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“The Christian Life as Discipleship”

Medellín – John Paul II Airport

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

During the Mass on Thursday in Bogotá, we heard Jesus calling his first disciples; the part of Luke’s Gospel which opens with this passage, concludes with the call of the Twelve.  What are the evangelists reminding us of between these two events?  That this journey of following Jesus involved a great work of purification in his first followers.  Some of the precepts, prohibitions and mandates made them feel secure; fulfilling certain practices and rites dispensed them from the uncomfortable question: “What would God like us to do?”  The Lord Jesus tells them that their fulfilment involves following him, and that this journey will make them encounter lepers, paralytics and sinners.  These realities demand much more than a formula, an established norm.  The disciples learned that following Jesus presupposes other priorities, other considerations in order to serve God.  For the Lord, as also for the first community, it is of the greatest importance that we who call ourselves disciples not cling to a certain style or to particular practices that cause us to be more like some Pharisees than like Jesus.  Jesus’ freedom contrasts with the lack of freedom seen in the doctors of the law of that time, who were paralyzed by a rigorous interpretation and practice of that law.  Jesus does not live according to a superficially “correct” observance; he brings the law to its fullness.  This is what he wants for us, to follow him in such a way as to go to what is essential, to be renewed, and to get involved.  These are three attitudes that must form our lives as disciples. 

Firstly, going to what is essential.  This does not mean “breaking with everything” that does not suit us, because Jesus did not come “to abolish the law, but to fulfil it” (Mt 5:17); it means to go deep, to what matters and has value for life.  Jesus teaches that being in relationship with God cannot be a cold attachment to norms and laws, nor the observance of some outward actions that do not lead to a real change of life.  Neither can our discipleship simply be motivated by custom because we have a baptismal certificate.  Discipleship must begin with a living experience of God and his love.  It is not something static, but a continuous movement towards Christ; it is not simply the fidelity to making a doctrine explicit, but rather the experience of the Lord’s living, kindly and active presence, an ongoing formation by listening to his word.  And this word, we have heard, makes itself known to us in the concrete needs of our brothers and sisters: the hunger of those nearest to us in the text just proclaimed, or illness as Luke narrates afterwards.

Secondly, being renewed.  As Jesus “shook” the doctors of the law to break them free of their rigidity, now also the Church is “shaken” by the Spirit in order to lay aside comforts and attachments.  We should not be afraid of renewal.  The Church always needs renewal – Ecclesia semper reformanda.  She does not renew herself on her own whim, but rather does so “firm in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel” (Col1:23).  Renewal entails sacrifice and courage, not so that we can consider ourselves superior or flawless, but rather to respond better to the Lord’s call.  The Lord of the Sabbath, the reason for our commandments and prescriptions, invites us to reflect on regulations when our following him is at stake; when his open wounds and his cries of hunger and thirst for justice call out to us and demand new responses.  In Colombia there are many situations where disciples must embrace Jesus’ way of life, particularly love transformed into acts of non-violence, reconciliation and peace.  

Thirdly, getting involved.  Even if it may seem that you are getting yourself dirty or stained, get involved.  Like David and those with him who entered the Temple because they were hungry and the disciples of Jesus who ate ears of grain in the field, so also today we are called upon to be brave, to have that evangelical courage which springs from knowing that there are many who are hungry, who hunger for God, who hunger for dignity, because they have been deprived.  As Christians, help them to be satiated by God; do not impede them or stop this encounter.  We cannot be Christians who continually put up “do not enter” signs, nor can we consider that this space is mine or yours alone, or that we can claim ownership of something that is absolutely not ours.  The Church is not ours, she is God’s; he is the owner of the temple and the field; everyone has a place, everyone is invited to find here, and among us, his or her nourishment.  We are simple servants (cf. Col 1:23) and we cannot prevent this encounter.  On the contrary, Jesus tells us, as he told his disciples: “You give them something to eat” (Mt 14:16); this is our service.  Saint Peter Claver understood this well, he whom we celebrate today in the liturgy and whom I will venerate tomorrow in Cartagena.  “Slave of the slaves forever” was the motto of his life, because he understood, as a disciple of Jesus, that he could not remain indifferent to the suffering of the most helpless and mistreated of his time, and that he had to do something to alleviate their suffering. 

Brothers and sisters, the Church in Colombia is called to commit itself, with greater boldness, to forming missionary disciples, as the Bishops stated when they were gathered in Aparecida in 2007.  Disciples who know how to see, judge and act, as stated in that Latin-American document born in this land (cf. Medellín, 1968).  Missionary disciples that know how to see, without hereditary short-sightedness; looking at reality with the eyes and heart of Jesus, and only then judging.  Disciples who risk, act, and commit themselves.

I have come here precisely to confirm you in the faith and hope of the Gospel.  Remain steadfast and free in Christ, in such a way that you manifest him in everything you do; take up the path of Jesus with all your strength, know him, allow yourselves to be called and taught by him, and proclaim him with great joy. 

Let us pray through the intercession of Our Mother, Our Lady of Candelaria, that she may accompany us on our path of discipleship, so that, giving our lives to Christ, we may simply be missionaries who bring the light and joy of the Gospel to all people.

10 Sep 2017 - 06:27

[Names of persons have been changed to respect their privacy; all other details are from court and prison records]

Sample story 1 - Shantha Ram

Shantha Ram is accused of rape and murder of Kanchan Kumari, a 8 year old girl, his neighbor in the jhopari-patti (cluster of huts) along the railway track near the Bihar State Secretariat, Patna. The incident took place on 16.12.2007. Ram went absconding, but was arrested on 07.08.2011 and is in Patna central jail since then.

