Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Republic Day 2023

 January 26, 1950.

Newly independent India's new Constitution goes into effect, superseding the Government of India Act of 1935. The Dominion of India becomes The Republic of India, after 107 years of being subject to the British Crown.

The day is celebrated as Republic Day, with a signature military parade down Rajpath in New Delhi, with the President and Prime Minister, and other dignitaries in attendance.

The new Constitution is the longest national constitution in the world (395 articles at its adoption), second only to the newly adopted (2022) Constitution of Alabama (the state in the US). It is heavily influenced by British custom and law, the Constitutions of the United States, Ireland, Australia and even the Soviet Union (on fundamental duties of citizens).

The President of the Constituent Assembly, which drafted the new Constitution between 1947 and 1949, was Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Amebdkar, a member of India's "untouchable" castes (now known as Dalits). Article 17 of the new Constitution boldly abolishes "untouchability." And while things have improved tremendously, caste discrimination continues in modern India (and in the Indian diaspora).

(For searing invective on the reality of religious caste discrimination, read this excerpt from his essay "Kon Pathe Mukti") 

The image below is of Article 25, which guarantees freedom of conscience, and the right to profess, practice and *propagate* religion, a right that is increasingly undermined in today's India, where perversely named "Freedom of Religion" laws in various states are used to intimidate and cow those who wish to convert to another religion. "Conversion" is a bad word in India.

On this 74th Republic Day, may India live up to the ideals enshrined in her trailblazing Constitution, and (to borrow the lyrics of an old Indian Christian hymn), may there be freedom, from Com'rin's Point to Everest Peak.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

St. Therese of Lisieux and the Thief

(resumen en español abajo) 

In my homily for the First Sunday of Advent, I expounded on the fact that the Lord says He will come like a thief, and I paraphrased the following story about St. Therese: 

During the last couple of years of her life, as she was dying of tuberculosis, she began to relate to Jesus as “Le Voleur,” the “thief,” more and more. She wanted to help the thief steal her heart. When her sister Pauline (Mother Agnes of Jesus) asked her whether she was afraid of the thief who seemed to be at the door, she replied, “He’s not at the door. He’s already come in,” adding, “How could I be afraid of someone I love so much?” She made up a small aspiration that she would pray, showing her approach to Jesus the Thief, “Le Voleur viendra et m’emport’ra Alleluia!” “The thief will come and snatch me away! Alleluia!” Her whole approach was summarized by her waiting for the Thief quietly with loving expectation to take her to be with him forever. She was always alert and awake for his coming. 

(Taken from a blog post by Fr. Roger Landry from 2017)

I was a little surprised at how few folks had even heard of St. Therese (I asked). More startlingly, at the Spanish Masses, it seems, no one had heard of her. I wonder if she simply didn't have the same impact in the hispanophone world as she did in the anglophone and francophone ones. At least in the late 20th and early 21st century in the U.S., it's impossible to go through seminary without learning about St. Therese. she is often seminarians' favorite saint! And I suppose this carries over into priests' teaching and preaching. 

So -- for those who are interested, here are some links about St. Therese. (Español abajo)

A short article giving an overview of her life and spirituality

The Way of Trust and Love -- a Retreat with St. Therese by Fr. Jacques Philippe (excellent!) 

Fr. Jacques talking about St. Therese on EWTN (2015) 

