CHALLENGES TO OUR FORMATORS :
A PERSPECTIVE FROM
- Fr. Cedric Prakash sj. *
I feel very honoured and privileged to be invited to address this august gathering of
Professors from Major Seminaries in India deliberating on the theme “Christian Patriotism : Formation for Witness” at this National Seminar organized by the International Association for Christian Social Teaching (IRCOM) in collaboration with the Department of Philosophy, Loyola, Chennai, Arul Kadal (the Jesuit Theologate), Chennai and Department of Christian Studies, University of Madras. In particular, my thanks to Prof. Dr. G. F. Xavier Raj, the Co-ordinator of the Seminar.
It is not always that someone as “unqualified” as me is invited to address intellectual giants who have specialized in areas of Philosophy and Theology and who are responsible for the formation of future generations of Priests, Religious and others who attempt to deepen and broaden their knowledge on these two branches, so essential to spirituality.
In the light of the theme of this National
Seminar, I would like to share with you my views on some of the challenges
which should necessarily confront a Formator in the
In order to contextualize this presentation I need to briefly highlight the reality which has been existing in Gujarat for the last five years or so…..
The 27th of February 2002 and the days that followed will definitely go down in history as a period not merely of utter chaos and violence but of reprehensible acts which could put any civil society to shame. One need not go into the details and the goryness of the carnage which saw the brutal murder of more than 2000 Muslims, the disappearance of and / or the migration of several thousands, the injuries to hundreds of thousands , the brutal rapes of several women and arson / loot and the destruction of homes and property of the Muslims.
Earlier, in 1998 / 99, Christians and Christian institutions were the targets : Churches were burnt and / or destroyed; Bibles were burnt and even a dead body was exhumed from a grave. Some Christians were beaten up and Christians from all over the State were terrorized and intimidated. Whilst the attack on the Christians is nowhere in comparison to the one on the Muslims; the fact remains that minorities in Gujarat very specially the Muslims and Christians continue, even today to be at the receiving end of those extremists who swear by Hindutva : an ideology which is both fundamentalist and fascist.
When one talks of the
delved briefly in the context I would like to illustrate it with more vivid
dimensions in order to emphasize the extent to which things have permeated in
yesterday (January 11th), there is almost a week of celebration in
needs to make a careful analysis of the textbooks in
Census on Muslims and Christians :
In February 1999, the Government of Gujarat conducted a census on the Muslim and Christian communities of the State. The census included such hideous questins like “which are the foreign countries supporting them” “what are the arms and ammunitions they possess” etc. Justice Calla of the Gujarat High Court in a suo motu judgment regarded this census as “unconstitutional and discriminatory” but referred it as a PIL to a Full Bench. Before the final judgment could be delivered, the Gujarat Government announced that the census was withdrawn and that they had not authorized it….but the damage was done. In March 2002, in the wake of the onslaught on the Muslims and their establishments, it was clear that a lot of the information that was collected earlier was used viciously against them. For example, even if there was a Muslim partner in an establishment run mainly by others of the majority community - that Muslim part was targeted and destroyed. Besides, hotels with such innocuous names like “Tulsi”, were singled out and razed to the ground because of their Muslim ownership. The census and the questioning of Christian and Muslim institutions have still not stopped. Recently they wanted to know whether we are employing any ex-military personnel in our institutions.
false and malafide information through Patrikas (pamphlets) has been a strong
point of the Hindutva elements. These Patrikas are carefully designed, very
selective in what they want to project, and with a language which is very
vitriolic. The are usually in Gujarati and / or Hindi and easily find their
way in large numbers to the slums and to the villages. There is a very
effective distribution network usually consisting of street urchins or
unemployed youth. Even a couple of days ago, several of the new pamphlets were
brought to my attention. As in the last few years, just before Christmas,
these Patrikas do their rounds in several areas of
Freedom of Religion Act :
On 26th March 2003, the Gujarat Government unanimously passed the Freedom of Religion Act. This Act is absolutely draconian in nature and goes against the Constitutional freedoms guaranteed under Article 25. of the Constitutions. The noteworthy point of this law is that one needs to take “the permission” from the civil authority before one changes one’s religion ; besides contravening this law would mean imprisonment / fine for the violator and it is doubled if one happens to be a tribal, a dalit or a woman. The irony is that, even today, almost two years after its promulgation, “the rules” necessary for the implementation of this law are not in place, so petty officials obviously use this as a Democles’ sword, like it was done to a group of dalits who wanted to embrace Buddhism recently.
