, 16.57
INDIA – IVORY COAST
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Fr Rupak Lokhande, from Mumbai to the Ivory Coast mission

by Rupak Lokhande

A missionary with PIME for 15 years, he will soon leave for the West African country. His vocation developed as he searched for “something greater” and saw it realised in the mission of two Italian priests in Mumbai, Fr Antonio Grugni and Fr Carlo Torriani. He is moved by love for Africa and the richness of the faith of the Church in India.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Fr Rupak Lokhande, 44, from Mumbai (India), has been a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) for the past 15 years. Two weeks from now he will leave his multicultural and multireligious India for another multicultural and multireligious country, Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), in West Africa.

In telling the story of his vocation and missionary perspectives, he expresses gratitude for two Italian PIME missionaries he met in India, Fr Antonio Grugni and Fr Carlo Torriani, whose testimony made him understand that "God goes beyond all borders, overcomes all barriers, and enters the heart of people's lives."

The path of bearing witness is about offering one's life marked by faith in Christ: love, service, forgiveness. Here's what he told us.

I was born in 1975 in Ahmednagar, grown up in a fishing village near Mumbai (Maharashtra). I'm 44 years old. I was ordained 15 years ago, in 2004. I come from a rather ancient and traditional parish, dedicated to Saint Sebastian. I studied at the parish school and then I went to university.

Two facts contributed to me following a missionary vocation with the PIME. The first one was the testimony of two PIME missionaries in Mumbai, Fr Antonio Grugni and p. Carlo Torriani. The two are great men.

PIME has a parish in Irla (Mumbai) and Fr Grugni, who served that parish, also came to us for some meetings with young people. He once took me to visit the Lok Seva Sangham, an association that works for the prevention and treatment of leprosy. I went there as a volunteer. Fr Torriani founded the Lok Seva Sangham. This is how I began to think about my vocation.

I already was thinking about becoming a priest. But that of being a missionary came from watching Fr Grugni and Fr Torriani. These two Fathers struck me because they were foreigners, and yet spoke my language. They came to my parish; they were of great intelligence.

Fr Torriani had set up his leprosy centre inspired by the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. He was not just a person who did things, but was also deeply immersed in my culture.

The two made me understand that God goes beyond all borders, overcomes all barriers, and enters the heart of people's lives.

So I thought: ‘If I become a priest, I want to be like that: meet other cultures, learn other languages, fit into the lives of others . . .’

I was struck by their matter-of-factness. Fr Grugni, who was a medical doctor, had a very special relationship with young people. Thanks to him, I also met the Sisters of the Immaculate, who have a community and a leprosy colony in Versova (Mumbai). Fr Grugni often took me to visit them.

The second factor that influenced my choice was that my call came at the right time. I was young, looking for great ideals and this intelligent, important, spiritual proposal came to me. In searching for something greater I also attended a military school for three years (Indian Navy voluntary reserve), but in the end, the mission won.

I studied in the Philippines and after my ordination I worked at the PIME minor seminary in Hyderabad. After that I went to Rome to study psychology, and was eventually sent to the PIME major seminary in Pune. Finally, the time came to go and live the mission in another country: on 17 August I will leave for the Ivory Coast.

The work that waits for me is different from what I have done so far: from the world of seminaries to direct mission. But I waited a long time for this possibility. I immediately dreamt of being able to go to Africa, to do pastoral work.

During my training, I also spent two years in Papua New Guinea. Even then I dreamt of being able to live the direct mission. This means God himself walking and going beyond the boundaries that we humans place in the world.

Why Africa? I am interested in Africa's simplicity of life, natural beauty, human wealth and resources, even if the continent is marked by natural and human calamities. I am impressed by the resilience of African people, their ability to overcome and resist everything, still building something new.

Africa is a multicultural continent, with a population that lives according to what is essential, which is based above all on rural life. I want to be a priest close to this world, to the villages, to the young, to the old ... I met some Ivorian priests and from them I came to realise that the Church is active, vibrant.

As I wait to leave, I'm reading books on Africa and checking out videos on Youtube. When I was in the seminary, my rector was Fr Augustine Mundupalakal. He was a missionary in Cameroon and always spoke to us about the beauty of Africa, its landscapes, its people.

In Ivory Coast, PIME is involved in pastoral work, especially in the rural world, but some people work with students in the universities.

What can lead an Indian Catholic to the Ivorian Church and society? In India we are already in a multicultural and multi-religious context. The Church is a minority, 2.3 per cent of the population. However, from the start, the Church has had a great influence in society with its commitment to culture, health, and human promotion. It was a reality that accompanied Indian society.

Mother Teresa is the most famous face of the Indian Church, close to those who suffer and who are poor. Despite being very small, the Indian Church has always borne a great witness.

I think that my testimony in Ivory Coast will follow this line: accepting the diversity of cultures and religions, accompanying people, expressing the newness of the Gospel and the life of the Church.

What can faith in Jesus Christ offer the population of the Ivory Coast? Faith in Jesus Christ changes the person and the way of seeing things. Right in India, in my multi-religious context, we can see how much the Christian faith changes the way we perceive ourselves, the way we look at others, compared to other religious traditions. Love, service, and forgiveness are not a strategy, but are qualities that constitute our person and our faith.

Plus, I am certain that through this path, I will become holier because the more we obey the missionary charism of this institute, PIME, the more spiritual growth will come to my life.

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