And of course, The Story of a Soul

Finally, a song by the the Stillwater Hobos about St. Therese! 

~~~~~~~ en español ~~~~~~~~

Hermanos y hermanas -- en mi homilía el domingo pasado para el Primer Domingo de Adviento, me referí a Santa Teresa de Lisieux, y estaba tan sorprendido que nadie había escuchado de ella. Quizás no la conocen como Santa Teresa de Lisieux, sin embargo como Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús. De todas maneras, la vida de esta santita es preciosa pare aprender más sobre el amor de Dios y la vida de discipulado, del seguir de Jesucristo. Les comparto aquí unos enlaces para que puedan aprender más de la vida de esta Santa, y su "camino pequeño" de confianza en la misericordia de Dios. 

Una presentación sobre Santa Teresita de Lisieux (Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús)

Un breve resumen de su vida (YouTube) 

La vida de Santa Teresa de Lisieux (YouTube) 

Frases útiles de la Santa Teresa (YouTube)

El camino de infancia (YouTube) 

The Tomb of St. Therese, Lisieux, March 2013.

Monday, November 07, 2022


I  The 27th Conference of Parties of the UNFCC (“COP27”) begins today at Sharm-al-Shaikh in Egypt. As Catholics, the Holy Father has asked us to pay attention to the issue of climate change, because of its impact on human beings, human society, and human flourishing. I.e. it is something that concerns the moral sphere of analysis and action. 

Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded. (Laudato Sii, 25) 

Honestly, I’ve been very skeptical of the way in which “climate change” has risen to the level of a kind of pseudo-religion in some sectors of society, along with fear-mongering and alarmist predictions that seem to steer policymakers to the “activist fallacy” (“something must be done — this is something — therefore, this must be done!”) 

The Pope’s counsel is to invite a wholesale reexamination of modern society itself (few seems to have appreciated the general anti-modern thrust of Laudato Sii) 

Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. (No. 26)

My own understanding has been shaped by largely (what in the US one would call) politically conservative voices. I’m not a climate scientist, and one doesn’t have the ability to truly study everything about an intricate science. I’ve found the work of the Copenhagen Consensus (which is about solving a variety of challenges, including, but not limited to, climate change) to be a helpful resource. And in particular, Bjorn Lomborg (who serves on that think tank), has been particularly helpful. 

His most recent op-ed in the WSJ: “Climate Change and the Lancet’s Heat Death Deception” (Just search for “Bjorn Lomborg WSJ” in your favorite search engine for more thoughtful articles.)

I find a lot of initiatives — even well-intentioned ones supported by parishes and dioceses — to be less than helpful. They don’t really try to tackle the complexity of the issue — and therefore of the response — and seem to imply that small things of dubious value (just look up the problems with recycling in the US, for instance) have planet-saving implications, which, in most cases, is naive at best, and falls into the “this makes us feel good, so it must be good” category of actions

I think it would be more helpful if more citizens — and a fortiriori — Catholic citizens, would learn more about the challenges of a changing climate, and critically analyze the information that is often presented in an uncritical way, supporting one particular narrative. 

Meanwhile, a more simple lifestyle, rooted in the evangelical counsels — a way to conform oneself more to Christ — is the call of all disciples. One can’t go wrong there. 

Meanwhile — the Guardian on the political problematics of the COP27 taking place in authoritarian Egypt. And the Economist on abandoning the “1.5C goal” from Copenhagen and Paris.

Thursday, September 01, 2022

How is your wonder going? Mass with Pope Francis

The stairs at the end of the Braccio di Constantino

I wanted to title this post: "I attended Latin Mass with Pope Francis," but figured it would be too click-baity. :-) But, yes, it was a Mass largely in Latin, celebrated by (well, sort of), Pope Francis. And if I'd written "I concelebrated Latin Mass with Pope Francis," that would give it away -- that this was, of course, a Novus Ordo Mass, and not the usus antiquior

