Pastoral Letter – Prison Ministry Sunday
Bishop Allwyn D’Silva
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,
Mathew Albin, born and brought up in a Catholic fishermen's family, was seven years old when his father was brutally murdered at sea. Hearing the terrible news, he rushed towards the shore and wept bitterly, lying beside his father's lifeless body. He grew lonely in the malicious world of treachery and became a street boy, wandering through the streets, crying for food and craving for love. The street gangs dragged him into the world of crime and cruelty, and in the course of time, Albin became a notorious criminal, a hired killer much in demand, a threat to society and a challenge to the police department. However, by the providence of God, he was miraculously rescued and transformed through the intervention of Fr George Kuttickal MCBS, one of the pioneers of Prison Ministry India. For more than two decades, Mathew Albin has been serving as the director of Shanti Bhavan, a home for the aged, mental patients, wandering beggars and the abused. With the motto of helping, healing and caring, Albin takes care of more than 100 destitute persons. PMI can narrate thousands of similar stories of reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of hardcore criminals. As the Catholic Church celebrates Prison Ministry Sunday on August 2 this year, let us remember and pray for prisoners all over the world, especially the 4.5 lakh prisoners languishing in 1412 Indian prisons, their families, victims, the officers and the volunteers who serve them.
Focus on Reintegration
On November 7-8, 2019, Pope Francis convened an international conference of worldwide prison chaplains on the theme 'Integral Human Development and Catholic Prison Pastoral Care' at the Pontifical Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, chaired by His Eminence Peter Cardinal Turkson. During this conference, Pope Francis urged those who take care of prisoners to change their outlook and approach in treating prisoners. He asked us to offer prisoners better opportunities for reformation, development and reintegration. Real social reintegration begins by guaranteeing opportunities for development, education, decent work, access to healthcare, as well as generating public spaces for civic participation. If they are prevented from regaining the full exercise of their dignity, they will once again be exposed to the dangers of violence, insecurity and desperation. Those prisoners who already served their sentences for the evil committed should not be subjected to a new social punishment with rejection and indifference. Such aversion exposes them to falling back into the same mistakes and coming back to prison.
Reform to Reintegrate
Anchoring on Pope Francis' invocation to reform and reintegrate prisoners, Prison Ministry India (which works under the Justice, Peace and Development Commission of the CBCI) has taken this year's Prison Ministry Sunday theme as 'Reform to Reintegrate'.
At the very outset, I would like to remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of one of the significant teachings of Jesus, "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny" (Mt 5:22-23). Experience teaches us that it is better not to enter into prison. Prevention is better than cure.
Eight-fold Path for Prisoner Reformation
Through the last 34 years of service to prisoners, PMI developed an eight-fold path to reform, rehabilitate and reintegrate prisoners. This reformation methodology begins with outreach. PMI has more than 8000 volunteers who reach out to the 1412 prisons in India. You are also welcome to do prison ministry in your area. Very humbly, may I remind the Parish Priests, trustees, religious and Pious Association members to take care of prisoners, their victims and families. For Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Lk 19:10). PMI endeavours to help secure the release of deserving prisoners through legal assistance, facilitating premature release, and providing financial assistance to the needy.
Repentance and Reconciliation
The paramount task of PMI is to lead prisoners to repentance, reconciliation and reformation. As we know, the most fundamental teaching of Jesus was to repent, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (Mt 3:2). "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18:3). St John the Baptist preached, "Bear fruit worthy of repentance" (Mt 3:8). True repentance leads to reconciliation with God, society, family and self. Here comes the relevance of Jesus' teaching: "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift" (Mt 5:23-24). Repentance and reconciliation are acts of grace and a spiritual warfare, therefore I kindly request your valuable prayer and fasting for the fruitfulness of the PMI reformative ventures. "For nothing will be impossible with God" (Lk 1:37).
Rehabilitation and Reintegration
You may know that PMI has many homes to rehabilitate the released prisoners, for men, women, children and juveniles. If you know some released prisoners who need special attention, you can approach the directors of PMI rehabilitation centres. PMI also has many homes for prisoners' children, both for boys and girls in different States, and are always ready to welcome more children in need. Your recommendations in this regard will be highly appreciated. I take this opportunity to extend my most warm thanks and highest appreciation to those priests, brothers and religious who serve at these homes, and all those who collaborate with them spiritually and financially. PMI also assists released prisoners with their reintegration. We facilitate them with jobs, marriage, family settlements, and even assist them in constructing their houses. Like Mathew Albin, thousands of released prisoners have been reintegrated into the mainstream of society, and I earnestly ask you to continue your prayer and support, so that this challenging mission may continue to liberate and reintegrate many more.
Reformation and reintegration reach its summit with redemption. The ultimate goal of PMI is the redemption of the lost. Jesus came not merely to seek and liberate prisoners from their bondages and dungeons, but to save them. The story of the good thief illustrates this very well. The moment the good thief, Saint Dismas, said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom," Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise" (Lk 23:42-43). The fundamental goal of our life is to return to God, to return to paradise. Prison Ministry is the best and surest way to realize this goal. "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me" (Mt 25:34-40).
Through the celebration of Prison Ministry Sunday, the Church declares that prisoners are our brothers and sisters, and she is ready to provide them a second chance, if they are ready to repent, reconcile and renew themselves. Dear brethren behind bars, we love you, we are with you, we pray for you, and we are ready to do whatever is possible for your reformation and reintegration. Dear brothers and sisters, prison visits are equivalent to visiting Jesus, for He said, "I was in prison and you visited me" (Mt 25:36). During these COVID-19 pandemic days, we pray for you in a special way.
