New Delhi, Okhla, March 22, 2019: Funeral Mass for Lt. Fr. Anthony Thaiparambil was held at DBTI Chapel at 4.30 p.m.
The mortal remains of Fr. Anthony was brought to DBTI campus at 3.00 p.m. and was placed at the entrance of Technical School for the students to pay homage.
People gathered in hundreds – Fathers from different communities, sisters from various congregation, his relatives and children and staff of Ashalayam.
Fr. C.A. Joseph, the rector of Technical Institute, instructed the well-wishers about the service and coordinated the entire function. Members from the family of Fr. Anthony, different communities and participants paid their respect while the DBTI choir chanted hymns and recited rosaries.
The Holy Eucharist commenced at 4.30 p.m. It was presided over by His Grace Archbishop Anil Couto, the Bishop of Delhi Archdiocese and con-celebrated by Bishop Emeritus – Vincent Cocsessao and several other priests. At the outset of the Eucharist several persons expressed their gratitude for the service rendered by Fr. Anthony. Fr. Jose Mathew the provincial too thanked him for his relentless service to the congregation and the daring steps undertaken in the field of social service.
The burial service was conducted by Fr. Jose Mathew, the provincial. The participants paid their last respect by showering petals in the mortal remains. All were served snack and tea in the provincial house.
Funeral Oration by Fr. Jose Mathew, Provincial
Your grace Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, Archbishop Emeritus Vincent Concessao, my dear Confreres, Fr. Jose Thaiparambil SJ, Br. Johny and the immediate relatives of Fr. Antony present here, members of the Salesian Family, Priests, Religious, Brothers and Sisters, and friends of Fr. Antony.
We gather here this afternoon to fittingly celebrate with pride the life and achievements of a man who spent his life and energy for the poorest of the poor with great dignity and personal commitment and integrity. As the preface of the Mass says, “Lord for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended. The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality,” we fondly remember him, commit his spirit to the mercy of the Lord in the belief that “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to this mortal body through the Spirit who dwelt in him” (Rom 8:11). Or as the psalmist says: ‘Into your hands we commit his spirit.’ Today we bury his remains in the earth as a seed of immortality – our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude for a life lived to the full in total submission to God’s will.
As a Provincial I am deeply grateful for the gift that Fr. Antony’s family, some of whom are present here have made over these many years, patiently allowing him to bring together both his physical and his spiritual fatherhood into this family of faith that is the Church and our Salesian Congregation. As we are gathered around the mortal remains of Fr. Anthony to pay our last respect to him and to commend his soul to God, allow me to briefly run through his life ketch.
- ANTHONY’S VOCATIONAL JOURNEY
Fr. Anthony was born to late Mr. Varkey and late Mrs. Rose on 26th March 1935 at Kuruvinal, Pala, Kerala. He was the eldest of the eight children in the family. Expressing his desire to be a missionary at a very young age, he joined the Salesian aspirantate at Tirupattur, Madras and after a year of English Coaching was taken to Kolkata by Fr. Pianazzi. Secondary and Higher Secondary schooling was in Sonada, Darjeeling. He professed as a Salesian for the Northern Province of Kolkata on 24th May 1955 at Yercaud, Tamil Nadu. He completed his philosophical studies at Salesian College, Sonada in 1957. After the period of his practical training, he was again sent back to Salesian College, Sonada to do his graduate studies. He made his final profession on 24 May 1961 at Sonada. Having completed his theological studies at Sacred Heart Theological College, Mawlai, he was ordained a priest by the venerable Bishop Stephen Ferrando at Shillong on 2nd May 1965.
Soon after his ordination, he was appointed as a catechist and prefect for three years (1965-1968) in Don Bosco, Krishnagar. He then served the parishes of Krishnagar diocese, namely Chapra, Maliapotha, Azimganj as an Assistant Parish Priest for three years (1968-1971). He headed the Social works department of Krishnagar Diocese for seven years (1971-1977) as he always exhibited a heart for the poor and marginalized. This aspect was most noticeably expressed when he brought much relief and consolation to thousands during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. As the Diocesan Director of the Social Works department, he looked after the Catholic Relief Services (CRS). This responsibility gave him additional charge of the Caritas goods and handled the left over supplies of the Bangladesh Liberation War. He made use of this opportunity to rebuild the lives of so many poor and vulnerable. He was made the Parish Priest of Thakurnagar, Krishnagar for three years from 1977 to 1980. In Thakurnagar, as a real pastor being sensitive to the needs of the people, he was not only concerned about their spiritual needs but their material needs of having decent houses and dignified living. Amidst his village visits, he mobilised financial resources and initiated housing programme in the villages. Side by side he also worked towards enrolling the poor children in different schools within the vicinity. He mentions in his personal letter dated 23rd January 1978 addressed to the Provincial, “It is very interesting to run after the children who have escaped from schools.” Right from the start he proved himself to be a good shepherd running after the sheep entrusted to him.
