Vol. 167 No. 46 - November 12 - November 18, 2016
It is not surprising that, during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, the heart of the theme of the 50th celebration of World Communications Day in 2016 is ‘Communications and Mercy: a Fruitful Encounter’. Pope Francis declares Jesus Christ as the face of the Father’s mercy, and the Church as a kind of prism through which the world perceives Jesus Christ. Despite her many imperfections and failings, she is called to practise mercy as the distinctive trait of all that she is and does. “What we say and how we say it, our every word and gesture, ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all,” he says.
Pope Francis explains that to effectively communicate God’s mercy, we need to radiate its tangible experience in our daily living. We do not need a profusion of words, if the way we live our lives is a practical demonstration of what being merciful means. He thinks love is essentially communication, and is convinced that, if what we do and say is driven by love, ‘our communication will be touched by God’s own power.’
The Pope’s message speaks of building bridges, enriching society by bringing people together and convincing them they ‘count’, in healing wounded memories and peace-making. These are the fruit, he says, of carefully crafted communication. He contrasts this with “vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance” which can ensnare us and ferment hatred. There is a clear warning not to react to such negativity in an equally negative way, which could “rupture relationships and communication.”
He thinks it is particularly important for politicians, those who mould public opinion, and the Church’s own leaders, to recognise what a powerful tool they have in forms of communication permeated with the belief that mercy makes a difference. “It is easy to yield to the temptation to exploit…situations to stoke the flames of mistrust, fear and hatred. Instead, courage is needed to guide people towards processes of reconciliation.”
Key enemies of mercy in the way the representatives of Christ think and speak are all those forms of expression that indicate superiority, pride, disdain, cold or harsh judgment. The denunciation of individuals has no place in a merciful heart, although moral guidance must point out “the evil and in justice of certain ways of acting, for the sake of setting victims free and raising up those who have fallen.” What Pope Francis encourages us to avoid are harsh, moralistic tones, simply because they will not welcome the sinner home but “risk further alienating those whom we wish to lead to conversion and freedom, reinforcing their sense of rejection and defensiveness.”
Listening and closeness are the terms the Pope asks us to ponder towards the end of his message. While hearing is about receiving information, listening is about closeness and commitment to getting things right rather than being silent onlookers, watching life happen. Listening takes other people seriously by letting them trust us enough to share with us what worries them, what makes them happy or sad, and that can happen only when people feel we are not trying to dominate or control a relationship.
A different sort of closeness comes in the digital world, where we need to act with the same respect as we owe the person we meet face to face. So many people have felt demeaned, dishonoured, almost destroyed by the way others have used digital media against them. But the power to educate, to encourage and to support people through digital media shows that it is a good thing. There is a lot to think about in the Pope’s concluding sentence. “In a broken, fragmented and polarised world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.”
(A Summary of Pope Francis' message for World Communication Day)
The human person has a strong and natural sense for justice. Justice, in society, is a fruit of the law and the legal process. We instinctively feel the pangs of injustice if ever it were meted out to us, and seek to be redressed straightaway or demand retribution. Surely, humanity has progressed from a cannibalistic social order to an egalitarian society administered by the rule of law. But do the judicial process and a litigious culture guarantee peace? It could be argued that a world clamouring for justice over the centuries has become only more restive and violent. If the fear in the mind of the ordinary citizen today is any indication, we should infer that the quality of life has deteriorated. Could it be that the process of justice leaves important issues unaddressed, getting swept, as they are, under the carpet, only to manifest later as macro evils, like terrorism and corruption?
The law was given to maintain order in community life and keep human conflict at bay, but the issues before the law are far too complex for perfect adjudication. Justice, after all, is dispensed by humans, who are characterised by bounded rationality. Not only is perfect justice elusive, it is almost impossible to obtain consistently. It would be more correct to say that justice provides a relief, a solution for the time-being. After justice is administered, it has to be enforced and maintained, and that means additional costs: administrative, legal and policing.
A Tenuous Peace
The adversary who has been on the losing end of an adjudication cannot wait to get even and will attempt to do so at every opportunity. Although calm on the surface, there remains simmering discontent after a judgment is decreed. We witness ignition of war engines and intermittent skirmishes pushing for an extra-judicial settlement of scores. Justice dispensed can also lead to triumphalism, which alienates disputing parties further, and paves the way for vengeance. A triumphant show of power in the wake of a favourable judicial verdict is irresponsible and out-of-place in civil society. It only vitiates the atmosphere and asks for trouble.
“Being with the other when the other ceases to be ‘other’ and becomes like us.”
People all around us are hurting. It may be sickness, poverty, a broken family, a drunken, abusive, or jobless father, children in need of coaching in studies, sports etc. Or it may be some hurt that has happened during their childhood years. Each one is reaching out for help. Perhaps you are in a position today to extend your hand to them – because you have encountered what they are going through. And your wounds have been healed by the grace of God. Now God wants to empower you to reach out to them, because God never wastes experience. Are you ready?
As followers of Jesus, said the late Fr Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, “we can allow our wounds to bring healing to others” because we remain sensitive in those areas. And that sensitivity empowers us with discernment – making us more quickly able to recognise in others the same things we have undergone.
Recently, at a First Friday Adoration Service, the parish priest, Fr Anton D’Souza spoke of a young boy who was afflicted by a number of misfortunes. “Where is the Lord?” he asked Father Anton, through his tears? His family was extremely poor and it was very difficult to make ends meet; his brother was stricken with paralysis, and his father had to look after his four children; when he tried to get a better job, he kept getting turned down because he lacked the educational qualifications. And now, his mother had become gravely ill. “Where am I going to get the money for all this? And where is the Lord?” he cried, the tears now in full flow.
