Present and Future Strategies for the Church’s Social Outreach during the Pandemic
Bishop Allwyn D’Silva
I would like to thank God, I would like to praise God, because the Church in India, the Church in the Archdiocese of Bombay is truly living the commandment of love. We have to be proud of the Church in Mumbai and also in the whole of India.
Church's Engagement in Food Relief
The Church in Mumbai has been engaged in food relief. Nearly all the parishes have reached out to people who are hungry. Not only parishes, but religious congregations too are reaching out to those who are hungry. Then there are various organisations, like the Bombay Catholic Sabha and the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SSVP) that have reached out to more than 6,000 families; in the Archdiocese of Bombay, we have the 'Centre for Social Action (CSA)', which has reached out to more than 6,000 families as well. Mention should also be made of the 'Houseworkers Association'; throughout India, especially in Mumbai, they have reached out to more than 45,000 houseworkers, especially the elderly, because some of the houseworkers will not be paid. They are daily wagers, and will therefore lose their salary. There is much more effort being done in Mumbai in some of our schools.
Nature of Relief Efforts
What is the nature of relief? Some have provided dry rations like rice, atta, oil, dal, sugar, poha, rava, onions, potatoes, tea leaves, soaps, sanitary napkins, sanitisers, etc. Some are distributing cooked meals; occasionally, there are cash transfers. Of course, our relief effort is limited, because we do not have sufficient funds, and the need is enormous. Though we have been involved in giving relief, there are many sections of people whom we still have to reach out to, such as pregnant women, infants and children below six, TB patients, heart patients, etc.
Profile of Beneficiaries
Who are the people we are reaching out to? Domestic workers, as I had mentioned, daily wage earners, migrants, "trans" persons and women in prostitution, ragpickers, persons with disabilities, homeless, the Adivasis, persons with pre-existing illnesses and members of the faith community as well as persons of other faith traditions. Good intentions are not enough. Sometimes good intentions bring bad results, and therefore, when we plan our relief work, when we plan our outreach programmes, we will have to analyse, we will have to think whether what we are doing is really helping people, empowering them, or instead making them dependent. Therefore, it's very important that we think seriously about our efforts in reaching out to people.
Crisis Management Team
I would like to suggest that in each parish, religious community or each area, we form a crisis management team, so that they can look after those who are in need.
1) What should be the goal of this Management Team?
To create a safe and healthy environment for women, children and other vulnerable groups in the Archdiocese of Bombay.
• To facilitate access to quality healthcare services for women and children.
• To facilitate access to care and support services for persons living with disabilities.
• To facilitate access to quality health and social support services for people with life-limiting illnesses.
• To refer women undergoing violence to appropriate care and support services.
• To refer children undergoing abuse to relevant legal and psychological support services.
We are often only concerned about relief to the jobless, but it is very important to look at other people, people who are suffering from illnesses. If I have a heart attack, where do I go? If I am suffering from diabetes, where do I go? We are currently in the process of creating a Directory of Services which will be available on the website of the Archdiocese of Bombay (www.archdioceseofbombay.org). We are looking at the following areas:
• Health (COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related)
• Persons with disabilities
• Counselling services
• Services for Senior Citizens
• Domestic Violence
• Dealing with Child Abuse (Legal and Psychosocial)
We hope to update these services on the Archdiocese website, and we will try and update this information on a regular basis.
Immediate term Strategies
We need to identify a pool of volunteers from the many organisations we have such as the Women's Cell, SCCs, CCOs, SVP, BCS, etc. There will be anxieties among families about allowing their family members to volunteer on account of the infections. But we will overcome those through awareness and placing the highest priority on the safety of volunteers. We will try to spread awareness about how to use the Directory. We need webinars to train volunteers, since we cannot meet in person. The Archdiocese of Bombay will have this on the website. One area that we should not forget is the Raigad Deanery which is part of our diocese. It is they that need our help and our services. Hopefully, we will use the media, video conferences, videos, so that we can train people to be at the service of those who need us.
