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Interview with Father Alphonse Bakthiswalagan,
superior of the Guanellian Community in Iaşi

edited by B. Capparoni

Cdear father Alphonse, you have become a priest ten  Years ago. How many years have you been in Romania? Have you gotten used to this new environment?

My first ten years of priesthood were "years of grace from the Lord". I must say that I have always kept a great joy in my heart and I have always felt accompanied by the action of the Holy Spirit and by Mary, mother, friend and sister on the journey of faith. I arrived in Romania on March 1, 2015 and began learning the language and pastoral service among the elderly of the home of the Guanellian nuns and the soup kitchen.  I came with great trust in the Lord, even though there were  difficult days. But difficulties are often a sign that we are on the right path, the one that the Lord wants. I know that I can count on the prayers of many. 

She belongs to the noble nation that is India and lives in an equally noble country that is Romania. How do you find? What are the biggest differences between your homeland of origin and your adopted homeland? 

The Church in India has been an integral part of the development and life of our people since the beginning of Christianity.  Indian culture places a lot of attention on the soul, mind and various levels of knowledge through meditation practice. In Romania the majority of the faithful belong to the Orthodox Church. The Catholic community, both "Greek" and "Latin", is alive and active. The union between all Christians, although incomplete, is based on the one Baptism and is sealed by blood and suffering, particularly in the last century under the atheistic regime. 

Who are the members of the two Guanellian communities? Can you introduce them to us?

In Romania we have two  community. In Iaşi there is a training community and a mission with homeless people. The community is made up of me who am the religious superior, from  father Battista Omodei and the student Victor Lunda from Congo who is doing the internship. In Bucharest there is  Father Antony Kalai Selvan, father master and director of the activity, Father Gedeon Ntambo Enewa of Congo, Father Arockia Nathan Sebastian bursar, and two Romanian novices  Andrei Ghergut and Josif Borticel.   

You are the superior of the Casa Sfântul Alois Guanella in Iaşi. It is a home to help young people discern their vocation. Tell us what the vocational situation is in Romania and what hopes you have.

We also have a vocations crisis in Romania.  So far, around twenty young people have had help in discerning their vocation. Everyone is happy with our Guanellian formation which passes through the ways of the heart. This year we have two Romanian novices and four young people in vocational discernment. There is no shortage of hope.

You are also dedicated to helping the homeless. We know that this is a serious problem for Romania. How did you organize this very special work?

We have decided to give concrete help, welcoming the homeless, respecting their dignity and providing them with a vehicle equipped with a bathroom, toilet, doctor's office, barber shop, washing machine and dryer; in this way street people feel respected and loved. To tell the truth, this is a community-wide project; our two novices co-wrote the project and are very busy. 

The Guanellian Sisters are also present in Romania. How is the collaboration between the two congregations born from the same Founder?

We are realizing the dream of Saint Luigi Guanella, that is, of living as a single family, priests and nuns together,  to respond to the charity of Christ. It is a beautiful testimony that we are living in Romanian land. We are very happy with the presence of our sisters. But the third branch of our Guanellian Family, that of the cooperators, was also born on Romanian soil. They prepared for four years to learn about the charism and spirituality of Saint Luigi Guanella and on 22 June 2019, during the opening Holy Mass of the 25-year jubilee of the Guanellian presence in Romania, they made their promise. 

In Bucharest you encountered the work of the Sisters of Holy Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Tell us how you met her and how you started collaborating.

The nuns of Mother Teresa of Calcutta have run a home for the disabled in one  city ​​called Chitila, 10 km from Bucharest. The first impression is that this work becomes a providential opportunity for us because the mission with the "good children" (as Don Guanella called the disabled) has always been a blessing for the Guanellians. There are 15 boys who were educated by nuns as children; now their age ranges from 30 to 45.  Now it is our turn to carry forward this Work and therefore we have a great need of the help of the good people who know the Don Guanella Work.

You certainly didn't expect the war to be so close. How are you experiencing this situation? What can you do for Ukrainian refugees?

The Guanellians in Romania welcome people fleeing the war, guaranteeing the most urgent needs and contributing to the reception of those who arrive in Iași. Every day we work to adapt our actions to needs with great flexibility, to respond to people's real needs.  So far we have welcomed 130 people into the house. At this moment we have 56 of which 20 are handicapped.   

 edited by Don B. Capparoni

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