What No Storm Can Wash Away

The tsunami that wreaked so much destruction across the Indian Ocean on Sunday morning, December 26, 2004, devastated towns along India's shore that boast significant Christian populations. In the picture at left, a Catholic shrine (called the "Lourdes of the East" as it attracts millions of pilgrims each year) overlooks overturned storefronts in the town of Vailankanni. Vailankanni is located on the shores of the southeastern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which is a bastion of both Catholic and Protestant Christianity. Catholic missionaries planted churches there in the 16th century and Pietists in the 18th. Tamil Nadu is the supposed burial place of the Apostle Thomas and is associated with a number of famous Christian leaders including the Irish missionary Amy Carmichael, the historian Stephen Neill, the theologian Lesslie Newbigin, and the popular apologist Ravi Zacharias.

India's Apostle

Indian Christians claim an ancient heritage. According to tradition, the Apostle Thomas landed on the Malabar coast of southwest India in A.D. 52. He healed the sick and demon-possessed, converted people from various castes, and finally died in Mylapore (now within the huge city of Madras, recently renamed Chennai) at the hands of hostile Brahmans. The second-century Acts of Thomas relates that Thomas encountered an Indian official named Abban in Jerusalem, who invited him to come to India to build a palace for King Gundaphorus. Thomas agreed to go with Abban, and the king eventually became a believer.

Indian Christians still make pilgrimages to shrines that remember Thomas. As an act of penance on Good Friday, Catholic nuns carry wooden crosses nearly 2,000 feet up a hill in Malayatoor, Kerala, where Thomas is ...

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