My dear friends, each one of us is called to walk in the footsteps of Mary our Mother; she is the model for all Christians. When there was no wine, she approached Jesus, and asked Him to perform a miracle. When Elizabeth was in need, she went to Elizabeth's house and stayed with her. She accompanied Jesus throughout His journey to Calvary. Jesus and Mary invite us—we can be champions of love, we can be champions of faith and hope. During this coronavirus crisis, the Lord is inviting each and every one of us to be true champions of love. n
(Source: Evening Video Catechesis conducted by the Archdiocese of Bombay, May 2, 2020, YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e70cx6jCSR4&t=885s, Archdiocese of Bombay YouTube Channel)
Bishop Allwyn D’Silva is an Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay.
Being Church – Old Normal, New Normal
Fr Gavin Lopes
A serious change has enveloped us, triggered by the global crisis of the onset of the novel coronavirus. Many speak of a new normal, but for that we have to think back to what was the old normal for us. Often, life surges on, and we are left with little time to catch our breath and take a look at the big picture. There is so much to discuss about the various aspects of life, but let's take a good look at our being Church. I use the term 'being Church' very deliberately, as often it is the one thing that we take for granted. We depend on our priests and bishops to tell us what to do, and in some cases, there is even a sense of vigilantism with regard to the secular affairs of the Church, not to mention umpteen other squabbles. These mostly scratch the surface and never really penetrate to the core truth: What is the state of my being? What is the state of my being Church?
In 1990, Pope John Paul II issued Redemptoris Missio: On the Permanent Validity of the Church's Missionary Mandate. The Pope underlined how the mission of the Church is central to its life. In the construction of a new normal, this mission has to be central to our thought. The wonderful manner in which the Archbishop, the Centre for Social Action, the Offices for Communication in association with the clergy and a host of lay persons are responding to the current crisis is not only commendable, but also exemplary.
This crisis may be a god-send. One may wonder why. It has enabled us to take a look inward. Following the Priests' Consultation of 1990, Diocesan Synod of 2001 and the Mid-term Synodal Assembly (2006) and the Consultation (2012), a good number of structures were set up in the Archdiocese which functioned with great thought for capacity building and development. This is the favourable time to evaluate with an honest heart their functioning, their reach, and most of all, their impact.
The imputation of blame and responsibility is an easy job; call out a few faults and start to lament the implementation and planning of the programme. That is not the scope of this discussion; it is a reflection into some basic attitudes we take for granted when living out our Catholic lives. The mission of the Church is the bringing of the Gospel to every person, to evangelise and to hasten the coming of the Kingdom. With this in mind, the 'Catholic' nature of our daily life needs expansion; it's not enough to be a regular at Mass and church, to be part of an association or group, etc. The Gospel has to penetrate every aspect of our service and life. Some good questions to ask would be:
When was the last time I heard of or supported a programme being held by the Community Centre of my parish?
Besides the annual Eucharist held in my SCC/zone, when was the last time I subscribed to the idea of the Small Christian Community wholeheartedly?
Has my parish been able to identify the people living on the periphery (socially, economically, educationally) within the confines of the parish?
Have I been able to nurture my spirituality and faith, by enrolling for laity enrichment programmes - both theological and spiritual?
Have I read any material which brought me closer to myself and helped me grow stronger in every sense?
Have I been part of a spiritual movement that has challenged me to delve deeper into my life and purpose?
The light we carry from our liturgical celebrations, from our personal prayer, from our efforts at living good Catholic lives, hides under the bushel of a multitude of excuses, ranging from a busy work schedule, to a lack of time, a harsh Parish Priest, no supporting infrastructure, or just plainly, a lack of interest. The bushel is thick, and we have made our past normal a routine filled with the light inside this bushel; no wonder the Synod of 2001 seems to have become an event of distant memory. It proudly declared "Light to the Nations"; we need to lift the bushel!