Like many others, initially Ram said that he was falsely implicated in the case; but, when I showed him the copy of case records, including Seizure List of items recovered from his jhopari (hut) such as his voter ID, the undergarment of the deceased girl and the forensic test reports, he became silent. With eyes filled with tears he said, "I don't want to live any longer; I want to die." I put my hand gently on his shoulder. This was around the time when the Delhi High court had confirmed the verdict of the trial court, awarding capital punishment (of hanging till death) to all the five accused in the infamous Nirbhaya case (of barbaric sexual attack on a physiotherapy intern in a moving bus on 16 December 2012 night and her death on 29 December 2012 in a Singapore Hospital - an event which shook the conscience of India); and, a court in Mothihari (East Champaran District in North Bihar) and another court in Uttar Pradesh had similarly awarded capital punishment for rape and murder of a small girl in each case. Ram had read about these judgments in the newspapers.

 

After sometime of silence, Ram asked me if he too will be awarded the same punishment. I told him that what he did or did not do to Kanchan Kumari is between him and God. Based on the evidence placed before it, the court will decide on his case. Since I am neither God nor the judge in the case, I am no one to pronounce judgment; but, the records of the case, including the statement by the mother of Kanchan Kumari, indicate that his case is indeed moving towards a similar conclusion as that of Nirbhaya and other girls who were raped and murdered.

 

After some more silence, Ram asked me if I too will stop meeting him once the judgment is delivered and he is put in the isolation cell for prisoners who are awarded capital punishment. I told him that in such a scenario I will try for special permission from the jail authorities to meet him in his cell and if granted permission, I will surely visit him; and, if and when he is led to the gallows, I will walk with him till the last step or door up to which I would have permission to do so. Ram looked deep into my eyes; with eyes welling up with tears but lips twitched in a little smile, he said "Please do that for me." I promised him that to the best of my ability, I will.

 

During my weekly visits to the prison I met with Ram periodically. He asked for the Bible which I gave; he asked for other religious literature and from time to time I was supplying him with some. As a matter of curiosity to know why he was reading them and/or what he understood from reading these materials, couple of times I asked him what was it that he liked in the Bible or what ideas attract him or help him in reading these materials. He gave me a short reply "I find peace in reading them." I realized that my curiosity in this context was not a good or the right disposition - I knew that God was working in the inner being of Ram, I was sure of that; but, it was none of my business to know how the Lord was working or what He was doing within him, after all it is between him and the Lord. I am called to be an instrument or a medium, nothing more; it is a privilege that the Lord had granted me and I shouldn't contaminate that privilege with my sinful tendency of curiosity.

 

St. Ignatius has taught us his sons the beautiful prayer: "Give me your love and your grace and I ask for nothing more." The Lord showed me His love by giving me the grace or privilege of 'being with' Ram, in this manner at this stage of his life; I should not ask for anything more. May the Lord purify my inner being as He works to purify the inner being of Ram.

 

Sample story 2 - Akash Kumar Sonkar

Akash Kumar Sonkar was a successful businessman in Kanpur, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, producing high quality painting and white-washing brushes. But due to some reason he became mentally disturbed and began to wander away here and there. Once he wandered away from home and after two days the family members managed to find him. But when he wandered away in 1999 the family was not able to trace him. On 30 August 2004 he was arrested for unauthorized entry into prohibited Air Force area in Bihta, Patna, Bihar and put in prison.

 

In 2009 the Prison Ministry India (PMI) volunteers met him in Beur Central prison (Patna) and began attempts to contact the family on the one hand and expedite his case on the other. There was a discrepancy in the address he had given and so tracing family was proving to be difficult. But, God has His / Her own way of looking after the welfare of the least and the lost. In the beginning months of 2011 the family was traced, contacted and it was such a joyful yet unbelievable news for them that he was still alive. They wanted to rush to Patna to meet him, but were advised to hold on. Due to the efforts of PMI, on 10 June 2011 the court acquitted him and the family was informed immediately. When Akash's wife and son were getting ready to take the night train to come to Patna, the 10 year old charming grand-daughter (son's daughter) asked them where they were going? When they told her that they were coming to Patna to fetch her grand-father, she was adamant that she too would join them to meet, welcome and bring her 'dada' (grand-father) back home.

 

Thus on 11 June 2011 Akash was re-united with his family after 12 years. On seeing his grand-daughter for the first time, Akash lifted her up, kissed her, sat down and putting her on his lap he began to stroke her tender cheeks; and, in return the little girl with her tender fingers stroked the beard of her grand-father. Not only her father and grand-mother, but the PMI volunteers too could not control the tears of joy. The family had brought new clothes for him. After the simple but emotion-filled reunion, the son took his father for a haircut and a clean shave. After a refreshing bath when Akash put on the new clothes, it was indeed difficult to recognize him. The old Akash was gone and a new Akash had emerged. His family disposed off his old clothes in Patna itself because they did not want to carry the sad and painful memories of the past 12 years with them. No words can describe the joy of this family when they experienced that their family has been re-built since the head of the family was back with them. Occasionally Akash calls the up the PMI volunteers to say that he is keeping fine.

