Upswing in Ecumenical Trends in India

Fr Tom Mangattuthazhe, Indian Catholic Matters

There are a number of ecumenical undertakings in India, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Christians in India have responded to the Biblical directives for Christian unity at local and national levels.

National Prayer: One Sound, One Hope

"In these difficult times, while we are fighting COVID-19, we pray for the healing of the sick and for the recovery of our land. As a family of God, we are united in one accord and united in faith in this solemn prayer," said Cardinal Oswald Gracias, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), on the occasion of the great ecumenical prayer that all Christian churches in India celebrated on Pentecost Day - May 31, 2020. The prayer day 'One Sound, One Hope' on the day of Pentecost was organised by United Christian Prayer for India (UCPI); it was endorsed by several Church leaders of our country. The task of bringing all the churches from Jammu & Kashmir to Kerala and dissemination of invitation and promotion materials from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat, covering more than 3,00,000 churches and 100 different Christian organisations was not a small effort, and yet it was done with utmost sincerity.

Outstanding Ecumenical Theological Engagements

The Ecumenical Christian Centre (ECC), a prestigious Christian institute in Bengaluru in Karnataka, has been actively involved in inter-religious and ecumenical discourses using online platforms during these unprecedented times. "Bringing together Christians and Churches in friendship and fellowship is yet to be accomplished. We are moving towards it slowly and steadily," says Rev. Fr Dr Mathew Chandrankunnel, an eminent ecumenist and scholar who heads ECC.

ECC was set up in 1963 by the late Reverend M. A. Thomas of the Mar Thoma Church to promote Christian unity among all humankind and Creation. Rt Rev. Geevarghese Mar Theodosius, the Metropolitan of Malankara Syrian Church in India, is the chairman of ECC.

In the words of Rev. Dr Johnson Thomaskutty, Associate Professor of New Testament, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, and a significant collaborator with ECC, "From April to July 2020, we are continually engaged in several series of wider ecumenical seminars, lectures and research presentations. The real motivation behind all these initiatives are Jesus' teachings about the unity of the believers found in the Bible (John 17). The prayer of Jesus invokes an urgency to bring the stratified body of the believing community to the path of freedom, equality and fraternity, and to make the churches and Christians aware of the biblical messages of peace, righteousness and love. The COVID-19 situation, though very challenging, is also an important time to energise the ecumenical initiatives without any superficiality, hypocrisy and various internal and external bias."

ECC programmes, in collaboration with the CBCI Office of Ecumenism and Dialogue, Buddhist religious leaders and scholars, Hindu religious leaders and scholars, brought together people from different faith traditions like Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians from different traditions like Catholics, Protestants, Charismatics and Pentecostals. These undertakings helped hundreds of persons around the globe to engage in serious theological engagement, spiritual awakening and borderless ecumenical and inter-religious discussions.

Rev. Dr Johnson Thomaskutty states further, "We cashed in on the current opportunity to bring people from varied doctrinal and theological backgrounds and regional and national areas to experience a genuine ecumenical spirit without national, regional, linguistic, gender-specific, casteist and class-oriented biases. The Zoom platform helped us to make the Indian, Pakistani, Burmese, Bangladeshi, Nepali, and the Eastern and the Western Churches discuss the biblical themes together without any prejudices."

It is true that in the early period of the ecumenical movement, many Churches declined invitations to participate in the movements that later led to the formation of the World Council of Churches. However, the commitment of the Catholic Church on ecumenism has been highlighted by its innumerable doctrinal and pastoral implications since Vatican II. Pope Francis has made some outstanding ecumenical gestures. In 2014, he celebrated an ecumenical service with Orthodox churches in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In mid-2014, he visited a Pentecostal community in Caserta. In June 2015, he became the first Pope to enter a Waldensian church. On October 31, 2016, Pope Francis travelled to Lund in Sweden to commemorate the Reformation with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

Gospel Music

One of the major ways Christians have experienced the message of the Bible throughout this pandemic has been through singing hymns individually and in families, and also using online platforms. Gospel hymns are beloved because they share the depth of the Bible in memorable ways. Gospel music from different churches is a sign of ecumenism lived and practised. Directly and indirectly, it has united Christians and deepened ways of living the Christian faith. Whether confined to homes, or in quarantine centres or hospitals, Gospel music has been a wonderful blessing of our times to find hope and comfort in God.

Ecumenism has a lot to do with human relationships among Christian leaders and the believers. If there exist decent relationships among the leaders and the faithful, we can easily listen to each other, recognise each other, engage in ecumenical activities, and worship jointly. The Indian context of the commitment for the unity of the Church has implications for the dignity of the human person, for the sanctity of life, family values, education, healthcare, the preservation of Creation and inter-religious dialogue. In all these fields, we can work together, and such cooperation can bring us closer together.