Our churches may have become structural bushels. Yes, churches do provide financial and other support to needy families and individuals, sometimes with organisations like the SSVP ensuring that help reaches those cases that are authentic and the most deserving. A plethora of events is conducted to keep the parishioners engaged and entertained. But the truth is that most often, those involved in the mission and ministry of their parish is a very small percentage of the total strength. And then too, it's not always that love, understanding and charity abound. We ecstatically quote and lap up the imagery given by Pope Francis, but the famous 'smell of the sheep' is still held in disdain, and the 'field hospital' is empty. We still have Parish Councils which fight over which language Mass must take precedence, Sunday School programmes with a dwindling number of uninterested children, to name just a few. The bane of our planning is that we plan from programme to programme, rather than a vision for the whole year, or even for the next three years. We get better as time passes in the exterior rendering of the parish life, but our interior spiritual development – as priests and laity – quite often remains at the same level. We want concrete directives to be given, yet a comprehensive vision already exists in the mandate of a Synod, a Mid-term Synod and a Consultation of the Archdiocese. Our collective sense of mission has taken a beating. The various Cells and Associations in the parish work in isolated bubbles. Our programmes are filled with beautiful messages and use the latest technology, but they seldom traverse the distance from our head to our hearts so as to hasten our conversion.
If anything, the new normal must be a new evangelisation, a call to return to the heart of the Father which beats with love. It is a summons not to give account, but to realisation; the virus has shown us our true wealth. It must be a resurgence of creative faith – a re-interpretation of what it means to be Catholic living in Mumbai, with a population that groans for the truth. Faith in Jesus Christ means a sense of urgency in alleviating our brethren from ignorance, pain and strife in all its forms—spiritual, economic, social, political, etc. We can truly face this aspect of our faith only when we have met ourselves spiritually, and with a sense of the interior which guides our plans and actions. A new normal must be an experience of the Spirit beckoning us to things deeper, to things that reveal life and life in abundance. Are we up to the task of building a new normal for the life of the Church in Mumbai, or do we prefer the old normal – acting as if the pandemic taught us nothing? The generations to come will look back into history to see how we evolved after these life-changing times; will they find hope and courage from our response? Only time will tell. n
Fr Gavin Lopes of the Archdiocese of Bombay is currently pursuing his Doctorate in Systematic Theology at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome.
Are Virtual Classrooms here to stay?
The month of May is usually one of energy, cheer, the outdoors and play, as schools shut down and families embark on vacations. This year, though, the end of April and the beginning of May have turned into an extension of the academic year. Schools, colleges and universities have had to cancel exams due to social distancing and the lockdown. Online classes and examinations are now being adopted to get past the stalemate and complete the academic year. A few Education Boards have decided to promote students and begin with online classes for the next academic year. This has led to the promotion and growth of technology in the field of education.
However, the introduction of online learning methods and classes has received mixed reviews. Everything has moved online, from conducting online lectures to conducting online seminars, meetings etc. Perhaps, the workforce segment has been able to cope with this trend more easily, as most of their work is done on laptops anyways, but students have had to make adjustments as they move from the familiar environment of the classroom to the new challenge of e-learning.
When seen from one perspective, digital learning or virtual classrooms are a huge blessing in disguise. It has allowed schools and colleges to continue with classes followed by online assessments and exams, even during the lockdown. Video conferencing systems ensure continuity of classes. Virtual classrooms have enabled students to learn at their own pace and time, accessing lectures as per their convenience, which has enabled a certain degree of flexibility in their daily schedule. Priyal Joshi, who is currently pursuing her MBA, says, "In my opinion, E-learning helps to access the lectures at any available location with an internet connection, which is a huge advantage. There is a lot of flexibility in online classes since the lectures are already recorded, and we are able to avail these lectures at any time of the day."
