Vol. 167 No. 35 - August 27 - September 02, 2016
Space travel is today looming as a distinct possibility. Imagine for a moment that we are on a spaceship looking at our world. What would we see? I think we would see two contrasting pictures:
On the one hand, a very beautiful world: A world marked by a lot of progress. Think of the amount of scientific and technological 'wonders' we witness today. We take so much of what we have—e.g. electricity, the telephone etc.—for granted. Alvin Toffler, in his book, Future Shock, divided the history of humanity into 800 lifetimes. 650 of these lifetimes, he stated, were spent in caves! Only in the 800th, the vast majority of the material goods we use in daily life appear.
A world marked with a lot of care and concern: Because of the modern means of communication and the media, we become instantly aware of disasters and calamities in any part of the world and we can reach out to them.
A world becoming unified and coming closer together. The whole world has become a kind of a global village, a "tightly wired world" – wired without wires! The buzzword today: globalisation, one culture, one ethic.
But, on the other hand, we have a very ugly world: In the name of progress, we have destroyed so much of our beautiful world. We are becoming ever more aware of the warming of the earth, greenhouse emissions, melting of the polar caps etc. We are overusing the world's resources to satisfy present needs, so that nothing will be left for the future. The Garden of Eden has become a desert!
Along with care and concern, we find a lot of cruelty. Our century is one marked by violence. Cruelty comes to the surface when we have riots, terrorist attacks, etc., but there is also the hidden cruelty of abortion, of violence against the defenceless and so on. It is a violent world – almost sickening violence.
As against a world becoming unified, we have a divided world: divided into North v/s South, East v/s West. Narrow nationalism, with each country set against its neighbours. In our own country, we have so many divisions based on communal and caste lines.
What would be the desire of Jesus as He gazes at this world? What kind of a society would He want? He would surely wish a society of contentment, where everyone's needs are met, without consumerism and its ever increasing demands, pushing us to destroy our beautiful world; a caring society, marked with compassion, where no one is marginalised and neglected; an inclusive, unified society where people are in communion with God, with one another and with nature.
This might seem a dream, a utopia – but it is really a vision, a horizon towards which we journey. That is the vision of the Small Christian Community project: to create a society which is marked by the three qualities of contentment, compassionate caring and communion.
This issue of The Examiner is dedicated to the Small Christian Communities: what has been done and the miles that still remain to be traversed to make the vision of Jesus a reality. Small steps, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!
Bishop Agnelo Gracias, Director – Small Christian Communities, Archdiocese of Bombay.
I was the Director of the Small Christian Communities (SCCs) of the archdiocese for 30 years from 1981 to 2012. During this time, I learnt many useful lessons in my work with SCCs which helped me not only in building SCCs in the archdiocese, but also to handle other situations in general. I thought I would share these with the readers of The Examiner. It may help many others who are involved with SCC work.
1. You have to get started
I was appointed Coordinator of the SCCs in the archdiocese after the 'Bombay Priests' Synod of 1980'. I knew little or nothing about this form of Church life. It was mandated by the Synod, a decision of all the clergy present, for all the parishes. I therefore began to study this subject, and began to search for a parish in which we could pioneer this project. To my dismay, I could find no parish in three years wherein to start. No one was willing to take the plunge. I kept on thinking and praying about what I should do next, and got the inspiration that I could ask one of the parish priests to "lend" me his parish to pioneer this effort. Since St Thomas Parish, Goregaon, was the closest parish to the Seminary (I was then the Rector of the Seminary), I decided to approach the Parish Priest, Fr Bento Cardozo. Fr Bento, a humble, kind and simple priest welcomed me to his parish. I managed to get about 80 volunteers from the parish, and I took 70 seminarians with me. I began by giving these 150 people talks for some months on the theological principles involved in the SCCs. We started in June 1984 with 30 communities at St Thomas Parish, Goregaon, each community having five animators. The first months were fairly satisfactory. This news spread around the archdiocese, and within a year, I had 11 parishes inviting me to conduct this programme in their parishes; by May 1986, 25 parishes indicated their wish to begin.
