Remembering Bishop Thomas Thennatt SAC: Pastor of the Peripheries
"BE SHEPHERDS WITH THE SMELL OF YOUR SHEEP, IN THE MIDST OF YOUR PEOPLE LIKE JESUS THE GOOD SHEPHERD"
18 December • Rome, Italy
Fr. Jacob Nampudakam SAC, Rector General
Let me pay homage to my Confrere- Bishop Thomas Thennatt SAC- who died in a fatal car accident 14 December 2018, while returning from a school function. He had no second chance; the head injury was too grave for recovery.
It has almost been two years since he was ordained Bishop of the Diocese of Gwalior, North India; the first Indian Pallottine Bishop of our own, and we thanked God for this gift. He was not just a confrere but a brother. I studied, played, and prayed together with Bishop Thomas in our Seminary days at Pallotti Bhawan, Seminary Hills, Nagpur. He was a tough player of football and basketball!
I love and respect him for many reasons, but would like to mention just one: Bishop Thomas was a Pastor according to the heart of Jesus, who loved his flock to the very end. He loved God’s people and entered into their daily life. There was no pretense, no formality, no act, but just as another fellow traveler!
Prestige, position, and money mattered little to him. He was the man who forgot to wear a pair of shoes during his Episcopal ordination, arriving instead with his old pair of sandals. Somebody rushed home to get him another pair before starting the procession to the altar. He chose to live a life of the Gospel’s simplicity and poverty- just as our dear Holy Father Pope Francis is following, challenging all of the disciples of Jesus.
Even as I write these lines waiting in the airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on my return journey to Rome after tedious- but joyful- visitations to our Confreres working in Zambia and Malawi, I cannot control my tears thinking of the funeral that will take place today in Gwailor. I will not be present among my sad members since it was too difficult to cancel the visitations, and reach India in time.
Perhaps, though, I do not wish to be there as well. Let the living image of my Confrere, the good Pastor, remain in my mind and heart, and not the lifeless body.
During these days when I had to travel long distances by road and planes, the thought about Bishop Thomas and his fatal accident was ever in my heart, of course, with a certain heaviness. Should such a thing happen to me in my innumerable travels, my Confreres must not feel too sad, though humanly we cannot avoid feeling it. Life, death, toils, and sweat are all part of the mission. I am a mission. We are a mission. It is a continuum. As St. Paul says, whether we are alive or dead, we are in Christ Jesus. It is a great confession of faith by this Apostle who was the mighty Evangelizer.
Go in peace, my Confrere, to that land where the sun never sets. After the tireless work- like building up the parish Church in the mushy land of Nagpur- you deserve a lot of rest. Indeed, this time it is not only for a week or a month, but it is going to be eternal.
I have a thought for us whom you have left behind. You have shown us what it means to be a priest, a Pallottine. You challenge us to spare nothing in being what we are called to be. The Gospel paradox is proved right: in losing ourselves, we find life.
Though junior to you, as Rector General, let me thank you for being a genuine missionary disciple following the spirit of our Founder, St. Vincent Pallotti. Perhaps you wish to conclude with your loud laughter! You have crossed the finish line of the lengthy marathon of 65 years! Safe journey, my brother, under the Blue Mantle of Our Heavenly Mother.