The bishop’s message is meant first for Christians, about 4 per cent of the 27 million people of the State (65 per cent Hindu, and 31 per cent Muslim), but is also directed to everyone in a land torn by interethnic strife, where terrorist attacks continue to cause victims.
Mgr Menamparampil and his Joint Peace Team of North-East India have been involved in peace negotiations with radical, tribal, ethnic and religious groups for the past 13 years.
Based on this and in light of recent bloody attacks (Nirmala Carvalho, “Mgr. Menamparampil: Assam, peace threatened by terrorism and by government force,” in AsiaNews, 23 November 2009), the bishop has addressed the entire population and the authorities, calling on them commit to a true mission of peace.
“When Jesus said, ‘Peace I be upon you,’ the Roman armies were roving the western world ‘imposing peace’ pm their own terms.” Now as in the past, “History repeats itself.”
Today, the temptation of suing force to impose peace and justice is still alive. Yet, whenever “stronger powers” try to impose themselves “on their own terms on the weaker,” when “sturdier communities” push themselves “on the feebler,” which is the case for ethnic and religious minorities in India, “there is bound to be trouble”. Assam is a case in point.
“Tensions arise, [. . .] an outburst of violence” takes place, and some people turn to desperate forms of action and “earn the name of ‘terrorists’.”
However, it is not enough to condemn acts of violence. For the bishop of Guwahati, “If I condemn somebody, I turn my back on him, I reject him, I cannot talk to him anymore,” when in fact “I want to talk to him [. . .] dialogue with him [. . .] bring his human sensitivity back to life.”
“The mission of the peace-maker” is to whisper “peace to the unwilling, [. . .] stirring up in them the sensitivity that has gone dead.”
For this reason, the prelate warns State authorities and separatist groups to turn against the path of force. Mutual understanding and seeing things from the adversary’s point of view are the way against violence and terrorism.
In seeking dialogue in lieu of confrontation, the bishop cites the example of the Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama.
His message is for everyone, for those who believe that “the police and the judiciary will be our saviours as well as those who choose “ideology” as an answer to their demands; for those who believe in “confrontation” and those who “make cynical remarks when we fail” as peace-makers.
The Church does not want to be a mediator, or play a “political role”, or be a “propagandist;” it must bear a message of peace that transcends barriers in order “to create a favourable climate, build up mutual confidence, [and] remove built-in prejudices”.
In the same vein, we must “confront anger, not with anger,” but with “far-sighted with intelligence, [. . .] face prejudice with the sturdiness of an open mind” and confront “malice with the serene self-confidence of standing for a good cause and desiring the wellbeing of all”.
For Mgr Menamparampil, whispering a “message of hope [. . .] would be our Christmas gift to everyone.”
The Church as peacemaker finds its strength in the certainty brought to the world by Christ.
For the bishop of Guwahati, Christians have but one choice to make, “Be the bearer of this peace to the rest of humanity”.
“Christmas is an occasion to make your choice,” he said. Choose “Jesus and become bearers of the peace that he gives.”