“Need of the hour: Building bridges, Reconciling communities, and Enhancing good relationships” A Short Report on my visit to the Central and Northern Jesuit Provinces

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Time and again it is insisted that young Jesuits should have exposure to interreligious and intercultural milieu in order to breathe in their formation a spirit that broadens them up and a spirit that becomes universal, crossing the boundaries of narrow domains of region, class, language, and culture. The Secretariat for Dialogue initiates this process of opening up the spirit to different religious and cultural traditions, inflaming in the young ones a desire for peace and harmony in the contexts of division and violence.

As the Secretary for Interreligious Dialogue in the Jesuit Assistancy of South Asia, it has been my ambition and objective to reach out to the young ones to motivate them in the ministry primarily of dialogue and reconciliation. Positively, it is to build bridges in humanities that are divided and fighting, and to live with care in the surrounding of all forms of life including nature.

It is my second term as JCSA Secretary for dialogue (2000-2007, 2013- ). I did this exercise of visiting with the Juniors, philosophers, and theologians in 2013. And recently I undertook a short travel to Pune and Mumbai on Nov. 20-24, 2016 and, later, on Dec. 10-22, 2016 to Patna, Bodhi Gaya, Sitagarha, and Ranchi, and Kolkata to visit and to address the young Jesuits on the status of the Ministry of Interreligious Dialogue, its shades and shores and also to organize the Assistancy meeting of the Coordinators of Dialogue in Kolkata. This is the pictorial report of my visits to the young ones.

In all these places, I presented the religio-political situation of contemporary India to discern newer paths and directions the ministry of dialogue should take shape, and the qualities and the competence a Jesuit needs to have. I encouraged the young Jesuits to think and to relate with others beyond the boundaries of caste and religion, harnessing good will and genuine interest in them. It is not just enough, given the present situation, to promote harmony through mutual learning and participation in festivities and celebrations. One needs to be proactive in order to stand against all that thwarts pluralism and secular values of our country and to voice forth in all possible manners to nurture and enhance love and fellowship, trust and cooperation. The need of the hour is to build bridges among and to reconcile communities, and to enhance good relationships. The Junior Jesuits filled a survey form regarding their knowledge and interest in the Ministry of interreligious Dialogue.

I thank Fr. Zacheus Dung Dung (De Nobili, Pune), Fr. Julian Sahayadoss (Dhyan Ashram, Kolkata), Fr. Edward Dung Dung (Danapur Juniorate), Fr. Soosai Lawrence (Jeevan Sangham, Bodhi Gaya), Fr. Arun Minj (Sitagarha Juniorate), and Fr. Sudhir Kumar Kujur (Manresa, Ranchi) who were ready and generous in arranging my talks in their respective places and the Jesuits of the various houses for hosting me. And I am grateful to Fr. PJ James, Coordinator of Hazaribagh Province, who accompanied me up to Sitagarha despite his prior commitments with the Alumni.

The travel gave me the opportunity to meet with several senior Jesuits, dialoguing with the poor, with Buddhism, and in Formation and Education. I met Fr. Prashanth, heading the Dept of Interreligious Studies in St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, who explained to me the activities of the Dept. which was established nearly two decades ago. He said, “The Dept. attempts to create a forum that helps to build a spiritually and culturally harmonious world through wisdom and research, and dialogue and encounter.”  

This was the first time for me to visit the St. Pius X Pontifical Seminary of the Archdiocese of Bombay. Fr. Keith D’Souza SJ, Prof. of Philosophy and Religious Studies, was cordial, explaining the nuances of formation of youngsters, to-be-priests. Fr. Aniceto Pereira, Rector of the Seminary, described about BIRD, a programme on interreligious dialogue.

Thanks to Fr. Noel Sheth in St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, who sent me information about BIRD. He mentioned that the Bombay Archdiocese has a Commission for Inter-Religious Dialogue, the present Coordinator of which is Fr. SM Michael, SVD. This Commission conducts a Course for Catholic adults on “Basics of Inter-Religious Dialogue (BIRD)”. It covers Inter-Religious Dialogue and the core beliefs and practices of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Islam. It also has a quarterly magazine called “Sammelan”, which is sent free. I thank the about mentioned Jesuits for spending their time with me.

I had a short interview with Fr. Philip Manthara in Patna St. Xavier’s High School on the human rights situation in the Northern part of India and how it is linked to the ministry of dialogue. “Promoting the values of Justice, quality, and Fellowship enshrined in the Preamble of the Indian Constitutions should be the core mission of all, including Jesuits,” Fr. Philip emphasized. He gave me a printed card, and showed me big posters that carried these values mentioned in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution.

Fr. Joe Thadavanal, Rector of St. Xavier’s College, Patna, took me to the Interreligious prayer room situated in St. Xavier’s College, which shelved various scriptures and the statue of a Pelican-like bird (in Tamil, Annam), that symbolizes discernment. In Tarumitra, there were students from St. Xavier’s School engaged in putting up cribs with nature-clad creativity. Fr. Robert Athickal hosted me with a cup of hot coffee, narrating the eco-friendly ways of young students. Fr. Jose Kalapura, Coordinator of Dialogue for Patna Province and Director of the Xavier Institute of Social Research, gave me an impetus to the social aspects of dialogue and showed me the number of productions of his institute.

 

Bodh Gaya, a sanctum sanctorum for the Buddhists, is the right place for the Jeevan Sangham, the socio-religious institute for Patna Province. It can well mean the Confluence of Life, as the Sanskrit term should mean, again a right place for religious dialogue. Bodh Gaya is a centre for Buddhist learning with many monasteries from every part of the Buddhist globe. Fr. Lawrence Soosai, the one person from Patina Province who holds a doctoral degree in Buddhist studies, took me to several of the monasteries, giving a crash course on the Buddhist culture in Bodh Gaya. I had a short video clipping of a Tibetan monk, expressing the end-result of dialogue as loving relationship. Fr. Augustine, Asst. Director for Non-formal Apostolate in Jeevan Sangham, was warm and welcoming.

On the whole, the visits were enriching to me as I met many Jesuits, particularly the young ones, and also hopefully an occasion for the young ones to learn and to show interest in this needed apostolate.

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Dr. Vincent Sekhar SJ
Assistancy Secretary for Interreligious Dialogue
Email: sekharsj2010@gmail.com