He revered his superiors and was obedient and obliging. After three years in Thakurnagar, Fr. Joseph Kezhekkekara, the then Provincial asked him to be the Rector of Don Bosco Technical Instititue, Okhla, New Delhi. He acknowledged that he knew nothing of the Machines and far less of their functions! He expressed with humility that having been in villages as Assistant Parish Priest or Parish Priest for many years, heading a professional institute is beyond his ability. However, being obedient, he obliged and served successfully as the Rector of this institute for three years (1980-1983). Though he was Rector of the Technical Institute, he was conscious and sensitive to the situation of the children at risk around the area. He was in touch with government officials who approached him with the offer of working for under-trial youth. He felt the need to qualify himself to take up such works and so he requested his Provincial to send him to qualify in social works. He was sent to Tirupattur College, Madras for his MSW (1983-1985). Soon after his studies being aware of the miseries and risks of street and abandoned children, he initiated the mission of empowerment of poor and abandoned boys. He had the courage and conviction to go against the tide when such ministries were frowned upon and even considered as ‘non-Salesian’ by some critics. He was truly an apostle on the streets and railway stations of Calcutta. He visited the poor children daily at the platforms and street corners making himself one among them and a father to them. He learned in person about their struggles, their constant fights for survival and the abusive and inhuman situations they were exposed to, with hardly anyone to look up to. Deeply moved by their sad plight and dangers to which they found themselves, Fr. Antony decided to be their leader, guide and father. In December 1985 Fr. Antony opened the first shelter home with the help of an NGO called “Seva Sang Samithi”. The home was situated at Pilkhana, Howrah, one of the major slum areas of Kolkata city. He gave an apt name for the shelter home – Ashalayam, meaning a home of hope. The nine years he spent with the children there were truly heroic with innumerable challenges. Together with the help of numerous friends who by now had recognised and accepted his mission, he forged ahead in establishing Ashalayam branches in many parts of the city of Kolkata and outside. I am happy that one of his most able, charismatic and reliable co -worker- Fr. C.J George is here among us. I too had the privilege of spending a couple of months with him at Ashalayam, Howrah which too was memorable and personally enriching to witness a life of total selfless service and dedication. He was never ashamed to request or seek help from anyone for the sake of his deprived children.
Having established Ashalayam branches in the city of Kolkata and outskirts, for nine years (1985-1994), he decided to move on and even volunteered for Bangladesh mission. However this could not be materialised and he was sent as the Parish Priest of Mariamnagar, Tripura where he worked for two years from 1994 to 1996. However, the cherished memories of his abandoned children made him volunteer again to initiate the same work in Delhi. Thus from 1996 until recently he was involved in the empowerment of the vulnerable children and youth at Risk. He established Ashalayam at Palam Gaon, New Delhi (1996-2004) and yet another in Lucknow (2004- 2011). He served as an assistant director to the Boys Home and work for the Children of the Brick Kiln workers at Jhajjar, Haryana from 2011 to 2016. Since his age was catching up with him, I asked him if he could move to another house to take rest. But he again preferred to get back to Lucknow to be with the neglected children over there. Meanwhile, he got seriously sick in 2017 and was brought to Don Bosco Provincial house, New Delhi for proper medication and rest. However, time and again he continued to request me to send him to Ranchi to initiate the same work.
HIS PRESENCE IN THE PROVINCIAL HOUSE COMMUNITY
Fr. Anthony came to the Provincial House on 14th June 2017. The 21 months that he spent here in the Provincial House was for him a time of rest and prayer. Even though he had medical issues concerning his heart, kidneys, sugar and hypertension, the regular medicines, rest and the friendly atmosphere and the constant presence and attention of the confreres in the community kept him cheerful and serene. It was indeed a joy for the whole community to have him around. He never demanded anything and was satisfied with whatever was given to him. His heart was always with the children on the street. During the rosary, one decade of the rosary was reserved for him to recite and invariably the intention would be for the poor and abandoned children on the street. He spent lot of time in the chapel, often getting up very early as 02.30 am and even resting there in the presence of the Lord.
