Indian priest to battle social evils with television
October 01, 2015 | posted by Today's Catholic
BY CAROL BAASS SOWA
SAN ANTONIO • A priest from India is wanting to combat social evils in his country with Catholic television. Father Velangini Thumma of the Diocese of Gundur recently stopped in San Antonio to raise funds for this undertaking and acquire pointers from Catholic Television of San Antonio (CTSA) as a guest of the Mission Awareness Ministry.
In preparation for his new ministry, he spent the past four years attending Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and obtained his MFA in film/television production. All the while, assisting in parish work at St. John Baptist De La Salle Parish.
Father Thumma’s first name, Velangini, is a reflection of his Indian Catholic heritage. It is the name of the largest and most popular shrine to Mary in India, the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health. His Catholic roots can be traced to his very Catholic village of Thallacheruvu in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. During British rule, a Dutch missionary priest, known today by his “Indianized” name of Father Arulananda Swami, was given 20 thousand acres of forestland. “He went to all the parishes,” explained Father Thumma, “and said, ‘If you are a Catholic, come here. We will give you free land. We will construct a new village.’” One hundred families followed him to build the village of Thallacheruvu, which has grown to 2,000 families who consider their founding father a saint.
“Every single family is Catholic,” said Father Thumma. “There is no other religion in my village, not even Hinduism — and 70 percent of Indians are Hindus.” Father Arulananda Swami was an inspiration to the villagers. The priests, who were his successors, also inspired many young men to become priests. “They fought with the government to build facilities such as the road, public transportation, the school, hospital, even electricity,” he related.
Entering the seminary at the age of 15, Father Thumma studied for the required 12 years, earning a master’s in philosophy from the Papal Seminary in Pune, which selects only one seminarian from each diocese. He was ordained on Dec. 27, 2005, spending his first six years as a priest in India, running the Ave Maria Home which feeds the poor.
While in Los Angeles, he used his filmmaking talents to produce a documentary, Wounded Healer, about street children in India and his musical skills to produce a CD, Divine Melody, whose spiritual music was composed and, in some cases, performed by him. He hails from a family of four generations of ecclesiastical musicians in his hometown parish.
For several weeks in August, he resided at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Selma, assisting Father Eric Ritter, pastor, while parochial vicar Father Thumma Prathap, who comes from Father Velangini Thumma’s native village, returned home for a vacation. (The last name for both is Thumma, but the local Father Thumma has chosen to retain his culture’s practice of placing the surname first.)
During Father Velangini Thumma’s San Antonio stay, he spoke at several parishes in fundraising efforts for the new television station, including Blessed Sacrament, St. Mark the Evangelist, and St. Joan of Ark. In early September, he returned to India to begin work on the station, which will be the first Catholic television station in India. Its name is Divyavani, meaning “divine wisdom.” He and another priest with similar training are hiring lay personnel for the station, which will be located at St. John’s Regional Seminary in Hydrabad, Andhra Pradesh and broadcast in the native Telugu language of the region.
The new station will potentially reach 120 million people and focus equally on evangelization and social change. One of the social evils it will address will be the prevalent discrimination against female children. “In the last 10 years,” he said, “five million girl children were killed in India — killed by the family, killed by the parents and grandparents because they want only a boy in the family.”
The reasons for this are two-fold. First, in Hinduism (the predominant religion in India) it is believed in order to attain heaven after death, a male family member must light one’s funeral pyre. “A girl can never do this,” said Father Thumma, “so she is considered useless.”
Secondly, there is a dowry system in India. When a girl marries, she must pay her husband’s family a large sum of money. “Sometimes millions,” noted Father Thumma. “Many girls do not get married because they cannot pay the money.” Thus, a girl is seen as a burden on a family, while a boy will bring the family great wealth. “So, the families kill the girl babies,” he said, which is why the female birth rate is so low in India. They are killed by illegal abortions or by placing a sharp rice husk in a baby’s throat.
“We have got to change the social evils through television programs,” he said, “but we have to produce programming which will be watched by everybody.” Only two percent of Indians are Catholic and would watch Masses or rosaries, he explained, so the new station’s programming will focus on producing programs that will reach a larger audience.
A second problem the station will address is that of the street children. “There are 20 million children who are abandoned by their families and live on the streets,” Father Thumma related. “We want to change that social scenario.”
Sixty percent of funding for the station is being contributed by the parishes of the state of Andhra Pradesh. “The people are poor, but they are very, very generous because they want to have a televisions station,” he said. “We are relying on foreign missions and mission appeals for the rest of the 40 percent. We really need continued support.”