Mgr Thomas Menamparampil, who addressed the International Eucharistic Congress with his catechesis titled ‘The Eucharist as mission, the mission as dialogue,’ saw joy in the faces of participants who paid attention even during the longest and most serious meetings. He stressed the importance of silent Eucharistic adoration to hear Jesus’ cry on the cross, and spoke about the meaning of work in India, “periphery of peripheries”.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Mgr Thomas Menamparampil, archbishop of Guwahati and apostolic administrator of Jowai in India, spoke to AsiaNews about the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) held in Cebu (the Philippines) on 25-31 January as one of the "most inspiring faith events in Asia in recent years.” in fact, he was surprised “a great deal that the theological preparatory symposium would pull thousands of participants”.
Mgr Menamparampil, who presented on 27 January a catechesis titled The Eucharist as mission, the mission as dialogue, also noted, “Apart from the theological wisdom that the learned speakers offered, what seemed to make a deep impression was the sharing from pastoral and life-contexts.”
At the IEC, the apostolic administrator also presented Asia and evangelization, a book published by World Mission that contains letters he wrote, put together in a collection by Combonian Fathers. The interview with the archbishop of Guwahati follows.
What are your general impressions about the International Eucharistic Congress at Cebu?
The Cebu Eucharistic Congress was one of the most inspiring faith events in Asia in recent years. When 5,000 children receive their first communion, 12,000 people attend the preparatory theological symposium, over 300,000 devotees walk in the Eucharistic procession and well over 1,000,000 people flock to the concluding mass, it is sure to make an impact on those who took part in these events and those who will be influenced by them. I am sure thousands of volunteers worked for the success of the event along with Archbishop Palma.
I could only notice enthusiasm in all the faces of the participants. It was exciting to meet delegates from different parts of the world and exchange faith-vibrations with new arrivals. There was joy written on their faces, particularly when they perceived the depth of faith evident in warm welcome, happy relationships and seriousness at prayer. Bishops and priests from the West who were in Asia for the first time were deeply touched. The sense to co-belonging it created among people coming from 73 nations was something amazing.
What were some of the highlights?
It surprised me a great deal that the theological preparatory symposium would pull thousands of participants and keep them interested. I did not see empty chairs and vacant spaces even when the talks were serious and long. During free moments, I was surprised, many where discussing different shades of meaning in what they had heard. There was more optimism and joy than questioning and hesitation.
Apart from the theological wisdom that the learned speakers offered, what seemed to make a deep impression was the sharing from pastoral and life-contexts. Individual believers who opted for the faith, renewed their lives, struggled for a value, or found meaning in Catholic teaching in a specific context, bore witness to their experiences. The accounts were truly moving. Memories are likely to remain a long time.
The presence of the Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops and outstanding clergymen from different parts of the world added weight to the event. There was a representation from Ireland where the last International Eucharistic Congress was held, and one from Hungary where the next Congress will be held. As the enthusiasm of the Asian Church has been a good witness to Christian believers, the fidelity of the Hungarian Church in difficult circumstances is going to edify us, when all attention will be concentrated on the Budapest International Eucharistic Congress scheduled for 2020.
What did you emphasize most during your sharing?
One impression that I have been sharing during the last several years is that Asians love Depth. Confronted with enormous human pain, Mahatma Gandhi would sink into silence. He would explain, “Silence is the true language of cosmic adoration.” During a visit St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel, he was moved to tears seeing Christ on the cross. He often referred to a ‘still small voice’ that spoke to him. That is what ought to happen during Eucharistic worship.
Eucharistic adoration acquires depth when the worshipper hears the cry of Christ on the cross and recognizes that in the cry of human persons in agony, agony in a variety of ways and a variety of contexts. Worship acquires real meaning when it energizes the worshipper to take Christian values to the family, to the street, to the hospital where the termination of the life of an unborn child is being contemplated, to offices and assemblies where the fates of millions of people are being decided.
From another point of view, Eucharistic devotions acquire depth and purposefulness when they bring healing to the Collective Unconscious of communities with a sense of hurt or wounded memories, a contribution towards the awakening and wellbeing of the Collective Unconsciousness of humanity. It is in this form of assistance that the missionary of the future will have to do much more work. Here in this case, I do not mean to be theological, but pastoral; we have to strengthen our healing work during this Year of Mercy, bringing emotional healing to individuals, ethnic groups, communities, and larger societies.
What do you mean when you say you work in the periphery of peripheries?
May be I should not claim too much. But I may point out that the missions of Northeast India are usually considered the periphery in a wider context. In which case, Jowai in the interior hills where I work, would be the periphery of peripheries. But I should not make too much of it. There are people working in more difficult situations than I do: amidst greater privations, among needier communities, for people who are less responsive or more hostile. Here in Jowai, the communities are responsive, cooperative, enthusiastic, growing; though far away from centres and places of convenience. But the reward is in the work. I think those who work at the periphery find joy in the very meaningfulness of their work. In God nothing is lost, Bro. Roger of Taize used to say.
May be, we should seek to reach out to the peripheries of the mind also, e.g. where there is mental resistance, social allergy, community indifference to a religious message, even active opposition to things spiritual. These are areas where we should show ourselves most ‘human’ as Jesus did in contexts, until people begin to seek beyond, until the hidden dimension of his face is revealed. It is a long pilgrim way, but there is meaning and purposefulness in the effort…and Emmaus is not very far.