Bhubaneshwar ( AsiaNews) - " Faith is a factor that unites , but sharing it with people of other religions through dialogue , brings unity and harmony. Faith is sustained by love. Faith must be shared". This is the message Msgr. Sual Niranjan Singh, Bishop of the Diocese of Sambalpur (Orissa ), gives to AsiaNews about his life as a Dalit , Christian and priest in India , on the eve of World Mission Sunday 2013. For the prelate, tomorrow's celebration is an "encouragement" , mainly because the call made by Pope Francis to "share their faith" has "the power to transform society and the world". Below we publish the testimony of Msgr. Singh.
Originally, I belong to the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar. My father is a retired U.P. school teacher and my mother is a house wife. We are five children. I am the eldest. One of my sister is a religious of the Holy Cross congregation. I have two other sisters and a brother who are married. After passing out from a school of my native place, I went to the Bharadwaj Morning Star Seminary in Calcutta. I did my Philosophy in Pune and Theology in Khristo Jyoti Mohavidyaloyo Regional Theologate, where I am teaching now. I did my M.Th in Vidyajyothi and my doctorate in Urbanian University
I took as my Motto, "United in Love and Service"
To live the Gospel in the world esp in the Orissa context, we are all called to be at the Service of the people, I as bishop, but each one, in their own calling. For Service, it is essential to have the Spirit of Unity, to be united to be able to Serve, empowered by the Love of Christ. Unity Love and Service are three important Christian virtues, and have been the instruments of expressing our Christian Faith- reflective of the Communion and Love of the Holy Trinity.
I am deeply humbled to serve the Church, in this glorious celebration of 50 years of Vatican II which enabled us to understand the Church in a new way. Adapting the life of the Church in the daily situation of the world.
Our Mission is oriented according to the needs of the people, through our Love for Christ.
In Orissa, regrettably, divisions exists at various levels in society, and this causes groupism, to defend and protect themselves against the other. Unfortunately, suspicions' and hostilities exist between peoples and religions as well, besides the indigenous groups and the Dalit.
Sadly, while we celebrate India as a land of tolerance, here in India, the widening gap between peoples and religions are a worrying divisive trend.
Missionary activities amid persecution in Orissa
We face persecution and opposition on one pretext or another in every village. There is a strong movement going on against all types of missionary activity. But basically we see that people who are good-willed, especially those who really fear God, experience peace in their life. They are open to the varied messages taught by different religions, particularly the gospel message, which is very challenging. I am sure the life of Christ and the message of Christ are very appealing to the dalits and tribals. We are not saying everything will be influenced by the message. It is enough that at least the message goes to the heart of the people and they will be enlightened by the Word of God, by the words of Christ. That enlightenment will help them overcome most of the problems of life. So my missionary work will be one of removing darkness from the minds of people and enlightening them with the message of Christ. It will help them see the others as their own brothers and sisters, spread good feelings of cordiality, brotherhood and peace among people, even if they belong to different religions or castes. They will, in short, think of the other person or their neighbour as their own.
Coexistence in Khandamal is possible
I grew up in Khandhamal and lived there until I was ordained a priest and so the entire area is very familiar to me. I love the place. I love the people there, whether they be Hindus or Christians. Whoever belongs to Kandhamal has a place in my heart. I have been away from there during the last eight years when I have been teaching in the seminary. My basic attitude towards the people of all religions is one of love. I extend my total support to all the people there despite the fact that there are some among them who are creating trouble. Therefore, even in the midst of oppositions, we have love for the people of the area and we will continue to do whatever we can to bring peace and justice to the area.
However, we are greatly encouraged by Pope Francis' message for World Mission Sunday 2013 - faith must be shared. Faith as a basis for unity, Faith is a unifying factor, but also sharing faith among people of other religion, through dialogue also brings about unity and harmony. Faith is supported by love
The Second Vatican Council emphasized in a special way how the missionary task, that of broadening the boundaries of faith, belongs to every baptized person and all Christian communities.