Your continued financial support for the works of Prison Ministry will be highly appreciated. PMI does the ministry, trusting in Divine Providence, and does not promote foreign projects. Begging is the style of PMI. Our volunteers will stand outside the church with buckets, expecting your collaboration. You can find the bank details below.
Along with my brother bishops, I express my sincere gratitude to the dioceses, major superiors and well-wishers for your generous contributions towards this ministry, and I am sure Jesus who came in search of the lost will bless you abundantly. I acknowledge and appreciate the PMI volunteers for their profound commitment in reforming and reintegrating prisoners, which all of us know, is one of the most challenging tasks. May Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the patron saint of PMI, intercede for the fruitfulness of the ministry, and may Mary, our blessed Mother, be always there to protect you.
A/c Name: Centre for Peace Trust
Bank: State Bank of India
Branch: Goregaon (E)
A/c No.: 10472848131
IFSC code: SBIN0001975
Bishop Allwyn D’Silva Chairman, Prison Ministry India.
Helping Prisoners towards a Bright Future
"I was in prison, and you came to me. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to the least of my brothers, you did it to me." (Mt 25:36, 44)
We are all called by Christ to look at the world through His eyes. Eyes that are not judgmental, but seek to reform, redeem, and re-integrate. Prisons hurt, because it contradicts our humanity. A freedom-loving God created us, and through Jesus, He has set us free. When this freedom is taken away, it afflicts the core of human identity and dignity. Prison Ministry Mumbai recognises the explicit pain imposed by imprisonment. If Jesus were here today in person, where would we find Him? In prisons - dining and talking with the outcasts and criminals? I am confident He would be there 'to seek and save the lost.'
Prison Ministry Mumbai is a team of over 100 volunteers committed to five jails - Arthur Road, Byculla, Thane, Kalyan and Taloja, along with two Children's Homes at Dongri and Mankhurd. Each volunteer is dedicated to accepting these inmates and children as one of their own with a vision to purify, mend, and re-integrate them into society. Hence, volunteers follow Jesus in this ministry, reaching out to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. Over the years, they have worked selflessly by reaching out to these different categories - listening, speaking and counselling them. Many of them regret their actions and find comfort in these volunteers who uplift them with prayers. Prison Ministry is a vocation, and probably one of the most demanding apostolates in our Church. The volunteers are laypeople who have a regular full-time job, families of their own, and a lot of other personal and Church commitments. Amazingly, they also choose to serve the Lord through this Ministry.
The Ministry offers life-skills training, mentorship, and other programmes that prepare inmates to take up personal responsibility, care for people, hard work, and value of education. Many inmates do not have the necessary life skills and find it difficult to make a living once released. The volunteers conduct special classes for the inmates to help them learn a new trade. The workshop has caught many inmates' interests, allowing them to explore their creative side and earn some money. Prison Ministry Mumbai is dedicated to preparing men and women to leave prison with a bright outlook. The goal being that they can succeed in the community once released.
The Church represents Christ on earth, and so the Ministry reaches out to the sick with the healing touch of our Lord and Saviour. The Ministry collaborates with Catholic hospitals in the vicinity; dermatologists, dentists, gynaecologists, ophthalmologists and general physicians are also part of the team. The inmates are examined, necessary treatment is administered, and a follow-up is done in 15 days. Spectacles are made available to them. During this pandemic, the volunteers made arrangements for masks, hand sanitisers, and gloves. The volunteers kept in touch with the Prison Superintendents, and ensured that help reached them on time.
The Ministry cares for the inmates' mental welfare, and assists in reducing their stress levels by organising recreational activities. The volunteers take their audio systems into the prison; the inmates happily dance to popular songs, long after the music ends. Fitness training through volleyball matches in some of these prisons, and moral value sessions through movies, skits and games are held regularly. These activities promote a healthy lifestyle, encourage healthy social skills, and help them to develop a positive self-image. The prison officials vouch for these activities that have a significant impact on the inmates, as they remain calm and peaceful throughout the week. The volunteers also conduct English-speaking classes for the prison officers, and help them improve their vocabulary. The Ministry has set up libraries in prisons to help the inmates and staff read books in their spare time.
Many families are devastated by the imprisonment of their loved ones; some seem to have mixed feelings of shame and shock, others express relief that a troublesome member is taken away. Children whose parents are in prison often end up 'doing time' for their parents' mistakes. The Ministry reaches out to these children, providing rehabilitation homes and hope. Sometimes, the person imprisoned is the only breadwinner of the family, leaving behind dependent parents, spouses and children. In such cases, the Ministry reaches out to them with food, medical and educational aid—the goal being the strengthening and preservation of families. Going home after being released from prison can be challenging for most prisoners, their families, and community. Recovering from the dehumanisation of imprisonment doesn't happen overnight. The restoration and healing of these prisoners is efficient when it occurs among a strong body that is fully committed to exhibiting Christ's love for the prodigal sons and daughters.
Congratulations to Prison Ministry Mumbai, headed by Auxiliary Bishop Allwyn D'Silva, Director Fr Glasten Gonsalves, Secretary Mrs Rowena Luis and the team of volunteers on achieving yet another milestone. Wishing you all a Happy Prison Ministry Sunday. May the good Lord continue to bless the work of your hands and heart!
Michelle Lopes Assistant Coordinator, Prison Ministry Mumbai, Kalyan Unit.
Prison Ministry Mumbai – a Peek into the Past
God's call for service
Two young seminarians, Br Francis Kodiyan and Br Varghese Karippery, were in the adoration chapel at St Thomas Apostolic Seminary, Kottayam, Kerala, when they felt a call by the Holy Spirit, "Be a love bomb. Let it explode not to kill, but to heal the broken-hearted." They spent half an hour of their lunch break in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament every day; they shared and prayed about this calling, and realised they were like the early Christians, 'of one heart and mind'. They drew strength from Luke 4:17 - "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed." They discussed their desire to reach out to prisoners with other seminarians. With the support of their superiors and community members, they began planning their ministry to reform and rehabilitate God's children in prisons, rescue homes and slums. The seed of Prison Ministry India was sown.