This was the Mass with the College of Cardinals on Tuesday, August 30, at St. Peter's Basilica. I've concelebrated a large Papal Mass before, at Epiphany, early on in this Pontificate (and in my priesthood!), in January of 2014. Back then, I had to have one of the seminarians at the North American College apply for a concelebration ticket with the Office of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, and then go pick it up, through the Santa Anna gate at the Vatican, on the second floor of one of the offices in that wing of the Apostolic Palace. Nowadays, one registers at a Vatican website online, providing various details and a scanned copy of one's celebret. Once registration is approved, one can then apply for a ticket for an upcoming concelebration, and receives a rather unceremonious email with instructions, and the actual ticket attached as a PDF. According to the website, this is also the procedure for Bishops (though the paperwork requirements are slightly different). All this was done a couple of weeks back from the US. Not quite as glamorous as being let in to the Vatican offices by a member of the Swiss Guard. Easier and more efficient, for sure. And amazingly, for the Vatican, it all worked smoothly. 

The day itself was another blazing hot August day. The Mass was scheduled at 5:30 pm, and the ticket instructed concelebrants to show up at 4 pm at the Braccio di Constantino. Not knowing if there was a separate security line for concelebrants, I joined one of our party who had valiantly agreed to stand ahead (while the rest of us enjoyed the a/c in our AirBnB), at 2:30 pm. It turned out that there was a separate concelebrants' line -- much shorter, and under the shade of the colonnade. At about 3:15 pm, the security guards (after much back and forth among them about "i concelebranti") let the priests and deacons in. Everyone made a mad dash to the Braccio di Constantino on the north side of Bernini's Colonnade. I'm. not sure why … we'd all be lined up later by the MCs and going in to the Basilica together anyway. 

By 3:25 pm, I was fully vested. It was hot and humid in the corridor of the Braccio. There were over two hours still to go, and my handkerchief was quite soaked already. I watched as groups of priests trickled in and vested (clearly they had a better idea of how far in advance to come!). I would estimate that at least 75% were "of color," i.e. Latin American, Asian or African. I also estimated that maybe 30-40% didn't put on the cincture. This is another pet peeve. I'm not sure why priests think that omitting an essential part of the vestments of Mass is permissible, especially one that has a prayer for chastity connected to it! (The chasuble is the only vestment that is optional at a concelerbration.) 

At 5 pm, the ceremonieri (Masters of Ceremony) appeared at the top of the steps, and gave instructions, in Italian and English. I nodded in hearty approval at one of these: "you are all reminded that you are concelebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As such, we request you not to take any photographs during the Mass, and maintain an atmosphere of recollection." The lack of decorum at large Masses that I've attended, whether at our Cathedral in Atlanta or elsewhere, is, to me, truly scandalous, and another sign of the rather pathetic state of liturgical formation of clergy in general. I truly wish that the "guardians of tradition" would pay much more attention to this than they clearly do. But that would require another post entirely. 

At 5:20 pm or so, we were all lined up, "two by two, Fathers!" The large blob of priests moved towards the door of the corridor, clearly unable to form itself into two separate lines. A guard, with a (well deserved) scowl brusquely indicated to my tribe to line up properly as we processed down the portico and into the Basilica through the central doors, and in the central aisle lined with the faithful. 

We were seated in a section behind the Bishops. The Rosary was being prayed (in Latin), and as it ended, there were announcements asking that the faithful avoid applause during the celebration. That would have been necessary had the Pope come in in at the end of the procession. However, given his recent difficulties with walking, Pope Francis was wheeled in from a side door to a spot on the right of the main altar, on a small platform, where he vested in alb, green stole and cope. It is unlikely that many of the faithful further behind even realized he was in the church. 

(taken before Mass started! :-))

The Mass started with the procession of Cardinals, vested in green chasubles. I recognized a few (mainly the American ones and some of the Indian ones), and it struck me just how old this group is. Many limped, or walked with labored breathing. Some were in wheelchairs. At the rear of the procession was Giovanni Battista Re, the Dean of the College, who would preside over the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Pope is unable to walk, or stand for long periods, so, for a little while now, at Papal Masses, he presides in a cope, and leads the Liturgy of the Word, and a Cardinal takes over for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The rubrics permit this kind of presidential role for a Bishop, if he isn't the principle celebrant at the Eucharist (Ceremonial of Bishops, 176ff and a later clarification from the then CDWDS) 

Pope Francis stands briefly to vest