The work of evangelization often finds obstacles, not only externally, but also from within the ecclesial community," Pope Francis writes." Sometimes there is lack of fervor, joy, courage and hope in proclaiming the Message of Christ to all and in helping the people of our time to an encounter with him." He balances the demand for energetic apostolic work, however, with an insistence that evangelism should never involve pressure or force.
Evangelization necessarily involves leading people to the Church, the Pope continues. "Evangelization is not an isolated individual or private act; it is always ecclesial." Faith as a basis for Unity
Sambalpur covers 9 revenue districts, has more than 40,000 Catholics. It has a total of about 70 to 80 priests, including both diocesans and religious. The Catholics of the diocese are mostly tribals.
The people of Sambalpur are largely farmers living in villages. Some of them are daily wage earners. Although almost all of them own some land, it does not fetch them much. Some of them who work as salaried employees in towns like Sambalpur and Jharsuguda are well off, but they are a small group. Majority of them are daily wage earners or farmers. I will extend my service to the people of other faith, especially in the field of education and health. These are the two areas where the people here need help. Also, I will have to do something to better the lot of the poor, who are a sizeable number.
What it means to be a Dalit and Christian
I am a Dalit, in my childhood I had gone through this discrimination as a dalit. I'll give you an example. I had to walk through a high caste village for going to school. Whenever we wore slippers or used an umbrella or wore a new shirt or things like that, we used to hear people ask us to remove them. We could walk out of the class only after others had left. I had gone through all that. But now, after becoming a priest, I feel that our attitude should not be to repeat the experiences that we had in the past. Our attitude is to change that experience into an experience of communion and an experience of coming together, realizing that we are all children of God. And as a bishop my task would be to care for my own community and also other communities. I will endeavour to bring about harmony and peace among the various communities.
Pope Francis "World Mission Day" message, that Faith has to be shared, has the power to transform society and the world, Faith in Christ illumines and dignifies humanity and is the agent for social transformation- not just spiritual - of the world and has to power to bring about a new world order- of Justice, Dignity and Equality of the human person.
Because of Faith our family has become dignified, we have come up through faith, My grandfather embraced Christ when we was around 55 years old, since then, the selfless service of the Christians missionaries, the Congregation of the Mission (CM) of Spain and the MSFS, have raised us to the dignity through Faith. Christian brought us enlightenment, dignity and I am deeply indebted to our mission fathers who brought to Orissa the Light of the Gospel, which has liberated us, from a life condemned to poor downtrodden and marginalised. Humanity of our time needs the secure light that illuminates its path and that only the encounter with Christ can give.
Faith, Dignity, Equality are interrelated, interwoven and inseparable, with Faith. Faith urges us to we work for the people, the downtrodden, the outcasts, the women to cultivate the culture of dignity and equality to all peoples and work to bring about harmony between groups especially the weaker sections of society. This is a Christian Mandate. Our Faith in Christ compels us to respect others, and work for the upliftment of others particularly those who are despised by society.
There is a deep integral unity and cohesiveness in Pope Francis' world mission day message, and his own way of Life and manner in which the Holy Father fulfils his Petrine Ministry.
St Paul says, "Faith without good works is useless, and our faith compels us to mitigate the miseries in the world, and we as a followers of Christ, we cannot be mere spectators to the misery of the people. We are called to deepen our faith and serve the people, through the various apostolate of the Catholic Church, healing wounds of ostracization, marginalisation and deprivation through Faith and works of Christ' mercy. Our activities flow from the wounded Heart of Christ, and it is our Faith which compel us to serve with Christ's Love live it in charity.
Pope Francis through the example of his own simplicity, is an example for me to follow, as a Bishop. By sharing the in the lives of the poor, and sharing in their difficulties and challenges, and giving people, the best gift, the Sharing of Faith, which has the power to transform and dignity, empower and liberate, unite and bring to fulfilment, through the Love of Christ.". This is Pope's Francis, World Mission Day, Message, being fulfilled in our lives, celebrating fifty years of the Second Vatican Council.
(Nirmala Carvallo collaborated)