One in Ministry, All in Service through "Net-Working"
Fr Aniceto Pereira
The technological and spiritual resources of the Internet can be effectively harnessed to enhance the Church's primary Ministries of the Word, Service and Eucharist.
To say that the lockdown due to the current pandemic was painful would surely be an understatement. But I shudder to think of how much more painful it would have been, if it were not for the well-developed internet that we have today! Because of the Net, we have been able to do e-schooling, work from home, keep up our contacts despite social distancing, engage in distance education of all sorts, do spiritual webinars, and even "attend church"! Without the ability to connect virtually, the negative effects of the unexpected, prolonged lockdown would have been extremely unbearable. Though communication via the Net is fraught with difficulties, it is obvious that we need to look at how to use the Net in the Church, after our experience of using it unexpectedly well during this lockdown.
The Holy Father, Pope Francis, in a providential Message for the World Day of Social Communications 2019, had given a profound reflection on the benefits and pitfalls of using the Net, which are very pertinent for us today. He explored the value of making the internet effective in the Church by using a few metaphors to help us grasp the functioning of the Net. These metaphors can be explored in order to enhance the three primary ministries in which the lay faithful, priests and religious are engaged in—the ministry of the Word, the ministry of Service and the ministry of the Eucharist.
Enhancing the ministry of the Word
The internet has no doubt been a great platform, even much before the lockdown, for people to have access to a variety of inputs connected with the faith—Bible classes, webinars on faith and other human issues, professional theology courses complete with certifications, etc. However, one of the main difficulties everyone has faced is the ability to choose proper sources of reliable content from a vast array of sites, sometimes providing contradictory information. The Holy Father, in his Message, invites us to be aware of the very nature of the internet, and to take appropriate precautions. He says: "The image of the Net invites us to reflect on the multiplicity of lines and intersections that ensure its stability in the absence of a centre, a hierarchical structure, a form of vertical organisation. The Net works because all its elements share responsibility." Thus, the strength of the Net as a source of information is precisely the fact that it is an "open source". In order to make optimum use of it for the ministry of the Word, leaders of Cells and Associations need to be able to hone their skills in recognising and following only "reliable sources", and to not let themselves and their group members be swayed by incorrect teachings. Leaders would need to ensure that all group meetings continue to happen online, with the necessary injection of inputs carefully selected from the Net, as well as the usual interactions among members.
Enhancing the ministry of Service to the needy
With its ability to connect people, the internet has a great potential to build strong communities of members caring for one another. The Holy Father explains in his Message that "a community is that much stronger if it is cohesive and supportive, if it is animated by feelings of trust, and pursues common objectives. The community as a network of solidarity requires mutual listening and dialogue, based on the responsible use of language." As an example of the tremendous possibilities that the Net opens up in terms of service to the needy is the roaring success of "crowd funding" projects. Someone or some group becomes aware of a need; this need is processed into a viable outreach project, complete with transparency protocols; the project is then launched, executed and reported to the satisfied donors in a responsible manner. This strategy can greatly enhance our outreach projects in the parish, provided we do not cut corners with any of the elements of the transparency protocol. The Net helps us greatly enlarge our circle of concern and reach the peripheries.
Enhancing the ministry of the Liturgy
The closing of churches during the pandemic has evidently been a painful experience for all. Priests have been challenged to make it possible for lay persons and religious women to have access to Masses online; in the state of emergency that we are in, we have had to make do with this quasi liturgical experience. But we cannot afford to mistake it for real liturgy, which is an encounter "in the flesh" of the Risen Lord with His "community of disciples" that comes alive through the body, heart, gaze and breath of the members of that community. Our yearning for the Eucharist should not be limited to ensuring one has a seat at Mass when the church doors will soon be thrown open; it must take us to the longing for eating the Bread of Life in the company of one's co-disciples whose needs and concerns one has examined with the help of the Net. As the Pope explains in his Message: "If a Church community coordinates its activity through the network, and then celebrates the Eucharist together, then it is a resource. If the Net becomes an opportunity to share stories and experiences of beauty or suffering that are physically distant from us, in order to pray together, and together seek out the good to rediscover what unites us, then it is a resource." The Net, when properly used, can render our liturgical life congruous with the 'joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of our times.' Our experience of the pandemic and the consequent lockdown has helped us discover the Net as a resource of our time. It is a source of knowledge and a provider of relationships that were once unthinkable, and can be put to good use to develop the community of the Church. On this Laity Sunday, the lay faithful, the priests and the religious look forward to use every opportunity to collaborate in the pastoral life of the Church through effective "net-working"!
Fr Aniceto Pereira is the Rector of St Pius X College, Goregaon.
Moving from Collaboration to Co-Responsibility
Fr Anthony J. Fernandes
Before my ordination to the priesthood, my greatest joy was serving the Church as a lay Catholic for over 15 years. My life always seemed busy, yet fulfilling. For the past two years, I'm the Executive Secretary of the Laity Commission of the CCBI (Conference of Catholic Bishops of India that oversees 132 Latin-rite dioceses in India). I was not previously aware that there are 50 Hindi-speaking dioceses in India, and most of these have first generation Catholics. In my visits to these dioceses, I saw how the laity are living in challenging situations. Sometimes, a parish has just 50 Catholic families, surrounded by thousands of families of other faiths. They have good relations with those of other faiths. I could see the collaboration of the bishops, clergy, religious and laity in so many areas of pastoral work. It has made me more aware of the role of the laity in the Church today.