The Ordinary and Propers of the Mass  were sung by the papal choir in Latin, and there was no hymnody, except the Salve Regina at the every end.  The readings were in English and Spanish and the Gospel chanted in Italian. Until somewhat recently, the Gospel would have been chanted in Latin.

The Pope delivered a short homily in Italian, with the central theme of not losing one's sense of wonder. "Come vai il tuo stupore?" "How goes your wonder?" focusing on the Scriptural images of St. Paul in wonder at God's plan of Salvation (the Canticle in Eph. 1), and the Gospel of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:20). I was pretty wonder-struck at once again having the opportunity to offer the Holy Sacrifice with so many priests, Bishops, Cardinals and the Vicar of Christ himself. And then, two rows of priests, including the one I was in, were given ciboria full of host for consecration, and were invited to line up to the side of the Papal Altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We held the ciboria with the bread through the Eucharistic prayer (A bit of a balancing act, with a the ciborium in one hand, a card with the words for the concelebrants for the Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs I, in Latin, in another) … and I couldn't help but wonder as the ciborium, after the prayers, became a Tabernacle in my hands. After the Eucharistic Prayer we filed down the central aisle and distributed Holy Communion to the faithful. [Back in 2014, the instructions from the previous Pontificate were still in place, and the faithful were asked to receive on the tongue. In light of the pandemic, no doubt, this was gone. Over 90% received in the hand.] 

Soon, the Mass was over with the final Papal blessing and, without much ceremony, the Holy Father was wheeled off to a side door, and the Cardinals shuffled out in procession. The Swiss Guard, as is customary, brought up the rear of the procession, even though the Sovereign they are meant to protect wasn't present. The Bishops and priests followed. As the music swelled, the faithful milled about taking selfies. 

After Mass I met up with the rest of the group at the Obelisk in the Piazza. As we were taking photos in front of the magnificent façade of St. Peter's with the beautiful play of dusk colors behind, a family from Toronto struck up a conversation with us. They were of Indian origin. In fact, the daughter said, her dad was from Gujarat, and had converted to Catholicism when he married their mom, who was from Guyana. She had been raised Catholic and had never met a priest who could speak Gujarati. She was ecstatic! She couldn't wait to tell the rest of her family, especially her "Ba" (grandma) that she had met a Gujarati priest. "Members of my Hindu extended family often criticize me or make fun of me for following the "dholiyaloko no bhagwan" ("the god of the white folks."). I can't get them to understand that Jesus wasn't actually white, and He is for everyone. I just share how filled up I get when I go to Mass."  We took photos and exchanged contact information, and I gave the family my priestly blessing.

The Patel family from Toronto

Now there's a beautiful encounter filled with wonder.  

"Blessed be God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ, with every spiritual gift in the heavens!" 

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

We are all missionaries: Glimpses of South Asian Catholicism

 Philip Jenkins wrote The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity twenty years ago, and the slowly changing demographics of the College of Cardinals reflects the shift in the center of gravity (as far as number of believers, but also spiritual vitality and strength) of the Christian world to the global South. 

This visit to Rome afforded an opportunity to get a sense of the life of the tiny Catholic presence in two South Asian nations, through meetings with Cardinals from Pakistan and Bangladesh. 

[I should add that these Cardinalatial connections are due to my friend Danny, who, in his spare time, is an indefatigable supporter of a wide variety of missionary efforts in developing countries as far apart as Ecuador, Thailand, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and of course, our native India. Danny also works in association with Catholic World Mission, an Atlanta based charitable organization. He and his wife Sharon, who are close friends, are my main connection to Cardinal Filipe Neri Ferrão, and have accompanied me on this visit. Or rather, I have accompanied them! Also along with us are Deacon Rick of our Archdiocese, who is the CEO of CWM, and his wife Christy, and Fr. Selva, another Archdiocesan priest of Indian origin.] 

With Joseph Cardinal Coutts

The ATL contingent with a Pakistani Cardinal

