Temporary priest at St. Mary finding place

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 18, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; The warm, friendly people of Natchez have made his transition from India to the United States easy, said the Rev. Tomichan Moonnanappalil, who is on temporary assignment to St. Mary Basilica and Assumption Catholic Church.

&8220;I love the natural beauty here and the affectionate people,&8221; he said. &8220;You just walk out to the street and everyone says hello.&8221;

Coming from Nagaland in northeastern India, where he has served as priest for seven years, he finds stark contrasts in Natchez.

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&8220;These are newly converted areas where I am in Nagaland,&8221; he said. &8220;I do a lot of baptisms and catechizing.&8221;

His life in Nagaland &8220;is purely a missionary life, a lot of village touring,&8221; he said.

The landscape consists of mountains and valleys. The people are the hill tribes of Mongolian origin, all having a Chinese appearance. &8220;They are hard workers, mostly farmers.&8221;

From one mission to another, Moonnanappalil travels there on bumpy dirt roads, one of his duties to serve as principal of the Catholic school in that rural area &8212; 1,600 children from kindergarten through level 12.

A member of the Missionaries of Francis de Sales, he is friends with the Rev. Paul Kunnumpuram, until recently the priest at Our Lady of Lourdes in Vidalia.

&8220;Father Paul and I are of the same order. He recommended me,&8221; Moonnanappalil said.

He is in Natchez during the three-month sabbatical of the Rev. David O&8217;Connor, pastor of St. Mary and Assumption, who is in Rome studying until the first of May.

The Natchez experience will be enriching for him, Moonnanappalil said, and he looks forward to learning about the different lifestyle and culture in Natchez.

&8220;It&8217;s a good experience, a good learning experience of both the religious outlook and the practices,&8221; he said.

His first priority is to &8220;give an experience of God through the liturgy&8221; while he is in Natchez. &8220;I cherish celebrating Mass in this beautiful basilica,&8221; he said. &8220;And I enjoy the rosary group after the morning Mass. I enjoy praying with them.&8221;

His home state in India is Kerala, on the southwestern tip of the country, a place that has been home to Christians since the first century, when the Apostle Thomas visited there.

At 15, Moonnanappalil knew he wanted to study for the priesthood. He joined the seminary that year for the first three years of study and then went to central India for one year, then back to south India for a three-year study for a bachelor of philosophy and bachelor of arts.

His four years of theology were in Meghalaya, affiliated with Urbania University of Rome. At age 27, he was ordained in January 1999 in his home parish.

&8220;All my family was there,&8221; he said. &8220;Throughout my studies, I was supported by a benefactor from Germany. Most of us in India are supported by benefactors mostly from Germany and the United States.&8221;

Everything in the United States is new to him. &8220;Father Paul told me to be open to the new cultures and experiences and enjoy them,&8221; he said.

The foods are different, but he likes them thus far. &8220;I like the hamburger. And I&8217;ve had crayfish.&8221;

He uses the Internet to keep up with news back home, reading the Nagaland Post & Telegraph.

O&8217;Connor had prepared thoroughly for his arrival, Moonnanappalil said.

&8220;Father O&8217;Connor made all the arrangements to make my stay comfortable, and there is the staff here who take care of me.&8221;

&8220;I don&8217;t find anything difficult or challenging here,&8221; he said. &8220;I will do the best I can do to make the daily liturgy lively and to visit the homebound and meet as many people as possible.&8221;