For the 500 plus families from Kerala, India, who have settled in Adelaide in recent years, the challenge of continuing to live a truly Christian life is not only being embraced but is seen as a way of spreading the Gospel message to young people outside their own community.
Joshy Kizhakemyalil leads the St Mary parish catechism class which meets every Sunday afternoon before Mass. His students recently joined more than 200 Syro-Malabar youth at a weekend retreat in the parish hall.
Like many of the Syro-Malabar families now living in Adelaide, Joshy migrated to Australia in response to a recruitment drive for workers in the health sector after initially moving to the United Kingdom.
He said the retreat helped the children to learn how to live their faith in an Australian context. But it was also hoped the children would “spread the Gospel out to the Australian community” through the way they live their lives.
“Maybe that is why we were brought here,” he said.
“It’s not easy to change an adult but through these children we can change the world.”
Led by Catholic lay evangelist Br Reji and Christ Culture, along with Br Simon and the Alliance of the Holy Family team, the retreat was organised by local Church leaders Fr Francis Pullukattu and Fr Ajith Cheriakkara.
Sr Jasmine Lawrence CP, who assists the community, said the reaction of the young people was “unbelievable”.
“They all said it was the best retreat they had ever been to.”
“It’s not just about learning being Catholic but about living your faith, what does it really mean being Catholic, and not just talking about it but being Christ.
“Young people talked about the challenges facing them as Christians living here now in Australia. They talked about the choices they want to make. Praise God for their courage, openness and desire to walk with Christ.”
Religious retreats are a common occurrence in India, and here in Adelaide the community tries to have at least one a year.
With much of their regular worship conducted in the Malayalam language of southern India, the young people appreciated having a retreat conducted in English, which is fast becoming their first language.
As 13-year-old George Rarichan explained: “I felt like why was I in the dark for so long – it was really eye-opening and I wondered why these people (the retreat leaders) weren’t here before.”
Ann Maria Joshy, 14, said she appreciated hearing stories about how someone was addicted to alcohol or drugs and “when times were desperate they looked to God and things started to get better”.
Baptism a first for Syro-Malankara community
Even going to confession was made easier, said Annmary Shinoj, 13, because they went through each of the 10 Commandments “really deeply” and asked the group to rethink how they related to their daily lives.
Angel Joshy, 15, was impressed by the way they explained Church teachings and beliefs in a way that they could understand.
“They spoke about their own experiences which were similar to ours so that was very inspiring,” she said.
Her younger brother Aston, 11, was equally impressed: “Since we finished the retreat I’ve been more confident to say I am Christian because they told me I can help other people’s lives by saying I’m Christian.”
“It made me think that I can proclaim the Word of God when I’m older and that I want to be a priest.”
The youngsters have already put their faith into action in a number of ways, including taking food and clothing to the homeless in the city parklands at the beginning of winter and collecting tins of food for Vinnies on Mission Sunday.
Dea Benny, 10, spoke of their project ‘Every Little Bit Helps’ whereby at the start of their catechism lesson they put into a tin money that they have saved by foregoing a takeaway meal or some other treat. Last year they collected $1200 to send to orphanages in India.
“It’s about making sacrifices for others,” she said.