Children have also been able to adapt to online classes and showcase their creativity and learning abilities. Parents have also become more aware about the teaching methods in schools, how much their child is involved, the activities conducted at school, etc., since they have now been drawn into the education process, and more importantly, into the student-teacher dynamic. It has also exposed them to a very different method of imparting education, which makes them more adaptable to different styles of learning. According to Keegan Pinto, a student from Campion School, "To put it simply, online teaching from homes makes life simpler not only for the teachers, but also for the pupils at home. At school, in most cases, a lot of time is wasted during class hours getting the students to settle down and in maintaining discipline, whereas if the children are taught online through videos and live video meetings, a lot of time is saved which can be used constructively." Teachers have also been able to further develop their teaching skills with technology. Many websites have also allowed teachers to use their resources and platforms for free. All this has given teachers an opportunity to learn how to integrate technology into the teaching pedagogy, which will stand them in good stead once the lockdown ends.
The pandemic has also disappointed those who were planning to go to foreign universities for further education. However, many of these universities have assured foreign students that their admission will be carried forward to the next semester, and have enabled access to their online lectures and learning platforms. This eliminates the factor of distance, as well as the payment of fees. Keegan points out that online classes can be cheaper too, as travel costs are mitigated, not to mention the time saved. One major benefit of online classes is that an unlimited number of students can be enrolled, as opposed to the limited number of students that can be seated in one classroom. In this way, the teacher can teach two to three sets of students at once, which saves a lot of time, and benefits both the teachers and the students.
However, many others see online learning, especially at the school level, as just a temporary measure, and advise against the appropriation of online learning for the long term for children. Studies have shown that longer screen time is detrimental to developing brains and the child's ability to effectively develop motor skills. Unlike in a classroom, online learning quite often leads to children sitting passively in front of screens without any student-teacher interaction, which ultimately makes the child feel bored and less interested in the learning process. Being in the physical company of other children sparks ideas and questions that may not come when the child is alone. Some parents are of the view too, that the regular syllabus should be postponed for a few months, and children allowed to get creative during the summer with projects and activities that will spark creativity and curiosity. Cooking, baking, narration of stories, art and craft, and even helping with the household chores can be huge triggers for children.
Another downside that is often not talked about is that parents now have to spend time helping their children set up for online classes and then assist in the projects and homework later, all at the same time, while they grapple with their own 'work from home' deadlines. Not to mention that most often, the presence of a single laptop at home means that screen time has to be apportioned between parents and their children. The online system also assumes that every household has access to good internet speeds, which is not always the case. The lockdown has divided people into the high-speed and low-speed internet categories.
It may also not be necessary that children would pay attention at home, as there are several distractions when one has access to their screens and the internet and they are bound to multitask. According to Vivaan Shah, "It is only so difficult to switch off my microphone and camera, and go on with my day's business. How can the teachers ensure that all children are receiving the quality education they are imparting? No matter how advanced we are as a modern society, students will go out of their way to 'enjoy' their life, and so online classes could be a leading cause in hampering a child's education."
When it comes to teachers, most are trained intensively in the traditional teaching methods, and may not be comfortable with the whole concept of virtual classrooms. Delivering a lecture also becomes a challenge as they are used to teaching students who are physically present in class. Teachers are also not able to monitor or pay personal attention to students who sometimes turn off their cameras, which leaves the teachers clueless whether the child is following the lecture or not. Technical problems and connectivity issues often disrupt the flow of teaching. Younger children exposed to this digital classroom are often lost, as they are not very familiar with technology. There is also a lot of time investment, as some teachers are needed to pre-record lectures and then upload them to the platform. All this is a huge challenge to teachers who are not well versed with technology and software.
Cyril D'Souza, who teaches at Campion, agrees with all these arguments and regards them to be essential to the current situation. However, post-lockdown, schools must get back to the classroom system and use technology only as a teaching aid. He says that the various Education Boards need to be flexible about the syllabus in the current year. It cannot be business as usual, and the Board's insistence to stick to the regular syllabus can prove to be a huge burden both for teachers and students; the syllabus will have to be trimmed and prioritised.
