Mumbai (AsiaNews) - The prayer retreat on 10-14 December is designed to spark the missionary zeal of the clergymen from Kandhamal (Orissa) affected by the 2008 anti-Christian pogroms. Organised by Mgr John Barwa, archbishop of the Diocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, the retreat is compulsory for the local clergy. It will also be an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of mission and being pastors in the Year of Faith. For this occasion, AsiaNews has interviewed Fr Errol Fernandes, a Jesuit who runs St Xavier's College, who will also be in charge of the retreat.
Many Kandhamal priests are still traumatized by the 2008 anti-Christian violence. What will be the retreat's focus?
It will focus on one word, Jesus, because Christ remains the inspiration. The meeting will start with a seminar on his life, birth, mission, death and resurrection. Christ' story contains all the tools necessary to face every type of situation.
Can the Year of Faith inspire disheartened priests?
"Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen" (Heb, 11:1). This is as good a definition as any of faith. In other words, it says that our job as disciples and followers (in the sense of acting as Jesus would have acted) of Jesus is to do what we have to do to the very best of our ability and leave all the rest in God's hands. If we realise this (i.e. have faith), then we will continue to work for the Kingdom of God no matter how challenging the road might be or no matter how uphill the going might get.
What role did economic factors play in the 2008 pogroms 2008?
While, the dominant discourse for the riots revolved around conversion, the caste dynamics and tribal issues along with economic and historical reasons were major contributors to the pogroms. Socio-political-religious factors worked as an undercurrent for the massive anti-Christian violence. Economics and commerce were major simmering contributors that triggered the violence. Caste conflict is also a consequence of the economic gap between the castes, resulting in important social differences. Discrimination of Dalits is still rife all over. Acts of injustice are regularly perpetrated against them.
An obvious point is the monkey god Hanuman. Dalits are assigned to worship only the minor gods of Hinduism, like Hanuman; the warrior monkey-king who served Ram, not major gods like Ram himself. Making Tribals and Dalits worship a minor god who was a slave and a disciple of their own god is not a way of giving them a place. It is a way of keeping them at the lowest rung of the social hierarchy.
I am of the opinion that most of what a person is is determined by his or her image of God. If the image of God is of a policeman, then one lives in fear of getting caught and tries to avoid getting caught. If the image is that of a grocer it is tit for tat or this for that, i.e. barter exchange. If it is of a god (like Hanuman) who serves another god (Ram), then one will be content to accept that one's 'karma' (destiny) in life is to serve and be content with this. Hanuman gets his value from serving Ram and thus any value for Dalits will be only from serving those of the higher caste, and thus retain the basic principles of caste superiority. Just as in Christianity, Mary gets her value from Jesus and so we do not worship Mary, but honour her and get to Jesus through her. However, if one remains at Mary, then one will miss the Lord himself, Jesus. In the same way, if Hanuman is the limit (as he is for Dalits), those who worship him alone, will never see the bigger picture.
You are familiar with the story of Sister Meena, who was raped during the 2008 pogroms. In you view, how can a personal tragedy turn into something positive for mission?
I was not aware that Sr Meena was Bishop John Barwa's niece. It seems to me that if we are engaged in mission, we have to do it without any kind of expectation whatever. Pain and other related issues only come into the picture when there is some expectation. It seems to me that Bishop John Barwa is aware of this and this grace allows him to carry on. Also more often than not, cowards and those who are really afraid are the ones who use violence. Jesus has shown how a kingdom can be achieved by non-violent means. We must follow him.