The future of India and the world needs more ecumenical alliances, with renewed trust, urge and obligation, the ecumenical efforts are to be continued. It is worth heeding the words of St Peter, "Honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God." (1 Peter 2:17)

Archbishop Wenski: Catholics called to model different way of living

Christopher Wells, Vatican News

In an interview with Vatican News, the chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Religious Liberty encouraged a "solution incorporating the commandment to love" as the Church's response to violent attacks on Catholic institutions. "We are living in a time of some tension in the country," said Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, referring to months of unrest following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody.

Cities in the United States have seen daily disturbances that are still ongoing, including "acts of desecration [and] destruction of property." Archbishop Wenski said the continuing violence and vandalism is "a matter of concern."

However, he said, "as we raise these concerns, we understand that the proper response is not to reply in kind. And so we look for a solution that also incorporates the commandment to love our neighbour – but to love them in truth, and also encourage them to do to others what they would want to be done to them."

An "extraordinary hour of cultural conflict"

On July 23, Abp Wenski, the head of the USCCB's Committee on Religious Liberty, and Abp Paul Coakley, the chair of the Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, issued a statement condemning vandalism and destruction at Catholic sites.

In their statement, the Archbishops stated that the United States is facing "an extraordinary hour of cultural conflict." Abp Wenski explained that the political divide in the United States "is quite strong right now, and it seems to be a rush to extremes – on both sides – rather than the attempt to meet in the centre." That kind of polarisation, he said, "is really not sustainable, if we are going to live together as citizens in one nation under God."

Differences in anthropology

Archbishop Wenski attributes the cultural war to differences in anthropology, or the understanding of the nature of humankind. "Our Catholic anthropology, formed by the natural law tradition… has strong beliefs on the objectivity of truth." He said that belief "has implications in how we view institutions like marriage, how we view what is best for human flourishing and for families, etc."

Those beliefs, he said, are "under attack" by "what Pope Benedict called the 'globalisation of relativism' or [what] Pope Francis calls 'ideological colonialism'." Unfortunately, he said, the differences in belief are no longer being debated peacefully "in academia, or on radio shows." Instead, "they seem to be being debated in a much coarser way on our streets these days."

Claiming a space in the public square

The Church, said Abp Wenski, has "a proposal to make about what constitutes the conditions for human flourishing. So the Church basically wants to claim her space, her legitimate space, in the public square, and to make that proposal."

At the same time, he says, the Church tries to model how a conversation about what is best for human beings should happen. "So, as Pope John Paul II used to say, the Church does not impose, she proposes," he explained. The Church rejects the idea that beliefs can be imposed on others, and instead encourages dialogue, even with those who disagree. "That's the path that we can find mutual understanding, and perhaps forge a reconciled peace."

A different way of living in society

In the face of violence, Abp Wenski said, the Church "must re-commit ourselves to a non-violent response, that we don't return evil for evil." So "we have to model a different way of living in society."

At the same time, Abp Wenski insisted "we have to be vigilant, so these incidences don't … continue. But that vigilance does not call us to be vigilantes." Instead, he says, it means working with civil authorities to ensure that they protect people of faith and the property of the Church.


Thanksgiving Eucharist for Frontline Medical Personnel

The Commission for Health of the Archdiocese of Bombay will have a Thanksgiving Mass only for doctors, nurses, other medical workers and their families who are combating the COVID-19 pandemic at the frontline. The Mass will be livestreamed on Zoom on Sunday, August 9, 2020 at 10 a.m. with Bishop Allwyn D'Silva as the main celebrant. For further details, kindly contact any of the Catholic hospitals in the archdiocese.

Women's Commission Zooms Beyond Borders

The year 2020 has forced us to adapt hastily to new ways of living, which some social experts are calling 'the new normal'. But the need for community and interaction is still an important need, and with this in mind, the Archdiocesan Commission for Women began training women to use online platforms for meetings, interactions and training. On June 7, we conducted a Digital Skills Workshop for 100 Women's Cell members on how to host meetings online across four different digital platforms. On June 14, we organised the Orientation programme for Women's Cells across the archdiocese, during which Pearl D'Souza, a professional corporate trainer, conducted a workshop on 'Taking Ministry Online'. Pearl introduced the participants to tools and techniques for conducting meetings effectively, and shared hacks on making the meetings more engaging. This gave the Women's Cell members a major leg up and comfort in being able to conduct online Cell meetings.

The latest feather in the cap is holding the Women's Leadership Training Programme (WLTP) online, from July 18, 2020. The programme, which is held annually, is a comprehensive, one of its kind leadership training programme, by women and for women. It encompasses sessions on Jesus' vision for women, gender sensitisation, CBCI guidelines, physical and mental wellbeing, leadership skills, etc. As a run-up to the programme, we had a 'Train the trainers' workshop by Pearl on how to effectively conduct an online session. The soul of the programme is the bonding between the participants, and hence we needed to bridge that gap on the online platform.