Beginning of Prison Ministry in Mumbai
Fr Sebastian Vadakumpadan, the then National Coordinator of Prison Ministry India, based at Bangalore, visited Mumbai in the early 2000s, along with his team. His first stop was St Pius X Church, Mulund. During Mass, he spoke about PMI and its work in Bangalore and other parts of South India. He drew their attention to the Mumbai Prisons. Prison Ministry Mumbai was blessed with Bishop Bosco Penha as the Spiritual Director, along with Fr Rocky Banz as Director and Sr Diana as the Coordinator.
Touched by what Fr Sebastian shared, Fr Rufus Pereira, the then Parish Priest of St Pius X Church, encouraged his parishioners to join the Prison Ministry. They visited Thane in 2004, along with Sr Diana. Sr Jemma and Mrs Veera Davis visited Arthur Road Jail. Various medical camps—Eye Camp, General Check-up, Dental Camp, Diabetic Camp—were arranged. They spoke to the prisoners, prayed with them and gave them hope. Three years later, a team of 25 vibrant volunteers across Mumbai were visiting the seven Units i.e. Arthur Road Jail, Byculla Jail, Thane, Kalyan and Taloja and the Children's Homes in Dongri and Mankhurd (now known as Observation Homes). Bishop Bosco Penha took special interest, and used to have monthly meetings where he would spend time understanding their difficulties and continued to support and guide them. The baton was then passed on to Bishop Allwyn D'Silva, who, together with Fr Joseph Gonsalves, worked fruitfully and systematically to reach out to many prison inmates and their families.
Today, we have 100-plus volunteers in Mumbai, along with the Religious, visiting these seven units, under the leadership of Bishop Allwyn D'Silva, Chairman of Prison Ministry and Fr Glasten Gonsalves, a dynamic priest as our Director. We have been working for the release of many inmates, so we could reform and rehabilitate them. We assist the Children Aid Society in the adoption of abandoned children into Shelter Homes and families. We prepare them for employment; a few have even got married and settled down. They, in turn, touch and renew others. Our Ministry not only works with the inmates inside prisons, but also with the inmates' families who are rejected, shattered, and have no one to turn to.
Get involved with Prison Ministry Mumbai (PMM)
Our five-year vision is to ensure that children in Observation Homes never re-enter this imprisonment. We pray and do our best with the grace of God to accomplish this task. We need your support as active ministers and prayer warriors. 'Be a love bomb. Let it explode not to kill, but to heal the broken-hearted.' By volunteering with PMM, you will be involved in a ministry that makes a difference in the lives of prisoners, their families, and our communities. We hope you will prayerfully consider God's call to proclaim His good news.
Juliet Crasta Volunteer, Prison Ministry Mumbai.
My COVID Journey: Experiences of a practising Indian ‘Doctor Nun’
Sr. Dr. Beena Umi
My journey with COVID-19 began in February 2020, when I heard about the first few COVID cases in India. Initially, I was gripped with fear and anxiety, as I had heard what had happened in China and Italy. I was not sure about how we would be able to manage this crisis, given the Indian socio-economic context and fragile healthcare infrastructure.
The Management Committee of our hospital, Holy Family Mumbai, recognised that the novel coronavirus was going to be a major pandemic, and would severely affect our country, especially Mumbai. Planning and follow-up action immediately began. We were one of the first hospitals to follow infection control measures, including fever clinics and training. As more cases were reported across the city, we started to offer triage and referral services, when many hospitals went into lockdown in fear of the pandemic. Later, in mid-March, we procured high quality personal protective equipment (PPE) to provide the best possible protection to our medical team. Several rounds of intensive training and motivation building sessions were conducted regularly for doctors, as well as for other employees. At the same time, standard operative protocols were prepared.
It took almost one month to operationalise the COVID-19 ward and ICU, since the regulations with regards to isolation wards required major changes in our existing set-up. We were one of the first hospitals to partner with the government in the battle against COVID-19 when we signed an official MOU with local authorities (MCGM) and started a COVID care centre. Thereafter, we allotted 25 beds in the hospital exclusively for the care of the patients, including 12 ICU beds. Today, due to the spiralling number of cases in Mumbai city, on an average, we care for about 130 COVID-positive patients daily, with 26 of them on ventilator.
Every healthcare worker at the forefront of the war against coronavirus is not only facing the daunting task of handling patients, but is also fighting to keep their own worries and emotional stress at bay.
So what motivates doctors to keep working under such strenuous conditions? First of all, when a patient recovers and becomes COVID-negative, it really lifts our spirits and motivates us to do better work, and serve our patients and nation when it is needed the most. My personal experience as a practising doctor was challenging, as well as exciting.
The joy of saving a life: I can very vividly remember an incident. A 71-year-old patient was brought to Emergency with complaints of breathlessness and fever. On examination, he was in altered sensorium and had oxygen saturation of 58%. He was resuscitated and stabilised in Casualty, later shifted to ICU, and put on ventilator. It took almost two weeks for him to recover completely. After being discharged, when he came to whisper a note of thanks, I was moved by his gesture—indeed, a rewarding moment for the entire medical team. As tears rolled down my cheeks, I savoured the joy of saving one life – a feeling much beyond any other joys in life.
The joy of alleviating suffering: I also had an opportunity to assist the birthing process of a COVID-positive pregnant woman. Wearing a PPE kit and conducting the delivery was a new experience for me. As I finished the delivery, with folded hands and tears in her eyes, she expressed her gratitude to me. It was a blissful experience for me, causing a lasting impression that will remain green in my memory and fresh in my heart. There is always a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction, amidst all the fatigue and exhaustion of these harrowing times.
