The church of the Divine Mercy in Sungai Ara, Penang exuded colour and vibrancy over the weekend on January 17th and 18th 2015 as the parishioners gathered to celebrate ‘Pongal’ or the harvest festival. It was an opportune moment for the parish BEC to come together as a family to give thanks to the Lord for his abundant blessings of good health, happiness and prosperity. The event, organized by the Ministry of Hospitality saw the participation of not only the ethnic Indians but also the Chinese, Filipinos and East Malaysians who came decked in shimmering sarees , kurtas, dhoti and salwar khameez
A colourful ‘kolam’ drawing greeted the parishioners at the porch while a decorated earthenware pot simmering with milk was perched on bricks over a charcoal fire. While the flames were being fanned, the children led the ‘kolaatam’, a traditional Indian dance with rhythmic beating of sticks in praise of Jesus for His blessings. A group of women and then the men followed suit. As ‘Pongal’ literally means boiling over, ghee, cashew, rice, sugar and raisins were added to the overflowing milk to the shouts of ‘Pongalo Pongal’!
The sunset mass began with the ‘Arathi’ or blessing with light by three senior women of the parish who blessed the Parish priest, Fr Martin Arlando, who in turn blessed the congregation.
In his homily, Father Martin pointed out the common elements in the three stories of fulfilled potentials in the Sunday’s First Reading and the Gospel. Firstly Eli, the high priest was instrumental in Samuel’s discovery of his vocation. Then John the Baptist led Andrew’s discovery of Jesus and finally Andrew himself was instrumental in Peter’s conversion. In this respect, many of us can point out people, incidences or events that led us to Jesus.
“When I see your presence here, I rejoice”, said Father. “It is because I know that you are striving to walk in the way, the truth and the life that comes to each and everyone of us through Jesus. Your presence here today is a spiritual sign that the grace of God is at work in all of you”.
Father Martin concluded the homily by inviting the congregation to ponder over two pertinent questions – “Having accepted Jesus, have we become the person we can be by living up to His teachings and examples? Have we also become instrumental in bringing another person to meet and accept Jesus in faith?’
During the Offertory, symbolic gifts were offered in addition to the Bread and Wine. This included:
- Padi husks – for all that is bountiful and life-sustaining reflecting new life and renewal
- Milk – for life and fertility with the ritual of boiling over signifying abundant joy and happiness
- Sugar Cane – symbol of a good harvest reflecting the desire to develop and nurture good relationships
- Boiled Pongal – a sweet symbol of wealth and prosperity and the wish for abundant blessings
- Vegetables – a symbol of life giving sustenance and thanksgiving for blessings
- Fruits – a symbol of nature’s abundance and our desire to surrender all to our loving and generous God
A delicious banana leaf dinner was served after mass to a large crowd including visitors from other parishes. The celebrations continued after Sunday mass with fellowship and competitions for best dressed persons in Indian attire, Kolam drawing, lighting the Kutuvillaku or traditional oil lamp and weaving the decorative coconut leaf ‘thoranam’. The CDM Pongal celebration ended with a fun filled, highly amusing contest to break water-filled earthenware pots – whilst being blindfolded!
The event not already brought the BECs together to give thanks to Our Lord for his generosity, it also opened a window to see and participate in the cultural practices of the ethnic Indian community.
Church of Divine Mercy, Penang