 
 
10 Sep 2017 - 04:02

Pope Francis officially declared Mother Teresa of Calcutta a Saint at a Mass in Rome's St. Peter's Square on Sept. 4, 2016. - ANSA

As the first anniversary of the sainthood of Mother Teresa of Kolkata was marked on Monday, the Archdiocese of Calcutta, in eastern India, is set to declare her as its co-patron.  "On 6 September we will have at 5.30 pm a Holy Mass in the Cathedral (of the Most Holy Rosary) and the Archbishop is going to declare Mother Teresa as co-patroness of the Archdiocese," IANS reported Sister Prema, Superior-General of the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa, as saying on September 4.   

Sister Prema made the declaration at the inauguration of a two-day exhibition of paintings and sculptures on Mother Teresa organized in Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, by the Indian National Forum of Art and Culture in association with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and Church Art to commemorate the first anniversary of the Nobel laureate's canonization, Sept. 4, as well as her 20th death anniversary, Sept. 5.  The exposition by upcoming artists will be taken to different cities across India. 

According to Archbishop Thomas D'Souza of Calcutta, every diocese has a patron and the Archdiocese of Calcutta is dedicated to St Francis Xavier.  "We wanted to make Mother our co-patroness. We seek her intercession and give her the prominence that is due especially in a city like Calcutta and the Archdiocese of Calcutta," Archbishop D'Souza told IANS.

Sister Prema said that the Missionaries of Charity are willing to give a relic of the saint to the numerous churches that are asking for it. “There are many churches in the world that already have a place preserved in their church where the relic of the Mother will be venerated," she said. 

Sister Prema said the characteristic blue-and-white pattern sari associated with the nun and the order she founded is registered as a trademark now.  "In order to have it protected for Mother's interests... it's not to be used for fundraising. It's registered as a trademark," she explained.

It was on September 4 last year that Pope Francis officially elevated the “saint of the gutters” to the ‎honours of the altar during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.  In his homily, the Pope praised her ‎radical dedication to society's outcasts and her courage in ‎shaming world leaders for the ``crimes of ‎poverty they themselves created.'' ‎

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu‎ on ‎August 26, 1910, of Albanian parents in Skopje, in ‎what ‎is ‎Macedonia today.  As an 18-year old, she chose to become a missionary and joined the Loreto Sisters in Ireland and came to Calcutta city in ‎‎1929.   However, in September 1946, she experienced what she described as a “call within a call” from Christ to leave the Loreto Sisters and dedicate her life for the poor and the abandoned in Calcutta.  Known for her ‎unconditional ‎love ‎for the poor and the abandoned, she founded her Missionaries of Charity ‎congregation in 1950. She earned numerous national as well as international honours, including ‎the ‎Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, for her works of ‎mercy.   She died on September 5, ‎‎1997 at the age of 87 ‎and ‎St. ‎John ‎Paul II declared her Blessed on October 19, 2003, in the Vatican, .  ‎(Source: IANS)

5 Sep 2017 - 11:45

Radicalism was a central theme in the meeting of the Jesuits Among Muslims (JAM) group held in Mojokerto near Surabaya, Indonesia. About 20 people including Jesuits from Indonesia, Philippines, Japan, Pakistan, India, Nigeria, Italy, Spain, Germany, Turkey and Algeria came together from August 7 to 11 to experience and learn about the Muslims living in an Islamic context that is different from the Arab.

Dr Haula Noor, a Muslim scholar, spoke about the role of family engagement, religious upbringing and family climate in jihadism. She argued that parents’ engagement in jihadism, the ability to create a family climate and religious upbringing facilitate the transmission of desired values from parents to children. “Because children are their parents’ responsibility, there is a duty to educate parents to contribute to counter-extremism programmes run by civil society and governments, as well as to protect their children from radicalism,” she said.

Description: Jesuits Among Muslims session

Prof Azumardi Azra from Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University in Jakarta shared his reflection on the rampant violence and terrorism in the majority of the Muslim countries of the Arab world, South Asia and Africa perpetrated by groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Boko Haram and Al-Shabab, as well as violence and terrorism committed by Muslims in Europe, North America, Southeast Asia and Central Asia. He also mentioned the continuing conflicts, civil wars and self-destruction in Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, saying these countries are challenged not to fall into the danger of becoming ‘failed states’. The mass migration from the Arab world and South Asia to Europe, Southeast Asia, North America and Australia is also another challenge.

“One has to realise that the problem is very complex, involving various aspects, not only religious, but also political, economic and social,” said Prof Azra, noting that the contribution of Indonesian Muslims to the world is their modern concept of a nation state. Indonesia adopted democracy rather than Islamic theocracy.

“Muslims accept democracy for it is regarded as compatible with Islam,” he said, pointing out that Indonesia enjoys political stability and steady economic growth. He added that religious-based civil society organisations, such as Nahdatul Ulama (the Awakening of Ulama), Muhammadiyah and other smaller organisations across the country, which are inclusive and accept multiculturalism, “play an instrumental role in growing and strengthening ‘civic culture’ and ‘civility’, which are crucial for democracy to grow, for the maintenance of social cohesion and the provision of alternative socio-political leadership”.

Description: Jesuits Among Muslims meeting in Indonesia

Sidney Jones brought up the ongoing armed conflict in Marawi, Philippines against Islamic State-linked terrorists. “President Duterte’s administration’s response to Islamist extremism so far has been to try to crush it militarily,” she said, “but too often strong-arm tactics only breed more fighters — and fighters with a desire for revenge”.  Her view is that the Philippine government must instead come up with a comprehensive strategy to fix the social, economic and political problems that have led Islamic State ideologues to exert so much appeal in Mindanao.