The final document of the Synod of Bishops' 15th General Assembly released on October 27, 2018 calls for 'a participatory, co-responsible' Church. The understanding of co-responsibility is joint responsibility or shared responsibility; every baptised Catholic is called to take up their identity as "missionary disciples", as Pope Francis describes it. All have a missionary role to live out in some way, and at some level; not just priests and religious. It means taking the Sacrament of Baptism seriously, thus fulfilling God's plan for the world.
Pope Benedict XVI, speaking to the International Forum of Catholic Action in 2010, said, "Co-responsibility demands a change in the mindset, especially concerning the role of lay people in the Church. They should not be regarded as 'collaborators' of the clergy, but rather as people who are really 'co-responsible' for the Church's mission. In other words, the lay faithful should not just collaborate with priests in the parish, but in their own ways, make the Church's mission of giving Christ to the world come true!"
We confuse taking on various functions and roles in the Church with exercising co-responsibility. This kind of confusion can actually be demeaning to the laity in that it reduces the vast playing field of the lay person, which is the world. This, in fact, is a form of clericalism, because it is based on the assumption that the roles of the clergy are something to which laity should aspire. Pope Francis has spoken out forcefully against this practice viz. priests tend to clericalise the laity, and the laity thinks it's OK. The lay vocation is always devalued when this clericalisation takes place. The great call of the laity is fundamental to the Church's mission; it is to bring Christ to the world. I don't mean that doing work in the church is not important, but a layperson must realise that the mission that God is calling him/her for is incomplete, if he/she does not take Christ to the world.
Leaven in the world
Just as yeast leavens bread from within, so the laity is called to be a leaven in the world. The laity work or study, and are involved in the social and political life of their communities at the local, national and international levels. They become a leaven through the unique way they approach work and study, live in society, and participate in civic and political affairs. This is another way of saying that the true vocation of a lay person is, in a sense, outside the Church. Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium no. 102, says: "Even if many laity are involved in the lay ministries, this involvement remains tied to tasks within the Church, without applying the Gospel to the transformation of society in the social, political and economic sectors. This kind of formation of the laity is a pastoral challenge." Our Archdiocese has a year-long formation programme - the IMFE - which provides holistic training, but it's sad that not many are encouraged to do it.
Where do we respond? Going to the Peripheries…
The whole Church must always strive to go out to the peripheries; these are not merely geographical or social. As the laity participate in social and political life, their motivating factor must be love; above all, a love for Christ that grows ever deeper in a relationship with Him. When we have a good loving relationship with Christ, then we are able to love the world like Him. Only in this way is it possible to be co-responsible for the life of the Church. Otherwise, we lose sight of our ultimate destination.
I know of many tuition teachers who offer free tuitions to the economically backward of all faiths. These teachers speak of the right ways of living—a kind of value education every day. I know of Catholic doctors who charge very low amounts or don't charge poor patients. I know of Catholics who reach out to those at their workplace who are by themselves, or facing emotional problems. I know some who stand up for their co-workers who are unjustly treated, even at the cost of their own job. This is co-responsibility!
We also must be aware of the victims of injustice. The laity cannot neglect them on the grounds that they do not know them or have not caused their problems. The poor in the country are suffering because of the inequalities of income. We have people in top jobs earning Rs two lakh a month, and there would be a houseworker earning Rs 8000-10,000 while doing more work. Can we be the voice of the voiceless? Girls are often denied basic rights, like not being sent to school or higher education, simply because they are girls. Many are physically and sexually abused by their own families. The Bible presents man and woman as partners equal in God's sight (cf. Gen 5:2); all domination and discrimination based on sex is thus an offence against human dignity. Therefore, injustice done to women must be eradicated. In addition to prayer and community life, the parish must actively work for social justice, bringing the salvific word of Christ to all those who suffer. All these challenges are properly the responsibility of the laity, who are already in the world and involved in all these domains.
The lay faithful are the 'salt of the earth and the light of the world'. While acknowledging their expertise, and permitting the experts to help/serve on various Church bodies, the lay faithful are encouraged to be engaged in Civil Services (IAS, IPS, etc.). There is a very minuscule group of our Catholic lay faithful serving and working in the government, civic and public sectors. If we knew what politics really means, we cannot but be challenged to participate in it. Politics, in its real sense, is a larger process by which decisions are made about our life, needs and aspirations, and the ways and means of realising those needs and aspirations.
We must also be aware of our responsibilities regarding the family - the basis of society - which is so often under attack nowadays. Rather than simply idealising the family, we should begin by looking at our neighbours—both Christians and those of other faiths—who often find themselves in trying or difficult family situations. Co-responsibility means being ready to accompany individuals and families on their difficult path, not just with words, but by our actions. Lay people must also be ready to defend any attack on the family in the political sphere with reason and charity.
Making Youth Co-responsible
The youth are already living in a world permeated by a spirit of openness, candor and freedom. They are not at all chained to the unworkable approaches and methods of the past. If they can be properly instructed in the religious spirit of the Church of our day, especially a holistic Confirmation catechesis, there is good reason to expect that a new generation of Christians will emerge, prepared to carry out their apostolate and eager to project the presence of Christ into their life situations, for that is the mission of the Church.
