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"Our lady of velankanni" (Our Lady of Good Health). Madonna and Child, St. Thomas Mount Shrine, Chennai, India

It feels somehow fitting that our first venture outside our lovely hotel in Chennai took us high above the city to the holy place where Saint Thomas the apostle gave his life for his faith. As the Shrine's website explains:

St. Thomas Mount National Shrine is located very close to the International Airport, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. The National Shrine comes under the Catholic Diocese of Chingleput, which is under the pastoral care of Bishop Rt. Rev. Dr. A. Neethinathan. This shrine is dedicated to "Our Lady of Expectation" and was rebuilt in 1523 on top of the mount. The altar of this Shrine was built on the spot, where St.Thomas was martyred in 72 AD.

In today's gospel passage from Mark 3, we read how Thomas was called with the twelve to follow Christ. Sent forth to preach, we know some of Thomas' story: the doubt, the eventual trust, and the giving of his life in service to the Good News. That service brought him here to India, where he eventually died a martyr's death. In my frailty, I have often turned to the one who doubted in my own moments of doubt, asking for his grace and intercession that I might be strong as he was. I had already named St. Thomas one of my saintly companions for this journey. So to be able to pray in this place at the outset of our journey was a special moment of blessing.

Our group is just coming to know one another and also the country staff who serve Unbound here in India. After a delicious lunch and before departing for the Shrine, we had an overview presentation of Unbound's work in Chennai. Of special note to me during this informative session were the multiple local staffers who began their experience with Unbound as sponsored children and have now gone on to pursue their educations and serve the non-profit as social workers. Is there any greater example of Unbound's fight against the cycle of poverty (as outlined on their website)?

St. Teresa of Kolkata, St. Thomas Mount Shrine, Chennai, India

We're on the leading edge of fighting world poverty. Poverty isn't just about lack of money — it’s about lack of choices. We’ve found that families make good choices when they have support and encouragement. They invest in the education of their children. They develop livelihoods and become active community participants in the spirit of true sustainability. We work with families at the grassroots level with local staff. Our social workers visit the homes of the families and listen to their needs. They work with children to set education goals. They visit the elderly. They bring families together in small groups to support one another and improve their community.

Today, surrounded by my fellow Unbound sponsors and this gifted team who work daily to serve the families of Chennai, it feels like such a grace to be able to answer God's calling in my own tiny way. As you pray over those words of Mark 3, "He appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles, that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach," I invite you to ponder how each of us, by merit of our Baptism, are called as the twelve were.

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” John 20:24-29

Today, I am praying for the grace to learn, as St. Thomas did, to overcome any doubts harbored in my soul and to give myself over fully to the sharing of God's great love. I'm praying for the grace to see the face of Christ in those I will meet here in Chennai, especially in the faces of those most in need. I'm praying for the grace of answer Jesus' call with a full and worthy "Yes". Here, surrounded by Unbound staff who make this their calling on a daily basis, the calling is more tangible than ever.

How will I respond?

Be sure to watch here on the blog for my India Journal entries and follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to experience the fun. I'll be using the hashtag #UnboundAdventure while on the trip. If you have tips for me, questions about this mission or Unbound or simply want to come along on the adventure, be sure to drop me a comment, tweet or message!

My patron saints for this journey will be the patrons of India: St. Thomas--called "Apostle of India"--who built India's first church, St. Francis Xavier, Jesuit missionary to India, and our Blessed Mother in her titles of Our Lady of the Assumption, Our Lady of Bandel and Our Lady of Bandra. Please join me in praying for Our Lady's intercession in the work of Unbound and for the wisdom and example of Saints Thomas and Francis in understanding how the Good News of Christ's gospel calls me to be a servant in our world.

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Copyright 2017 Lisa M. Hendey