After hearing from the Islamic experts, one group visited the Sunan Ampel Islamic State University in Surabaya, a prestigious Islamic university connected to Indonesia’s largest moderate Islamic organisation Nahdatul Ulama. The other group visited Tebuireng Islamic Boarding School in Jombang built in 1899 by Hasyim Ashari who, along with several traditional Islamic leaders, founded Nahdatul Ulama in 1926.

This year, the situation in Pakistan and Turkey drew special attention during the sharing. “There are few Jesuits working there and the apostolates in those countries offer certain challenges as well as opportunities,” shared Fr Heru Prakosa SJ, Delegate for Islam under the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations in Rome and Coordinator of Dialogue with Islam for the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific. “There is no question that Pakistan and Tukey are frontier territories for the Jesuits,” he said.

Source: Jesuit Asia Pacific News Letter Aug. 2017

 

26 Aug 2017 - 07:27

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GC 36, D1 “Companions in a Mission of Reconciliation and Justice,” is the latest in a series of appeals made to all Jesuits to become ministers of reconciliation – in their life and mission, involving justice and resulting in its much needed corollary, peace. GC 36 cannot be read in isolation, GC 32, D4; 35, d 3, n 12 and Pope Francis’ Encyclical, “Laudato Si”, all lead up to the same appeal for reconciliation.

 

Responding to this call, amidst the prevailing seemingly intractable conflict ridden situations in the countries of South Asia, Fr George Pattery, SJ (POSA) called for a meeting of all existing Peace Initiatives in South Asia. The meeting took place on 19-20 Aug, 2017 at ISI-Delhi. There were 18 participants; representatives of peace centers and a few other invitees. The representatives were: Joe Kalathil (peace building between Indian & Pakistan along the western border with Pak.); Walter Fernandes (Kohima Region- tribal reconciliation; migration from Myanmar); Joy Karayampuram (Shanti Sadbhavana Manch of ISI – Delhi); Binoy Pichalakkatt (LIPI center (Cochin) - Kerala province); John Chathanatt’s (Delhi Prov.);  Tony Dias (Mumbai Prov.); Rajeev Chakranarayan (Xavier’s Social Service Centre – A’bad) & Xavier Manjooran (RSSS in South Gujarat).

The meeting was effectively conducted through a process of ‘discernment in common’. It involved an in-depth listening to the Spirit in the movements of self, the other the group.

Existing initiatives when shared were eye openers, testimonies to the silent, dogged efforts in remote areas to usher in peace. They spanned the spectrum from people to people contact, to academic research, publication and advocacy; from border engagements to empowering peace-makers in interior areas.

The proposal, being made to JCSA, setting up of an Assistancy Nodal Platform, to facilitate / provide: sharing between centers, support, provide visibility, training, research, advocacy, linkages with civil society groups: national and international and all Jesuit ministries so as to make reconciliation the overarching thrust of our mission toady.

The road before us is, to “seek to understand how God invites us – and so many people of good will – to share in that great work.” (GC 36, d 1, n. 3)

 

Keith Abranches SJ, (Socius, POSA)

 

                                                                                                           

22 Aug 2017 - 07:59

Jointly Organised by 
CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF INDIA (CBCI)
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES IN INDIA (NCCI) and 
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF DALIT CHRISTIANS (NCDC)
 

INDIA : August 10th : The Constitution (Scheduled Caste) order 1950 was signed on 10th August 1950 by the then President of India which says that “No person who professes a religion other than Hinduism shall be deemed to be a member of the Scheduled Caste” which was later amended to include Sikhs (1956) and Buddhists (1990) in the Scheduled Caste net. This order is against the Secular nature (Preamble of the Constitution) of the country, against Article 14(Equality before the law), article 15 (prohibition of discrimination of any citizen on ground of only religion), Article 25 (Freedom of Conscience and free to profess any religion), Article 26 (equality before the law and equal protection of the law) and against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. 

That is why every year the Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims observe August 10th as Black Day throughout India. Civil Writ petition 180/2004 in the Honorable Supreme Court of India praying the deletion of paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) order 1950 is still pending for the past Thirteen years. The Constitutional rights for Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims are denied based on religion for more than 67 years.

Different commissions appointed by the Government have clearly recommended that Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims should be included in the Scheduled Caste list. The National commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM) popularly known as Justice Ranganath Misra Commission’s Report says the following “Constitution Scheduled Caste Order 1950 para 3 is unconstitutional and it is a black letter written outside the Constitution introduced through the back door by an executive order”. “We recommend that Para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) order 1950, which originally restricted the scheduled caste net to the Hindus and later opened it to Sikhs and Buddhists, thus still excluding from its purview the Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis etc – should be wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely de-link the scheduled caste status from religion and make the scheduled castes net fully religion – neutral like that of the Scheduled Tribes”.

The national Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) has recommended that Scheduled Caste status must be extended to the Christians and Muslims of Scheduled Caste Origin. The National Commission for Minorities too has given its consent. 

Till now twelve State Governments and Union Territories have recommended to Union of India for granting SC status to these people. The Bihar State Assembly, Uttar Pradesh State Assembly, Andhra Pradesh state Assembly and Puducherry state Assembly have passed resolution for granting SC status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the years 2000, 2006, 2009 and 2017 respectively. 

Most of the National and Regional political parties have supported the demand of Scheduled Caste status to Christians and Muslims of Scheduled Caste Origin by writing letters to the Prime Minister and concerned authorities. 