The first two sessions of the WLTP were conducted by Sr Philomena D'Souza. It was an interactive workshop with group discussions in chat rooms between participants, and we received a phenomenal response from the 70 participants in the programme. The unique feature of this batch of the WLTP is that we have gone beyond the Archdiocese of Bombay to have participants from Ahmedabad and Dubai. We are marching on, guided by the Holy Spirit, and hope to continue to use technology to take our vision and mission forward and onward to new frontiers.

Navigating Careers in a post-COVID-19 world

The sudden disruption caused by the pandemic has created an environment of uncertainty and anxiety. Young people, especially, are currently feeling helpless and lost, as the pandemic has caused a major hindrance to their careers. To put their troubled minds at ease, the youth of St Anne's parish, Pali Hill, Bandra organised a webinar on the theme 'Navigating Careers in a post-COVID-19 world' on July 4, 2020.

Several questions were asked by the youth on the job opportunities post the pandemic, how can one use this time to upskill oneself, etc. The panelists—Andre Lobo - Executive Director, Personnel Search Services, India, Royston Braganza - CEO, Grameen Capital India, and Anisha Nair - visiting lecturer at St Andrew's College—painted a very realistic image of the current scenario, and offered rational and critical solutions to deal with the current situation.

Mr Royston Braganza said that the Indian economy is on a significant downturn, and this has resulted in a number of job losses. Big business holders have shifted to small businesses to cope with the losses to some extent. Since there is a shortage of employment currently, one must focus on upgrading one's skillset to be competitive in the post-pandemic world. It is necessary to focus on skills like strategy, technology and data, healthcare, information systems, research, entrepreneurship and content. It is also critical to develop an eye for observing trends in the market. For instance, today, we see people have shifted their priority from luxury buying to necessity buying.

According to Andre, there will be a rise in the demand of Essential Services like healthcare, pharmaceuticals, IT services, big data analytics, Fintech, financial services, as well as Marketing and Advertising, and there will be opportunities for a lot of designers, content creators and writers.

According to the panelists, this is the right time to sharpen one's saw. Research-based learning is very important at this time, but Ms Anisha said, "It is very important to unlearn a lot of bad habits, and just because everyone is upskilling, it is not necessarily right for you." Other than that, we need to learn to be flexible and have an attitude of openness; we need to constantly read and listen, and above all, focus on our mental health, treat and communicate with ourselves just as we would expect others to. Don't let negativity and anxiety get the better of you. We need to train ourselves to be mentally strong.

To those who lost their jobs, the panelists suggested that now is the best time to be a freelancer, to work on your inner strength and self-confidence, constantly learn new things and think about how you can add value. They also shared their success mantras and what they believe to be a USP (Unique Selling Proposition).

Andre shared some tips, "While preparing your CV, ensure it's not very detailed, and keep it simple. Have a LinkedIn profile, be there on job portals and your key to success is your mental game. One way to upskill yourself is to register for online courses. Apps such as Coursera, Udemy, Edx etc. are good platforms to educate yourself in a field that interests you."

Cynera Rodricks

A Recipe of Love and Service

The number one preoccupation in everyone's mind during the pandemic is 'Fear' – fear of contracting the virus, fear of what the future holds for them and fear of being unable to make ends meet. But even during this time, we have 'Corona Warriors' who courageously reach out to those who need help, even at the risk of their own lives.

Sweety and Rosemond D'Souza from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Church, Chembur have set such an example for the rest of us. For 100 days, they prepared homemade snacks and tea for about 120 policemen and women, who were working hard at the frontlines. It all began during a trip to the grocery store in March, when they saw cops on patrolling duty at a 'nakabandi'. The cops looked tired and frayed under the hot summer heat. So the couple stopped their car, and asked if they could do anything to help. They realised that the best way would be to provide them with tea and snacks, since most shops were closed due to the lockdown. They began by serving the cops close to their home at Diamond Garden with tea and biscuits everyday at 3 p.m., but slowly extended their reach to Sion, Wadala, Mankhurd, going all the way upto Vashi, visiting ten points daily. Eventually, this route would take them four hours every day from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Keeping the health of the police officers in mind, especially the fact that some of them suffered from diabetes, they served them tea without sugar, with jaggery, lemon and ginger. They also supplied them nourishing parathas, uttappams, French toast, banana pancakes, etc. so that the officers wouldn't get tired of the same snacks.

When asked about the difficulties they faced, they say, "There was no difficulty at all. We have enjoyed every single day! We would look forward to meeting them and making these things for them. But it's not just about cooking for them or making a cup of tea. Just seeing the refreshing smiles on their faces gave us tremendous satisfaction."

Weren't they afraid of contracting the virus themselves, interacting with policemen on the frontlines? "We can die anywhere and at any time. But when you know that God is with you, there is no need to fear. We have to protect ourselves and help our families as well. For us, the policemen are like family," they said. They would say a short prayer before setting out on their mission each day. "We should definitely be safe, but if anybody needs any help during this time, we should help them out. That's how we'll be an example to someone, and it will be a chain reaction. What goes around always comes around." Needless to say, the police personnel have been wholesome in their praise of the D'Souza couple. Sweety and Rosemond D'Souza are a living example of love and service that is sorely needed during this time.