To conclude, virtual learning may not be accepted by all as a future learning medium, as many still prefer the hands-on personal student-teacher interaction. However, what we must really focus on is how virtual learning is eliminating the whole issue of distance, and is opening vast resources and possibilities of education for students who would otherwise not have been able to access these classes. Online classes for higher education will enable students to pick and choose from a bouquet of options, so as to tailor learning to their interests and aptitudes, and prepare themselves for suitable careers. Traditional college degrees are proving to be insufficient for the job market. Desperate times call for desperate measures; even the darkest hour of the night leads to dawn.
Cynera Rodricks is currently interning as a Content Writer with The Examiner. She is an alumna of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai and an aspiring journalist.
"A Sign for our Times"
Fr. Fio Mascarenhas S.J.
“Let anyone who has ears listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” (Apocalypse 2:7)
This directive is emphasised seven times in the Letters to the early Christians. Today too, the Risen Lord is saying it to us. The COVID-19 pandemic is like a "plague" rewound forward from the Book of the Apocalypse into our 21st century. And a gnawing question in the mind of many good people is "Why is God deaf to our prayers?" The Spirit of Jesus can provide us an answer, not a facile one, but in "guidelines of faith" with which to make sense of, and find meaning in, our apparently hopeless predicament.
2. The New Testament tells us who God is, and also who God is not! Father God is the Life-Giver, ever compassionate and loving. His benevolent and providential love animates the life of each person. But this God is not a computerised, push-button "Problem-Solver." We human beings cannot complacently live self-centred lives, estranged from God's purposes (while asking God to look the other way, so to speak), and when things go wrong, expect God to straightaway intervene with divine power to put things right! God respects the gift He has given us of "freedom." He will never de-humanise us by treating us as spineless puppets.
3. As a people, we will reap what we sow. We are capable of living according to our God-given vocation (that is what the indwelling Gift of the Holy Spirit is for), but we freely choose to "quench the Spirit" in us, and instead give in to our baser instincts of selfish and wanton self-aggrandisement, of stubborn neglect of our needy brothers and sisters, and of criminal pollution and destruction of our Mother Earth.
4. So the times we are living in are a call, a "sign of the times" to take stock, to come to our senses, and to repent, not ritually with sack-cloth and ashes, but by metanoia, which means "a change of mind" or "a new way of thinking." The term refers to spiritual conversion, and Jesus links it with "believe the Gospel." ["The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe the gospel" (Mk 1:15)].
5. The core of the Gospel, which we must believe and put our trust in, is that the Cross experienced personally by Jesus, and His prophetic call to us also to pick up our cross daily in the power of His Holy Spirit, is a mystery, not of chance or of evil, but of God's benevolent and provident love. The Church prays, "Lord God, the Cross reveals the mystery of your love, a stumbling-block indeed for unbelief, but the sign of your power and wisdom for us who believe..." (The Divine Office). Jesus is not just a one-time Saviour, but also eternally the Way, the Truth and the Life. As His role was to be our "pioneer" in bringing salvation to all of humanity, so our sharing in the Cross is a personal extension and completion of that same task. To be a Christian, in fact to be a human being, is to be a sharer in the mystery of God's redeeming love, under the shadow of the Cross.
6. Each of us is a pilgrim on this earth, and as we hasten to our eternal home to be with our Good Shepherd, we are called to make sincere efforts to improve our lot, and that of our sisters/brothers. But sadly, most of us succumb to the temptation that this world is all that matters! Yet, the Cross is the most fundamental point of reference for Christian faith. We lift up its symbol, we extol its benefits; but in practice, we shun its discipline! While confessing the importance of Jesus' death for us, we are continually tempted to alter the radical message of the Cross into something more in harmony with human reason and human wishes.
