KATHMANDU, Nepal — Even though additional tremors continue to rock the Himalayan nation of Nepal, the thousand-odd Hindus of Tarkerabari village in the nation’s Okhaldunga district are rejoicing over the April 25 ordination of Jesuit Deacon Tek Raj Paudel from their village.
The ordination is credited with sparing the village from calamitous casualties from the massive quake that struck immediately after the ordination ceremony.
“They are still excited with what had happened. They continue to share their joy with me,” the newly ordained Father Paudel told the Register on May 8 from his village of Tarkerabari. The village is 125 miles northeast of Kathmandu, near the epicenter of the earthquake that rocked the Himalayan country on April 25.
The disaster that claimed more than 8,000 lives occurred around noon, 30 minutes after the two-hour ordination ceremony, which was led by Bishop Paul Simick of Nepal and attended by hundreds of the Hindu villagers.
Had they not been there, loss of life would have been steep amid the quake: Even though 93 houses in the village collapsed and 359 others suffered severe damage in the 7.8-magnitude temblor, the 42-year-old Jesuit priest — the only Christian from the village — pointed out, “Nobody [except one girl] was injured, as almost all of them were out to attend my ordination and the celebrations.”
While dozens of people died in the neighboring villages, he said that the escape of the entire village is hailed by the Hindu community as “a blessing due to the ordination.”
“I heard even the MP, Ram Hari Khathiwoda [the Nepalese member of parliament from the area], thanking the Christians for holding the ordination in the village,” Augustine Lepcha told the Register. Lepcha is a Catholic relief worker who returned to Kathmandu on May 6 after taking relief supplies to the village, where most families are living under tents.
“All the people there are only speaking of the miracle,” added Lepcha.
‘God Has Protected Us’
St. Joseph of Cluny Sister Angelica reached the village two days before the ordination, along with a dozen other Catholics, to prepare the altar decorations for the ordination.
“The soil under my feet was throwing up. Only when people started screaming and running, I realized it was an earthquake,” recalled Sister Angelica, who was packing altar decorations when the quake struck.
“But it was surprising that the temporary hall [built with iron rods] did not fall on the people. We had to redo the decorations, as the hall and stage had been damaged during a hailstorm on the eve [of the quake]. It was incredible that no harm happened after such a powerful earthquake,” the nun said.
The nun and many of the 150 Catholics from Kathmandu, including several Jesuits who had gone to the remote village for the ordination, were rushing back to reach their vehicles to return to Kathmandu. The villagers were saying, “Because of the ordination here, we were saved,” Sister Angelica said. “A miracle has happened here.”
Similarly, Jesuit Father Casper “Cap” Miller, who hails from Ohio but has been based in Nepal for 57 years, told the Register that he heard local women saying, “Because of the [ordination] ceremony here, we were saved. God has protected us.”
Father Paudel’s Conversion
Father Paudel, the ninth of 10 children in a Hindu family, came to Kathmandu in 1988 for his college studies.
“Curiosity to read the Bible changed my life,” the Jesuit priest said during an interview with the Register on April 30, after returning to Kathmandu. “After I heard about the Bible during English classes in the government college, I went to find out more about the Bible.”
“I visited several churches and finally landed at St. Xavier’s School (of Jesuits) in 1990,” he added. After four years of catechism, he was baptized in 1994.
Though he wanted to join the Jesuits immediately, they told him to wait for six years — the mandatory norm for a convert to join the order. Meanwhile, Paudel graduated and enrolled for a degree in law.
“After my [law degree] in 2002, I joined the congregation. I am happy to be a priest now,” said the newly minted priest, standing at Assumption Church in Kathmandu, the largest Catholic church in Nepal, where Catholics account for less than 10,000 in a nation of more than 28 million people.
“I was keen to have my ordination in the village, as the entire village belongs to my clan. I am happy that the superiors obliged my request,” Father Paudel said. “Now it has become a blessing to my whole village.”
He added, “Many of them are now very eager to know about the Church and are planning to visit Kathmandu and the churches.”
Register correspondent Anto Akkara is based in Bangalore, India.