The Book of Ezekiel speaks of life-giving water which flows from under the sanctuary (Ez. 47:1-12). Although at its source, it is a small fountain, as it flows, it becomes a huge river full of wholesome and medicinal water, providing life to a multitude of fish and to fruit-bearing trees throughout the year. Its leaves are medicinal and the sea into which it flows becomes wholesome. The Book of Revelation also speaks of the waters of life flowing from under the throne of God (Rev 22:1-2).
Jesus said: "I have come that you may have life, and life in abundance" (Jn 10:10). Here Jesus is the source of this life-giving water. Also in Jn 4:14, Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the water which He will give will not only quench her thirst forever, but it will also become in those who receive it, a well-spring of water gushing up to eternal life.
An Impressive Legacy
Our Archdiocese has just entered the 32nd year of the Small Christian Community (SCC) programme, an initiative that began way back in 1984. It has made giant strides over the years. We now have elaborate structures and systems and thousands of trained animators to run this programme. In the FILMC, we have a dynamic, experienced and empowered team, which under the tutelage of our pioneer Bishop Bosco Penha, have ably taken the SCCs to all corners of the diocese. They have also ensured continuity after the retirement of Bishop Bosco, assisting the present Director, Bishop Agnelo Gracias.
The Challenges Ahead
Although what we have achieved so far has been impressive and has been hailed in many quarters, we cannot remain content with our past record. Many organisations that were successful at one time, have later disappeared due to their inability to improve and to innovate, to remain relevant and responsive to the constant changes taking place around them. The efficiency of our systems, the efficacy of our methods and the strength of our structures will be under test all the time from a barrage of worldly forces. It is therefore necessary for us to keep building on our strengths, widening our base, deepening our penetration, broadening the understanding of the SCCs at all levels, upgrading our skills and systems, and swiftly addressing newer concerns and situations that would crop up from time to time.
My journey in Small Christian Communities began way back in 1993 when I was in my early twenties and a parishioner of St Joseph Parish, Vikhroli. The very idea of 'a church in the neighbourhood' attracted me to the SCC, and till date, I have been involved with SCCs in four different parishes where I have lived – St Joseph, Vikhroli; St Joseph, Mira Road; St John the Evangelist, Marol, and now in Sacred Heart, Andheri East.
SCCs mean different things to different people. Some find joy, some find hope, some get an opportunity to be in touch with their neighbours, some find buddy-friends, some find love, some see it as an opportunity to serve God, some are able to put their talents to use in their local areas, some are content with prayers and Gospel Sharing, some are enthusiastic about the sports and activities, some are excited about the annual picnics, some find it a stepping stone for a future career and so on. SCCs have made a difference in our parishes, in our archdiocese, in our nation and worldwide.
While all these are true and experienced by many, I would like to dwell upon the happiness spread amongst the less-privileged Catholic brethren through SCCs.
The Holy Family Parish is located in Pestom Sagar, Chembur. The Eastern Express Highway is nearby, thus making it a busy hub with vehicular traffic traversing from the West via Ghatkopar to the EaSt
In January 1971, Rev. Fr Apollinaris D'Silva was appointed Priest-in-charge of the newly formed Parish Unit of the Holy Family. The church building was completed and inaugurated during the short tenure of Fr Hugh Fonseca on March 8, 1986; the church was blessed by His Lordship Archbishop Simon Pimenta on July 21, 1986.
Our Parish is made up of an ethnic and linguistic mix of about 500 families, comprising approximately 1600 parishioners. Konkani speaking people dominate with 40 per cent, followed by 17 per cent to 20 per cent who speak English, Tamil and Malayalam. The rest are made up of other regional languages. The parish population is 50 per cent Adults, 24 per cent Senior Citizens and an equal mix of 13 per cent of youth and children.
We are so proud of our country, we all journey onward, towards development and progress, each citizen has a role to play. On our 70th Independence Day, we give thanks to God that the Catholic Church of India continues to play an integral part in nation building as well as building up of a human community of freedom and fellowship, equality and justice. The Catholic Church has been building up the Indian nation and has significantly contributed to the progress of our beloved nation.
The contribution of the Catholic Church in the field of education and healthcare and various social, political and cultural movements in India is unique, and without discrimination of caste and creed. Responding to the needs of the times, the Catholic Church of India has been able to promote human dignity and life.
Statistics reveal that 85 per cent of the healthcare institutions run by Church in India are in the villages, where the Church has been selflessly serving the poorest of the poor and reaching the unreached, with a non-negotiable respect for life and regard for Christian ethical principles and a holistic outlook on health.