When he could still read, he was often found reading the Bible in his room. In the first few months he was able to use the computer and email and he wrote some letters to the benefactors asking them to help the Province. Here in the Provincial House he always liked to dress neatly and look good. When he visited the hospital for his regular checkup, once in two months, he would always take the best kurtas and would wear them to the Hospital. Dr. Luke Joseph, his physician, who looked after him with much love and care would always comment on his dressing sense. He had a great love for Dr. Luke Joseph. He enjoyed the meal timings with the community and enjoyed the friendly teasing and fun, often at his expense. He was very much aware of all that was happening in the house and in the Province.
He love to take care of the guests who came into the house. He would take them for tea and sit with them and make them feel at home. He insisted on carrying their plates to wash. Often one would feel that he would drop all of them with his unsteady steps. But he never faltered! He was always grateful for even the smallest deed that was done for him. What impressed all of us in the community was his ever-present smile, expressing the serenity within him at the end of a life well-lived at the service of the poorest of the poor. Even though he is the pioneer of such great works in the whole of Salesian India, he never boasted about his achievements. So many of the children whom he brought up often visited him showering their affection and respect. His heart always went out to the needs of the poor people. During his jubilee year 2015, he wanted to give a lunch to the poor people who were working on the metro construction.
HIS FINAL DAYS
Ever since he heard the news that his younger brother Br. Mathew was serious, Fr. Anthony was longing to go and meet him. Accompanied by Fr. Joy Jacob, he reached Kolkata on 18th January and spent some quality time with his brothers Mathew and Johny in Don Bosco Park Circus. He returned to Delhi on 22nd January. However, the deteriorating health condition of Br. Mathew affected him very much. He was never his real self after he returned from Kolkata. Br. Mathew passed away on 1st February 2019. The news, though expected, was a tragic shock for Fr. Anthony. He went into depression and had moments of disorientation especially regarding the death of Br. Mathew. He constantly asked everybody why Br. Mathew, the younger one died before him.
Fr. Anthony became more and more weak and needed assistance to manage himself. Br. Basil, a disciple brother who spent some initial years with him in Delhi volunteered to look after him and take care of his needs. On 12th February 2019, his condition turned worse and he was admitted in Holy Family Hospital in semi-ICU under the care of Dr. Luke Joseph. As a result of constant care and medical attention, his condition improved somewhat and he was discharged and brought back to the Provincial House on 28th February. However, his condition deteriorated further and from 3rd March onwards, he refused to take any medicines and even the food intake was very minimal. On 6th March, Ash Wednesday he was readmitted in the Hospital. He was in the ICU and gradually lost consciousness. His vital organs began to fail. At 6.45 pm on 10th March, I anointed him in the presence of his brothers Fr. TV Jose, Br. TV Johny and Fr. Joy Jacob. Day by day his condition worsened and like a candle burning out. Fr. Anthony went to his heavenly home peacefully at 2.10 pm on 19th March, the Feast day of St. Joseph, the patron of good death!
His last days were peaceful and one could notice the serenity and resignation on his face. He was in constant pain and discomfort as could be made out from his occasional deep sighs, but he was never agitated. I am sure, the prayers of thousands of children whom he redeemed from the streets and their grateful remembrance of him to the Lord, made the going home of Fr. Anthony a beautiful experience, as someone eagerly running up to the podium to receive the prize for a race well run!
His Inner Journey: Fr. Antony has been a great source of inspiration and a man with filial devotion to our Blessed Mother. Fr. Anthony had written a seven-page recollection of his own life and submitted to the Secretary of the Province with a brief note, “some points to help write my obituary”. In it he mentions how he found consolation in Our Lady of Bandel when he was asked to go to Krishnagar, a place he was afraid to go. He recalls, “After the initial set-back, I picked up courage and went to Bandel and placed my box of belongings at Mother Mary’s feet and asked her blessing and assistance in everything I undertake. She did protect me all the three years; helped me to learn the language, and helped me to conduct different activities for the children. That was a great help for my future mission in Krishnagar Diocese, as Asst. Parish Priest and finally Parish Priest of Thakurnagar for three years and as Diocesan Director for Social works and contacting foreign agencies, for 5 years.”
He was a true Father of the Disadvantaged. He recalled that when Mother Theresa of Kolkata went to inaugurate Ashalayam, she had told him “Father, we shall take care of the girls, you take care of the boys.” He lived up to it with much conviction, affection and courage. As a true son of Don Bosco and faithful to the constitutions, he was ready to suffer cold and heat, hunger and thirst, weariness and disdain whenever God’s glory and the salvation of souls required it (C.18). Many here are witnesses of the trying and enduring life that he led with very little comfort and conveniences.
