Secular Franciscan Veronica Willand, Hayward, and Sr. Phyllis Wilhelm, OSF, lead attendees of Dan Blank’s vocations session through the streets of Rice Lake. The group met in the classroom, then walked a couple of blocks to a local coffee shop. Blank encouraged listeners to find creative ways to build relationships in their ministries. (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

More than a dozen breakout sessions at the diocesan Fall Conference covered topics related to catechesis. With a different focus, Fr. Joseph Madanu’s presentation included his personal vocation story and information about the Indian culture.

Fr. Joseph is from the state of Andhra Pradesh and has been in the U.S. for 10 months. He serves as the sacramental minister for the Catholic churches in Frederic and Grantsburg.

He framed his testimony with a Biblical reflection on the Hebrew word “segullah,” meaning treasured possession. Introducing the Indian culture, Fr. Joseph shared India’s population and size statistics: 1.3 billion people live in a country three times the size of the U.S. While English and Hindi are used for official purposes, there are 22 other officially recognized languages.

Although Christianity as a whole is increasing its numbers in India, Hinduism remains the predominant religion at 80 percent, followed by Islam, which is practiced by 14 percent of the population. Fr. Joseph was very clear about how peacefully those of different beliefs live among each other. This “party people,” as he described them, celebrate numerous religious holidays, exemplifying the religiosity and diversity of the country.

“I am Christian by baptism, but Hindu by culture,” he added.

When asked about the persecution of Christians in India, he cautiously acknowledged the causes to be rooted in an extremist attitude that ‘only in Jesus’ name’ can one be saved, preached radically in communities that have coexisted with a Christian minority.

He began his vocation story with that of his parents. Fr. Joseph’s father was an orphan, raised in a Catholic community by extended family. His mother, the second-born daughter to Hindu parents — which denoted her as a burden — was adopted and raised by Catholic parents. He sees these circumstances as the first proof of God’s predilection. Born on Feb. 2, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Fr. Joseph’s mother dedicated him to God at birth.

She raised him very differently than his brother and sister, something which confused and frustrated him as a boy. It was her decision that he would enter the seminary. But by the age of 20, Fr. Joseph had discerned the priesthood as his authentic calling and personally made the choice to respond, grateful to his mother’s faith.

Attempting to explain the cultural differences between the celebrated independence in America and the sense of respect and obedience in India, especially in the way children are raised, Fr. Joseph invited those present to “take pride” in offering children to God, and encouraging those they work with to do so as well.

Catechetical planning

Anna Richardson, currently director of religious education at Our Lady of the Lake in Ashland, presented repeating sessions on “Planning a Good Catechetical Year.” With more than 10 years of ministry experience, she started out stressing the importance of “Who you are, not what you do,” in any catechetical role.

She followed an outline with practical tips and guidelines, making clear that any planning needs to adapt to each unique setting and locale. Flexibility was encouraged and personal prayer almost mandated.

“They don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” Richardson said. Walking over to the crucifix in the room, she pointed out, “I literally lay my final calendar draft down at the foot of the cross and ask, Jesus, what do you think?”

Richardson highlighted the need to prioritize according to clear goals — success does not equal num