7. In today's market-oriented world, everything is measured and evaluated according to utility and profitability, even people. It is a world where there is no place for sacrifice, nor for renunciation. But the Cross shows us that God has mysteriously chosen to work His will through the power of suffering love. Therefore, when trials come, it is not God who is deaf to our prayers, but we who are deaf to a reminder of who we are, and what we are meant to be. In today's confusion of our lives, we are being shown by "the signs of the times" the things that really matter!
8. A helpful guideline here can be Col. 1:24: "In my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, that is, the Church." This profound Pauline text can help each of us personally to give some meaning to our suffering (though we will never understand it adequately), and thus to experience the inner peace and strength that Jesus alone can give. Reflecting prayerfully, with deep faith in the mystery of God's provident love for us, we can become even more "co-heirs with Jesus" (Rom 8:17), and experience His Paraclete Spirit (Jn 14:16) continually leading us into the whole truth about God and God's loving presence to us. n
Fr Fio Mascarenhas, SJ is the Chairman of the Catholic Bible Institute, Mumbai.
Suit up; new normal in play
Sarah Joseph / Smita D’Silva
Two stories of changing adversity into opportunity during the lockdown
The term 'VUCA' (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) was earlier used mostly in business and strategy workshops as part of proactive preparedness for catastrophe.
I first heard and understood this concept circa 2013 at my first job in Interlink Marketing Consulting - a Business Management Consulting firm. Being in the business of Consultative training, Capacity building and Organisational strategy, VUCA was the buzzword then to understand and strategise for the next growth/sales cycle.
Move forward to 2020; the entire world is in a VUCA state. My immediate thoughts are, do we have the time to plan, strategise and prepare, or do we just act/react/respond now to survive?
As an individual professional, my initial response was how will I survive with minimal human interactions and more virtual conversations? Adapting positively to manoeuvre my daily activities around this new normal, I can safely say I am most comfortable, picked up new skills, cautiously planning for a better tomorrow - personally and professionally - and I look forward to the opportunities.
However, this leads to the thought of how adaptable are we to change? And to adjust our lives in this VUCA world?
Initially, entering into this new normal, I heard so many of my friends and family grumble about how they were "not comfortable with this", how it's "NOT MY HABIT" to work like this, especially from people who have for more than 25-30 years worked in the traditional set-up. A part of their lives - regular travel, meeting people, interacting face-to-face was simply taken away from them.
While I hear them out, I curiously think about how flexible are we to change and adapt in this situation, or any other in life? Do we cling on and are afraid to let go of a transformation in life?
• Has the rigidity of our monotonous life caged us?
• How do we free ourselves of the apprehensions, norms and rules that govern our mind?
• Can we move forward to a more open and free way of thinking or do we still need to bend to the norms and rules that governed our mind earlier?
It's time we accept the new normal and adapt to change.
Adaptability and re-inventing your thinking and habits only allows you to create a brighter, happier and promising future. With lesser expectations and acceptance of the changing times, we will be of a happier frame of mind, not questioning the past or present, but tailoring ourselves for a future which no one has yet seen or discovered.
Do not hold yourself ransom to rigidity, but free your mind to flexibility. Make the best of what you have today and learn to re-invent for the opportunities that lie ahead.
So, suit up, for a new normal is in play!
Sarah Joseph is a Project Management & Human Resource professional currently working with The Walt Disney Company. She is also the Sunday School Coordinator at St Anthony Church, Vakola.
A Family grows in Faith during the Lockdown
During this lockdown due to COVID-19, I have been working from home, sometimes till late at night. I praise and thank God that it is possible for some of us to work from home. Our children are enjoying their vacation at home. Their cooking skills are being enhanced.