The organizers regretted that the rights of the minority communities of Scheduled caste origin is denied and delayed for many years. Our peaceful and democratic demonstrations will continue till our rights are attained.  

Action Plans: Throughout India Churches of all the denominations observed August 10th as Black Day. Meetings, rallies, demonstrations, hunger fasts, submitting memorandum, candle vigils and other forms of demonstrations were organized at the State Capitals and district headquarters by the Christian communities to show support and solidarity to the suffering  Christians of Scheduled Caste Origin. In Delhi Black Day was observed on 10th August 2017 from 4.30 to 5.30 pm at JantarMantar organized by CBCI, NCCI and NCDC. Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi, leaders of Christian and Muslim community   participated in large number during the protest.   

Our Demand: The Union Government should come forward to resolve the issue immediately without further delay. Also the union Government should give appropriate reply to the query of the Supreme Court based on the recommendation of Justice Ranganath Misra Commission’s report. 

For more Info : 
Fr. Z. Devasagayaraj, 
Secretary, SC/BC of CBCI,  Mobile: 08802025025email : cbciscbc@gmail.com 
Mr. Samuel Jayakumar 
NCCI, Mobile : 09212219881email: samncci@gmail.com 


 

11 Aug 2017 - 09:01

In the year 2009, in view of expanding the mission area in North Bengal under Jalpaiguri diocese, the Darjeeling Jesuit province was considering of starting an English medium school in Alipurduar. Fr Vijay Kindo was assigned for this noble cause to begin the school in Alipurduar who knew the tricks of the trade very well. Fr Alvin Minj was assigned to explore the area for other possible mission opportunities around the area.

Without delay Fr Alvin was in the villages and houses of the people belonging to the Bodo [Mech], Garo, Rabha and Koch communities. He noticed that they still practiced the age old traditional weaving and produced marvelous clothes imprinting on them their own traditional motifs. His interest grew in their way of life, cultures, songs, dances, celebrations, food etc. The Bodos whom he visited the most, showed him their exceedingly beautiful weaved products done at home in their traditional handlooms. He told them that their traditional talents could fetch enough money to support their livelihood if they were better organized in their trade. He promised them to find resources and markets for their products. And so a project was conceptualized and planned to help them. Two international funding agencies accepted the project proposal. We received funds but could not start the project immediately as some thought it was a kind of a business project and surely not meant for the Jesuits. But Fr Alvin believed that helping the poor cannot be against the charism of the Society of Jesus. Finally the project for weaving, clubbing with skill training for tea garden people, was launched in Matigara near Siliguri and Alipurduar.

Program was inaugurated on the 8th of March 2015 on the day of the International Women’s Day celebration with the first batch of staff and students. 

This project was meant to attend to the needs like…

 

[1] Need of alleviation poverty from the tea garden people through skill training program.

[2] Need of alternative jobs for livelihood.

[3] Need of supply of capital funds for weavers.

[4] Need of marketing skills.

[5] Need of creating stores for the finished products.

[6] Need of creation of space for weaving even in wet seasons.

[7] Bringing variations in commodities.

[8] Linking our programs with the like minded NGOs.

[9] Linking with Government schemes/ministries/Depts etc.

[10] Cutting down human trafficking rate from the tea gardens.

 

Our working area covered five districts [Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Kochbihar and Uttar Dinajpur] of North Bengal. Our places of works are Matigara, Alipurduar, Hasimara and Kalabari. We trained 100 students in weaving, warping, ring framing, designing and marketing in the very first year of our project. We supported 40-45 families in the villages through weaving income generation program. We participated twice in Tribal artisan mela (exhibition) organized by the Ministry of Tribal affairs, Govt. of India. Our products were much appreciated by all the participants in Gangtok and we were given first prize for our products and participation in Tribal artisan mela.

 

We conducted Comprehensive Training program [CTP] with the Ministry of Tribal affairs, Delhi at our centre for the Oraon tribal girls to take them to advance level of training. Our students received certificates for weaving and designing in handlooms from the Ministry of tribal affairs, Government of India, Delhi. During CTP training programs we followed the tribal concepts: motifs of Oraon tribal people and transcribed them on clothes. Our students also came up with the variety of proto type tribal products which could match the interests of many modern men and women of today.

 

We also had the opportunity to invite the Honorable Minister Shri James Kujur, Minister of Tribal Development, West Bengal, on the occasion of our foundation day celebration on the 8th March 2017 at our centre in Matigara. Also an exhibition and a fashion show on tribal handlooms were organized on the same day to show people the handlooms of tribal people of North Bengal. The entire show was managed by the tribal women of the tea gardens. Our works and shows were much appreciated by all who visited the centre on this auspicious occasion.

 

We further linked our weaving centre with the legal aid programs to eradicate sufferings of the tea garden people. We did a quick survey of the closed gardens and decided to file a PIL [Public Interest Litigation] in the High court of Kolkata in the name of the affected tea garden people in Terai and dooars. High court announced a special Lok Adalat for the tea gardens on the basis of our plea. Thus we took up the challenge to work with the local district and subdivision courts and district legal services authorities to organize Lok adalats in the tea gardens. We organized 9 special Lok adalats and created a platform to hear nearly 10,686 cases in one single year. Roughly we have managed to give relief of Rs. 20,00,00,000 to 25,00,00,000 to the people in need in a single year. All the expenses for the cause were borne by the weaving centre, Matigara. 

 

The aim of this centre is: The empowerment of tea garden people, very specially the women, in their own uniqueness.