The co-responsibility that clergy, religious and laity share by virtue of their Baptism will remain a mere concept, unless each individual cultivates a relationship with Christ, and therefore lives by faith. Through this relationship with Christ, priests and religious must change how they relate with the lay faithful. If we are serious about the lay faithful being co-responsible, then we need to respect them, take their views seriously and trust them with bigger and bigger responsibilities.
The faithful suffer to see the loss of meaning in the lives of friends, colleagues or neighbours; the rampant consumerism in society; injustice; neglect of the poor, the infirm, and imprisoned; the lack of a loving relationship across generations; the rising cases of divorce; the neglect of children; the attack on the life of the unborn and newborn, or the movement to kill the infirm before their natural death; the quest for instant pleasure in an increasingly technological society; the vast misuse of mass media.
So the role of the laity to live co-responsibly in the Church means to testify how the Christian faith successfully responds to the problems that life poses to every person in society. Let all the members of the Body of Christ take up together the responsibility of bringing Christ to the world, in a spirit of family, friendship and communion.
Fr Anthony J. Fernandes is Executive Secretary of the Laity Commission of the CCBI.
Pope Francis’ vision for Catechesis
Dr Gerard O’Shea
No one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 3:11)
The election of Pope Francis brought with it a renewed focus on the attractiveness of the Christian message. There are already two magisterial documents from this Pope's hand offering insights into his vision for catechesis. Perhaps the best known of his observations can be found in Evangelii Gaudium, where he has drawn attention to the fundamental bedrock of what we ought to be passing on—the Kerygma:
Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you. (Art. 164)
The structure is disarmingly simple, and yet it allows us to touch on every important aspect of the Christian life. We are reminded that the foundation of all we do as Christians is the love of Christ. Before every programme, prior to any inspirational conference, above all petty politics or personal clashes of any kind, we do what we do because Jesus Christ loves you. This finds its most powerful expression in what Christ did: He gave his life to save you. This is not some distant event that is no longer relevant, for Jesus is living at your side every day—made present mysteriously through the Sacraments, and made personal through our ongoing dialogue in prayer. Finally, there must be some element of struggle and personal transformation involved in this; for Christ stands by us for a good purpose: to enlighten, strengthen and free you. This is an incredibly powerful summary of what we are trying to pass on to those in our care, by living it out ourselves. It is so important that "all Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma." (EG 165)
The Sacramental Structure of Faith
Whereas the kerygma gives us insight into what we are doing, in Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis reminds us how this is to be done. Here he points out that the Church is a family, which must pass on the full store of its memories in a way that nothing is lost. But how? The Church has access to a special means for passing on this fullness, one that is capable of "engaging the entire person, body and spirit, interior life and relationships with others." (LF 40)
What is this special means? It is none other than what it has always been, "the Sacraments, celebrated in the Church's liturgy." (LF 40) Christ is not a distant memory; He is a real presence. Our senses give genuine access to the Saviour Himself, no less real now than He was when He travelled the pathways of the Holy Land. The Lord Himself, on the road to Emmaus, concretely demonstrates this truth. Though Jesus is still present on the earth, even speaking to the disciples, it is not until the sacramental sign, the "breaking of bread," that they really know who He is! Thus shall it be until the end of time.
Essentially, the Pope is drawing attention to the fact that faith itself has a sacramental structure: "The awakening of faith is linked to the dawning of a new sacramental sense in our lives as human beings, and as Christians, in which visible and material realities are seen to point beyond themselves to the mystery of the eternal."
The Place of Doctrinal Content
In Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis makes it clear that what the Church is handing on is not solely a doctrinal content for which a book or the repetition of an idea might suffice. Rather, it is about "the new light born of an encounter with the true God, a light which touches us at the core of our being and engages our minds, wills and emotions, opening us to relationships lived in communion."
In making this point, he has no intention of denigrating the importance of systematically passing on the doctrine of the Church:
Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole…hence the need for vigilance in ensuring that the deposit of faith is passed on in its entirety…and that all aspects of the profession of faith are duly emphasised. (LF 48)
Via Pulchritudinis: The Way of Beauty
Pope Francis advises that in proclaiming Christ, we are not only concerned with what is right and good, but also with the beautiful. He affirms that "every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus." (EG 167) He warns that this must never become some kind of relativist asceticism, where beauty is isolated from its inseparable bonds with truth and goodness. It is nevertheless a valuable tool; it is a means by which catechists can attract the attention of their students by appealing to their senses.
Young people are incredibly attentive to the visual image. To attract their attention, it is usually sufficient to allow them to hold beautifully presented pieces of artwork, mounted on wood if possible. By simply asking what they think the artist is trying to tell us, a remarkable discussion almost invariably follows. Students who cannot be reached by fine words can often be touched by beautiful images. For this reason, Pope Francis advises that "a formation in the via pulchritudinis ought to be part of our effort to pass on the faith."
The Moral Dimension of Catechesis
Pope Francis also gives attention to the moral component of catechesis. Changes in behaviour ought to follow from one's relationship with Christ. This is the motive for rejecting the evils and sins that endanger our life with Christ. To put it in the words of the Gospel, "if you love me, you will keep my commandments" (Jn 14:15).
In our teaching of the moral ramifications of life in Christ, we are told to avoid striking the pose of "dour judges bent on rooting out every threat and deviation." Instead, we should appear as "joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel."
Finally, Pope Francis expresses a preference for a catechetical methodology: mystogogical renewal. "This basically has to do with two things: a progressive experience of formation involving the entire community, and a renewed appreciation of the liturgical signs of Christian initiation."