On Sunday we met up with Joseph Cardinal Coutts, Archbishop Emeritus of Karachi, for dinner. Cardinal Coutts was created Cardinal in 2018, and retired as Diocesan Bishop last year.  A refined gentleman, and a truly gentle soul, he continues to serve on two commissions for the Holy See, on Inter-religious Dialogue, and the Synod of Bishops. Over a leisurely dinner at Trattoria Polese (a favorite of North American College seminarians), we shared many stories of the close connections between Karachi and Bombay, and the Goan Catholic community present in both metropolises. In undivided India, Karachi was part of the Bombay Presidency, and the parishes of Karachi were parishes of the Archdiocese of Bombay.* "The Bishop would come up by steamer from Bombay for Confirmations!" Prior to Pakistani independence, Urdu wasn't spoken in Karachi, which was dominated by the merchant classes of the Gujarati and Sindhi communities, both Hindu and Muslim. Urdu only appeared after Partition, when it was declared the national language of Pakistan, and the arrival of the large Urdu-speaking Mohajir community (those who had migrated from India at the time of Partition), and the departure of many Hindus, which changed the city irrevocably. Pakistan's small Catholic community, apart from some urban roots going back to Goa, is largely poor, and the challenges education, jobs and social development as well as being a minority in a largely Muslim country with strong jihadist tendencies -- discrimination, including blasphemy charges, and violence. We talked of the story of Servant of God Akash Bashir, who gave his life to prevent a suicide bomber from entering a church on Easter Sunday in 2015 in Lahore. and Servant of God Shabaz Bhatti, the Federal Minorities Minister, assassinated in 2011. The blood of martyrs still waters the faith in Pakistan. 

Today, on a visit to St. John Lateran, we met a Pakistani Franciscan priest, Fr. Victor, who was hearing confessions, and Danny shared some of the work he and CWM were doing in Pakistan and with the Pakistan diaspora, and invited him to visit us in Atlanta.  

With Fr. Victor at his confessional in St. John Laterna

On Monday we were invited to a Mass with Rome's small Bangladeshi Catholic community, to celebrate the visit of Patrick Cardinal Rosario, Archbishop Emeritus of Dhaka. The Mass was held in a suburban church off the historic Via Labicana -- the parish of Santi Marcello e Pietro "ad duas lauras, on V. Casalina. The catacombs of Ss. Marcellinus and Peter are next to the parish church. As we arrived, the boys of the parish were playing soccer in the parking lot next to the church (in the US, this would no doubt be prevented as a liability risk!), and arrangements were being made for the reception after Mass ... tables being set up, chairs laid out, as families trickled in, with the ladies dress in bright colorful saris. Bangla (Bengali in India), and Italian filled the air. It turns out few of the folks, apart from clergy and religious, spoke much English, and we didn't speak Bangla, so I ended up serving as Italian translator throughout the evening. Sister Rotna, a PIME Sister, recently back in Italy from years of service in Papua New Guinea, welcome us warmly and got the priests situated in the parish sacristy. Later on we met Fr. Lawrence, a Bangladeshi priest resident in Rome, who served as the Cardinal's liaison on this visit. 

With Patrick Cardinal Rosario and Fr. Lawrence

In many ways, I felt like I was with my Mexican and Central American parishioners ... close knit working class families, close to the Church, with their kids growing up in a de-christianizing (if still loosely culturally Catholic) Western nation, who speak their parent's language, but are more comfortable in the language of their adoptive nation.** The Mass was in Bangla, and though I could pick up many theological words (because of the shared Sanskrit roots of Bangla with other Indo-Aryan languages), I didn't follow much of the homily. The music was accompanied by harmonium and tabla and belted out enthusiastically by the small congregation of some 50 souls. 

At the dinner after Mass, a short round of speeches and a welcome gift of flowers, a garland and a donation from the community greeted His Eminence. A young lady gave a short ferverino. I understood one phrase: amra shobai missionary. We are all missionaries. I smiled, and the Cardinal clapped in delight. Two other priests studying in Rome joined the gathering after Mass -- one from Bangladesh, the other from India's Christian northeast, Nagaland. ("How much of the population of Nagaland is Christian, Father?" "Oh, only 100%. Largely Baptist though. Now there's a tale. The story of the growth of the Catholic Church in neighboring Arunachal Pradesh is another astounding tale of hope.) The meal was a proper Bangladeshi affair with a variety of fish dishes, spicy prawns, biryani and a mountain of sweets that, sadly, I had to devour only with my eyes. I did indulge in a small bite of delicious roshogullo, however. His Eminence knew Cardinal Coutts. They went to minor seminary together in Karachi, when Bangladesh was still East Pakistan, before the war of 1971. 