 

 

Our activities are: [1] skill training for tea garden women [2] creating self-employed jobs for them [3] giving assistance in need (availing raw materials, repairs, maintenance of equipments etc) [4] availing loans from the banks [5] marketing their finished products.

 

Our products are traditional. This is an attempt to save the unique cultural identity and products of North Bengal. This is also an attempt to galvanize traditions with modernism and explore markets for them. We produce traditional clothes mostly belonging to Oraon, Munda, Bode, Rabha, Garo and Bengali communities of North Bengal. We also blend our designs with the latest fashions and styles by giving a touch of modernism in our products.  In doing so we want to preserve and promote our rich traditions in North Bengal.

 

 

Fr. Alvin Minj,SJ
Prabhat Tara (Weaving) Centre
Matigara-734010
Email: fralvinsj@gmail.com

 

25 Jul 2017 - 08:50

Contesting Hindu Rashtra: An Alternative Narrative and Strategies for Reconciliation in the New India

 

Preamble: Towards an Alternative Narrative

In our world today, divisive social identities, premised on ethnicity/nationalism, ideology/ religion and patriarchy/machismo emerge as among the three most resilient and potent challenges to a just and humane society. South Asia is struggling against multiple injustices that stem from economic inequalities, caste discrimination and cultural hegemony, which have for ages oppressed our long suffering peoples. Our quest must be to fulfil the vision of the founding fathers/mothers of our nations for a just society through just means: a justice founded on liberty, equality, fraternity; a society that guarantees fundamental rights and civil liberties; is inclusive and participatory; respects and protects individual and collective identities; prioritises basic needs over superfluous wants; privileges restoration over retribution, forgiveness over revenge.

 

Powerful corporate and communal lobbies, for partisan and vested interests, polarise societies plagued by eroding identities, a sense of alienation and ridden by individual and collective fears. Such a situation breeds divisive hate politics, co-opting people into a consolidated majority that oppresses minorities and the marginalised. An underlying narrative filled with falsified myth and imagery sustains this process and is concretised in fabricated religio-political ideology, which is operationalised into an actionable agenda. To counter this in a viable and sustainable manner, demythologising the falsified narrative is a necessary first step. More positively, a counter narrative and worldview, at least equally rich, evocative and true to genuine religiosity, must be articulated to reconstitute a people’s self-understanding that draws on their histories and recreates the inspiration to face and resolve their present plight. Nations that were under colonial rule particularly need to fall back on their freedom struggle to initiate a second freedom movement that captures and makes real their dreams of a bright and prosperous future.

 

In Pakistan, partitioned from India, fundamentalist forces have targeted religious minorities and progressive individuals and organizations, threatening their space and their right to existence. Bangladesh, born in civil war with Pakistan as the only Muslim majority secular state, is similarly struggling against Islamic fundamentalism. Ceylon, the model liberal welfare state, became Sri Lanka, and has still not quite recovered from a self-inflicted civil war between the Sinhala and Tamil communities. After the long Marxist uprising in Nepal, constitutional governance there has not still quite stabilised, causing insecurity and alienation among people. In Bhutan, there have been tensions between the Buddhist and the Hindu Nepali populations.

 

India has largely sustained liberal democratic traditions for the last 70 years since its Independence. However, today, the single largest threat to India's secular democratic tradition is the rise of radical Hindu fundamentalism. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), and its affiliates, has captured the Indian polity by promoting an extremist brand of Hinduism and is determined to transform a secular democratic India into a Hindu Rashtra, thus striking at the very idea of India born in the freedom struggle and constitutionally proclaimed secular by our founding fathers/mothers.

 

The Core Issues Today

The ruling elite, overtly and covertly, promotes a toxic mix of a neo-liberal corporate agenda and a narrow Hindu nationalistic agenda, that undermines India's secular democratic traditions and Constitutional values. This has several manifestations:

1.         There is a display of a majoritarian hegemony with a totalitarian outlook upheld by the RSS agenda of ending diversity and establishing a Hindu Rashtra, a state with a monolithic culture. The organization, and its affiliates, has pushed its Hindutva ideology through various institutions. In the political scenario, a large number of RSS pracharaks are holding high office from that of Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, Union Ministers, State Ministers, Chairpersons of various commissions to heads of Government institutions. Divisive issues like ‘love-jihad’, ‘Ghar Wapsi’, ‘Gau Rakhsha’, ban on cow slaughter, ban on beef, anti-conversion and imposition of Hindi, among others, have vitiated politics.

2.         The infiltration by RSS sympathizers has communalized institutions of democracy like the judiciary with some judges of the Supreme Court, High Courts and other lower courts upholding Hindutva ideology. Communal bias in the functioning of the police, investigative agencies, prosecution and lower judiciary is an alarming phenomenon.

3.         In the field of education, the appointment of RSS sympathizers to prestigious educational institutions has undermined these institutions of higher learning. Text books have been changed to propagate Hindutva ideology and spread hate against minority communities.

4.         Much of Print and Electronic Media have become tools of Government propaganda rather than a challenge to the powerful with the truth.

5.         Rule of law has been compromised as rationalists have been assassinated, vigilantism and mob violence against minorities as well as Dalits has increased and communal violence has become more frequent. Worse still, on many occasions, cases are filed against the victims rather than the perpetrators, who are felicitated instead of being punished.

