Bishop James P. Powers blesses Fr. Bala Raju Policetty, who kneels before the altar holding the papal blessing the bishop presented to him in honor of the 25th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Bishop Powers invited concelebrating priests, assisting deacons and all present to extend their hands, calling upon God’s blessing for the Indian priest, who will return to India due to complications in obtaining a green card. (Photo by Sarah Mertins, Magnificat Photo Co.)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Before the final blessing at the Mass in celebration of Fr. Bala Raju Policetty’s 25th anniversary of priestly ministry, cluster parish director Patty Gerber introduced a lineup of persons who wanted to share words of appreciation.
Gerber started by acknowledging the large impact Fr. Bala Raju had made during such a small fraction of his years of priestly ministry in the clustered parishes of Barron, Cameron, Strickland and Chetek.

“We thank God and we praise God for your presence in all of our lives,” she said.

The anniversary Mass was held at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Cameron on Friday, April 16, with Bishop James P. Powers as the presiding celebrant and 18 concelebrating priests, assisted by Ashland-area Dcns. Owen Gorman and John Grek.

In his homily, Bishop Powers thanked Fr. Bala Raju for sharing “the gift of your faith … that faith of yours that allowed you to be the reflection of Christ in the midst of so much.”

The “so much” to which the bishop referred included devastation faced by the cluster’s communities from natural disasters and human tragedy.

Tornadoes hit the area in both May 2017 and June 2019. In between those major events, there were the murders of parishioners James and Denise Closs in October 2018 and the abduction of their daughter, Jayme Closs, who returned safe in January 2019.

The bishop praised the international priest’s spiritual leadership, (and) persistent and innovative ministry. He iterated the gift of shared faith, noting that even though our faith is not perfect, “when offered to our God can truly change the world.”

In reference to the Gospel – where Christ feeds the crowds with 12 baskets left over – Bishop Powers said not only does Jesus provide for the immediate needs of the people, but there is “no limit to God’s provisions for our needs.”

He encouraged “that we never doubt that all things are possible for our God … That we never question that God can far exceed our wildest imaginations.”
After her introductory words, Gerber invited Fr. John Gerritts, pastor of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Hudson and supervising pastor for the Barron cluster parishes, to speak.

Fr. Gerritts expressed his gratitude for the friendship shared with Fr. Bala Raju, appreciation for his sacrifices as an international priest and acknowledgement of how greatly he valued the parish family and fraternity of priests.

As a sign of Fr. Bala Raju’s being a “man of the Gospel,” Fr. Gerritts presented him with the gift of Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire Bible edition of the Gospels.
A representative from each of the cluster’s four parishes shared words of congratulations, honor and thanksgiving.

Among the phrases used to describe Fr. Bala Raju were: “Reverent and inspirational”; “honest, humble and unassuming”; “a holy priest who leads by example, who leads by love.”

“Always the teacher,” one of the speakers said, “You have this wonderful gift of accepting everyone with dignity. You prayed with and for us in our trials and triumphs. You embraced in our moments of joy … We are deeply indebted to you, our priest and our friend.”

When Fr. Bala Raju took the podium, he said the day of his ordination was “still fresh” in his mind. After giving many personal thanks, he remembered his parents and expressed gratitude for their sacrificial life and ever-present support of his priestly vocation.

A detail present at the anniversary Mass harkened back to that Mass of ordination in 1996. It was a colorful banner decorating the altar that read “I won’t unless you bless” in reference to Genesis 32: 23-31, where Jacob wrestles with God and says in verse 27, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

This was the theme at his ordination and one he has carried throughout his priesthood – a prayer to God that Fr. Bala Raju continues to pray: “Bless me, and bless my people.”