Eden Fernandes

Cloistered Carmelites celebrate Feast

Bishop Allwyn D'Silva, Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay, celebrated the Feast Mass of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at the Cloistered Carmelites Monastery, Andheri (E) on Thursday, July 16. The cloistered nuns were delighted to have Bishop Allwyn D'Silva preside at their Feast Mass during this time of the pandemic and lockdown. The Discalced Carmelite Nuns are, by calling, part of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.

In his homily, Bishop Allwyn said, "The Cloistered Carmelite has taught me how to be a disciple of Jesus. Mary was the first cloistered Carmelite, as she spent the greater part of her life in silent prayer. On these occasions, she received the Holy Spirit. Like Mary, who went to Jesus when there was a need, the Carmelites are constantly praying and interceding for the needs of the world—peace, justice and especially for people in the Archdiocese of Bombay, the country and the world during these days of pandemic."

"The entire world is living through the shared experience of the pandemic, so no one is really alone in it. In a lighter vein, now we are also under lockdown like the Carmelites! The Cloistered Carmelites also take a vow of enclosure, meaning they spend their entire lives behind the high walls surrounding the monastery, praying for the needs of the Church and the people. But they do not feel confined or isolated; instead, they find security, peace and joy within the monastery, which is a fruit of prayer. In the monastery, the nuns are never by themselves, isolated; they are with Jesus at all times."

Nirmala Carvalho



Archdiocese turns Church institutions into COVID centres

A Syro-Malankara archdiocese has allowed the Pathanamthitta district administration to use several of its institutions as COVID care centres, as coronavirus infection continues to rattle the state of Kerala. Archbishop Thomas Mar Koorilos of Thiruvalla said the institutions include the Santhi Nilayam complex in Thiruvalla town, boys' hostel of Mar Athanaseus College for Advanced Studies at Thukalasserry, Bodhana Buildings on Pushpagiri Road, and the Medicity Campus at Perunthuruthy. The archdiocese also permitted the administration to convert the St Mary's Catholic Church auditorium at Thirumoolapuram into a first-line COVID treatment centre, as and when needed.

At the end of July 26, Kerala reported 19,026 positive cases with 62 deaths. Pathanamthitta district, covered by the Archdiocese of Thiruvalla, reported 1,112 cases (91 new) and 1 death on July 26.

........................................................................Matters India


Another Christian woman killed

A young woman, constantly harassed for her Christian faith, was murdered by unknown assailants in Redhadi, a village in Khunti district of Jharkhand. Suman Munda, a 25-year-old Christian, was discovered dead in a deserted place near her home on July 19, after a search by relatives who had come to visit her.

Suman Munda was the fifth victim in a disturbing trend of murders of Christians in India in the past two months. On June 24, another Christian, Ramji Munda (27) was killed on the outskirts of his village in Khunti district. Lamenting the situation, Bishop Binay Kandulna of Khunti said that "it is a matter of serious concern, because the state witnessed a Christian man killed only last month in the same district."

According to a local pastor, Munda converted to Christianity about six years ago, and had since then been continuously harassed by some radical Hindu nationalists for her decision. He pointed out that other Christians in that area are still faced with that challenge. Calling for religious tolerance, Bishop Kandulna said, "Persons of faith are a creation of God, and we have to respect all. Some vested interest groups are trying to target minorities in the state to spread hatred among various faiths who are otherwise peace-loving people. We condemn the killing and appeal to the administration to take strict action against the culprits."

Between May 25 and July 10, four Christians – a man, a woman, a teenage boy and a pastor – were killed for their faith in India. The killings took place in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Maharashtra. Persecution Relief, an ecumenical forum that supports persecuted Christians in India, recorded 2,067 crimes inspired by religious intolerance against Christians in India between January 2016 and June 2020.

.........................................................................Vatican News

New Delhi

Dioceses form volunteer groups to bury COVID victims

Several Catholic dioceses in India have formed groups of volunteers to provide a decent burial to those dying of COVID-19. Idukki diocese in Kerala set up a team of 30 priests and 40 young people on July 20; the move came a few days after the controversial burial of a Catholic nun by members of the Popular Front of India (PFI), an Islamic outfit in Kerala. When Sr Clare (82) died on July 15, priests and nuns alleged stayed away from the funeral, triggering a controversy.

Fr Mathew Navarakkattu, Idukki diocesan Youth Director, said burial of people dying of coronavirus has become a serious problem in society. "Stigma and fear keep people away from the burial of those people. Some do not know what to do when their dear ones die of coronavirus." He said the group of volunteers will help in the burial of people of all religions in the diocese that covers parts of the hilly region of Idukki. It will also assist the local administration in distribution of food, medicine and other services in quarantine centres in the district. 48 volunteers have already undergone training from the local health department.