As a family, we always said our morning prayers before leaving from home and prayed the Rosary in the evening. Now during this lockdown, we also spend one hour of intercessory prayer daily as a family for those who are suffering due to COVID-19. Our children have begun to understand the difference between thanking God and intercessory prayers. During our intercession time, we do a short Praise and Worship. Now the whole family has learnt to praise and thank God spontaneously!
The whole family attends daily Mass now, which was not the case earlier. Everyone is involved in the setup of the Mass altar, from placing the Cross to connecting to the YouTube channel or placing the candles or diyas. God has blessed us with so many Altar Servers at home. We thank God for making our home a 'domestic Church'!
We also attend the weekly parish adoration, again with the full family. Even though we are not in the church, but at home, we can feel the presence of the Lord and can feel Him touching and healing us—a very anointed time spent with the Lord. Praise the Lord!
My husband and I have also attended an hour of Night Vigil from our home. We praise and thank God for using us during this lockdown period. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we need to take care of it. We are now spending time doing physical exercise, which we never did before. We spend time talking with each other, playing games, solving quizzes about our faith, as well as other quizzes.
Phil 4:13 says "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me", and actually by the grace of God, I'm enjoying this lockdown period.
Smita D’Silva is a Chartered Accountant with a regular job leading a busy life. Her husband too has his own business. They are a family of four.
From Gospel To Global
“When God gives us the opportunity, we are no one to deny it."
A multi-lingual Indian playback singer, performer, songwriter, dancer, and actor; Thomson Andrews is the whole package.
His music career took off when he performed at the Indian Premier League (IPL) Awards show with A. R. Rahman, with his choir conductor, Celeste Cordo and his mentor, Clinton Cerejo. That was truly his first miracle. Subsequently, he worked with ad composer Rupert Fernandes, who used his voice on many ad jingles for Nestlé, HCL and Volkswagen. After the IPL show, he continued working with A. R. Rahman on numerous film projects, songs, and on background scores with Clinton Cerejo and Suzanne D'Mello. He spoke to his boss who advised him that if he was so passionate about music, it was the right time to make a decision. He was 21—the right age to risk anything. He then worked with Vishal Bhardwaj, Salim-Sulaiman, Pritam Chakraborty and all the greats of the Bollywood entertainment industry. Apart from his Bollywood career, he is also involved in other media projects such as MTV Coke Studio (India) Season 2 and MTV Unplugged (India) Seasons 1, 2, and 6.
Music however, for him, began with sacred music. From the time he was a child, he was a regular in the parish choir (at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Orlem), and was always inclined towards gospel music. He performed with the Cadenza Kantori choir at The Rottenburg am Neckar Festival of Choirs in Germany and at the Taizé Community in Burgundy, France in his early 20s. He used to work in the corporate field as an HR executive, and was into audits. He never imagined that he would one day be a musician. Every weekend, he would sing with the choir in Bandra, and the rest of the week, he worked. "Music was never in my mind because no one from my family was into music, and as you know, we are told to choose steady careers. I always prayed to the Lord to help me use my talents, because the talent was there, but I didn't know what to do with it," he says. Thomson has been certified by the Trinity College of Music, London as a performing vocalist. He trained briefly in Hindustani classical singing at the Gwalior gharana.
He says that he is a very spiritual person. Everything that he does and everything that he has achieved in the industry so far is because of God, and not because of his own connections. Thomson was the first in his family to pursue music as a career. When he began doing pop and commercial music, some people said that he was going against God. "But that is not who I am as a person. I am an artist, an entertainer. If an actor does a war or murder movie, that doesn't make him a murderer. If I'm a singer, I'm writing songs on various things like love, women empowerment, etc. but that doesn't make me less Christian or a non-believer. I'm also writing gospel songs," he says.
Thomson and his wife Wilma Fleurette have started their own academy called 'Andrews' Academy of Music.' Wilma is an accomplished musician and pianist herself. They met in the choir; she played the keyboard, and he used to sing. Fate had it all planned. When an artist is around other artists, they can understand each other better—the timings, the industry and the work. They keep motivating each other to work harder. Wilma has made a tremendous impact on Thomson's career and music. Love really does bring out the best in everyone!
