07/12/2012, 00.00
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Chaplain to Italian marines: We must learn from the charity of Indian fishermen

by Giulia Mazza
Interview with Fr. Joseph Caraci, Comboni missionary who has followed the Enrica Lexie case from the beginning, in which two marines of the San Marco Battalion are accused of killing two Indian fishermen. Tolerance, religiosity, and the pain of the Catholic community in India, to be able to "look beyond" and seek truth and justice.

Rome (AsiaNews) - On 15 February, two Indian fishermen were killed in an incident involving the Italian Enrica Lexie tanker, off the coast of Kerala. From the outset, the only suspects - subsequently formerly charged - are Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, of the San Marco Battalion of Fusiliers, on board the tanker as security guards. According to the Italian defense forces, the shots were fired after the Indian vessel was mistaken for pirates. Arrested on February 19 last, the two marines remained in judicial custody for 90 days. Granted bail, they are currently in a hotel in Kochi awaiting the hearing for the trial, scheduled for 17 July. Since the incident, the case has seen two contrasting aspects. The diplomatic process, which has alternated between moments of detente and tension because of the irreconcilable positions between New Delhi and Rome (exact location of the accident, legal liability of a case) and the snail's pace of the Indian Justice system. The other, the more human aspect: the families of fishermen killed, in search of justice but not at all costs, and the entire Catholic community of fishermen. AsiaNews spoke to Fr. Giuseppe Faraci, Comboni missionary and military chaplain, who has personally followed the two Marines and the whole affair.

Fr. Faraci, how did your adventure in India begin?

I left after a call from Msgr. Pelvis Vincent, Military Ordinary Archbishop for Italy. Knowing him, I felt and understood the gravity of his voice. He said: "We must think of these two dear boys." And I left. When I arrived the first time, I began with daily visits to the prison. It was my first and most important duty. But soon it became a question of love, no longer work.

How was the meeting with the families of the murdered fishermen?

Shortly after my arrival, I had to contact the families of the victims, and it was not easy. I did not have names, surnames, addresses, I had no bearings. Then, a series of "miraculous" circumstances allowed me to know both the family of Jelestein, which lives in Kerala, and Ajesh Binki, in Tamil Nadu. I was greeted immediately with immense love and holiness, total dignity. A wonderful feeling. I returned many times, and slowly created a relationship of mutual prayer and affection. I remember Dhoramma [Jelestein's widow ed] telling me "Bring them our heartfelt greetings", "Let us pray for them, so they can return to their loved ones."

From the beginning, I have placed myself at the service of four families, rather than two. This has been my strength. Because those who are left behind are in the greatest pain: those in India who have lost a father or brother, those in Italy who do not know when they will be able to embrace their loved ones again. Seeing a mother - any mother - who hugs you, because you're taking care of her children as if they were your own, gives you a sense of your work and your mission.

What are your impressions of the situation in India?

Immediately after the accident, there was a strong reaction in Kerala. The Church here is large, so the parishioners are all fishermen, the community "affected" by the affair. Their reaction was initially a bit blinded, if some clergy expressed "strong" concepts, the faithful followed them. And that goes for the reactions of the international community and in Italy: if a figure of authority said something about the situation, he was taken at his word. I went, I introduced myself: I have found open doors, invitations to dinner, I had to make "attempts". Maybe they understood that a good Christian seeks justice, not revenge, he seeks the reasons and not his "personal" reasons. I could see this: that in the community affected by the events, there is no form of resentment, hatred, revenge, a quest for justice at all costs. I encountered a very religious people with a deep rooted faith; very open, tolerant people, but tolerance of acceptance. I feel immense gratitude for having experienced the whole affair.

In this context, what can you do for the victims' families?

The Military Ordinariate in Italy has made a commitment to help the family ensure their children's education. One of Jelestein's sons is now going to study engineering in college, we will be there to help him along the way. In the case of Ajesh Binki, we helped one of the two sisters to find a college 20 km from home, so that she can see her sister and family at the weekend's, without feeling uprooted and disembodied from her history and memories. They had already lost both parents seven years ago, and the young man took care of his sisters in every aspect.

What kind of relationship have you established with the local church?

The work of the bishop and priests among the fishing community was crucial. Fr. Stephen Kulakkayathil [responsible for the pastoral care of the diocese of Quilon, ed] helped me to get to know this whole world. Once, it was my first visit to India, a group of fishermen called me to bless their boat, called Thank You Jesus. There I realized that I was entering a new dimension: I was Italian, they knew I was a military chaplain, they had a thousand reasons to be resentful, locked in their grief, and instead sought a contact. The life of a fisherman in India is made of immense sacrifices, and they must always be able to look beyond difficulties. I had to bow before the goodness of the people of India. This is perhaps the best thing: the pain that we all feel unites us in looking beyond, together.

Fr. Faraci, how do you think this case will end? The marines risk a murder conviction ...

I have no idea. As a Comboni I would say that our life is blessed by its crosses, that our crosses are the foundation of our every success. God's actions are born and grow at the foot of the cross. I was never allowed to play the judge. Obviously I have an idea, but I went there as a priest, and then became part of a family. My only desire is to help and encourage these people to look forward, without losing hope. From a matter of pain and death it is becoming a matter of love. A love that embraces families of different fronts: people talk about possible murderers and victims, Indians and Italians; entirely different cultural contexts. Before returning, I told the boys [the Marines - ed]: "When you come back to Italy, you two will have to be the first to continue to help these families. Otherwise we have learned nothing from this experience." Not out of a sense of a duty, not out of gratitude, not for compensation, but our call to charity.


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See also
Kerala government loses jurisdiction in Italian marines’ trial
Military chaplain: our marines in India are waiting for Christmas
Pastor of Quilon: Italian Marines are good men
Kerala police claim Italian marines responsible for murder and attempted murder
Kerala High Court expects Enrica Lexie to be released soon


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