Faridabad diocese, that covers five northern Indian states, including the National Capital Region, has assembled a team of 12 priests, 10 nuns and some 25 lay people to administer the Sacraments and assist burial of corona victims. Some 250 people from 30 parishes volunteered, but the diocese needs only four members from each parish, said Fr Julius Job, coordinator of the Faridabad team.

Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of Faridabad has asked his priests to assist the burial of parishioners who die of COVID-19. "In cases when the Parish Priest may be impeded to perform the funerals, the team will intervene," he said.

Fr Job said the team will also reach out to people with COVID-19 for their spiritual needs. "The Church is present to its people in this moment of great suffering. Our people should not be deprived of the Sacraments," he added.


West Bengal

Anti-COVID-19 'warrior priest' passes away

Fr Joseph Aymanathil, the priest who fought COVID-19 in the slums of Kolkata, died after catching the virus. Now Kolkata is mourning the death of its guardian angel. Fr A.C. Joseph Aymanathil, known as Dr AC to Kolkata's slum dwellers, came to the city from Kerala 30 years ago. He pioneered education for slum dwellers who had not attended school for years. Through his hard work, he not only provided access to an education, but also gave food to the hungry.

Raymond Baptist, President of Kolkata Catholic Renewal Services, told AsiaNews that Fr Aymanathil had been serving the poor since the beginning of COVID-19. When the city was locked down, Fr Aymanathil regularly visited the slums, especially the children who lived there. He handed out food packages to families in various Kolkata slums.

Baptist, who worked with Fr Aymanathil for over 20 years, noted that he was following exactly in Mother Teresa's footsteps on the same Kolkata streets. Although he had prostate problems, Fr Aymanathil's sudden death on July 19 was due to COVID-19.


God’s wake-up call to what’s most important!

Although it is Ordinary Time in the Church year, I think it often feels like Good Friday these days. Don't you?

With all of the immense suffering the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has caused – with no end in sight – the millions of people who have lost their jobs, the murder of George Floyd, the subsequent scattered riots amidst mostly peaceful protests, the somewhat clandestine and intimidating armed actions of anonymous federal agents against protestors in Portland, Ore. – with President Trump threatening more of the same in several other U.S. cities – it's tempting to give into a sense of depression and anxiety.

And when we additionally consider – as we should, and as we must – the ongoing tragedies like war, poverty, hunger, homelessness, the refugee crisis, climate change and abortion, it feels more and more like Good Friday.

But I think it would be helpful during these rough times to deeply reflect upon what our Lord and Saviour did for all of us on Good Friday's Cross: Jesus absorbed the entire evil of sin – all of the prideful, hateful, indifferent, selfish, greedy, violent, lustful, slothful thoughts, feelings, words and actions of every human being who ever lived, and who will ever live – and He filtered all of this hellish stinking garbage through His Sacred Heart and gave it back to each one of us as merciful, unearned, pure love! And thus saved us from our sins!

But in order for this supreme sacrificial gift of our Lord's salvation to be personally effective in our lives, we must open our hearts and minds ever more fully to accept it, by picking up our cross daily and follow in His footsteps. The late deeply insightful theologian, Fr Hans Urs von Balthasar said, "It is the Cross that the Christian is challenged to follow his Master: no path of redemption can make a detour around it."

On Friday, March 27, 2020, with the deadly coronavirus increasingly raging throughout the world, Pope Francis presided at a Lenten prayer service and extraordinary blessing Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) – before an empty St Peter's Square. This strikingly, out of the ordinary, deeply prayerful event, highlighted in a mystical way a heavenly call to humanity to pay serious attention to what is most important in life.

Pope Francis declared that during this pandemic crisis, we are being called to make a choice between "what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not."

Every moment, of every day, is a precious gift from God! And we would do well to cherish it, celebrate it, and wholeheartedly share it. For like sand in an hourglass, our lives steadily move towards our last day, our last moment … of mortal earthly life. So don't waste a moment!

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist.



Pope asks young people to reach out to the elderly

After reciting the Angelus in St Peter's Square, Pope Francis recalled the liturgical memorial of Saints Joachim and Ann, Jesus' grandparents. The Pope invited them to reach out tenderly to the elderly by doing something concrete for those "who are most alone in their homes or retirement residences, and who have not seen their loved ones for months."

"Dear young people, each elderly person is your grandparent!" He begged young people not to leave the elderly alone. "Use the fantasy of love," he told them. Then he gave them some suggestions: "Call them, video chat with them, send them messages, listen to them, go and visit them when it is possible while observing health precautions, send them a hug."

Pope Francis then picked up one of his favorite themes, reminding young people that the elderly are their "roots". "An uprooted tree does not grow or bear flowers or fruit," he said. Being united and connected with the elderly is important, because that is how we remain connected to our roots, he explained. He then quoted an Argentinian poet, who said that the flowers that we see on trees come from what is underground. Then the Pope asked for a round of applause for grandparents.

