Over the summer, members of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Golden Springs welcomed a new priest to their parish.
Rev. Charley Alookaran arrived here from Athens, Ala., where he pastored for 13 years. Before that, he was an associate at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Birmingham.
Alookaran was born and raised in southern India, in the town of Irinjalakuda, located in the state of Kerala. The dominant religions there are Hindu and Islam.
As Christians, Alookaran’s family is in the minority. They date their spiritual roots back to the year 52, when St. Thomas the Apostle brought the gospel to Kerala in one of history’s earliest evangelical missions.
Alookaran is the youngest of seven children in his family. He was born at home in the middle of the night. All of his siblings were born at home with no complications, but for baby Charley, things were different.
His was a breech birth.
The doctor in charge was his maternal grandfather, who was assisted by two of his physician friends. The men used their medical knowledge and special instruments to get the baby out, but once they did, they realized he wasn’t breathing or showing any signs of life.
Sadly, it was a stillborn birth.
The doctors placed the baby’s body in an aluminum basin and slid it under the bed. Since it was the middle of the night, they would have to wait until morning to send for a burial crew.
“Had I been born during the day, I wouldn’t be here now,” Alookaran said.
For this devout Catholic family, the tragedy was compounded by the fact that the baby died before being baptized. The church cemetery was reserved only for those who had been baptized. Those who hadn’t been baptized were buried in another location.
The doctors adjourned to the kitchen for coffee as they waited for daybreak to come. The mother was resting comfortably and the midwife took over, tending to her care.
While going about her work, the midwife suddenly experienced an odd sensation. She felt an overwhelming sense of urgency to check on the baby. As he tells the story today, Alookaran has no doubt that what the midwife felt was a communication from God.
She slid the basin out from under the bed and took hold of the baby’s limbs. She shook his arms, his legs, looking for any sign of life. Just as she was about to give up, the baby suddenly made a single, quick gasp for air.
The midwife called for help and the doctors rushed into the room. They gathered around to examine the infant, but there was no movement. “Were you sleeping or dreaming?” they asked the midwife.
“No,” she responded, insisting the baby had taken a breath. The men administered pharmaceutical injections into the infant’s umbilical cord, and then suddenly the baby made a series of rapid gasps.
The grandfather quickly raced to the kitchen for water, which he brought back for the purpose of baptizing his grandson. By administering the sacrament, he insured that the baby would be buried in the church cemetery when he died, as there was still very little hope for survival.
The next day the baby was in great distress and would not stop crying. A cousin noticed that the infant’s neck was swollen from where forceps had been applied. She sent for one of the physicians, who lived nearby, and he responded with genuine surprise — “The baby is still alive?”
The story of Alookaran’s remarkable birth was common knowledge in the area. His father owned and operated a wholesale-retail grocery market, which meant that the family was well known in the region.
For as long as Alookaran can remember, “from the time I was this tall,” he said, holding his hand out, “people would point to me and say, ‘You’re the one who died.’”
To that young boy, even at such a tender age, it could only mean one thing — that he would someday become a priest.
“This life was given to me by my God,” he said. “The best way to give back is by serving Him.”
Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.