Any industry requires determination and drive; if one is passive and waits for things to happen, then it is not the right industry for them. "God has given you the key; you can't wait for Him to open the door ." He advises budding artists to have patience and be humble. Always be positive and look at the brighter side of things. One needs to be extremely self-confident, because, in the entertainment industry, everyone is ready to put you down. Only those who are able to shut out the negative vibes can make it through.
His name appears in the credits of many Bollywood film productions: Dhoom 3, D-Day, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Bang Bang, Happy New Year, Hasee Toh Phasee, Byomkesh Bakshi, and Bombay Velvet. He sang playback songs for 'Bach ke Bakshi' for the 2015 movie Byomkesh Bakshi for music director Sneha Khanwalkar; 'Shehar Mera' for the movie One By Two for music directors Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy; and 'Rumani', a duet with Shalmali Kholgade in the movie Akaash Vani for music director Hitesh Sonik. Throughout his journey as a full-time vocalist, Thomson has been associated with many international music projects, and has sung on the background score of the Oscar-nominated Hollywood film '127 Hours' for A. R. Rahman, has lent additional vocals on the song Satyameva Jayate from the international album SuperHeavy (also for A. R. Rahman) involving Mick Jagger, Joss Stone and Damian Marley. He currently performs across the globe, singing in 12 languages, and is associated with Sunidhi Chauhan's Live Bollywood music concerts.
Thomson, who is also known as a trend-setter in fashion for his quirky style, funky hair-dos, and outlandish spectacles, performed for Vogue India's Women Empowerment initiative #VogueEmpower in 2014. He was the first Funk-R&B artiste in Mumbai to curate Motown, R&B, funk, and soul music tribute concerts. He is also currently featured in the worldwide Amazon Prime Original music show 'The Remix' as one of the newer contemporary Indian playback singers and live performers.
Fragile people living on a fragile planet
As the dreadful coronavirus pandemic clearly illustrates: Life is fragile. In just a matter of a few months, the highly contagious COVID-19 has killed over 225,000 people, sickened many more, eliminated millions of jobs and is threatening to nearly double the number of severely hungry people throughout the world.
The World Food Program warned that the already grim number of 135 million people facing acute hunger and starvation is projected to dramatically increase to 265 million by year-end, "unless swift action is taken."
The World Food Program's Chief Economist, Arif Husain, pleaded, "COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread. It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage. Lockdowns and the global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock – like COVID-19 – to push them over the edge. We must collectively act now to mitigate the impact of this global catastrophe."
Yes! We must collectively act now!
On the recent 50th anniversary of Earth Day (April 22, 2020), we were reminded that the life of our common home is also fragile. We continue to sicken our planet with filth. Industries, vehicles and other human activities continue to pump lethal chemicals into our air, land and water. A tragic example is plastic. Watch the eye-opening PBS Frontline documentary 'Plastic Wars' (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/plastic-wars/).
And our burning of fossils fuels – oil, gas and coal – is causing the earth to dangerously heat up – resulting in more frequent and more intense floods, droughts, storms, wildfires, and greatly increased human hunger, poverty and sickness. What kind of a world are we leaving our children, grandchildren and generations yet to be born? This is a very serious question.
And we don't have much time! Leading climate scientists of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are warning us that if major changes to reverse global warming – like converting to solar, wind and geothermal energy production and massive reforestation – aren't largely in place worldwide by 2030, environmental disasters and human suffering will be catastrophic.
As with much of Catholic social teaching – like protecting the environment and caring for the poor – our approach must always be both-and, not either-or. In his celebrated environmental encyclical Laudato Si' (on Care for Our Common Home), Pope Francis teaches, "Today, however, we have to realise that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor." n
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist. His columns regularly appear in various US diocesan papers, as well as on global Catholic online publications.