How can we ensure that the faith is being passed on in a way that involves the entire community? How can we induct children into a proper understanding of the liturgical signs and allow them to see the link between this and the Revelation of God revealed in the Bible? In posing these challenges, Pope Francis is merely presenting the ancient teaching of the Church, reiterated most recently in Verbum Domini in 2010. Mystagogical renewal aims to emphasise the link between the Scriptures and the liturgy, and make this explicit in our catechetical practice: "To understand the Word of God, then, we need to appreciate and experience the essential meaning and value of the liturgical action."
We could, then, sum up the vision of Pope Francis for catechesis in four simple statements.
1. We need to begin with the kerygma, and continually reflect on it.
2. Catechesis requires an attractive presentation and the integration of every dimension of the person within a community journeying towards God.
3. We must emphasise "mystagogy"—working through the concrete liturgical signs we find in the Sacraments, and linking these with the mysteries revealed in the Scriptures.
4. The Sacraments are indispensable in passing on the faith of the Church, as they draw people to Christ's ongoing real presence in the world. n
(This article first appeared in The Catechetical Review, Jan-March 2015)
Dr Gerard O’Shea is a Catholic school principal and part-time Lecturer at the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne.
Faith Formation - Facts and Fiction
Fr Gilbert Choondal SDB
Catechesis is known by different names—faith formation, catechism class, Sunday School, religious education, religious instruction, Christian nurture, etc. Let me use the term 'catechesis', as it is very much Catholic in its origin and usage. To describe the multiple faces of catechesis, we need to get rid of some of our misconceptions.
Fiction #1: Catechesis is educating children in the faith.
This is a normal misconception among the faithful, as well as some clergy and religious. Catechesis is almost equated to child-related matter today. The renewal effected by the Second Vatican Council in catechesis has brought about an important change in the manner of perceiving catechesis and those to whom it is directed. Catechetical interest has shifted decidedly from the world of the child to that of the adult, while most people in Church still think it is a child-related activity.
Fiction #2: Catechesis is done in schools and parishes.
As soon as one hears the word 'catechesis', many people think that it is a normal activity in parishes and Catholic schools. The traditional loci of catechesis were the Parish, School and Family. By dedicating a new chapter on loci of catechesis, the General Directory for Catechesis (GDC) enumerates in detail other loci like Small Christian Communities, movements, pious associations and the Internet (added later in Church and Internet) as loci of catechesis, apart from the traditional ones. Hence catechesis does not happen in parish and school alone! It is not a mere classroom activity.
Fiction #3: Catechesis is the job of some voluntary laypersons.
I have also come across another misconception among laypersons that catechesis is the job of nuns! There are also some members of religious congregations who believe that catechesis is not an essential part of their ministry or charism! A little knowledge is dangerous. Canon Law states that all the congregations (except orders) have a catechetical purpose. In fact, several faithful, religious and priests consider this ministry as a "low caste ministry", if you tag all ministries to a caste system!
Fiction #4: Catechesis is teaching prayers and creeds of faith.
First of all, catechesis is not mere indoctrination, nor is it limited to memorisation! In fact, the GDC provides six fundamental tasks of catechesis that takes one beyond the limits of memorisation and indoctrination. Much before the GDC, catechesis was understood as something that embraces the whole life of the Church! Why are these six elements so crucial to catechesis? I believe these elements were present at the very beginning of Christian community to build up a community of faith and persons of faith. The Acts of the Apostles presents the early Christian community as focused on praying, doing justice, believing (teaching of the apostles), and building up of the community. These actions together, as a whole, distinguished the Christian community. This is catechesis.
What are some basic facts about Catechesis?
Fact #1: Catechesis is life-long and life-wide.
St Pope John Paul II defines catechesis in Catechesi Tradendae (18) as education of children, young people and adults in the faith. If catechesis includes the whole life of the catechised, it has to be from womb to tomb. There is already a Pre-natal Catechesis developed in certain Syro-Malabar dioceses in Kerala. This is basically a family catechesis for the mother to prepare spiritually for the child to be born. Along with the spiritual preparation of the mother, the entire family goes through a faith formation period before the child is born, with special prayers and liturgical moments during family prayer. Similarly, there is a need for Post-mortem Catechesis to be developed for a bereaved family.
Fact #2: Adult Catechesis is the chief form of Catechesis.
The first catechetical directive in the Catholic Church was the General Directory for Catechesis in 1971. It stated that Adult Catechesis is the chief form of all catechesis, since it engages adults who are responsible. All other catechetical activities are oriented towards this catechesis. I believe that adult catechesis should not be reduced to mere catechism classes. Adults can think and reflect. Adult catechesis should be oriented towards theologising. Adult catechesis is lay theology. It should engage adults to question their view of faith - lived and living - to find relevant answers for maturing their faith. Unfortunately, this catechesis is generally missing in our parishes.
Fact #3: Catechesis is the prime duty of Bishops, Priests and Parents. Catechesis is the responsibility of the entire Christian community, in the sense that those who have specific roles of leadership act not on their own, but in the name of the Church—the bishop, the ordained, parents, members of religious communities, lay catechists, etc. The Second Vatican Council gave much importance to the proclamation and transmission of the Gospel in the Episcopal Ministry. It asserts that bishops are the primary catechists of the Church (LG 25, CD 12). The New Code of Canon Law of 1983 also stresses the importance of the duty of priests in ensuring the catechetical formation of adults, young people and children.