.........................................................................Vatican News


Two Italian missionaries succumb to coronavirus

The Catholic Church, in its missionary commitment in many parts of the world, is paying for its contribution to the COVID-19 pandemic which does not spare people and nations from all continents. In Antananarivo, two Italian missionaries who had spent decades serving the African country and remained close to the population, even during this pandemic period, died recently. Fr Albano Passarotto, an 80-year-old Vincentian religious (56 years spent as a missionary in Madagascar) died on July 21, while Don Luigi Piotto (65), of the Opera Don Orione, died on July 23; he was a missionary on the African island for 28 years.

Ordained a priest in 1965, Fr Albano Passarotto always carried out his mission in Madagascar, dedicating himself especially to the poorest children, creating schools, orphanages, care centres and structures that would guarantee education and assistance to the population, and in particular to children. He currently ran a school in the south of the island that he had founded to guarantee hundreds of children the opportunity to study, as well as offering them two meals a day, since most of them come from families living in camps.

In 1992, Don Luigi Piotto had left for Madagascar. He spent all 28 years of his missionary life in Antsofinondry, as Parish Priest, Director in charge of the professional school. He had always been at the service of the poor. He dedicated his life in promoting the education of children and young people, ensuring them a worthy future. From 2003 to 2010, he was Coordinator of the Orionine Missions in Madagascar.

.........................................................................Agenzia Fides


"Preaching through social media is like sailing on the open sea"

In times of pandemic, the Church recognises the importance of intensifying the spiritual accompaniment of populations. For this reason, the priests of the various ecclesiastical jurisdictions throughout the Colombian territory have taken on the task of reaching the communities by other means. Social networks have become very important in this moment of crisis; they have become one of the most used information channels by ecclesiastical jurisdictions and religious communities.

According to Fr Cristian Camilo Cárdenas Aguirre of the archdiocese of Ibagué, "Preaching through these digital platforms is like sailing in the open sea, because one meets all kinds of people. In church, you preach always to the same people, who know the Gospel, who are pious or religious, even to people who want to start along that road, and are already accustomed to our speech and our dialogue. But when you dare to preach through social networks, you reach atheists, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, etc., anyone, believer or non-believer. This is interesting because one realises that they too are listening, it is evident in the comments they leave."

His action is based on the Gospel of St Luke 5:4, in which the Lord invites to go out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch. This way of evangelizing has been carried out for about four years, when he was still a deacon; every week, he published a two-minute reflection on the Gospel in video format.

"I started with Facebook, then YouTube and Instagram. In this pandemic, people have more time to be on social networks and need more accompaniment, which meant that reflection took place every day. Then I entered Tik Tok, a social network I was motivated to join by the youth of the archdiocese," said Fr Cárdenas.

"The pandemic made us understand that social networks had to be flooded with the Gospel, because if the Church does not do it, other people will do it, but with other types of content. In the midst of the tragedy, the Church has been able to update itself on this aspect. The 21st century pulpit is made up of social networks, and although we may have a large audience, but not a lot of reception, they are spaces we will gain."

........................................................................Agenzia Fides


'Mother Teresa' of Pakistan passes away

Sr Ruth Lewis, also known as the Mother Teresa of Pakistan, died on July 20, a victim of the coronavirus. She contracted COVID-19 after making the decision to personally care for 21 infected residents of the Dar ul Sukun home (House of Peace), which she had founded with Sr Gertrude Lemmens in 1969.

Sr Ruth was a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of Christ the King, a local Pakistani congregation. Without the funding possible in international Congregations, founding such an institution seemed impossible. However, Gertude Lemmens, the sister of the co-founder of Sr Ruth's Congregation, came from Holland to visit her brother. Sr Ruth confided her dream to her. Together, these two Sisters made that dream come true. In 1969, the Dar ul Sukun home saw the light of day. It was not long before they began to receive funding from the local provincial government of Sindh, since most of the people they cared for were Muslim. Private donors also began to contribute to their work.

Fr Nasir William, a priest of the Islamabad/Rawalpindi Diocese in Pakistan, said that he met Sr Ruth and worked with her for about a year as a seminarian. He testified that the nuns possessed the same charism as the more well-known Mother Teresa. When he worked with Sr Ruth, there were about 300 children. In an age when religious life seems to be a "title", he said he saw Sr Ruth living her religious life in an extraordinary way.

He was most impressed with Sr Ruth's choice of personal living space. She chose not to have a private room, where she could at times go without being disturbed. Instead, her only "personal space" was a small space separated from the children's beds by a curtain.

"There was no privacy," Fr William continued. "Her privacy was like a mother, not caring about her own life." She was available "24 hours a day for the children." Rather than relying on the paid employees to perform all the menial tasks for the residents, Sr Ruth chipped in. "For the special-needs children, she was even changing their diapers and cleaning their rooms."