He lived his life as a mission: We know that boldness and apostolic courage are essential parts of any new mission. Like Don Bosco, Fr. Anthony too, loved and lived his dream of giving up even his last breath for his poor boys. Fr. Anthony’s companion, Archbishop emeritus, Most Rev. Thomas Menamparambil recounts: “It was with immense pain that I learnt about the departure of Fr. T. V. Anthony. I wept. We sat side by side from the first day of aspirantate in 1951 to the day of Ordination in 1965, except during the practical training. He was always a source of encouragement to me, never even once exchanging hard words. He had a positive way of looking at things. I never found him upset or angry. He had stamina for amazing work. He always remained cheerful. We kept in touch. It was a wonder those days when he launched his work in the streets. It was a pioneering venture for the whole of Salesian India.”
Fr. Ellicherail Thomas the previous Provincial of Kolkata writes, “Fr. Anthony took a daring step to imitate Don Bosco’s love for the young at risk in the early 80’s when such apostolates were not only not accepted but even “frowned upon”! In those years as a young priest I was powerfully inspired by the “unusual” work among the young Fr. Anthony pioneered. I realized that he was a path-breaker in youth ministry, showing the way to the younger generation of Salesians. The vast net-work of Ahalayam homes in Salesian India and especially in Kolkata and New Delhi are a witness to this man’s courage and selflessness……that lasted an astounding 33 years!”
Fr. Nirmol gomes, the provincial of Kolkata in his condolence message says “The Province of Calcutta owes a huge debt of gratitude to him for the commendable and praiseworthy service he rendered under various capacities and especially for launching the work on behalf of street and destitute children in the twin cities of Howrah and Calcutta. Through his inspiring vision and decisive initiatives, he was able to rescue and rehabilitate thousands of children from the street and set them on the path to a purpose driven life, giving them hope and a home.” These are but a few of the innumerable people touched by the life of this genuine human being, so totally selfless and available to God and humanity.
Love is manifested in willing the good of the other. He manifested it in his love for the poorest. He was passionately sensitive to the needs of the young. He was an epitome of kindness, generous availability and love for the poor. Fr. Anthony was certainly a beacon of hope, a ray of light that showed direction to thousands of aimless poor who faltered and stumbled on, in their life’s journey. He shared their stories, their pains, and was deeply involved in their life. May God reward his faithful servant Fr. Anthony with the beatific vision!
As I conclude I wish to take this opportunity to thank His Grace, Most. Rev. Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, our beloved Archbishop of Delhi for his magnanimous presence and Funeral officiating at the Eucharist. Heartfelt thanks also to Most Rev. Vincent Concessao for his presence.I want to specially acknowledge and thank the community of Don Bosco Provincial house for looking after Fr. Antony so lovingly particularly during these past two years when his health was weakening. I also acknowledge the co-ordination work seen to in the arrangement of this event. Fr. Joy Jacob, the Rector was a father, mother, friend and a local physician to him. I am grateful to Br. Basil who was his constant companion and cared for his every need.
I take this opportunity to thank the Rector and community of DBTI Okhla for all the arrangements done for this funeral service. I am grateful to the Provincial House Community too for the details seen to and coordinating this event. Our sincere gratitude to The Director of Holy Family hospital, Fr. George, the other fathers, the management and specially Dr. Luke who have all been so very supportive and helpful in getting Fr. Antony back to health time and again. I thank them immensely for their caring and professional ways. I gratefully appreciate and acknowledge the presence of several confreres from the Province of Kolkata who have represented their Provincial and the Province where he has laboured for many years. The presence of a large number of priests, religious, members of the Salesian family, lay people and youngsters remind us of the immense connect that he has had with people of all walks of life especially the most vulnerable. Thank you all for your presence and prayers.
Dear Fr. Antony, may you enjoy every moment of your heavenly bliss. You exemplified in your life everything that was said by Jesus in today’s Gospel – “whatever you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done it to me. Welcome into the joy of my master”. Dear Fr. Antony, we the Salesian Province of New Delhi, whole of Salesian India, the Congregation and all of your loving family members, friends, innumerable lives you have touched and your poor children will always miss you! Intercede for all of us from heaven! Adieu dear Fr. Anthony! May you enter into the joy of the Lord!
(Fr. Jose Mathew SDB