Sunday, December 27, 2009

Priests from southern India and the Caribbean island of Grenada spread the ‘Good News’ of God in much, much cooler rural Minnesota's Winona Diocese

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Effective Jan. 6, 2010, Fathers Mark McNea and Leo Charles Koppala will begin a new chapter in their faith journeys as Catholic priests.

Father McNea’s new assignment will take him east where he will serve 854 households, in addition to the parochial school, in the Wells, Easton and Minnesota Lake parishes.

Father Koppala, a native of South India, who most recently served at Rochester’s Church of Resurrection, will fill the Blue Earth and Winnebago post vacated by Father McNea.

For the two men, it is an opportunity to meet new people while also spreading the ‘Good News’ of the Lord.

“There is no difference between India and the USA on Catholicism,” says Father Kappala, or Father Leo as he likes to be called. “The Roman Catholic Church is a universal church where the celebration of the sacraments here and there is the same.”

He says India’s culture, caste system, illiteracy, poverty, unemployment and general status of the country cause the only difference he sees in the church.One of seven children born to a poor family in T.N. South India, Father Leo says his father found it difficult to educate his children, so he sent two of his sons and one daughter to a boarding school and seminary where their lives were dedicated to God.

As a result of their background, he and his brother entered into the priesthood where they dedicated their lives to educating the poor and orphaned children in India. His sister, Sr. Hilda Mary, is serving in a school educating children.

Father Leo holds a Masters Degree in classical music from Bharathidasan University and a diploma in Roman liturgy from Bangalore.

Ordained on April 29, 1994 at the Diocese of Nellore, A.P. South India, Father Leo served in his native country as the co-director at the Regional Catechist Training Centre; served as co-pastor at Our Lady Shrine; pastor at the Leprosy Centre; spiritual director at Sagar Sangam Ashram; director of Gypsy Children and pastor at Duvvur parish.

Additional responsibilities Father Leo assumed in India included teaching catechism and evangelization; caring for lepers; serving as the music director, as well as teaching the liturgy and music at St. John’s Seminary. When he arrived in the U.S. on Sept. 29, 2008, he served as the parochial vicar at Resurrection Church in Rochester.

In his spare time, he says he enjoys gardening, reading, teaching, music listening, painting, playing musical instruments, doing electrical and electronic repair work in addition to working on the computer and solving puzzles in mathematics. He also enjoys football, basketball, chess and caroms.

Since his arrival in Blue Earth on October 16, Father Leo has been mentored by Father McNea. He has been introduced to the workings of and the people who comprise the parishes of Blue Earth’s St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church and St. Mary’s in Winnebago.

He says many priests from India are serving in the U.S. In fact, he is the 30th priest from his diocese to serve outside of India. Not only are his fellow priests in India serving in the various states here, but also in the countries of England, Germany, Australia and in Rome.

Father Leo says priests come from India to serve as a missionary. It is also a way for them to support their own dioceses comprised of the very poor. Many of the missionary priests, such as himself, send money to the Indian parishes.

Unlike here, where there is a shortage of Catholic priests, Father Leo says there is an excess of priests in India, but a shortage of Catholics.

“India is 80 percent Hindu and only a minority of the people are Christians,” he explains.

He says priests come here by agreement to spread and live ‘Good News’ of the Lord and to become an instrument of Christ’s peace.

Already Father Leo has noted how the churches in the states are run by the parishes instead of the diocese.

“In India, we cannot expect money from the families and there is no weekly or monthly contribution by the people,” he explains. “Most of the parishes don’t have councils or leaders. The priest is the only leader in a village and the people depend on him spiritually, medically and materially.”

He says the churches in India are formatted as more missionary in style.

The sermons in India are longer than here, he says, since many people cannot read. As a result, they are used as a teaching tool for the people to better understand Christianity.

“When I first saw the homes in the states,” says Father Leo, “I said to myself, ‘the Almighty God loved and blessed the Americans!’”

Father Leo says the children here should be grateful to God and to their parents for all they have in comparison to the children in India.

Father’s main goal while serving the parishes here is to bring people closer to the altar by preaching the Gospel.

“The Gospel of the Kingdom of God is serving (sacrifice) and sharing (charitable),” says Father Leo.

Father McNea agrees saying, “preaching the Gospel is the bottom line.”

These are certainly appropriate words to be uttered by the Granada native who earned a degree in business from Minnesota State University-Mankato before entering the priesthood.

Even though Father McNea says he was baptized and raised as a Catholic, he also grew up attending the Congregational Church in Granada.

He says he always thought of himself as a Catholic, but never thought he would become a priest.

But this was the direction he would eventually take.

“I remember when I was in the fifth grade the teacher asked us to draw a picture of ourselves as we thought we might look in the future,” says Father McNea. “I drew myself wearing the clothing of a priest. That career idea lasted about two weeks. I didn’t think of it again until I was about to graduate from college and was visiting the Newman Center in Mankato.”

Father McNea says the priest at the Newman Center told him he should think and pray about entering the priesthood instead of going into the business field.

“That Christmas break the idea kept bouncing about in my head,” says Father McNea.

In February, just before he was to graduate during Spring quarter, he and three others went to Winona to investigate what becoming a priest would involve.

“There was something inside of me calling...God is calling me,” says Father McNea.

He registered for the fall term and spent the next years studying at Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) which is connected to St. Mary’s University in Winona. He then attended St. John’s Seminary in Boston, Mass. for his theology studies.

Ordained in 1989, Father Mark McNea says pastors get appointed for a period of six years. They are assigned by the Bishop. After six years, there is an option that can be worked out for a priest to remain in the same parish for another six years. Father McNea has not used this option and as a result has served parishes spanning the bottom two tiers of Minnesota counties from the Mississippi River to the South Dakota border. He served in Slayton, Iona, Lake Wilson, Rochester, Albert Lea, Winona, and Worthington before coming to Blue Earth on Nov. 26, 2004.

Father McNea says the biggest changes he has seen within the church are the decrease in the number of priests and in those attending church. But on the positive side, he says he has seen the faith life of those people who do attend, really grow.

When he has not been serving the spiritual needs of the approximate 500 households he ministers to, Father McNea enjoys reading and listening or singing to music.

“I think it is really unique I am only moving 20 miles away,” says Father McNea. “I will still have some Blue Earth and Winnebago connections.”

As January 6, 2010 approaches, Father McNea and Father Leo are ready to continue their faith journeys. Faribault County Register

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