Sr Ruth died in the same way she lived. "She gave herself! She gave her life for the children." When 21 children came down with coronavirus, Sr Ruth had a choice to make, because her own paid staff refused to tend them. These children had nowhere else to go, and some of them were completely reliant on others to be fed or taken to the toilet. She could either send the children to local hospitals or take care of them herself. Sr Ruth tested positive for COVID-19 and was taken to Aga Khan Hospital, and put on a ventilator on July 8. On July 20, at the age of 77, Sr Ruth breathed her last.

.........................................................................Vatican News


First Islamic prayers held in Hagia Sophia in 86 years

TV pictures showed crowds forming at checkpoints surrounding old Istanbul before the main doors were opened. Over 20,000 policemen patrolled the area, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended Friday prayers along with several hundred special guests.

President Erdogan had issued a decree on July 11, ordering the historic Hagia Sophia to be opened for Muslim prayers on July 24. His order followed a ruling from Turkey's top administrative court which revoked Hagia Sophia's status as a museum. The conversion sparked criticism from Church and political leaders, who said the conversion for Muslim worship risks causing religious divisions. At his Angelus address on July 12, Pope Francis said he was "very saddened" when he thought about Hagia Sophia.

Since 1934, the building has been a living example of religious harmony in the form of stone. Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO world heritage site in Istanbul. In recent years, it has become the most popular tourist attraction in Turkey, drawing over 3.5 million visitors in 2019. Reacting to the news, the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople said Hagia Sophia belonged not only to those who own it at the moment, but to all humanity.

For their part, UNESCO said that the building was inscribed on its world heritage list as a museum, which binds the Turkish state to ensure that "no modification is made to the outstanding universal value of the property."

.........................................................................Vatican News


Fr James D'Silva - Pastor and Educationist

Sir, Fr James D'Silva passed away on July 25, 2020 - the day the Church celebrated the memorial of St James, his patron Saint. What a coincidence!

After his ordination in April 1981, his first appointment was as assistant Parish Priest of Our Lady of Fatima, Sewri. He was later appointed Principal of St Joseph School at Uttan, where he transformed the outlook of education through his involvement in sports and agriculture. Being a farmer's son and one who had experienced a hard life of struggle, Fr James was able to empathise with poor students. He motivated them by his visits to their homes, especially those who failed to attend school. He ensured that the poor students got all benefits like books and school uniforms. He didn't hesitate to shell out his own money for the benefit of the students. Sport was his passion. You name the game and he could play it—badminton, table tennis, boxing, cricket, volleyball, etc. He was a pioneer in education, who also brought joy in the hearts of the students through sports. As Principal at St James School, Agashi in the late eighties, while teaching students how to excel in high jump, one of his students met with a tragic accident while doing the high jump, and succumbed to a head injury. But this didn't deter him. As a principal, he ensured that his students took part at the district and state level.

What stands out for me about Fr James was his fidelity to his vocation as a priest educationist, leading to various responsibilities that showcased his extraordinary talents during his priestly ministry. He was sincere with his financial dealings, and never allowed any extravagant spending of Church funds. He went out of his way to get the students interested in studies through innovative ways. A few days before his treatment was to begin, he prepared a small session on grammar to make learning easier for the students. Always a priest with a conservative disposition, he behaved with total propriety, and indeed felt hurt by those bringing embarrassment to the Church and Holy Orders.

Fr James, born to farmer parents, attended local schools before joining the Seminary at Goregaon. As a seminarian, he developed his talents in teaching. He had to take a break during his seminary studies to repay his family debt; he did that by teaching in the local school at Vasai. This break also gave him an opportunity to complete his further secular studies. During his break from 1975-1977, he gave his service to build Jeevan Darshan Kendra – the present Pastoral Centre at Vasai – with Fr Hillary Fernandes. His contribution in getting the infrastructure ready, organising the youngsters for music and kirtans can't be forgotten. His year of Regency at Sacred Heart Church, Santa Cruz, under the eminent pastor, Msgr Nereus Rodrigues, gave Fr James greater impetus to his teaching mission. He gave an inspiring witness of his love for God in the discharge of his priestly ministry. He was truly a holy and faithful priest.

Fr Calistus Fernandes, St Joseph Church, Vikhroli

Reminiscences of a dedicated Priest

Sir, What would one say about a person who voluntarily refrained from attending school in Std 11 (then called Matriculation) continuously for the first three months of the academic year, and still passed the final examinations, much to the bewilderment of 30 per cent of the students in the same class, who attended tuitions the year round, yet failed in the finals?

In the middle of that third month, a classmate, returning home in the evening after school, spotted James working in a paddy field along with his parents and siblings. The shocked classmate beckoned James towards the shoulder-high hedge, and questioned him why he was not attending school - this being the last year of high school. James replied in a resigned tone that he got carried away helping his parents in the agricultural work, and was feeling embarrassed to show his face after such a long absence; he felt that all his classmates would ridicule him!