The joy of sharing best practices with others: All these were a great learning curve for me. I got an opportunity to share my knowledge and a few of the best practices with the other hospitals in our network through two webinars, which were organised by the Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI). I am also a member of the Crisis Management Cell of the Archdiocese of Bombay, which holds regular meetings to review the situation, as well as the Catholic response to the corona pandemic. I, too, am in a way being enriched, as I contribute my expertise and experience, at a time when it's needed the most.
The joy of giving leadership: Another pioneering involvement with COVID-19 began, when I was invited by Catholic Health Association of India to partner in a project named 'Corona Care Life'. This was a web-based platform with call centre facility for anyone who wanted to talk about the corona virus over phone. Infected people looking for comfort and support or people with fear and suspicion about their own condition could avail this facility. An online platform was launched to provide counselling sessions in different languages jointly by CHAI, Project Vision, Billion Lives, Sister Doctors' Forum of India and several other organisations. I coordinated this activity among the Sister Doctors. Some of the Sister Doctors volunteered generously to reach out to others with compassion and kindness.
Having shared the joyful stories, let me also share the challenges faced by healthcare workers and hospitals. To put on a personal protective kit and work in the isolation ward is a unique experience. Once the personal protective equipment (PPE) is donned, one cannot eat, drink or use the washroom till the shift duty ends, which is of six hours duration or more.
The suffocating PPE: Wearing PPE, N-95 mask, goggles and face shield, gives a suffocating feeling to most of us. Often, misting of the protective goggles causes blurring of vision. After donning the gear, we have to speak loudly in order to be audible, and it becomes very tiring to communicate with patients and other medical team members, resulting in frequent fatigue. In addition to this, a lot of information has to be given on telephone, as anxious relatives can't come to the Isolation Ward. Besides this, the weather in Mumbai is so hot and humid that we are drenched in sweat within minutes after wearing the PPE, which makes it becomes really hard to move around. With all these difficulties, no wonder the frontline warriors of COVID-19 are feeling exhausted and stressed out.
Anxiety of the caregivers and their parents: There's a lot of anxiety among family members of our medical team who are in their homes far away. Ever since the COVID-19 numbers rose in India, there is horrifying news about Mumbai on many news channels. Many of our nursing staff who are from southern India are compelled by their parents to resign from their job. This is an additional burden on us. Along with other members of the Management team, I had to spend a lot of time to listen, reassure and motivate them. Some of them even had to miss important family celebrations and events. A few of our nurses also had to postpone their own wedding dates. I wonder whether any one will remember their sacrifices and selfless service in caring for the sick and suffering humanity.
Caregivers contracting infection: About a month ago, a doctor and three nuns from my team started showing COVID symptoms; they tested positive and were admitted to the same isolation ward. The news of their sickness shook me. I was distressed and anxious; on one hand, the worry about their wellbeing, and on the other hand, the fear of contracting the illness. I was stressed about the COVID ward management with acute shortage of human resources. That's the time we developed a strategy and backup plan for human resource constraints.
Pressure from activists and media: Mumbai has some of the finest health facilities and doctors. Yet, at certain times, it is difficult to manage. We have also refused patients due to non-availability of beds. It is unfortunate that we were pressurised by some media houses and activists to admit COVID-positive patients even during non-availability of beds. This was not only stressful, but the misinformation and biased partial truth, fed through newspapers and social media, had a negative and demotivating impact on our personnel who are dedicated even beyond the call of duty. It is extremely sad that doctors and medical staff, who are the frontline warriors in the fight against the pandemic, are at the receiving end of threatening calls from these activists and agitated relatives.
Experiencing the Divine in the midst of crisis
While the COVID-19 global crisis has caused much anxiety, suffering and uncertainty, this was also a time of intense prayer for us. Many of our religious communities offered special prayers for us. Their prayer and support helped us to gather courage, wisdom and strength in these days of trials. I experienced God's providence and protection in a tangible way, as we received spiritual and material support from many friends, well-wishers and benefactors. Their generosity and magnanimity helped our hospital to steer ahead, even when we had suffered financial crises. The powerful presence of the Divine Healer and His miraculous healing touch is experienced by all of us, especially our patients, as they are restored back to health and wholeness.
Amidst all these challenges, we are committed to fight this deadly pandemic. The exceptional courage, heroic commitment, relentless efforts, and yeoman service rendered by many of our healthcare workers to combat COVID-19 is commendable and praiseworthy. I hope and pray that, very soon, we will be able to find light at the end of the tunnel. Mary, mother of the afflicted, continue to pray for us, that we may be protected, comforted and guided in this difficult journey. n
Sr Dr Beena UMI belongs to the Congregation of Ursulines of Mary Immaculate. She is the Deputy Director of Holy Family Hospital, Provincial Councillor for Medical Apostolate of Sacred Heart Province of UMI Sisters, National President of the Sister Doctors’ Forum of India, and Health Secretary for the Archdiocese of Bombay.
Mission and Evangelisation – Core Principles of Pastoral Life
Fr Joshan Rodrigues
A summary of the first part of the Instruction on Parish Renewal (chapters 1-6)
which offers a broad reflection on pastoral conversion in the contemporary context.
On July 20, 2020, the Vatican issued a new Instruction focusing on the renewal of Parish life. Titled 'The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church', it was issued by the Congregation for Clergy, and the over-arching theme is an exhortation to move beyond "outdated" models of the Parish, and move forward on a path that is more relevant to the socio-cultural needs of the time. The two keywords of the document are 'Mission' and 'Evangelisation', both of which are indispensable to the Body of Christ, if a Parish wants to remain a clear reflection of the "Light of Christ" to the community around her.