Visits and enquiries from officials :
Then there are the official visitations which come from the Charity Commissioner, the Registrar of Society, the Income Tax, the FCRA Department, the Police…..yes, all routine and all seemingly innocuous but the undertones are clear. The insinuations are not subtle. The modus operandi is to attack where one is vulnerable and only on “official matters”. So, several of the Muslim and Christian institutions are subject to these visitations and well, can one complain about it or question as to why only the minority institutions are singled out ?
Indiscriminate use of POTA :
recently, the Central Government repealed the form of POTA (The Prevention of
Terrorism Act) which was introduced by the previous Government. However, many
of us are still not satisfied with this because we have been demanding “repeal
of POTA with retrospective effect, and cancellation of all POTA charges in
CHRISTIAN PATRIOTISM : FORMATION FOR WITNESS :
At this juncture, I would briefly like to touch upon the theme of this National Seminar. True, there are several presentations over these next three days that will provide meaningful interpretation and insights to the theme. But I cannot resist from saying that that “Patriotism” is not about “flag-waving” and “sloganeering “ but basically a genuine attempt to be authentic and loyal to the values and directives enshrined in the Constitution of a Country. For me, the secular character of the Indian Constitution and the principles of liberty, quality and fraternity enshrined in them are critical in defining this authenticity and loyalty. Bearing witness as a Christian citizen, is the ability of one, to ensure the safeguarding of these principles and to ensure that they are realized in the everyday life of every single citizen specially if they are poor, marginalized or belonging to the subalterns of society.
No, I am not attempting any definition of any of the concepts which make up the theme of this Seminar. I have just tried in a rather simplistic way, to accentuate on necessary elements of the theme, which in a way, will reemphasize what I will now be saying.
said earlier, those of you who have gathered here are in a position of
eminence. You are responsible for the formation of so many young men and
women. Most of them will ultimately play important roles in the service of the
Church and of the country. It would be presumptuous on my part to think that
you are not aware either of the situation that exists in
THE CHALLENGES :
The vastness and the diversity which characterize the Indian sub-continent that necessitate challenges are many :
§ A Spirituality that is Incarnational :
have just concluded a National Seminar in
definitely poses a very serious challenge to those responsible for formation.
An Incarnational Spirituality presupposes an attitude which is open to the
workings of the Spirit an intellect which is able to grasp and interpret the
“Signs of the times “ and an unflagging commitment to act in an appropriate and
effective manner. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether the
formation provided by us is motivational enough ‘’to pitch ones tent amidst
the people of God”. It calls for great discernment which could even
demand a radical transformation of structures from the concrete monoliths that
symbolize our Houses of Formation to tarpaulin tents which definitely are
symbolic of vulnerability yet theologically deep enough to characterize the
reality of the “pilgrim people” journeying towards the establishing of “
§ A Formation that is Contextual :
In several ways, this challenge overlaps with the previous one. But I would like to make a distinction in saying that while the previous challenge is foundational, when I speak about context, it is essentially about “A way of Proceeding”.
In the National Seminar I just referred to, Fr. T K John sj. of Vidya Jyoti presented a rather elaborate paper entitled “Formation in Context”. In setting the tone of this challenge, I would like to quote him verbatim “ Since only regulations of a general nature can be made, owing to the wide diversity of peoples and countries, each nation or rite should have its own Programme for priestly Training. This should be drawn up by the Episcopal conference and should be revised at regular intervals and approved by the Holy See. In every such programme the general regulations will be adapted to the circumstances of time and space, so that priestly training will always answer the pastoral requirements of the particular area in which the ministry is to be exercised” (Optatam Totius, No. 1).
The text advocates contextual formation. The hidden and operative question, which is answered, is whether formation in the Catholic Church, by its very nature global universal and quite centralized, should have uniform training or whether it could have varied kinds of formation ? If it could have variety in formation, how far and in what areas can there be uniformity and in which areas one could have variation and diversity. The text boldly asks for formation according o the exigencies of the actual pastoral situations that are varied and diverse. In fact what is implied in this text is the very principle and method implied in the mystery of the Incarnation. The event and process of the incarnation provides us with the essentials of a formation programme both in content and the method. ”
back to the Gujarat window where one would find every strain for
contextualization I sincerely think that not enough is being done sufficiently
to contextualize formation in
§ An Intellectual Depth that is Critical :
We have to be humble enough to accept that our Seminaries and other institutions are symbols of power. Unfortunately, most of this power is in the material and perhaps in that of the personnel. While I have already spoken about the spirituality dimensions, I would like to emphasize here, the tremendous lacunae that exists in producing giants of intellectual caliber and substance.
