In Search for a City of the Immaculate

Introduction

By Fr. Matthias M. Sasko, F.I.

When St. Maximilian wrote the following letter to Fr. Cornelius Czupryk, his Provincial Superior in Poland, almost an entire month had elapsed since his departure from Japan in search of a suitable place for a new City of the Immaculate in India. He had already endured three weeks of exhausting travel, both on sea and on land, in search of martyrdom for the Immaculate. Still more suffering awaited him on the slow voyage back. And yet, less than a week after landing on the Malabar Coast, a new longed-for City of the Immaculate seemed to be within reach.

Maria!

Ernakulaum, June 28 1932

Most Rev. Fr. Provincial,

Today is the fifth day of my stay in Malabar, and tomorrow I’m heading back to Nagasaki; because I have already ‘taken a look around here,’ and the
Immaculate granted that the local archbishop (of the Latin rite) [1] has not only told us to come, but is also offering us both the land (a part of a huge garden) and a house for our temporary lodging, until something “big” (?) can be built (does this mean permanently?), as well a chapel. All of this right next to a road connecting the cities of Ernakulaum and Alwaye, with buses running every half-hour. Parallel to the road is a railroad. It’s 1.5 miles to the nearest train station (but there are the buses I mentioned). There’s also hope that they might build another station even closer.

The Syrian rite[2] archbishop is offering land for our use as well, but over a mile from the Alwaye train station and without steady bus service. In addition to this, because of the difference of rite, there arises a difficulty regarding jurisdiction… So likely there is not much to count on here—though the Syrians are very good-natured and I’m lodging with their archbishop, because by chance it was precisely here that a priest of this rite, whom I met on the train, brought me.

So it happened that, today, the Latin archbishop drove me around with his car, all the meanwhile showing, explaining, praising—and now he is already
expecting an official letter concerning the matter [of opening a house] from Father Provincial, so that he can present it to his consultors, etc.

I’m going back, because there is no point in staying here [any longer]—for some reason this letter is not coming together too well… it’s evening; but I’ve already said what I needed to.

Glory to the Immaculate for everything…

Asking for your seraphic blessing,

Friar Maximilian M. Kolbe.

Three days later, St. Maximilian sent his Provincial a 20-page long “postscript” containing a more detailed account of his sojourn in India. Arriving on the Malabar Coast, uncertain of the outcome of his journey, he initially only cautiously introduced himself as the “Father Editor” of the Knight of the Immaculate, having come to India in search of materials to publish in his periodical. As the Saint tried to gradually introduce the idea of founding a City of the Immaculate on Indian soil, he met with mixed results: some enthusiasm from local clergy, initial opposition and hesitancy from Church authorities, and various other difficulties. But difficulties were not anything new to St. Maximilian. Thanks to his usual unlimited trust in Our Lady, as well as the special intercession of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, St. Maximilian was soon able to tell of the humanly unexpected (but hoped for) turn of events—from complete darkness to near certainty of a new foundation, whose full development and conclusion we will see in the next article of this series.

Maria!

Colombo, July 1, 1932.

Most Rev. Fr. Provincial,

I’m writing just to add “how it all happened,” but now from Colombo (Sri Lanka), where I arrived this morning. I’ve already purchased the ticket for the ship to Shanghai, from where I’ll be taking a Japanese express ship—the Immaculate permitting—to Nagasaki itself.

So, as I mentioned, arriving in Ernakulaum I met a young priest, who too was headed for this city. He told me that he belonged to the Syrian rite. At the train station we also met the Vicar General of this rite, and so I was taken to the Archbishop of their rite. He willingly gave me hospitality and told me that I could stay as long as I wished. I did not reveal my primary reason [for coming] right away, but I gave the secondary one, that is, visiting these parts in order to publish something about it later on. So there I spent the first day getting to know their activity. The priest in charge of the printing house took the opportunity to try to convince me to settle in the vicinity. I told him then that I had that as my goal as well. In the presence of the Vicar General and of others, I asked the archbishop whether he believed that a friary such as our Niepokalanów would be suitable here. He responded with a no, saying that there are priests already working here, and, in fact, they already have their own printing house and periodicals.

I also found out that the Latin Archbishop is not a native (which I was expecting to be the case), but a Spaniard, and a religious to boot (a Carmelite), in light of which the hope of receiving permission from him diminished very much. [3] The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith itself indicates native dioceses especially as those where religious houses can be opened. Hence they have Discalced Carmelites here of both the Latin and Syrian rites. I heard that the Latin archbishop did accept the Capuchins into his diocese; but this argument can be a double-edged sword, i.e. since one Franciscan Order is already here, there is no need for another. In a word, obscurity.

The following day, I went to visit the Latin archbishop. He was not in, however. In the guise of editor, I talked at length with a Carmelite Father, a dignitary (supposedly the iudex synodalis?…) [4] of the Archbishop, about local
relations. When I mentioned to him the matter of opening a house, he was of the opinion that the archbishop will not consent to it, but it is possible to ask. He spoke also of the threat of an imminent persecution (which is probable, if the pagan-Muslim nationalists gain a greater freedom of movement, but they too need to be converted). In the afternoon, at the suggestion of the Archbishop’s Procurator [5] (a native Indian), I got into the archbishop’s car with yet another Indian priest, and I was taken to a river about seven miles distant, which the Archbishop was supposed to cross in order then to be then driven home. He greeted me in a friendly manner and kept narrating in detail the history of the diocese, since he was speaking to me as to “the editor.”