Rome: old and new. Two Bangladeshi ladies
pose for a photo in front of the catacombs of Ss. Marcellinus and Peter

His Eminence milling around with the people

At the head dinner table with His Eminence

We are all missionaries. For the small, often beleaguered Christian communities of Pakistan and Bangladesh, that is the call of the moment, and indeed for the Church everywhere! What a beautiful sentiment to hear on the lips of a young, on-fire, lay disciple of Christ. May her tribe increase. 

*The city's name was changed to Mumbai in 1995 and finally caught on in the 2000s. The Archdiocese is still officially the Archdiocese of Bombay. 

**In fact several young Italians on this visit -- for instance, a Filipino and a Bangladeshi waiter, a Ukrainian cab driver -- when responding to questions of their origins, acknowledged their roots but emphasized that they're Italian, and have grown up here. In America, to ask someone pointedly "but where are you really from" is acknowledged, certainly by younger generations, as inappropriate and borderline racist.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Usque ad effusionem sanguinis

Mosaic in side altar. Chapel, Pontifical Urban College 
The new Cardinals are entrusted with the service of love: love for God, love for his Church, an absolute and unconditional love for his brothers and sisters, even unto shedding their blood, if necessary, as expressed in the words of placing the biretta and as indicated by the colour of their robes.

(Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI at the Ordinary Public Consistory for the creation of new Cardinals, February 18, 2012.)

On Saturday, August 27, Pope Francis created 20 new Cardinals, including two sons of India. Thanks to a personal connection with Archbishop Filipe Neri Antônio Sebastiâo Do Rosario Ferrão, Archbishop of Goa & Daman, I had a front seat invitation to the festivities. Because of a prior commitment, I wasn't able to arrive in Rome until the evening of Saturday and missed the (from the description of others who participated) rather chaotic ceremony of the Consistory itself, which was held inside a packed St. Peter's Basilica, in the blazing August Roman heat. The security lines, apparently, were long, and terribly organized and many weren't able to get inside the Basilica, despite holding tickets. 

On Sunday, I concelebrated at a Holy Mass of Thanksgiving for the two new Indian Cardinals, held at the Pontifical Urban College on the Gianicolo (right next to the Pontifical North American College, a frequent haunt during my seminary breaks, and subsequent visits to the Eternal City). The Mass was celebrated by the newly elevated Filipe Neri Cardinal Ferrão, and concelebrated by Anthony Cardinal Poola of Hyderabad, and three of the other four Indian Cardinals -- Oswald Cardinal Gracias of Bombay (who preached), George Cardinal Alencherry (Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church) and Baselios Cardinal Cleemis (Major Archbishop Catholicos of the Syro-Malankara Church). Telesphore Cardinal Toppo, Archbishop Emeritus of Ranchi, was unable to attend due to poor health. In addition, Archbishop Machado of Bangalore, and Bishop Vincenzo Viva, Diocesan Bishop of Albano and former Rector of the Urban College, also concelebrated. Two seminarians of the College, Deacon Bipin of Ranchi and Deacon Dawood of Lahore (Pakistan), served the Cardinal celebrant. 

(Cardinal Poola seems to be saying, "Gosh, you're tall, Father!")

The sacristy was a scrum of Indian priests from all over ... many Goans, of course, and Keralites, who dominate the Indian clergy worldwide, but also others from every other corner of India, manifesting the ethnic and cultural diversity of the Indian Church. I tend to tower over others, especially in gatherings of Indians, and this was no exception, though I did meet a Fr. Adrian from Goa was half a head taller! A Fr. Basilio, a professor at St. John's in Queens was one of a few Indian American clergy (he turned out to be a minor seminary classmate of Cardinal Ferráo, and gave a toast at the reception after Mass). Another priest knew of me via the current Administrator of the Diocese of Baroda in Gujarat (where my parents lived), Archbishop Stanislaw Fernandes, the Archbishop Emeritus of Gandhinagar. We spoke in Gujarati -- not a common language one hears in Indian sacristies. 

As in so many Roman sacristies, SILENTIUM was, with valiant hope, posted on a sign in one corner, and was universally ignored. 

The Mass was, of course, in English. (To those unfamiliar with India, this often comes as a surprise. India has no universally spoken national language. Hindi isn't spoken in the south, which is where the Church of India has a strong presence, nor in Goa, or the tribal northeastern states, the other bastions of Catholicism.). There were familiar Indian Catholic hymns, some Mass parts in Latin, and a recessional in Konkani, that was clearly well known. 