The first half of the document mentions a number of aspects of the traditional Parish set-up which may now be outdated, and points towards new realities.
From Geographical to Existential Territories
Though canonically, Parishes are defined to be territorial i.e. its pastoral outreach is restricted to a fixed geographical space (Can. 518), peculiar characteristics of our contemporary world, such as increased mobility and a digital culture, have altered the notion of space and expanded the confines of existence. Different members of one family may be spread out in various parts of India or the world today, for reasons of education or employment. A global industry means that a person may spend extended periods of time away from his/her home Parish. This increased mobility also means new languages and behaviour which may not be historically affiliated to that Parish church.
This document couldn't have been better timed, as we are seeing this exact point being played out at a time when churches have been forced to close doors. This is strikingly evident in the area of spiritual nourishment. Even though many churches are streaming Masses online, people are choosing to go to other sources that suit their interests and personal tastes. A recent survey in the archdiocese of Bombay found that 55 per cent of the respondents whose parish did offer a Sunday service online, choose to watch Mass from another Parish, religious institution or even a Catholic TV channel. This is a distinct example of how Parish territorial boundaries have blurred in the post-COVID world.
The document therefore advises moving away from a mentality of 'geographical territory' to 'existential territory' which connects better with the context in which people express their lives in terms of service, relationships and ancient traditions. An outdated Parish is one when "the Parish appears more interested in preserving a nostalgia of former times as opposed to looking to the future with courage."
A second area in which the document calls for renewal is the re-structuring of pastoral priorities. "In the process of renewal and restructuring, the Parish has to avoid the risk of falling into an excessive and bureaucratic organisation of events and an offering of services that do not express the dynamic of evangelisation, but rather the criterion of self-preservation." Many parishes tend to repeat a fixed pattern of events through the pastoral year that fails to have an impact on the lived realities of people, leading to a general indifference and a tepid response. Moving beyond a mere succession of events, parishes need to rediscover their missionary mandate which is integral to evangelisation. If the Parish does not exude that dynamic of evangelisation, it runs the risk of becoming fossilised, offering experiences that attract only small, limited groups of people. The renewal of evangelical fervour needs a new approach with a diverse set of experiences for different groups of people which is coherent with their own state of life.
"Evangelisation" is thus the cornerstone of all pastoral action. All the baptised must rediscover their vocation as disciples of Jesus and missionaries for the Gospel. The Parish must read the signs of the times and the needs of the faithful. The Parish must encourage and train its members to be evangelisers. The Parish hence becomes a new experience, centred around the Word of God and the Eucharistic Table, priests and the lay faithful together, to become the "salt and light of the world." (Mt 5:13-14)
Proximity to the Poor
A living sign of the authenticity of parish life is its proximity to the poor. The poor and excluded should always be a priority, and have a special place in the heart of the Parish. The Parish community is quite often the first place where the poor encounter the face of Christ. Thus, the Church evangelises and is evangelised by the poor. In this day and age, the Parish must pay attention to new forms of poverty created by social and economic inequalities. Spiritual drought and solitude are ever more present forms of poverty in our times. Priests, deacons, consecrated men and women are called in a special way to visit the sick and support the unemployed and their families.
An Inclusive Community
The renewal of Parish life is not the sole jurisdiction of the clergy, but must involve the entire People of God. The lay faithful, by virtue of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and infused charisms, becomes a dynamic community and leads to models for a new evangelisation. Pastors have the responsibility of keeping this dynamic alive so that the baptised realise that they are the real protagonists of evangelisation. The clergy must discern how to encourage a growth of the diversities of vocations and ministries, in keeping with the needs of the times. This process requires a significant change in mentality and an interior renewal, especially among those who have been entrusted with the responsibility of pastoral leadership.
Pope Francis warns, though, that this process of conversion of structures and pastoral renewal must be conducted with "flexibility and gradualism". Gradualism means that the discernment process takes into account historical processes, the passage of time and stages of development in the life of the parish. Decisions should not be taken in haste, based solely on reason, but must be situated within the lived experience of the people, with proper consultation and a progressive implementation and verification.
A Place of Encounter
Pope Francis also rightly points out many people today are living in fear and anxiety, without the strength and hope which comes due to a friendship with Christ. These souls knock at the doors, while the existing parish structure may be closed within itself, with rules and regulations, giving it a false sense of security. The Parish community must master the "art of accompaniment" so that it becomes conducive to solidarity, dialogue and openness to others. The Parish should become a "place of encounter" where those who are thirsty may find a drink of water in the midst of their life's journey. Thereby, these people must experience a sense of belonging and being loved, which is the antidote to solitude and despair.
Finally, the Parish must be solidly centred on the Word, Sacraments and Eucharistic celebration. The Word of God transforms hearts and gives us the courage to witness to the Gospel in the various circumstances of life. The lay faithful should be instructed on how to listen and meditate on the Word of God. The Christian life is an ongoing journey that goes beyond mere events and celebrations. Catechesis should also therefore be a life-long exercise, corresponding to the individual's current state of life.
A House among Houses
In conclusion, the Church must choose a decisive 'missionary option' capable of transforming everything, so that the Church's customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can suitably be channelled for the evangelisation of today's world, rather than for her self-preservation. The Parish is a sign of the Incarnation of Christ; just as the Word took flesh and pitched His tent among His people, the Parish is a house among houses, a sign of the permanent presence of the Risen Lord in the midst of His People.
(The second part (chapters 7-11) dwells on the sub-divisions of parish communities, various pastoral roles that make them up, and the ways in which the governing norms are applied. This section is not covered in this article.)
Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on The Examiner Editorial Board, with the additional duty of Managing Editor.
E-vangelization: the new normal
Dr. Richart Pereira
In Mt 28:19-20, Jesus gave His mandate of evangelization—to "Go out to the whole world; proclaiming the gospel to all Creation." It's a mission that hasn't changed over these last 2000 years. The global spread of COVID-19 has however required the Church to modify the way this is done. In this rapidly changing environment, and not being able to meet in person, does not mean that evangelizing stops. We need to think of newer ways to spread the Gospel through the digital tools that are already in hand.
The central organisational pattern of most modern religions is group worship, which has temporarily been mandated out of existence. The most dramatic result has been the exceedingly quick shift of religious services from 'in person' to virtual, online worship disrupting the practice of religions the world over. To mitigate spiritual solitary confinement, the Church has developed multiple tools, including streaming services, academic study resources, online webinars etc. using teleconferencing platforms and other online technologies. This current transition to "virtual worship," while abrupt and forced on churches by the virus situation, may be here to stay as the 'new normal'.
Many lay persons feel positive for the faith and spirituality dimension. They report that their faith or spirituality has improved as a result of the virus situation, suggesting the possibility of some sort of 'religious renaissance'. Many parishes that have live streamed liturgies have seen attendance grow on Sundays. Who are these additional attendees? In addition to our regular parishioners, are they individuals who have returned because of the pandemic? Are they "seekers" grappling with the God-shaped hole in their lives?
Some see the virus as a divinely inspired challenge, a chance to re-focus on the core of their faith, to purify, to pray in quiet, to think more about getting out and helping the needy, and about evangelizing. Interestingly, these past few months have proved that people are hungry for God's Word. While nothing can replace physical gatherings, we will continue to see churches utilising digital tools to provide an online worship experience for those in their churches, who are unable or uncomfortable with resuming communal worship. Churches will continue to shift from their usual way in order to prioritise the health and safety of their congregants as a result of COVID-19, and a majority of Church leaders will continue to ensure their congregants have the tools necessary to stay spiritually nourished during this new season. Some feel the virus will trigger a religious revival once people come back together. Observers have hypothesized that the public may become more religious, as they confront the situation and become more cognisant of their mortality and life's fragile essence.
Opportunities to E-vangelize in these times:
At a time when social distancing guidelines have led to the cancellation of conferences, retreats and other large gatherings:
- Catholics can improvise by inviting people to explore resources, Catholic radio programmes and talks on YouTube.
- Catholics have a responsibility now to be people who recognise that God has His hand on this situation, and to pray with authority for those who aren't there yet, speaking words of hope to them.
- If Catholics can reach people and love them where they are and listen to their fears, they can recognise how best to minister to them.
- Evangelization can be something as simple as picking up the phone to check on someone who is out of a job and finding out what his or her needs are.
- One of the most powerful things Catholics can do at this time is to PRAY with others.
In the 'Joy of the Gospel' and his other writings, Pope Francis' pastoral wisdom introduces the notion of "encounter" and "accompaniment" of our neighbours, including seekers, as ways to think about the essential mission of the Church, which is Evangelization. May we continue to pray for a new Pentecost and look for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit who is with us every step of the way, as we reach out to introduce others to Jesus, even in the midst of COVID-19 through our very own E-vangelization techniques!
Dr Richard Pereira is a dental surgeon from Bandra West. He is an IMFE graduate who serves in marriage ministries like Couples for Christ and Snehalaya Family Cell.
Microfinancing – a new Apostolate
What is microfinance? Simply stated, it is helping the disadvantaged with interest-free finance, or at very low interest rates, not only to tide over immediate situations, but also to put the borrower into a fairly stable financial situation. The loans may be in the form of actual money or a savings scheme or even a specially crafted insurance policy. Microfinancing can also be considered an important facet of the apostolate. As such, it can be used to educate the poor through non-formal programmes like the Open Basic of the National Institute of Open Schooling or through selected formal schooling offered by some NGOs. Economic stimuli can also be offered to the disadvantaged for starting a tailoring or handcart business or other self-sustaining ventures. If a parish desires to move beyond its walls and institutional strength, microfinancing is an avenue that can be looked at seriously.
Damian von Stauffenberg who served in the World Bank for 25 years says: "It's good to remember that the source of wealth in a country is the creative power of its people. It is in this that you have the massive potential source of wealth within developing countries, engaging and activating the enormous numbers of unemployed or underemployed people. If you can get their creative energies in action, amazing things can, and do, happen. You already see it in their creative efforts to survive and just get their daily bread… It is the people who know the needs of those in their local environments, and you have to be plugged into that in order to be able to make micro-lending work well. So the focus of the lender on the human person comes from this foundational principle. To understand what makes an individual person more productive in their particular environment is absolutely essential."
A Parish Pastoral Council can determine the ways and means by which microfinancing can be a way of exercising the parish apostolate. One fact must be made clear—the parish should not be involved in the administrative tasks associated with microfinancing. What a PPC could do is to put forward to the parish, as a whole, by way of carefully crafted inputs, the potential of microfinancing as an apostolate. When awareness of this new form of apostolate is realised, the parish can ask for volunteers. If persons do come forward, a group could be formed. The next step would be to expose the group to details of microfinance, what it is, how it works, whilst simultaneously visiting the ground reality of actual models of microfinance.
Next would be the formation of a body or structure that would deal with the actualities/activities of microfinancing. Legal advice may have to be sought as to whether the body should be registered or not. The parish as a whole should then take upon itself the provision of a corpus. The size of this corpus will naturally be determined by the potential number of persons who will be aided by microfinance. In this connection, it would be a good idea to seek the help of the Small Christian/Human Communities in the parish to scout for persons whose lives can be enhanced by providing them with microfinance. A proper procedure should be set up for determining the need and the end purpose of a particular person for assistance.