Where does the Parish come in?
What does the Parish do to help alleviate such needs? Apart from arranging for some monetary assistance –unless that is on a long-term basis – such help will have only temporary value. Are there any other measures that can be implemented?
It’s all very well to try and comfort him with the message that God has a divine purpose in allowing His loved ones to suffer – even as He allowed His beloved Son to go through the pain and torture of Calvary. In his dire circumstances, he is looking for more than just words of consolation – no matter how meaningful.
Two decades have gone by since the establishment of the Diocesan Human Life Committee (DHLC). The event was celebrated with a three-day National Symposium entitled: ‘A Call to Human Freedom and Justice in the Family and Society: Ethical Concerns and Pastoral Approaches’. What added lustre to the symposium was that it was a collaborative effort of several bodies: the DHLC, the CBCI Office for Justice, Peace and Development, the Mumbai Justice and Peace Commission, the CCBI Commission for Doctrine and Theology, FIAMC Bio-Medical Ethics Centre. More than 400 people – bishops, priests, nuns, social workers and those involved in the family and healthcare apostolate, social workers from all over India came together at St Pius X College, Goregaon, from October 21-23 to grapple with vital life issues.
The symposium opened with a galaxy of brilliant speakers. The tone was set by Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi, Chairperson, CCBI Commission for Theology and Doctrine. After the lighting of the lamp, the Keynote Address was delivered by Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur, Chairperson - CBCI Office of Justice, Peace and Development. This was followed by the FIAMC Oration: ‘Promotion and Preservation of Family Life and Values: Inter-religious Perspective’ by Archbishop Felix Machado, Chairperson - CBCI Office for Dialogue and Desk for Ecumenism and Chairperson, CCBI Commission for Ecumenism. A powerful message on ‘Human Trafficking, a Major Threat to Justice and Peace’ was delivered by Sanjay Macwan, Regional Director, North India, International Justice Mission (IJM). He made us aware of the awful horrors of Human Trafficking.
There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear, and that they can grow up in peace.” – Kofi Annan
A few months ago, the Justice and Peace Commission and the Federation of Centres for Community Organisation co-organized a full day training for the staff of the Centres for Community Organisation on the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), passed on November 14, 2012. Even though this special law to protect children from offences of sexual assault/ harassment and pornography has come nto force, it remains unknown to most, and beyond the knowledge or information of those who need to apply it.
In India, 40 per cent of the population is below the age of 18, and over 53 per cent of children reportedly surveyed in 2007 stated that they had experienced one or more forms of sexual abuse. After having this law in place, there are still repeated rapes of children reported across the nation, public outcry raging on the streets, yet the victimised and abused child suffers in silence. Traumatised, dejected and horrified family members of unfortunate victims find themselves helpless, confused and unable to cope with the heinous crime. As another Children’s Day approaches, and the fourth year since the POCSO Act was passed, it is time for us as members of civil society to learn what this Act is all about, and equip ourselves with skills, so we can become proactive in safeguarding the future of our children.
Until recently, various provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) were used to deal with sexual offences against children, as the law did not make a distinction between an adult and a child. POCSO deals with sexual offences against persons below the age of 18 years. The POCSO defines "penetrative sexual assault," "sexual assault" and "sexual harassment" making the offence an “aggravated sexual assault” if it is committed by a police officer, public servant, staff member of a jail, remand, protection or observation home, staff of a hospital or an educational institution or by a member of the armed or security forces. POCSO provides for relief and rehabilitation, as soon as the complaint is made to the Special Juvenile Police Unit or the local police who are required to make immediate arrangements for care and protection. The intent to commit an offence defined under POCSO is also punishable, besides abetment or aiding the sexual abuse of a child. Special emphasis has been provided for trial in special children's courts with speedy disposal and special procedures to avoid the child not seeing the accused at the time of testifying. Under POCSO, any person who becomes aware of the crime like a parent, teacher or counsellor is mandated to file an FIR, failing which the person can be imprisoned for six months or fined, or both.
Five thousand tribal migrants from Jharkhand, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh came together from different pockets of Mumbai, where they work, to celebrate their faith and the joy of being together as a community. Colourfully dressed, they made their way to the grounds of St Peter Church, Bandra, to join in the celebration of the Eucharist by His Eminence Telesphore Cardinal Toppo and concelebrated by His Eminence Oswald Cardinal Gracias. The Eucharist (celebrated in Hindi and a splash of the Munda dialect) commenced with a group of dancers, accompanied by the beat of drums, leading the procession to the Altar. The joy of the community was palpable, evident from their vibrant responses and spontaneous greetings of “Jai Yesu”. At the time of the Liturgy of the Word, the Bible was brought to the altar in solemn procession, received by his Eminence, Cardinal Toppo and placed on the lectern, venerated and garlanded.
Cardinal Toppo, during his homily, reminded the community of the works of the pioneers who built the Chotanagpur Mission. In particular, he reminded the community of Fr Constant Lievens SJ, who was the one truly responsible for the growth of the Mission. Cardinal Toppo spoke about how Constant Lievens, as a young diocesan seminarian, was inspired to work in the missions and joined the Society of Jesus as a way to serve the people of India. As a young priest, Fr Lievens settled in a hut at Torpa, a large village 60 km south of Ranchi in November 1885. At that time, there were about 59 Catholics, mainly from the army. One day, a local policeman’s wife fell ill, and he approached Fr Lievens. Through medication, and definitely through Fr Lieven’s prayers, the wife recovered. The policeman, wanting to help, told Fr Lievens that if he desired to work with this tribal community, it was important that he fight for their rights.
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