Nepal Exposed

NEPAL EXPOSED
Fr. Varghese Paul, S.J.

“In the midst of recurrent strikes, shutdowns, sit-ins and blockades, stopping traffic during rush hour has almost become a Nepali idiosyncrasy”. This opening sentence of the editorial of “THE KATHMANDU POST’ dated November 21, 2007 portrays the current situation of not only of the capital city Kathmandu but also of the whole country.

The Kathmandu Post which claims to be the largest selling English daily in Nepal with editions from Kathmandu, Biratnagar and Bharatpur, has been reporting about the socio-economic turmoil and political uncertainties in the country.

In this unpredictable situation the International Catholic Union of the Press (U.C.I.P.) held a Refresher Programme at Kathmandu. The Secretary General of UCIP who participated in the programme agrees with me that it was very daring of Mr. Chirendra Satyal, the local UCIP representative to organize the Refresher Programme in Nepal.

“I always leave something for God to take care of”, said Mr. Chirendra in evaluating the successful programme held at John Vianney Pastoral Centre at Godavari Valley from November 14 to 20, 2007. With board and lodging in the Pastoral Centre and the meeting in the Ishalaya Parish hall in the same compound we had an ideal venue for the UCIP programme.

The John Vianney complex also includes HIV/AIDS hospice, a convent of SABS Sisters and retired priests residence. The nearby 9,000 meters high Pulchowki Mountains surrounded the complex on three sides and far away on the west we could see the snow-covered Himalayan Mountains like Kanjanjanga and other Peaks. They offer an incomparable scenic beauty of nature. The venue about 4,000 meters feet high and the surroundings gave us a fair idea of Nepal’s unique geographical position and altitudinal variations.

We had five marathon sessions on the first day exposing Nepal from socio-political and religio-cultural as well as ethnical situations in the country.

The first speaker was Bishop Anthony Francis Sharma, the first Catholic Bishop of Nepal. Bishop Sharma gave us a historical perspective of the Catholic Church in Nepal. He divided the Nepalese Church history into four periods beginning from 1715 when the first Italian Capuchins came to stay and work in Nepal. Earlier a Portuguese Jesuit Fr. Juan Cabral passed through Kathmandu in 1628 on his way from Shigatse to Hugli in India. Then a Belgain and an Austrian Jesuits visited Kathmandu from the Chinese Observatory in Peking on their way to Agra, the headquarters of the Tibet–Hindustan Mission in India.

The Capuchins first settled in the Kingdom of Kathmandu from January 1715 and then extended their services to the Kingdom of Bhaktapur and Patan in the Kathmandu Valley.

Then, for a period of 140 years there was no presence of the Catholic Church in Nepal. The Jesuit presence in Nepal began with Fr. Marshal Moran, the then principal of St. Xavier’s High School, Patna coming to Nepal in 1949. He was sent by Patna University to supervise the annual examinations at the Trichandra College affiliated to Patna University. Fr. Moran returned to Kathmandu to start St. Xavier’s School at Godavari with two other Jesuits in 1950. Fr. Moran started the second Jesuit school, St. Xavier’s High School at Jawalakhel, Kathmandu in 1954. Then came IBMV Sisters from Patna and opened St. Mary’s School to educate Nepali girls.

The present period began in 1984 when Government of Nepal requested the Vatican for diplomatic relationship. The Vatican then established a new ecclesiastical unit of Nepal and appointed Fr. Anthony Sharma as the first Ecclesiastical Superior. Then, Archbishop Cacchiavillian presented his credentials to the King as the first Pro Nuncio of Nepal in 1985.

With Fr. Sharma at the head, the Catholic Church began to spread to other parts of Nepal and saw a steady growth. In 1997 The Catholic Church became a Prefecture Apostolic and Fr. Sharma became the first Prefect Apostolic. Then, in 2007 the Nepalese Catholic Church was raised to the status of a Vicariate and Msgr Sharma, as the first Vicar, was ordained a bishop on May 5, 2007.

Today there are 8000 Catholics in the Church and the total Christian population is estimated to be 1 million among a population of 25.5 million. The Church runs 1 college, 3 intermediate colleges, 12 high schools and 8 primary schools. About 65 priests and 137 religious sisters serve the Church in Nepal.

In April 2006 after prolonged protest, the reinstated parliament made a historical proclamation on May 18 declaring it “the supreme authority and the country a secular state”. The declaration of Nepal as a secular state gave wings to the Catholic Church to grow.