Actual examples of parishes in our Archdiocese involved in microfinance seem to be non-existent. The Conferences of St Vincent de Paul do indeed help the poor in parishes with rations, hampers, fees, school books and so on. This type of charity aid can hardly fall under the category of microfinancing. One will have to look for examples outside of the parish set-up in our archdiocese. In Senegal, Africa, there is the remarkable success story of a parish committed to microcredit for women. Details can be obtained by referring to fides.org/en/news/64472-AF on the net.
Microfinance was pioneered by Muhammad Yunus, who developed the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh; he won the Nobel Prize in 2006 for his work. It will be good if the persons who will administer microfinance projects make a thorough study of the methodology used by the Grameen Bank in giving finance to the poor. This Bank disbursed collateral-free loans worth US$ 24 billion to nearly 9 million persons.
To help persons, especially women, live with dignity, stand firmly on their own two feet, face the ups and downs of life with confidence and make a contribution to society that is appreciated, is surely an apostolate par excellence. n
Noel D’Silva is President of the Common Wealth Network for People-centred Development.
She's just 20, but she has already played for India four times, won several private tournaments and bagged titles like Best Player, Golden Boot and Top scorer along the way. Meet Karen Pais - a football fanatic who's set her eyes on professional soccer and playing for India in international tournaments.
Her love for football began when she was seven years old. "I was never really interested in playing with Barbie dolls or the like. I enjoyed playing football with guys who were almost four years older than me," she says. When she turned 10, Karen joined her school football team - Mary Immaculate Girls (MIG). Her team qualified and won the MSSA and DSO matches. From then on, Karen steadily started climbing the ladder of opportunities, consecutively winning matches at local and district levels. At 11, she got selected to play for Maharashtra in the Under-14 team. Though they didn't qualify, she thoroughly enjoyed the experience, getting to meet and play with senior footballers.
Soon after, she was called up for the Team India Under-13 camp. The experience at this camp was very different for Karen. "We were around 70-72 girls, and we would have to train both in the morning and evening. At first, I thought I wouldn't make it to the squad, as the intensity was very high. But the moment I made it to the final 30, I gained confidence that I would make it to the squad, and I finally did!" On receiving their kits, she was overwhelmed seeing the Indian flag on her jersey. "It was indeed a surreal and proud moment for me to represent my country." She played her first Asian Football Cup match in Sri Lanka in 2012, and they bagged the first place, winning a gold medal.
After that, there was no looking back. In 2013, she made it to the Indian Under-14 team and captained it. She played for Team India again in October 2014, for the Under-16 team. To realise her dream of playing professional football, she went on to do an under-graduate programme in Sports Management at the Cardiff Metropolitan University, Wales, the United Kingdom in 2018. However, not finding any professional women's football club, she decided to return home. In that one year though, she did play in her University team at the British University College Sports League, which they won.
Karen joined one of the top Mumbai based clubs - Bodyline Sports Club, at the age of 15, and played for the team in the Indian Women's League. She was also taken on loan by some other League teams such as Delhi-based Hans Women Football Club and Haryana-based Alakhpura FC. In February 2020, she gave her trials for the Mumbai district open category League and made it to the senior team, and won that championship too.
Karen's never-say-die attitude has brought her a lot of success. Her mother Flavia, father Kenneth and brother Keegan have always supported her throughout, and this has helped her strike a balance between academics and sports. Her family also ensures that they are there for all her matches, especially her dad. "The second time I played for Team India, there were 17 of my family members who came to support the team," she recalls exuberantly.
She also had a very intimate God experience that changed her life. "I attended the Alpha course, and during the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, I saw the face of Jesus, and there was this huge gush of tears. From that day onwards, I attend Mass every day and spend 45 minutes in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel." She truly believes in the power of the words in Romans 8:38-39 — "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our LORD." These verses, in particular, give her hope that no matter what, come rain or shine, God will always be there, and will always love her.
Just like most sportspersons, Karen follows an exercise routine and a diet plan to keep herself fit, as her ultimate goal is to play professionally and make it to the senior Indian Women's team. However, on a personal note, Karen feels that women's football needs to gain more impetus and equal stature, as many girls want to pursue this sport professionally. She admires Messi for his down-to-earth personality. n
Parents' Day Celebration at SAC
Parents' Day Celebration at St Anthony Church, Vakola is probably the most awaited programme during the year. It's safe to say that the Youth at SAC have always managed to impress the parents. Right from its inception, we've always made this event our No. 1 priority. This is literally one of the smallest things we could do to extend our gratitude to our dear parents.
When the lockdown was announced in Mumbai, there were a number of restrictions imposed, and so all our original plans had to be scrapped. This however, did not stop the Youth of SAC from coming up with alternatives and new ideas to make this mega event a huge success.
We've had a number of events held online in the past two months at SAC. However, the Parents' Day Celebration was one of its kind. With the help of over 200 youth from the parish, we managed to make this event extremely special and memorable. From organising online games to putting up well coordinated dance performances, having a singalong jam session to some of the most iconic Hollywood and Bollywood classics, we did it all. The 'WE' is everyone who dedicated their time and efforts for an entire month to plan, coordinate and organise this mega event. Not forgetting all the children who made beautiful cards for their parents to make Parents' Day 2020 extra special.