When we arrived and I told him that, contrary to general custom (about which I was later told), I would not be staying with the Latin archbishop but would instead be going back where I had already began to lodge, so as not to offend the Syrian rite archbishop, but that I would be back, he invited me back the following day to visit the works of the Latin rite and for dinner. Before dinner, in the company of the aforementioned Indian priest—the Procurator—I went to the church where the pastor is the Vicar General of the Latin rite, but [also] a native Indian [6]. He started trying to talk me in to not departing too quickly, but rather to visit the various localities of the Malabar Coast in order to decide how and where the best place for a house might be—because he believed that the Capuchins had many vocations here. I told him more explicitly, then, about this second goal of mine, adding that the two of them, the Procurator and the Vicar General (since both of them were persuading me to do so) as locals could indicate a place for me more easily than I could discern [on my own] even after a month of research. Besides I was afraid to stay long so that a reactionary movement might not form.

They then indicated a locality (for I had said that, insofar as possible, we would prefer not to have any property, but only to have some terrain for our use, in order to be able to build and work) in the vicinity of Ernakulaum, where the Archbishop owns something around 200 “iugera” [7] of land… We went back for dinner. During it one of the younger priests addressed me explicitly [about the matter], saying that I purportedly had as my goal the founding of a house. I answered that where and when is the Immaculate’s business. The Archbishop had heard everything, but did not say anything. I was afraid to ask him, so as not to perhaps get a negative answer and so dash the possibility of sending him an official letter in this matter from the Provincialate.

I had also brought with me the letters from the clerics of the Propaganda Fidei [college] in Rome, written two years before, when we were setting out for the Far East for the first time. One of them was directed to the Archbishop’s secretary and spoke of our special interest concerning devotion to Our Lady. As a result, the archbishop said that either he himself or someone else would tell me about devotion to Our Lady in the diocese. I inquired about the cause of the Immaculate Conception. But here I could sense an embarrassment [on their part], because perhaps this devotion is indeed spread too little here. So, after the afternoon siesta and cup of coffee, the archbishop invited me into his automobile and together went with me to show me the works of this rite in the city. When, while visiting a certain school, I asked the nuns and their pupils to pray for my mission, the archbishop immediately explained: “for the mission in Japan.

Along the way he was telling me about devotion to Our Lady in the diocese and how it was that the first three Carmelites who arrived to found a house, while the Jesuit Fathers were administering the diocese, ran into so many difficulties that they had to go back where they came from; and how after 20 years, when the schism broke out,[8] the schismatics were also wearing the Carmelite Scapular, and asked for the Carmelites, who upon coming led a large part of the schismatics back into the Church. I felt like mentioning our friary, but I was afraid to do so. He was saying also that, in these parts, there are so many vocations to both the priestly and religious state that they enter even into other dioceses. Besides the Carmelites, the Capuchins have many [vocations] as well, and a certain women’s congregation founded a house [here] for this sole purpose. But he said that he was telling me all this as to a visitor, so that I could tell about it in my articles.

I forgot to note that, while waiting for the archbishop to set out in his car, I was entrusting the whole matter to St. Therese of the Child Jesus, whose statue, with flowers somewhat similar to roses, was standing on a shelf in the corridor. The manner in which I made this prayer of entrustment was quite striking, because there was darkness all around. “We’ll see if you remember,” I concluded, thinking of the “contract” we made even before her beatification and canonization, when I promised to pray at the memento of every Mass for her beatification and canonization, and she in return was supposed to intercede for my mission. At that moment one of the flowers fell onto the table standing below. This made an impression on me. But we’ll see if this means anything, I thought.

To be continued…
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Footnotes

[1] – Archbishop Angelo Maria Perez y Cecilia, O.C.D.

[2] – Archbishop Augustine Kandathil of the Syro-Malabar rite.

[3] – In a 1930 letter written from China, just days before arriving in Japan, St. Maximilian wrote: “We have everything, but we’re only lacking the
permission; what I feared in Niepokalanów has proved itself true, that is, that most of the difficulties will come from European missionaries. They
are right, however, because [missionary] activity is divided according to territory” (Pisma 216).

[4] – Synodal judge. Acutally it was Fr. Ceerine, the postsynodal examinator. Next to his name in the archive copy of the Catholic Direcotry of India, Burma and Ceylon 1928 on p. 314 St. Maximillian noted: “Spoke to him at the residence of the Latin archbishop
on 6/25/1932.”

[5] – The priest managing the economic affairs of the bishop.

[6] – Fr. George Arakel Kurz.

[7] – About 200 acres of land.

[8] – The schism broke out in 1657. The Carmelite missionaries sent out by Alexander VII brought the schismatics—the Christians of St. Thomas
(Syrians)—back into union with the Church. They also took on the task of ministering to them spiritually and, after 1663, to part of the Latin rite
Catholics as well. In 1887, the Syrians were removed from the jurisdiction of the Latin bishop of the Diocese of Verapolis and entrusted to Indian
bishops of the Syrian rite with their see in Ernakulaum (Catholic Directory of India, Burma and Ceylon 1928, 311-312).

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