Fact #4: Catechesis begins in the Family. The family is the normal place where the young grow to personal and social maturity. It is one of the loci of the catechesis. Both Lumen Gentium and Ecclesia in Asia confirm that the family is "the domestic Church" (LG 11, EA 46). The Synod indicates that the family becomes the hearth of evangelisation when the parents strive to come together in moments of prayer, Bible reading and reflection, for appropriate rituals presided over by the parents and for healthy recreation (Ecclesia in Asia 46). A family can be considered the first school, locus of catechesis, a place of basic human experiences of faith and love which all its members need for their development. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies and enriches all forms of catechesis (Catechesi Tradendae 68).The best form of family catechesis is family prayer, which is far more effective than any catechesis or sermon, says Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia (288).
Conclusion: Catechesis is a spirituality. If spirituality is a way of life for Catholics, then faith formation and faith nourishment is spirituality. The early Church was built by the catechesis of the apostles. We are the living proofs of the catechesis of the Church. Let us not stop it, but learn, love and live our faith! Catechesis helps us engage our three faculties— hands (living), heart (loving) and head (learning). It should not be isolated activities, but lead us to the final H, viz. Habit, a spirituality!
Fr Gilbert Choondal SDB, Director of Nitika Don Bosco Catechetical Centre at Kolkata, is also the Coordinator of ‘Education to Faith’, South Asian Salesian Provinces and Secretary of the Indian Catechetical Association.
Stories of Courage and Compassion
The SCCs in Mumbai have motivated and inspired people to reach out in the face of COVID-19
Manna on Weels
The 'Manna on Weels' outreach programme (sic; Weels emphasises the 'We' of Community) of St Peter's Church, Bandra, was an initiative led completely by the Holy Spirit, to help meet the needs of hungry people on the streets of Bandra West. It started with our own car, with my wife Canice and Fr Gerard Rodricks SJ handing out 25 lunch packets on March 30, soon after the lockdown began. It slowly grew, adding more cars and volunteers, especially the youth from St Peter's Church and volunteers from other faiths, ultimately reaching out to people in Bandra West, Khar, Santa Cruz and Bandra East, through 14 cars, 30+ volunteers and 1850 food packets served per day, by the first week of May. Partnering with St Joseph the Worker Church helped us reach out to the needy in Bandra East area as well. 'Manna on Weels' was mentored by Fr Gerard, and hugely appreciated by Fr Frazer Mascarenhas SJ, Parish Priest of St Peter's Church.
Cumulatively, more than 40,000 meals were distributed, helping to meet the nutrition needs of migrant labourers, the homeless and others in need. More than 200 donors came forward to chip in generously, despite the harsh economic slowdown, providing around Rs 25 lakhs in finance. The funds helped us serve piping hot, fresh, quality standard meals. Many others offered their cars, drivers, facemasks and other ways to support the project.
It all began when we saw our own watchmen not being able to get a snack from the local food-stall because of the lockdown. From that beginning, the way the project scaled up was itself a huge testimony of faith. When we raised a request for sponsorships, little did we imagine that Rs 25 lakhs would come in, and that was the exact cost of the project till the end; it was God who worked out the spread-sheet for us. Even the closure of the programme was put by the Lord in our hearts, when we saw the cases of COVID-19 spiralling and the police became more strict, restricting our vehicular movement.
I am confident that this activity was inspired by God's Spirit, and that "where God guides, He provides" (Isaiah 58:11). The project has been a testimony to team work and service with Christ-like love.
Dr Richard Pereira
How Green is my Village!
Gorai and Culvem are situated near the Arabian Sea, surrounded by greenery, fields and mountains; most of the residents are farmers and fisherfolk.
COVID-19 has impacted people's social, psychological and mental health. The worst affected people are poor migrants, domestic workers, daily wage labourers who are jobless and dependent on the good will of others for their survival. In the midst of this crisis, the Holy Magi parish at Gorai-Culvem reached out to all through the SCCs, under the guidance of the Parish Priest, Fr Edward Jacinto, assisted by Fr John Pereira and Br Nelson Mathews, along with the Religious Sisters.
The SCC animators of the 15 SCC Zones (along with the SVP members) submitted a list of the poor families to the Parish Priest; dry ration was distributed to 100 families of Gorai-Culvem. With the collaboration of the Gorai Machimar Society, the parish took another step forward to give ration to all families of Gorai fisherfolk and farmers. Through local leaders like the MLA and Corporator, ration was distributed to people of other faiths, tribals, migrants, widows, rickshaw drivers, etc.
Regular patrolling at the three entry points of Gorai and Culvem villages was carried out by volunteers from each SCC zone; 70-80 youth, women and men are patrolling 24x7 for the last three months since the lockdown began. Their discipline and efforts have ensured that Gorai-Culvem is declared a 'green zone', despite being close to Mumbai city.
The important rule of 'social distancing' is being strictly followed in all the villages. The parish had offered the entire church ground to sell fish and vegetables. SCC members have been supervising regularly to ensure the discipline of the vendors and the buyers.
The sale of fish and vegetables in the village could not provide for the daily needs of the vendors. Fr Edward requested Fr Mario Mendes, CSA Director, to help set up a market where the sale of fish and vegetables would help the vendors make ends meet. As a result, one tempo load of vegetables and fish was sent to Mumbai everyday to help the vendors augment their income.