St Anthony Church, Vakola
"Community is much more than belonging to something. It's about doing something together that makes belonging matter." The lockdown in March brought life to a standstill. Adapting to the new normal was difficult, and coping with the sudden vacuum in life was frustrating. But as Charles Darwin said, "It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change." We at St John the Baptist Church, Thane decided to think out of the box, and find some alternatives to stay connected, even though physically disconnected. The feast of St John the Baptist, our Patron Saint, is usually celebrated with a series of inter-community competitions, ranging from football, throwball, box cricket, telegames to bucket basketball. This year, with the pandemic, parishioners were sceptical about how the feast could be made as lively as it used to be every year. The parish youth, animated by Fr Glasten Gonsalves, came up with an innovative and creative way of celebrating the feast. This was perhaps God's gifted time and the best opportunity to channelise the potential and budding talent of our youth in the right direction.
It is rightly said, "Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create." Along with the virtual Eucharistic celebration followed by the novena, the '9 Days' entertainment programme called the 'Johannine-e-Fiesta' (United in Distance) - an online competition for our parishioners of all age groups - was organised by the parish youth. This event was broadcast live on the parish Instagram and YouTube channels.
The events for the nine days were as follows: Today, I am grateful for - a photography competition, where parishioners had to capture in one frame what they were grateful for during these trying times; Meme-O-Thon: humorous memes showcasing the lockdown experience; Family Fun Night - a family virtual game to bring out the child in every member of the family; Cook-Tastic - a cookery competition to showcase the culinary skills of our unrecognised chefs; Lockdown Showdown - a fashion show bringing out novel dressing and fashion styles during the pandemic; Quaran-Tunes - a singing competition to soothe the ears and calm the mind during this stressful situation; The WOW Factor - Your talent is God's gift to you, and what you do is your gift back to God. This was a Talent Show which brought out many latent talents of our parishioners, ranging from painting to poetry, instrumental to rap; POP-and-LOCKDOWN - a dance competition; A Virtual Inter-zonal Competition - a series of tasks to be accomplished within a time limit. The community to finish the task in the quickest time secured the points for the round.
Apart from the games and entertainment, the Triduum (a three-day special dedication to our patron saint) from June 25-27 played a major role; the importance of Unity in Family was emphasised through talks on Marriage. On the first day, we heard Fr K.T. Emmanuel speak on the theme 'Marriage: Legal and Canonical Aspects'. On the second day, Fr Cleophas Fernandes spoke on the theme 'Marriage: Spiritual Aspects'. On the third day, Mr Swayze and Mrs Natasha Mani spoke on the theme 'Marriage: Practical Implications'. All three speakers emphasised unity in the family, which is the basic unit from where love and spirituality grows.
The Parish Feast Day, celebrated on June 28, began with a Eucharistic celebration by Bishop Allwyn D'Silva. A musical evening, with live singing by the band 'Not The Acoustic Average', kept the crowd humming and singing along. This was followed by announcing the winners of the various online competitions of the Johannine-e-Fiesta. Thanks to all the priests at St John the Baptist Church, Thane, for fulfilling the dream of celebrating the Parish Feast day.
We live in techno-savvy times. It was a pleasure to see parents taking that extra step to learn video editing, creating an Instagram account, etc. Some even created a set for their kids and themselves to perform. In conclusion, we can say that "If you are positive, you will see opportunities, instead of obstacles." Watch the performances on our parish Instagram page @st.john.the.baptist.church.
Locusts and Honey Editorial Team
St John the Baptist Church, Thane
Fr James D'Silva
(Born: 28-11-1948; Died: 25-7-2020)
"It has been a unique privilege for Fr James D'Silva to leave for his eternal reward on the Feast Day of his heavenly Patron, St James the Apostle," said Bishop Barthol Baretto at the funeral of Fr James, on Saturday, July 25, 2020, at the Church of Our Lady of Remedy, Vasai. The bishop was appreciative of the dedicated service of Sanjay, Fr James' sister's son, who kept Archbishop's House and the parish house of Uttan duly informed. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, a select crowd attended the burial service. Among others, some priests of Vasai who have been closely associated with Fr James over the years were present. Fr Peter D'Cunha, the Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Sea Church, Uttan (who was present along with his clergy team) regretted that his parishioners could not attend the funeral, although they desired to have at least a glimpse of their beloved Principal.
James hailed from Bhatghar, a tiny village of Remedy, which has given a number of priests and religious to the Church. He was born on November 28, 1948 to Mrs and Mr Anthony D'Silva. James belonged to a large family of five sisters and five brothers. Along with his brothers, he loved to play cricket and other sports, and it turned out to be the hallmark of Fr James' apostolate. Having richly cultivated the habit of sports in his childhood, he always loved to be with the teenagers taking active part in all sports. In recent years, he organised the 'Uttan Olympics' which attracted large crowds.
James was ordained on April 11, 1981 by Archbishop Simon Pimenta. While working at the parish of Our Lady of Fatima, Sewri, he completed his B.Ed. and assumed the principalship of St Joseph School, Uttan in 1983. He took active interest in the shaping of the students and guiding their future by rendering personal advice. He turned out to be a popular educationist. Even after school hours, he could be found mingling with the students, guiding them personally and taking active interest if the student came from a financially poor background. No wonder, he became very popular in the parishes of Kanjur Marg, Dabul, Amboli, Agashi and Dongri. He returned to Uttan to serve as Principal of the St Joseph Degree College of Arts and Commerce, started in 2010. He was a great help in shaping the destiny of the College—a dream which Fr Michael D'Souza cherished to shape the future of the youth of Dharavi Deanery.
About a month ago, Fr James complained about his failing eye-sight and left for Vasai for a medical check-up. While taking treatment at Vasai, he was advised to shift to Holy Family Hospital, Bandra; there, he was operated for a tumour between the eye and the brain. However, in spite of a successful operation, he had to totally rely on the support of the ventilator.
In the passing away of Fr James, the Archdiocese of Bombay has lost an educationist, as well as a great sportsman. May his soul rest in peace.
Msgr. Francis Correa, Vasai