6.         Freedom of expression is under threat as voices of dissent are silenced by the threat of cases of sedition or other kinds of litigation. Civil society is also being silenced by the cancellation of thousands of FCRA accounts, imposition of sedition charges on dissenting voices or slapping of frivolous cases on NGOs.

7.         Land related laws are being amended to facilitate handing over to corporates large tracts of land belonging to marginalized groups.

8.         Economic policies of the Government promote corporate interests rather than those of the farming community and working masses. In addition, policies such as Demonetization and GST, attempt to increase Government surveillance and exercise control of every financial transaction of citizens. Social welfare measures are rebranded and their allocations are reduced considerably, pushing the poor further to the margins.

9.         New laws and rules erode the rights of Minorities to administer their own educational institutions, giving the Government the right to decide students and faculty in minority institutions. The present attitude of the Government towards minorities is summed up in the words of the BJP spokesperson, "Islam and Christianity are alien to India and, therefore, even if their socio-economic condition is low, they should not be given the privilege of quota in jobs, legislative bodies and education."

10.       Any form of affirmative action, be it budgetary allocations for minority welfare or reservation for minorities in jobs and educational institutions, is opposed and viewed as "minority appeasement".

 

In this context, India needs a second freedom struggle to create a new narrative that renews the legacy of the freedom movement and contextualises it for today and thus counters the neoliberal saffronised ideology that colonises our peoples through instrumentalizing the Hindu religion which is pluralistic and universal in its core and approach.

 

Jesuit Response

The Provincials and Regional Superiors of South Asia reflected on the situation and have mandated to themselves and to the Assistancy, commitment to effectively respond to the forces of fundamentalism through all their ministries. Any Jesuit Response is founded on our mission to promote justice and reconciliation in our broken world of which dialogue with the poor and with people of other cultures and religions is an essential part. Our mission as Jesuits in South Asia is to build counter-cultural human communities of solidarity that will be instruments of peace and reconciliation to respond to the danger of this region turning into a region of hate and violence. To remain silent spectators in the midst of this onslaught on the Constitutional values of equality and fraternity, secularism and pluralism is to betray our mission. Our response must be in collaboration with men and women of good will and through networking with civil society and other organizations that share our values.

 

Strategies

The strategies recommended here are relevant for the whole Assistancy across provinces and could be a guide to develop more pertinent strategies in provinces, in coordination with others in the zone. It is crucial to adopt and co-ordinate both long- and short-term strategies, to focus on causes not symptoms at all levels. Prioritising and contextualising these strategies must be the work at the province and community level for specific situations.

 

George Pattery, SJ
Provincial of South Asia.

 

24 Jul 2017 - 14:34

In mid-July 2017, the Interfaith Coalition for Peace organized a talk at India Islamic Cultural Centre (IICC), New Delhi by Prof. Father Michael Calabria, Director of the Centre for Arabic and Islamic Studies at St. Bonaventure University of USA. The topic was ‘Pope Francis and Muslims’.

 

Father Michael informed the audience that the original name of the present Pope is Jorge Mario Bergoglio and that he had adopted ‘Francis’ as his papal name on becoming Pope evoking the memory of St. Francis of Assisi. In 1219, during the fifth Crusade, St. Francis had insisted and travelled to Damietta in Egypt. He tried to prevent the European Crusaders from attacking Muslims but had failed in the attempt; the Crusaders had to face defeat. 

 

After this, St. Francis crossed the line of war, following which he was arrested and brought before Sultan Malek Al-Kamil. Thereafter, for twenty days he and the Sultan had a lengthy exchange of views on issues relating to worship and the mystical way of life, which led St. Francis to discover that both Muslims and Christians are fellow devotees of God. When St. Francis was leaving, the Sultan gifted him an ivory trumpet, which is still preserved in the crypt of basilica at Assisi. 

 

By adopting ‘Francis’ as his papal name, the present Pope has thus sent a clear message to the world that Christians should extend a warm hand of friendship to Muslims and that all issues should be settled through dialogue. The Pope has clearly stated that Christians should respect the customs of Muslims and should win their trust. They must look upon them as fellow human beings and seriously listen to their views.

 

In his presentation at the IICC, Fr Calabria said that during the Holy Week, during 2013 (and later again in 2016), when Pope Francis washed the feet of the poor and needy people at the Vatican—which is an annual ritual—it was for the first time that women and Muslims were also included among those whose feet the Pope decided to wash. In an apostolic exhortation issued from the Vatican in 2013, viz  The Joy of the Gospel, the Pope included some supplications (dua) that Muslims usually make and stressed the need for practical efforts across the world to promote love and brotherhood between Muslims and Christians. On that occasion Pope Francis advised the Christian-majority countries to embrace Syrians fleeing their homeland and to give them refuge. 

 

In 2014, Pope Francis accompanied a Muslim imam and a Jewish rabbi to the Dome of the Rock and the Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, where he addressed Muslims, referring to them as brothers. The same year in Turkey, the Pope joined the Islamic congregational worship known as Salah or Namaz led by the Imam. In 2015 in Sri Lanka, Pope Francis called for mutual respect, cooperation and friendship among people of different faiths, declaring this as the only route for the welfare of humanity. Appealing for observing 2015 as the Year of Peace, the Pope mentioned that, according to the Quran, the mercy and the compassion of God are among the most exalted attributes of God.

 

Continuing with his narration of some of the major steps that Pope Francis has taken, Father Calabria mentioned the Pope’s critique of the oppression of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, which he said was one-sided violence based simply on account of the victims’ religion being Islam. In the same year during September 2015 the Pope visited ‘Ground Zero’ in New York along with a Muslim imam and a Jewish rabbi.