The structure of a Seminary is geared towards learning. We have ample space, the necessary environment, huge and well stocked libraries. But one needs to look at the output and see whether the corresponding amount is being generated.
One has to admit that there is a paucity of intellectual intervention both in the Spiritual and the Secular dimensions. Solid research has become the responsibility only of a few while the necessary intellectual stimuli to wider society hardly exists .
I have referred earlier to the Patrikas being dished out by the Sangh Parivar. I really do not propagate that we have to become “reactionaries” by trying to react to all the malicious and false propaganda that is being dished out very consistently by them. Though what they produce is absolutely rabid, I really do not think that we should be naïve and to think that their centers of research do not have the depth and gumption to study our works and our actions thoroughly. But their cleverness makes them selective and in fact, I make bold to say that they are several years ahead of us. Their research centers have all our documents, well studied and researched. A classic case is the way Arun Shourie was invited to one of our CBCI meetings, some years ago, and was able to turn and twist several of the statements in the book he spawned entitled “Harvesting our Souls”.
The question we need to raise here is whether our houses of formation have the capacity to become “Vibrant think-tanks” ? Whether the newspapers we receive every day become the basis for our documentation centers ? Whether our reading of newspapers and magazines is relegated to the superficial and the cosmetic ?……I have noticed sometimes and told rather often how several of “ours” can waste precious time glued before the TV either watching a cricket match or some substandard film. Formators are sometimes afraid to take up the challenge headlong and demand a certain amount of intellectual discipline from those who are entrusted to their care. This we know will never arrive if we are dissipated and lackadaisical in our approach.
is high time we realize that we need to set the agenda based on the secular
fabric of our country. We have to provide that intellectual stimuli which the
§ A Stand That is Courageous :
Our formation tends to be very insular. If the surroundings around us are on fire, we have no problems of continuing our studies of Sacred Scripture. When Gujarat was burning, our Major Houses of Formation did not think it fit enough to stop their classes and insist that the students respond to the reality around them (in sharp contrast was the time when I studied in Vidya Jyoti in 1984….in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the slaughter of innocent Sikhs, we literally stopped – learning Theology for almost a month - so that we could live Theology in the brokenness and the pain of the city of Delhi).
For too long, as Christians, we have adopted the easy way out : either not getting involved or saying “we need to turn the other cheek”. The issue at stake is not our own personal survival but that of larger society very specially the marginalized and the vulnerable. We need to stand up, be counted and speak out fearlessly for truth and for justice, always championing the cause of those who have been weighed down by oppressive structures. We need to join other movements in order to make our voice doubly heard.
Our Houses of Formation should therefore become vulnerable enough to be able to speak out against the injustices and other evils of society, to have that prophetic mission which will denounce the evil in society in order to announce all that is good; they have to become places of HOPE where those who are victimized and brutalized can find a safe and secure haven. It might involve allowing our fortified structures to even crumble. I don’t think we will have too many counter arguments to this if we have totally understood the person and message of Jesus Christ and all that he has stood for. The social teaching of the Church has constantly stressed on this dimension.
We forget that we have to be the light, the salt, the leaven of this earth – need we say more ?
four challenges which I have set before you today are nothing new. I have tried
to reiterate them with my own background from
document on Ecclesisa in Asia (21 – 22) boldly states : “Seminary
social justice. It should promote inculturation in areas of theological and philosophical reflection, liturgy, catechesis spirituality and lifestyle in order to provide an Indian countenance to Jesus.”. The moot question we need to ask ourselves at this Seminar : Are we prepared to translate these lofty words into concrete action ? Will we have the conviction and the courage to open the dusty tomes and transform our Houses of Formation into that light, salt and leaven which I referred to, a little while ago… ?
People often smile when they listen to me harping on the words of Rabindranath Tagore over and over again….. but I am convinced in the context of this National Seminar, his prayer has a lot of relevance. I would like you to join me in praying this prayer for ourselves, for our Church and for our country :
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,
Where knowledge is free,
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls,
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection,
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sands of dead habit,
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever widening thought and action,
Each one of us awake ,
My Church awake ,
Thank you very much !
This paper was presented at the National Seminar for Professors from Major Seminaries in India held at Sacred Heart Seminary, Chennai from 12 – 14th January 2005, on the theme “Christian Patriotism : Formation for Witness”.
Cedric Prakash S.J. is the Director of PRASHANT, the Jesuit Centre of
Human Rights, Justice and Peace in the State of
‘ PRASHANT ’
Post Box 4050
Ahmedabad 380 009
Tel: 079 27449744 / 27455913
Fax: 079 27489018