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Hindu-born refugee’s final wish before dying: ‘I want to be a Catholic’

Becoming a Catholic

Friends in faith: Dominican Father Pan Jordan (left) with new Catholic Shanthakumar Kathirkamu at Princess Alexandra Hospital. Photo: Peter Bugden

POPE Francis in a new book says “we touch the flesh of Christ” in those who suffer, and Dominican Father Pan Jordan believes he has had that experience through one of Brisbane’s newest Catholics.

“We are called to serve Christ the crucified through every marginalised person,” the Pope said in the book The Name of God is Mercy.

“We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge.”

Fr Jordan has experienced that through Shanthakumar Kathirkamu, a critically-ill 45-year-old Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka who was born a Hindu, but became a Catholic last weekend.

Mr Kathirkamu has a brain tumour and doctors at the Princess Alexandra Hospital have told him he does not have long to live.

Fr Jordan baptised and confirmed him at the hospital last weekend, and gave him First Holy Communion and anointed him.

Mr Kathirkamu’s decision to become a Catholic came out of the blue for Fr Jordan even though the Sri Lankan refugee had been attending monthly Masses held for Tamil Catholics.

Fr Jordan accompanied Mr Kathirkamu when he was admitted to hospital recently for further surgery and treatment.

When a nurse was taking Mr Kathirkamu’s details she asked him what religion he was and he said, “I am a Catholic”.

A few days later Fr Jordan broached the subject of whether he wanted a Hindu burial or a Catholic funeral, and Mr Kathirkamu said, “I want to have a church Catholic funeral.”

“Then I said, ‘Why do you want to have a church funeral; you are a Hindu?’,” Fr Jordan said.

“‘I don’t worship the Hindu god,’ he said.

“Because now he has come to church and he reads the Bible and things like that.

“And then he said he would like to be baptised.”

Fr Jordan said Mr Kathirkamu had been “a very faithful servant” in attending the Masses for Tamil Catholics.

“(And) before he was diagnosed he used to work with the Moorooka parish, taking beds and tables and mattresses to people who need it – refugees,” he said.

While Fr Jordan and others may have “touched the flesh of Christ” through Mr Kathirkamu, their efforts supporting him have helped him to embrace Christ.

“When I got sick and when I came as a refugee nobody has come to do much help to me, but Fr Pan and other friends who are Catholics they were very helpful to me in these difficult times so it was something that I thought I wanted to become a Catholic,” he said from his hospital bed on the eve of his baptism.

“I have been thinking about it for a while.

“Because I’m moved by these signs of people, and because of that and my experience of God also, I have some kind of experience of God in my life.

“After this sickness my relationship with God is deeper than before.”

Fr Jordan said “Kumar was really happy and excited” after his baptism.

It was a bright spot for a man suffering a terminal illness at the end of a journey that has seen him flee violence in Sri Lanka and then take a dangerous boat trip from India to seek asylum in Australia in 2011.

About 20 people were at the hospital chapel for the combined ceremonies but Mr Kathirkamu’s wife Nageswary was not among them.

She is still back in India where they fled to during Sri Lanka’s civil conflict.

Fr Jordan and others are working to have the Immigration Department approve a visitor visa for Mrs Kathirkamu so she can be with her husband. “She is the best person to help care for him for the rest of his short life,” Fr Jordan said.

By Peter Bugden

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