The missionary has been involved for years in helping people with Hansen’s disease and spreading the PIME charisma. "I'm happy but at the same time I am a bit afraid,” he said. “I hope I can lead the diocese with God’s help."
Eluru (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis this morning appointed Fr Rayarala Vijay Kumar as bishop of Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh. Hitherto the new prelate was the regional superior of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in India.
"I am really happy. I didn't expect it; for me it was a surprise. I ask you to pray for me," he told AsiaNews. "I had just sent a letter to the various confreres on some news regarding the mission in Taloja, when the announcement arrived. It blew me over,” he said, describing the moment he received the news of his appointment by the Holy See.
"I'm happy,” he added, “but at the same time I am a bit afraid of facing a new, bigger and different reality, where PIME is absent. I hope I can lead the diocese with God’s help.”
Fr Kumar was born on 15 October 1969 into a Catholic family in Naidupet, a hamlet in the Diocese of Khammam, Telangana. His father, a parish catechist, was very active locally in pastoral outreach. He worked in “community medicine, loved poetry and art, made little statues and staged plays in the village".
He has deep respect and affection for his mother, who is still alive. "With ten children, eight boys and two girls, she could do nothing but be strong-willed. And she still is."
"When I told her, I wanted to be a priest, at first she got angry because she thought I was making fun of her. But then she then told me that if I was serious, she would be the happiest person in the world."
The priest grew up with the examples of Italian PIME missionaries and calls himself their "product". During his youth he visited the missions with Fr Benito Picascia, then PIME regional superior, and Fr Thota Balaswamy, with whom he toured the villages playing the drum.
He studied philosophy in Pune. Between 1993 and 1998 he studied theology at the PIME seminary in Monza (Italy). After he was ordained on 29 August 1998, he returned to India and went to work for Xaverian institutes in Eluru between 1998-2000.
Eventually, he was sent as a missionary to Papua New Guinea where he worked between 2003 and 2006. Afterwards, he was back in India spreading the PIME charisma and working for the rehabilitation of people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy), also thanks to the intuition of Fr Carlo Torriani, founder of the leprosarium in Swarga Dwar near Mumbai, who saw a "sign" in him.
He has been PIME regional superior in India since 2014 and is currently in his second term. His constant commitment to society’s downtrodden led him in February of this year to set up a PIME ‘House of Mercy’ in Taloja, near the leprosy and HIV facility. This is where he received news of his episcopal appointment.
The House of Mercy is meant as "a bridge" between religions, to raise awareness about the living conditions of people with leprosy whilst, at the same time, breaking down the walls of mistrust that marginalise them as much as Dalits.
"Whoever sees us can see that we are working for humanity, not proselytising or converting people," he explained.
His vocation has been “like an escalator,” Mgr Kumar said. “If you answer yes to God's calling, you take the first step. Then the ladder moves by itself, because it is God who does everything else. This does not mean that there are no difficulties. But there is an invisible force that helps you grow in life, and slowly keeps you going. The escalator is the strength of God who walks with you.” (A.C.F.)