A reception followed, with the customary vote of thanks, and a large crowd taking photos and greeting the prelates. After some light antipasti (that had all the hallmarks of being assembled by Indian nuns -- cookies and savory snacks dominated), a full Indian buffet with a Keralite flavor followed. The two Deacons from Mass came and sat next to me. Deacon Dawood (who goes here by Davide, the Italian version of his name) was very kind, and even though he assured me that Pakistan would decimate India in the T20 match later in the day, we had a very interesting conversation (in English and Urdu) about the state of the Church in Pakistan, and his own vocation story. (India beat Pakistan by 5 wickets, as it turns out. I'll gloat tomorrow :))

There were no fans, and certainly no a/c, and much perspiration. 

Deacon Dawood then took us up to the roof the college for its famous view of St. Peter's Dome on one side and the Eternal City spreading to the horizon on the other. It was as good as, or even better, than the view from the rooftop of the next door North American College. 

With Deacon Dawood of Lahore

On the roof of the Urban College

The Republic of India has had diplomatic relations with the Holy Since 1948, and traditionally its Ambassador in Bern was accredited also to the Holy See. Since 2020, the Indian Ambassador in Vienna has been accredited to the Holy See. There is no Indian mission to the Holy See based in Rome (I thought it would have been easier to have a dual mission out of the Embassy to Italy ...) therefore there was no official function hosted by the Indian Government to honor the new Indian Cardinals. (Unlike the US Embassy to the Holy See, which hosted a reception on Friday in honor of the newly created Cardinal Archbishop of San Diego.). India is the second largest Catholic country in Asia ... however, the current Indian government's ideology isn't favorable to religious minorities.  

The discussion in the West about the College of Cardinals tends to skew on ideological lines, particularly questions of doctrine and liturgy. In the global South (the center of Catholicism, as far as the numbers of the faithful go), the liturgical questions that consume the internal Catholic conversation in the West are simply not on the radar, and rarely too, issues of doctrine and morality. Development, education, poverty, the family, as well minority concerns, such as interfaith dialogue and (for some) survival in the face of serious persecution or hostility tend to weigh more heavily. 

However, I dare say, the threat of modernist secularism isn't far away ... at least not in India. In urban, upwardly mobile India, traditional cultural Catholicism is facing similar challenges from Western influenced secularism, as in the West itself -- disengagement from the sacramental life, difficulties in passing on the faith, in the midst of a Catholic culture that is deeply clericalist. The challenges of the West aren't far behind in parts of the global South, and India. And responding to them requires a willingness to be witnesses -- martyrs -- maybe even to the shedding of blood. 

Monday, August 15, 2022

The immortal great festival of freedom

 August 15, 2022, is the seventy fifth anniversary of India's (and Pakistan's, on the 14th) independence. I should say "15 August," following the normal British and Indian convention for dating. Pandrah Agast in Hindi (15 August), means, simply, Independence Day. 

Vadodara airport festooned with the Indian tricolor. 2017.

During my recent trip to the Subcontinent, signs marking the upcoming celebration were festooned everywhere. Azadi ka amrit mahotsav they said. The immortal great festival of freedom. I confess I was surprised that in the current push to equate "Indian" with "Hindu" and that too of the high-Sanskritic variety, the Urdu/Hindustani word for "freedom" (azaadi) wasn't coopted by the Sanskritic svantantrataa. Having now spent the greater majority of my life in the United States, I find that my misgivings about the current ruling party in India, and its divisive politics of intimidation, particularly against religious minorities, extend to my feelings about this anniversary. That is quite possibly unfair. I will, indeed, wish all my Indian friends and family a Happy Independence day on the morrow. 

However, in recent weeks, I've found myself thinking more about what led up to Independence, and that stirring speech recounting India's tryst with destiny at the stroke of the midnight hour: Partition. Bantwaaraa. 

In mid July, I caught an interview with Kavita Puri, the author of "Partition Voices" on the Spectator Podcast. And much to my surprise, I became quite emotional as I listened. I couldn't quite understand why. I hadn't experienced the pain of partition myself, nor had my parents, or immediate family. And yet, the stories that the author was recounting in this interview, stories of British Indians and Pakistanis, and their long unspoken, hidden traumas, stirred something deep. 

