Vijai Amritha Raj considers himself to be very fortunate. Fortunate to have the opportunity to study in a diverse city such as Toronto, and fortunate to be in a hospitable university setting like Regis College.
“The community here is very welcoming,” says Vijai. “The small classes means there is more personal contact and the interaction challenges you.” Vijai smiles as he talks about being unable to hide from professors and fellow students as topics are often discussed in a smaller seminar setting.
Back in India, Vijai says, classes consisted of 100 students or more and no one was over the age of 30. At Regis, the smaller sized classes, diverse ages, assorted professional backgrounds and one–on-one contact with professors, was a welcome change for the student who arrived in Canada in 2006.
Since arriving in Toronto, Vijai has been a member of St. Ann’s parish in east-end Toronto and has enjoyed Toronto’s unique ethnic diversity. If he ever gets homesick, Toronto’s east-end ‘Little India’ community is also nearby.
Originally from the village of Karungudi, in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, the soft-spoken student is completing his Master of Divinity in the spring of 2009 and hopes to be ordained a priest in the Holy Cross congregation that same year.
Before arriving in Toronto, Vijai was studying at another Jesuit-administered College in India, Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, when his provincial asked if he would like to study theology in Canada. The journey, as Vijai says, was truly an unexpected surprise, because he had long wanted to study abroad.
While Vijai has quickly adjusted to life in Toronto, coming to a foreign land and adjusting to a very different culture was initially not so easy.
“At first I was overwhelmed with life here, the customs, food, the way people relate to one another, the wealth and social services,” remembers Vijai. Toronto was far more advanced in some ways than back in India. Quickly though, Vijai was welcomed at Regis College and St. Ann’s parish.
In the fall of 2007, Vijai was presented with the opportunity to use his theological training in an intense life situation when he used his clinical pastoral education to minster to patients at St. Michael’s hospital, in downtown Toronto. The work consisted of visits with patients in hospital to comfort them, and answer some of their questions, as well as group work where individual discovery was highlighted.
It wasn’t the first time Vijai had worked in an often emotionally stressful environment. During the Mumbai floods of 2005, Vijai watched as the heavy rains flooded a river near the church and school where he was working, forcing locals to flee their communities to higher altitudes.
“We assisted people for more than a week before aid came in from outside,” says Vijai. The experience left quite a mark on the young Vijai who had also previously worked with Mother Teresa’s Brothers and Sisters in helping those challenged or left out by society.
“Faith played a big role during these terrible floods,” says Vijai. What touched him and pushed him to work even harder was that people came to help out at the church even though they had lost everything from their own lives.
Having been raised in a traditional Catholic setting in India, Vijai, the youngest of four children, credits his early memories of priests coming to visit and assist families in the village, for his decision to enter the priesthood.
Before coming to Toronto, Vijai had studied philosophy, sociology, psychology, cosmology, and world religions. He also had the opportunity to work at a parish and school community in Mumbai. Vijai recognizes this hands-on work as helping him to better understand the struggles people face.
Vijai Amritha Raj is completing his Master of Divinity in the spring of 2009 and hopes to be ordained a priest in the Holy Cross congregation that same year.