By Barb Arland-Fye
We said goodbye more than four years ago in India but it seemed like yesterday when Father Francis Bashyam and Father Nathan Arokianathan walked into my office last Friday afternoon, smiling warmly and greeting me with hugs. Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula, their longtime friend, brought them to my office so that the priests and I could enjoy the afternoon together before all of us gathered for dinner that evening at my house.
Father Francis served as the guide and coordinator of Archbishop-elect Zinkula’s journey to India in 2019 to deliver the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award to the Dalai Lama and to visit a Catholic Relief Services project, among other activities. I had the privilege of accompanying the archbishop-elect as a journalist and a member of the Pacem in Terris Coalition whose members nominate candidates for the award.
The two Indian priests have been friends for decades and got to know then-Father Thomas Zinkula during their journeys to the Archdiocese of Dubuque where he served as a priest. More than a decade ago, Father Zinkula traveled to India, where Fathers Francis and Nathan and their relatives treated him like family. On his second journey to India,
they welcomed him back like a brother and extended their hospitality to me, which I hoped to someday reciprocate.
Since then, I’ve kept in touch with Fathers Francis and Nathan mostly on “What’s App,” a social media app. I pray daily for them, their families and the people they serve in their ministry. Father Francis emailed four months ago that he and Father Nathan planned to visit their friends in Iowa and would like to see me, too.
“Thank you for sharing this great news!” I responded. “I would like to invite you and Fr. Nathan and Bishop Thomas to my home in LeClaire for dinner during your visit to Iowa. One small way to express appreciation for your hospitality and friendship.”
The dinner offer came after consultation with my husband Steve, the cook in our family. The meals the bishop and I enjoyed in India were prepared with great care and love and so are the meals that Steve makes. Last Friday, my task was to entertain Fathers Francis and Nathan so that Steve could create a masterpiece: grilled chicken and salmon with baked potatoes, roasted Brussel sprouts, salad, cream of broccoli soup, bread, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for dessert.
I took my Indian friends to the new Interstate 74 Bridge that connects the Iowa and Illinois Quad Cities over the Mississippi River to walk on the bridge’s pedestrian pathway. I had visited some magnificent sites in India, including the Taj Mahal, one of the world’s greatest architectural achievements. The new bridge is no comparison to the Taj Mahal but it spans the Mississippi River, which is an awesome wonder of God’s Creation.
Fathers Francis and Nathan enjoyed their experience, snapping photo after photo. By the time we arrived at the house, Steve had dinner well under way. Archbishop-elect Zinkula arrived in time for dinner, which everyone enjoyed. Steve told me later, “I wanted to make them feel welcome. They treated you well and I wanted to return the favor.”
Steve and I drove the priests back to the Dubuque area that night and exchanged goodbyes. I think Steve is now a part of this family of friends.
“Friendship is one of life’s gifts and a grace from God,” Pope Francis says in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation to young people and the entire people of God, “Christus Vivit” (“Christ is Alive”).
“The experience of friendship teaches us to be open, understanding and caring towards others, to come out of our own comfortable isolation and to share our lives with others. For this reason, “there is nothing so precious as a faithful friend…”
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)