Regular meetings were organised with the police and BMC staff to discuss how to help people face the challenges. The grocery shop owners, medical stores, bakeries, milk sellers, etc. were requested not to increase the prices, but to sell at a reasonable price. Fr Rocky Banz and the Health Promotion Trust (HPT) helped by giving soaps, sanitisers and masks which were distributed to people.
Through parish loudspeakers, people could participate in the Mass, Rosary, prayers, novena, and receive spiritual guidance. Awareness was created through East Indian songs, composed and sung by each zone; prizes were distributed. Dr Milind Kadam gave his dedicated service to our villages, while the CSA team, volunteers and people of goodwill gave constant motivational and spiritual guidance.
Fr Edward Jacinto
Feeding the hungry
Melwyn Lucas, a parishioner of Holy Trinity Church, Powai woke up early on April 2, 2020, with a voice telling him to distribute food to the needy. Maybe it was a dream, but he decided to make it a reality. As Holy Week approached, he thought, "Why not give cooked lunch to the needy and homeless from April 5, 2020, for a week at least?" thus putting into practice the words of our Lord, "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me."
He contacted a caterer to prepare cooked food packets for 200 people. Community members helped him identify the needy. He distributed food packets in a rickshaw to whomever he saw in need, along the way from Bhandup, and even some areas of Mulund. Seeing the people's need, he decided to extend his efforts till April 14, 2020. He has also reached out to Community members with medical assistance, and even hospital transportation for a dialysis patient. A bulk of the funding was personal, but as word got around, many Community members and well-wishers came forward to help.
From April 16-28, he decided to distribute dry ration (5 kg rice, 1 kg dal, 1 kg salt, 1 L oil) to 225 needy people. He gave 25 such hampers to St Anthony Church, Tembipada, which was distributed to the poor and needy of the parish.
He has also helped arrange transport for a funeral during the lockdown. Melwyn is truly the Good Samaritan and COVID warrior of our parish. We are indeed proud of him. May God bless him and his family. n
The Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon of the Mount found in Matthew Chapter 5 is the manifesto of Jesus and His mission. It contains all the core tenets of His message and reveals His philosophy of life and action.
The sermon is given in order to teach the people what it really means to be children of God. The Israelites were the chosen people (Deut 7:7-8). They were handpicked by God from among the nations to belong to Him, and to do His bidding. Every Jew in the time of Jesus knew that despite their present situation, they were God's favoured ones. They were His children, and He would come to alleviate their sufferings and save them from all oppression and injustice.
Their knowledge of being God's children, however, sadly remained at the level of the head alone. They were so preoccupied with behaving like good children, that they forgot how to live as children! In order to preserve their status and character as good children, they gave themselves laws, customs and practices over and above the ones the Lord gave to them through Moses. Such was their eagerness that they devised some 613 laws, ranging from the mundane to the sacred that would ensure their pleasing God! This over-eagerness to please God by adhering to rules and regulations gradually gave way to hypocrisy, pride and scrupulousness.
Jesus, in His sermon, points out to the people how they fall short of living as God's children. Naturally, they were enraged. They kept the laws—all 613 of them! Yet, here was this carpenter's son accusing them of hypocrisy and failure to please God! How audacious! They couldn't bear it. Not only was Jesus opening up wounds, He was also rubbing salt in them by offering new ways of doing things - ways that seemingly did away with their laws. He was proposing how one could really be good children of God, without getting weighed down or scrupulous about tiny details. It is not as if His good theory wasn't enough, He practised what he preached! And people appreciated His lifestyle and were influenced by Him!
Jesus laid an axe to the tree of legalism. For the Jews, the law meant everything. It was their one, true connection with God. It was the perennial reminder of who God was, and what He had done for them. The law also acted as a channel which connected a person to God. If a person kept the law, he/she would be considered a good and God-fearing person who is close to God, by virtue of keeping His commandments and following all that is prescribed by the law. Conversely, a bad person would be one who did not show any regard for the law.
Jesus seemed to fit in the latter category. He was teaching something entirely new that had no precedence in the law, at least as it was recorded. Jesus began His teaching by listing out all the people who could be considered 'blessed', and surprise, surprise, He never once mentioned those who kept the law! He spoke of the poor in spirit, the mourners, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the merciful, the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and the pure in heart, but no mention of those who kept the law and made it their life's goal to study, memorise, teach and practise it! Surely, He did not value the law or have much regard for it.
Jesus sensed what was going through people's minds, and thus came out boldly with the statement: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets" (Mt 5:17). Just when everyone thought they had Him all figured out, Jesus drops a bombshell. He goes on to say, "I have come not to abolish, but to fulfil it" (v. 17). How can He fulfil the law if He doesn't even care about it? Or does He really care? How would anyone know?
He continues His teaching by telling the people what they have been taught to do by the law and how that is insufficient in the eyes of God. "You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment…" (Mt 5:21-22). Jesus twisted people's minds out of the small holes that they had trained themselves to live in. They thought that they were keeping the law by not taking another's life, but in the bargain, they were hurting one another with their evil thoughts, words and deeds. All the while they continued to believe that they were still good, just because they hadn't taken a knife to another person's throat.
Jesus exposed their legalistic minimalism, and tried to show them that it wasn't enough to keep the letter of the law. The spirit with which the law is kept is just as important, if not more important! So He did really care about the law! He cared about it perhaps much more than any of them. For this reason, he proclaimed, "Until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished" (Mt 5:18).