The classmate, shocked at James' plight, became impatient to break the distressing news to his other classmates at school. The next morning, during the short recess, half a dozen classmates approached and narrated the incident to the Principal, Fr Bernard Bhandari, with a request that if he accompanied them to James' house to convince him, they would help James with the portion he had missed for almost three months. It was only around dusk that they could visit the house, since by that time, the whole family would have returned from the farm. James, his parents and elder brothers were astounded to see the squad headed by Fr Bhandari, and bowed their heads to the floor. Without much ado, Fr Bhandari gave them a piece of his mind, and, like a father to his son, ordered James to attend school immediately.

The absentee student was none other than the late Fr James D'Silva from Bhatgharwadi, Remedy! At that time, most families in Vasai lived on a meagre income from their agricultural produce. Besides a high IQ, James also had inherent Emotional and Economic Quotients that made him act in the way he did during his final high school year.

James D'Silva and I passed Std VII from OL of Remedy Secondary School in April 1962. We then attended St Thomas High School at Deotalao, Sandor Parish, and completed our Matriculation Examination in 1966. During those years, vocations to the priesthood were abundant. While I joined the seminary at Goregaon in 1966, immediately after Matriculation, James D'Silva followed suit in 1968, after two years of work experience. The adage, 'Many are called, but few are chosen' was proven valid, when I relinquished my pursuit after seven years of priestly studies.

James took studies, discipline and other curricular activities of the priestly formation very seriously. While other seminarians would take an afternoon siesta, he would practise his typing skills in an adjacent room. He maintained good health by playing various games in which he excelled. He was ordained a priest on April 11, 1981.

Fr James D'Silva had an assured call from Jesus to work in His spiritual vineyard. He accepted and plunged into it with all the dynamism and passion that he would exert at the farms in Vasai. As a teacher and Principal of various High Schools in Vasai and Mumbai, Fr James D'Silva proved himself an excellent educator and a model school administrator. He has been an instrument in building God's Kingdom by moulding young minds into responsible citizens of India. Memories of dear Fr James will remain immortal in the minds of thousands of people who were under his spiritual care.

Raymond Machado, Vasai

Mockery of Democracy

Sir, It is really shameful to see what is happening in Rajasthan today. I would say it's a mockery of democracy in the desert state. The situation in the state has assumed dangerous proportions over the past few weeks. One wonders whether there are any Constitutional norms left in this nation. We have seen how power was grabbed by opportunistic political parties in the recent past. We have witnessed democratically elected governments being toppled even during the current coronavirus pandemic, so great is the politicians' hunger for power and wealth. An unnecessary situation has been created in the state of Rajasthan presently, where legal and Constitutional battles are being fought, allegations of horse-trading are rife, and the situation is taking several twists and turns.

Differences and rebellion within political parties is not new. What our politicians don't want to understand is that they are answerable to the voters. Nowadays, politicians are changing party colours faster than a chameleon. Needless to say, all differences should be settled from within, without compromising on their ideologies. If money power is going to rule this democracy, then there is no need of elections. Elections will only be a farce, because the elected representatives have no loyalty to their party, or to the general public. We are making a mockery of our democracy. One only hopes God will intervene and set things right in our country.

Melville X. D'Souza, Orlem, Malad West

Greater Appreciation for Unsung Heroes

Sir, The coronavirus pandemic has affected the entire world. Individuals, communities and families have been affected. Migrant workers have given up/lost their jobs/have gone back to their native villages. Many have lost their jobs in factories. Manufacturing units have either closed down or reduced their numbers, so that the virus can be contained. The economy has gone on the downslide in this dismal scenario.

There have also been some positive developments in this scenario. There is a new awareness and appreciation of how many people contributed to our lives. Migrant workers who have been doing a lot of necessary menial tasks or labour-intensive work have never been appreciated. We now appreciate all they had been doing and contributed to our well-being.

In families too, husbands, wives, children have failed to appreciate the many things that each one does for the other. With the lockdown and the need for almost everyone to be at home, there are innumerous occasions for family members to appreciate the worth of the other, and be appreciative of the everyday blessings they receive.

Rui J.Dias, Borivli(W)

COVID fatality rate

Sir, In a survey conducted by the Health Ministry in Delhi, it was found that 23.48 per cent of those tested (or nearly one-fourth) had developed antibodies, indicating that they had been exposed to the coronavirus. The majority of the infected persons were found to be asymptomatic, and hence undetected. If these numbers are extrapolated to the entire city of Delhi and to other cities in the country, we can safely conclude that the real fatality rate is way below the current 2.48 per cent, possibly 1 per cent, or even less. Assuming that only 1 per cent of the population is already exposed to the virus, we should have 13 million cases for our population of 1.3 billion. Thus, the real fatality rate should be way below the current 2.48 per cent.

Incidentally, this survey buttresses the claim that BCG, which became mandatory in India from 1948, is really working in our favour. And this is a fact. Considering our huge population, poverty and dense slum population, the fatality rate should have been in double digits and not 2.5 per cent. Truly, BCG is our unsung hero.

Prof. Robert Castellino, Orlem