Indian Christians also took part in the Swadeshi Movement (1905), the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920), the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930) and Quit India Movement (1942). Indian Christian presence in the freedom struggle was felt at the national level as well as the regional local level. They were able to establish their credentials as freedom fighters at state and regional level.
In Mumbai, St Andrew Church, Bandra is celebrating 400 years as a Parish; in Goa, the Holy Spirit Church, Margao celebrates 500 years; in Chennai, Our Lady of Light Church (commonly called Luz Church) is celebrating 500 years. This is truly a Gift of God to celebrate these centenaries in our beloved motherland.
Importantly, in our 70th year of Independence, Mother Teresa (a naturalised citizen) will be canonised, and the Indian government has welcomed the canonisation and will be participating in the religious ceremony by sending a high-powered delegation for the event.
India is a multi-religious and pluri-cultural country. Such diversity is its divinely bestowed blessing and grace. The Church's mission in this context calls for it to be a truly dialogical community. The dialogical mission of the Church also implies that it becomes an agent of reconciliation and peace among the various groups. Mutual misunderstanding, hatred, discord and discrimination should be avoided, and together we should build up a nation in justice, peace and harmony.
The Act of Consecration of the Archdiocese of Bombay to the Immaculate Heart of Mary includes this prayer :
On the Solemnity of the Assumption, we come before you on the 70th Anniversary of our Nation's Independence to intercede for our beloved Motherland before the throne of Almighty God that His peace may reign on our nation, and that the people of India may live in harmony within the diversity of cultures, customs and beliefs, and help us all to live as loyal citizens, united under the same national banner, and as children of the loving Father who is in heaven.
After communion, his successor, Archbishop John Barwa talked about his predecessor, calling him a "dynamic leader, who gave 42 years of his life to serve us, the lost, the least and the last. [...] Thank you, Archbishop Cheenath, for all you have done for Orissa. My people in the Archdiocese are truly proud people today of their faith and their ever loving God. They have their unshakable faith strengthened by you being their leader and good shepherd. Today, our people in Kandhamal repeat the words of St Paul, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.""
This first programme concluded on August 18, 2016 and the participants were awarded certificates. The second programme begins on November 7, 2016.
In his inspiring message to youngsters, he said that the situation is becoming totally unbearable. Nowhere in the world is there honking as on our roads. We need to cultivate road discipline where we must learn not to honk unnecessarily, but only when essential.
The theme was chosen to create awareness about the need for responsibility on the part of each citizen to enjoy Freedom. The event began with a march-past, then a dance was performed to the tunes of the song 'Pray for India'.
'Jannat' - a group of youngsters - performed a street play to create awareness about population explosion.
The Chief Guest, Vrinda Arvind Rege, the Assistant Manager of Corporation Bank, Wadala branch hoisted the Tricolour after which the National Anthem was sung. "Since God could not be everywhere, He made Shelter Don Bosco to take care of the poor and needy," Rege said during her address.
Since its inception, the NGO has extended help to a few families who are finding it difficult to make both ends meet. Help has been given by way of clothes, groceries, household articles, toiletries, tuition fees, school fees and medical aid. The NGO has also donated toiletries to a remand home in Dongri, sanitary pads and hair accessories to a home for girls in Pune, collected clothes and toiletries for Maria Ashiana - a shelter home for street boys in Lonavla, plastic bags and school bags for the Sindhoni missions (Daman), besides other activities.
The NGO Goonj has also been wholeheartedly supported in causes like the Kashmir flood relief (Sep-Oct 2014) and the Nepal Earthquake relief (May 2015), with articles like clothes, shoes, linen, flex sheets, toiletries, kitchen items, woollens, torches, buckets, etc!
Stationery and school items are regularly donated to a school for poor children in Bandra, as well as to a village school supported by the YMCA at Nilshi, near Lonavla.
The mission of the NGO is to work with neglected communities in and beyond urban areas, and to help people reuse and reduce material wastage. The NGO runs a Charity Shop, where items that are in a good and useable condition are collected from people and re-sold to people (in urban areas) who really need them, at a very cheap rate. The funds generated are used to support its various causes. Those interested in helping may contact us at email@example.com or on Facebook.
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