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount poses a serious challenge, not just to every practicing Jew, but to every human being on this planet. Before going into the challenging nature of His teachings, it is important to understand that He challenges first our understanding of law and ethics. Being good does not simply mean not doing bad. There is so much more to it than simply avoiding a particular behaviour. It touches every aspect of a person's character, and is reflected in thought, word and deed. The individual teachings in themselves are extremely hard to practice, but as many of our ancestors have shown, it isn't impossible. Jesus Himself managed to practise all of His teachings. That in a way is one of His strongest selling points. He showed that it can be done.
The Sermon on the Mount is not just the manifesto of Jesus; it is the Ultimate Guide to Christian Living. Every person who calls himself/herself a Christian ought to know and practise the teachings given therein. For all other people of goodwill who are looking to live an authentic and full life, the Sermon on the Mount offers guidelines and a sure path. What is the proof that it works? The lives of numerous persons, ranging from Jesus Himself to Mahatma Gandhi, who practised it to the point where it not only changed and characterised their life, but also affected the lives of the people around them and the societies in which they lived.
Ian Pinto is a Salesian of Don Bosco, currently studying theology at JDV, Pune.
Defeating COVID-19 in Asia’s largest slum
The growing gap between urban and rural areas in India has led to a steady flow of migrants from the villages to the city, leading to a proliferation of slums. Cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Jabalpur, Jaipur and Visakhapatnam have acted like magnets to these job-seekers. Rapid urban growth has not been accompanied by the required urban infrastructure. Weak governance, the lack of holistic planning and under-investment in certain areas have all contributed to this phenomenon.
That is why in Mumbai, for instance, apart from Dharavi, which is situated on prime property in the heart of this financial capital of India, many smaller slums in the suburbs have metamorphosed into larger slums in the Kurla-Ghatkopar belt, the Mankhurd-Govandi belt, and the Yogi and Yeoor hill slopes stretching from Bhandup to Mulund.
These slums with appalling housing and sanitary conditions are the breeding grounds for disease and epidemics. Dharavi, considered the largest slum in Asia, with a population estimated at 1 million spread over 613 hectares and seven Mumbai wards became a hotspot during the COVID-19 crisis.
What is overlooked by prejudiced eyes, however, is that Dharavi is also host to commercial activities in Mumbai to the tune of US$1 billion. Shalu Khandelwal, writing in Culture Trip, mentions many of these industries—pottery, fried snacks, leather products, recycling units, handicrafts, embroidery, papad making, foundries, sweet making, soap and detergent facilities, bakeries and kiln making.
Dharavi, made famous by Danny Boyle's 'Slum Dog Millionaire', 'Gully Boy' and many other Hindi films, is not just a slum that makes a desperate impression with its narrow lanes and unhygienic conditions. Denis Gruber, a foreign observer, says that while the surroundings may be miserable with overcrowded space, the huts can be very clean inside, with some having some element of beauty - nice curtains on the windows, and balconies covered with flowers and plants.
In Mumbai alone, of its 20.4 million population, an estimated 5.2 million ( their numbers keep increasing) live in slums. That is why NGOs and those working for the poor have to factor in these slum dwellers in any projects they may initiate and undertake. Dharavi has become a centre for innovative social projects, such as the Dharavi Art Room Project and the Diary Development Programme. The first empowers women and children of marginalised communities through the medium of art. The second teaches coding to girls. Some of these girls have developed mobile apps, such as the Pani hai Jeevan, which creates an online queue for water collection, and alerts people when it is their turn to collect water. This minimises waiting time.
Dharavi, considered a time bomb during the coronavirus crisis, has contained the virus, with 1964 cases reported, and 73 deaths as of June 14, 2020. Mumbai's civic body, partnering with local medical associations, isolated and quarantined possible cases early on, and as many as 939 recovered from the dreaded disease. Thousands of residents were tested, and free Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was also supplied through private doctors, who were encouraged to open their clinics which had been shut down in March.
On June 4, 2020, UNICEF convened a meeting where it carried out a consultative process with government representatives, experts, Civil Society Organisations and NGOs to understand the ground realities in slums in Mumbai, and to propose a response strategy to the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and Government, which would be multi-sectoral. Bishop Allwyn D'Silva represented the Archdiocese of Bombay at this meeting, which was conducted over a digital communication platform. A COVID-19 plan for slums in G/North Ward (including Dharavi, Mahim and Dadar) and the M-East Ward (including Govandi, Deonar, Mankhurd, Shivaji Nagar, Cheetah Camp and a part of Chembur) was drawn up. In M-E Ward, nearly 80 per cent of its population live in slums, and fatality rates because of COVID-19 have been the highest.
The consultative process resulted in the adoption of a two-pronged strategy for meeting the crisis. One was assistance in kind - food and cash, and the second, capacity building approaches through counselling, training and psychological support to communities, frontline workers and officials.
The WHO was also involved in this meeting, and the World Bank has announced a US$ 1 billion package to support India's efforts for providing social assistance to poor and vulnerable households in this crisis, connecting them with ongoing Government schemes This is in addition to the US$ 1 billion contribution of the World Bank towards the Emergency COVID-19 response in India.
Dharavi has a miniscule Christian population - just 5 per cent of the total. The Catholic Church has been present in Dharavi ever since St Anthony Church started in 1939. It has made its presence felt with works of charity, projects and relief work. It caters largely to two ethnic groups - the Tamil and Marathi-speaking people.
The Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Bombay has a significant presence in Dharavi, through the religious congregations in the neighbourhood - Helpers of Mary, Canossian Daughters of Charity, Queen of the Apostles, Sisters of Little Flower of Bethany, Little Brothers of Jesus, and also the neighboring parishes of St Michael (Mahim), Our Lady of Good Counsel (Sion), Our Lady of Lourdes (Sion), Our Lady of Victories (Mahim) and the archdiocesan Health Promotion Trust.
During the COVID-19 crisis, the Centre for Social Action (CSA) has done yeoman service of coordination with all these and other civil society organisations to provide relief to the people in distress. Fr Mario Mendes, Director of CSA, describing the Church's relief work in Dharavi, G/North Ward and M-E Ward said, "We have reached out to the people in distress through the churches and convents in the vicinity. Largely, our work has been that of food distribution - dry rations and cooked food. We have also provided people with hygiene kits (face masks, hand sanitisers, soaps, and sanitary napkins for women). We have responded to distress calls and guided people in accessing various facilities provided by the Government or other Civil Society Organisations." He also acknowledged the key role played by Professor Ms Brinelle D'Souza (from TISS) in coordinating with the Church, Civil Society and Government agencies in this time of need.
(with inputs from Bishop Allwyn D'Silva and Fr Mario Mendes, Director of CSA)
Janina Gomes is a freelance writer for the religious and secular press.
Fr Alvaro Nazareth: Missionary Disciple
(Born: December 23, 1932;
Died: June 22, 2020)
Excerpts from the homily preached at Fr Alvaro Nazareth's Funeral Service:
The first reading which we took today, from the Letter of St Paul to the Romans, speaks about the influence of one's life and death on others. This is quite evident in the description that St Paul gives us of the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. I'm sure that when we reflect on the life of Jesus, there is so much that we learn, so much to inspire us from His life—the miracles He performed, His message of love and mercy, the comfort and joy He brought to people as He spoke about God as a forgiving Father. At the same time, in His death and the suffering that He experienced, there was so much to learn from; while on the Cross, His words, His entreaties, His complete surrender to God. We must remember then, that each and every one of us baptised in the name of the Lord influences the life of others. In the gospel, the Lord describes the servants, disciples who are ready when the master comes. We know that readiness means having their lamps lit, and that they are completely prepared to meet the Lord and to serve Him. For us Christians, meeting the Lord means dying in His name. We must be ready with our lamps lit; our lamps filled with the oil of love, forgiveness, faith and trust in the Lord through our prayer and worship.
Today we are here to celebrate the life of our brother, Fr Alvaro. I'm sure that you will agree with me, that everyone—whether it is the priests on the team here at Mt Carmel Church, whether it's the people of our parish, young and old, whether it's the people from Brazil where he served for over three decades or the Legionaries of Mary – was hugely impacted and changed by being in contact with him. Then of course, there was his ministry in the parish, whether it was with the Legion, Men's Sodality, Konkani Sodality, Bible Cell, Catechesis and the celebration of the Sacraments. As I stand here and look to my right, I see his very special place where he sat every evening and heard confessions, assisting penitents to reconcile with God and each other. In so many messages I have received since he passed away, people have been telling me that they will miss that presence when they return after the lockdown.
We, as a team, will surely miss his presence at the table and the camaraderie we enjoyed, as he shared about the political and religious debates he watched on YouTube or his love for football, his opinion on politics and his love for the faith, sprinkled with his own brand of humour. We noticed that although he was struggling with his health, he never wanted to be a burden on anyone. He was a person who served; he was a man who loved and forgave and reconciled. He had a very special love for the poor. Often, there would be people standing outside the office, waiting to contact him, because he had called them to give them a little something for their needs. He was friendly towards the youth and children. I know that many came to him for counselling, for advice and for mentorship. He was proud of his roots in Assagao in Goa, and often spoke with pride about the other stalwarts in the ministry who hailed from there. He was one of three brothers who were offered to the Lord as priests—Fr Arulananda SJ, Fr Blaise Nazareth and of course, our very own Fr Alvaro. They were offered to God by a God-fearing family that surely influenced his life, and we are grateful to his late parents because of the sacrifices they made in this special offering. After he was ordained a priest on December 21, 1959, he professed his love for the Missions, and was sent to Brazil, where he served for over three decades, reaching out to the people there as a missionary.
On his return to Bombay, he was offered the responsibility of the Legion. In one of his interviews that appeared on the Archdiocese of Bombay Facebook page, in a series titled 'Retired, Not Out', as a signing off comment, he said, "I want to do God's will, and would like to die doing God's will." He always wanted to do God's will, and that's why he always made himself available. In his passing away, the Archdiocese has lost a pillar. We know that he will intercede for all of us—priests, his colleagues in the presbyterium, parishioners, his friends, his loved ones, his family. A few months ago, in December 2019, he completed 60 years of his priesthood, and we were happy to organise what we called the "30-60", celebrating his 60th Sacerdotal Ordination Anniversary along with Fr Christopher's 30th. I know that he was a little sceptical about the celebration, saying he was not sure he would survive to see the day. But we pushed him, we coaxed him and ensured that he was happy with his loved ones, his family, friends and parishioners who greeted him so lovingly. I'm sure that this is the endearing memory we all have of Fr Alvaro in celebration and in prayer. Fr Alvaro can now proudly say, "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!"
Fr Reuben Tellis