Fr. Chebbathina, left, associate pastor at St. Mary's Missionary Parish in Souris, P.E.I., is welcomed by the parish's then-pastor Fr. Batchilder.

PHOTO | COURTESY OF CBC

Fr. Chebbathina, left, associate pastor at St. Mary's Missionary Parish in Souris, P.E.I., is welcomed by the parish's then-pastor Fr. Batchilder.

July 27, 2015
JEAN KO DIN
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

Father Rajumr Chebattina got his 15 minutes of fame in early July when he was featured with Father Paul Batchilder on CBC's new summer series, Still Standing.

For Still Standing, comedian Jonny Harris, best known for his role as Crabtree in Murdoch Mysteries, travels to small towns across Canada to spend a week immersed in the community. At the end of the week, he performs original comedy material based on his experiences before an audience of townspeople.

Chebattina's episode featured the small town of Souris in northeastern Kings County, P.E.I., where Chebattina is associate pastor at St. Mary's Missionary Parish. At the time of filming in April, Batchilder was pastor.

"It was my first comedy show that I watched live," said Chebattina, who is originally from India. "I was sitting in the front row. I enjoyed the evening with him. People just laughed and laughed and laughed."

Even though he has only lived in Canada for a few months, Chebattina seems to be adapting well. He was watching a playoff hockey game when he saw himself on a promo for Still Standing during a commercial break.

"It was during my beginning days here in Prince Edward Island, and I didn't really know much about it," he said. "I didn't know it was going to be on CBC. To see myself on national television, . . . I never expected this would happen."

GOOD CATHOLIC BOY

Chebattina said his time filming the show with Batchilder and Harris is a bit of a blur now, but he does say Harris is a "good Catholic boy who had a great love for priests."

Harris talked to the two priests about the faithful in a town steeped in tradition. Chebattina shared with Harris that moving from India to Souris was a huge culture shock for him. He described the experience as "God brings you on a plane and drops you onto a small land."

"I think most people in your scenario would've been on the phone with the Vatican pretty quick like, 'Ted, there's got to be sinners down in Florida,'" joked Harris during the episode.

Executive producer Maureen Riley said Chebattina's "fish-out-of-water story" was an interesting part of the episode, but she adds that what makes every episode is the people's obvious love for the tradition and culture of their town.

"Souris is a beautiful little town. When you look around, it's just visually stunning," said Riley. "The thing that struck me about Souris is that they were becoming so creative about what they could do to stay in their small town."

A Newfoundlander himself, Harris felt at home talking to the townspeople and understood what it was like to grow up in a small town in the Maritimes. His comedy show was an affectionate tribute to their way of living, so it was only natural that he received a warm ovation.

Chebattina had lived in India his whole life, but as part of his priestly assignment with the Missionary Priests for Christ, he was assigned to Souris.

"When I came here, I was brought by the bishop (of Charlottetown)," said Chebattina. "Bishop (Richard) Grecco is a man with great love. . . . He wanted people to realize that we are in need of missionary priests."

WARM WELCOME

Chebattina said he vividly remembers the warm welcome he received during his first Mass in town. Everyone lined up to greet him after the Mass and he said he was very grateful.

"It was pretty new to me. Everyone shakes hands with you and gives you a big hug, and said, 'Father, whatever you need just tell us,'" he said.

"I didn't have lots of warm clothes and, in two days time, people just dropped a few sweaters and asked me 'What food do you like?' "