Was it simple grief? Both my parents have now passed on. Both came of age during the struggle for independence in British India, and both were part of that generation that threw themselves into the development of the new nation. A few years ago, at the behest of my niece, I recorded a short interview with my late mother, on her experiences of life as a girl in colonial Bombay, and her memores of India's first independence day. So, indeed, my thoughts concerning Independence and Partition are intertwined with memories of my parents. 

Yet, from an early age, the stories of Partition have always moved me. The scale of the horror is vast, and deep, and truly incomprehensible. I recall my first vivid encounter with the reality -- on the screen, when my father and I went to a crowded inner city movie theater to watch Richard Attenborough's Gandhi. The scenes of mayhem during the Noakhali riots in Bengal in 1946 as displayed in the movie, and Gandhi's hunger strike in response, left a deep impression. 

Then there was Bhishma Sahani's dramatic novle Tamas ("Darkness"), which was serialized on Doordarshan (India's state run television network) in the late 1980s. It was raw, powerful, and disturbing. Turk aa gaye hain a young Sikh woman intones, as if in a trance. "The turks have come," They are trapped in a gurdwara, and a Muslim mob is approaching, and rather than face dishonor, mutilation and death, they commit suicide by jumping into a well. After the madness of the days of rioting has passed, the "Amal Committee" (Peace Committee) starts its work. Among its leaders are the very instigators of the riots. 

Perhaps most unusual, was the short story by Saadat Hasan Manto, a famous Pakistani playwright, that was part of our Hindi curriculum in school (I wonder if anything by Manto is still included in curricula today! Or is any mention made of the fact that the author of one of India's popular patriotic songs, Tarana-e-Hind, better known by its first line, Saare Jahan se Accha, was also a Pakistani poet, Mohammad Iqbal?). Toba Tek Singh is set in a mental asylum in Lahore, as Partition looms, and the Indian and Pakistani governments plan to transfer the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu residents to where they belong, based on their religion. The chief protagonist, an inmate by the name of Bishan Singh, when particularly provoked, resorts to a string of Punjabi, Hindustani and English gibberish. 

Upar di gur gur di annexe di bedhiyana di moong di daal of di Pakistan and Hindustan of di durr phitey mun!

"The inattention of the annexe of the rumbling upstairs of the dal of moong of the Pakistan and India of the go to bloody hell!"

Over thirty years later, I still remember that string of nonsense words. 

And indeed what better response to the insanity of those dark days? 

The insouciance of the British, drawing a line on a map that cut through lives and families and land; the pride and arrogance, the sheer blindness, and hunger for power of both the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress, that thought that the division of this mass of humanity would be a straightforward matter. The complete unpreparedness of both new governments as one of the largest migrations in human history followed, unplanned, leaving in its wake a sea of blood. Fifteen million displaced. Perhaps a million dead. 

Growing up in India in the 1980s, however, Partition wasn't just something from the history books. Hindu-Muslim pogroms have been a regular feature of life in independent India. In Bombay, we were insulated from it, or so we thought. Until that horrible winter of 1992, when even India's pragmatic financial capital went mad, and we hid in our homes. I sat glued in horror for days to my American radio set, where, somehow, I had access to the police FM band. 

Then there was Gujarat in 2002. I was already living in the US, but read the accounts, and even more painfully, heard of them from my father, whose heart was broken, along with his belief in a nation that valued peace, and communal harmony. 

Partition took place twenty six years before I was born. It seems, however, that I grew up with it. 

I was struck by the fact that in her interview, Kavita Puri mentions that there is no memorial to the victims of Partition. In fact, I am sure many Indians would find any mention of Partition, on this immortal great festival of freedom, to be gauche at best. 

But how will we ever heal? When will these ghosts ever be exorcized? Is there even a desire for that? Or has the logic of Partition been thoroughly internalized -- that India truly only belongs to Hindus, and everyone else is there at the sufferance of the majority at best?

Is that the immortal great festival of freedom? 

[The New York Times has a story this year on the Fading Ghosts of Partition. As well as a haunting photo essay.]