 

In 2016, Pope Francis went to Egypt and met with the Imam of Al-Azhar, one of the leading centers of Islamic learning in the world. When asked by media persons what message he wanted to give on this occasion, the Pope replied that this meeting itself was his message to the world. Building and maintaining good relations with Muslims was the most important priority. Later, when journalists asked him what he might like to say about ‘Islamic terrorism’, Pope Francis replied that in Italy, there is violence every day, which is done by people who call themselves Christians, but no one calls it as ‘Christian terrorism’. Hence, to talk of ‘Islamic terrorism’ is wrong. Prof Calabria reminded the audience that in his eight years of presidency, US President Barak Obama never used the term ‘Islamic terrorism’. He reiterated that we don't say Christian violence and Jewish violence though both do exist. 

 

Prof Calabria emphasized that vast numbers of people have been excluded from the benefits of the present global economic system and hence this economic system is itself a root cause for violence. In 2016, while in Azerbaijan, the Pope mentioned that one’s self-enrichment lies in opening one’s doors to others with the goal of human good. In the same year, in Rome, the Pope mentioned that in both Arabic and Hebrew, the word rahm or compassion or mercy is derived from the 3-letter root R-H-M that means the mother’s womb where the infant develops and from there it enters the world. So, peace in the world begins from Rahm, meaning both womb and kindness. Thus, mercy & compassion are among the foremost attributes of God and He expects the same from human beings, too.

 

Dr Calabria remarked that US President Donald Trump has talked about building a wall between the USA and Mexico, while Pope Francis talks of demolishing walls and building bridges. The Pope has sent a message to the world to convert conflicts into mutual cooperation through interfaith dialogue. The whole world needs to emulate the Pope’s exemplary work.

 

Prof Michael Calabria stressed that it was very important to spread the Pope’s message in India today and to draw lessons from it. Religious diversity should be the basis of India’s unity, for which hatred and so-called feelings of revenge in the name of religion need to be uprooted. Political conflicts must not be given a religious color.

 

Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood
President, Interfaith Coalition for Peace, New Delhi  

 

22 Jul 2017 - 09:51

A very important meeting of Religious, Civil Society, Educationists, Media personals, Thinkers, Historians and Lawyers held at Delhi. All expressed their concerns against any form of violence and hatred....any act against the Constitution of India.....and pledged to work together to keep up the idea of India....

Prot. 767/GenSec2017(3-b-10/CBCI-GC) 16th July, 2017

Religious leaders condemn lynching, call for rule of law to restore peace and communal harmony India’s deep spiritual strength is bulwark against hate, divisive forces.


 

Press statement

New Delhi, 16th July 2017

Senior spiritual leaders and intellectuals have called upon the people to seek strength from India’s deep spiritual reservoirs to end the increasing environment of hate, violence and disregard for the rule of law in which many innocents of religious and marginalized communities have been lynched in recent weeks.

Meeting in Delhi under the aegis of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, the group of 40 leaders called upon the Government to end impunity which was at the root of the atmosphere of fear that stalks the land today. It was felt that these developments threatened not just secularism, but the Constitution and the democratic fabric of the country.

Welcoming Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi’s assurances to leaders of Opposition parties on the eve of the Monsoon session of Parliament, the meeting noted that the vast majority of the people of India of all communities had been shocked at the lynching in various states on the pretext of protecting cows. The Prime Minister must now see that State governments and their police forces acted against the guilty in an impartial manner.

The meeting agreed on a five point urgent programme of action:

-The ideology of hate is a reality and needs to be challenged by Governments, political parties, civil society activists, the criminal justice system and religious communities in a concerted manner.
-Religious leadership must act at the grassroots to assert the inherent unity of the people. This will help restore public confidence and remove the mutual suspicion that had started growing.
-The leadership must generate literature as well as content for the traditional, mainstream and social media to challenge falsehood and hatred. Social media can indeed also be used to defeat hate and strengthen bonds between communities. 

-Community leaders must come together at various levels so that tensions can be diffused and trust restored and strengthened. Similarly, national institutions including the National and State Minorities Commissions and other structures must be encouraged to actively work in restoring peace and help strengthen the rule of law. This would also go a long way in ensuring the devolution of development efforts under the 15 point programme and other government measures.
-A National Inter-Faith and Civil society convention will be held as soon as possible to discuss the developments and the measures that the governments need to take at the national and state levels.

The meeting was attended by Goswami Sushil Ji Maharaj, Vivek Muni, Dr Umer Iliyasi, Sardar Paramjeet Singh Chandhok, Dr Mohinder Singh, Dr Manzoor Alam, Dr Zafar Ullah Khan, Chairman of Delhi Minority Commission, Mr. Navaid Hamid, Delhi Minority Commission Member Sr Anastasia Gill, Rabbi Ezekiel Malekar, Prof TK John, Dr Denzil Fernandes, Dr Michael Williams, Rev Vijayesh Lal, Rev Richard Howell, Mr D K Manavalan IAS, Fr Alarico Carvalho, Fr Bento Rodrigues, Delhi Vicar General Msgr Susai Sebastian, Fr Freddy D’Souza, Sunny Jacob SJ, Suresh Mathew OFM, Mr AC Michael, Dr John Dayal, Msgr Chinnayyan Joseph and Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India who had convened the meeting.

Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, SFX
Secretary General,
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India


 

17 Jul 2017 - 06:50

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