In the second session a Jesuit scholar Fr. John Locke gave us a political and cultural history of Nepal from 1740. Nepal had many small kingdoms and ethnic groups which have had their own languages and culture. The ‘present’ caste system was incorporated in 1860 with Brahmin at the top and the dalits at the bottom. In 1961 Nepal became officially a Hindu state. But people in hills began to protest that they are not Hindus. The country was always controlled by Khas, Brahmin and Rajputs who formed only 25% of the population. Concentrating the development of Kathmandu valley and neglecting the rest of the country have led to Maoist insurrection. The monarchy, the symbol of unity, was destroyed by the royal massacre of 2003(?).

In the afternoon session the President of Caritas Asia based at Nepal, Mr Josh Niraula shared the information and services of Caritas Asia in general and Caritas South Asia in particular. Caritas international is spread in 200 countries and Caritas Confederation in Asia is divided into 7 regions. Caritas which began in Germany in 1897 is the oldest NGO in the world after Red Cross. Caritas is the largest non-governmental organization in the world. “The talking point of Caritas is the prayer of Archbishop Romero,” Mr. Niraula said.

Mrs. Rupa Rai of Caritas Women Development Desk, who has been working with Caritas Nepal from 1992, gave an overview of the situation of women in Nepal who are 51% of the population. She said that the 90% of women live in rural areas and 70% of them in absolute poverty. Though they are only 39% literate, they earn 50% household income. Caritas Nepal is engaged in awareness and human development programmes in all the 75 districts of Nepal. “Don’t sell my dignity” is the motto fighting against human trafficking and exploitation of women and children in Nepal.

The fifth and last speaker of the day was a Protestant Pastor, Dr. K. B. Rokaya. Mr. Rokaya is also a Human Rights activist and was a spoke-person on behalf of Maoists with the Nepalese government.

Mr. Rokaya said that the spread of Christianity is unique in Nepal. After the 1990 Constitution, many people who have served in the British and Indian Army and have come into contact with Christianity embraced the religion, as prohibition of conversion was no more effective in Nepal. Mr. Rokaya opined that the dehumanizing and oppressive caste system of Nepalese society attracted many people to Christianity.

On the second day the Founder of South Asian publication called “Himal” and journalist, Mr.Kanak Dixit gave us a fair idea of the media situation in Nepal in the context of South Asia. Unlike some South Asian countries one language – Nepalese – dominates the media in Nepal. “As a journalist I wear two caps – a Nepalese cap and a South Asian cap,” Mr Dixit said.

“With 138 years’ history Nepal is the oldest country in the South Asia. We have never been colonized,” Mr. Dixit said.

Mr. Dixit advocated borderless nation states. “Respect nation states but also the community of the South Asian people,” he said. “Nepal has the largest mountainous tribal people in the world”, Mr. Dixit claimed. In terms of numbers no ethnic group dominated Nepal as the largest ethnic group forms only 17% of the Nepalese population.

Another speaker of the day was a Dalit leader Mr.Suvash Darnal who spoke in Nepalese and his assistant translated his speech for us. He gave us a very good idea of 40 lakh Dalit (tribal) population in Nepal; which he claimed the most neglected and discriminated lot in the country. “Even the educated Dalits are discriminated! Even though there is equality of people in Buddhist religion, dalits are discriminated in that religion too,” he said.

He regretted that the dalits are also neglected by the media. His dalit andolan movement has started a dalit Nepalese magazine to create awareness and highlight dalit issues. The dalit people have also set up Jagaran Media and Audio Visual Centre at Buddhanagar, Kathmandu and the first community FM Radio Station at Butwal, Nepal.

We were able to visit both the Centre and the community radio station as part of our exposure programme. Indeed, the Jagaran Media Center’s initiatives to create awareness of caste based discriminations and the severity of its consequences are commendable.

The last conference of the UCIP Programme was given by Dr. Pratyoush Onta, the Chairman of MARTIN CHAUTARI Research Centre. Mr. Onta, a journalist and author of many books, gave us a comprehensive idea of the Nepalese mass media today in a historical perspectives.

In the past Nepal had the king-led monarchy with partyless panchayat system up to 1990. But the first Janadolan brought in a new Constitution with political parties and election. Today the state does not have monopoly in the media. With the new constitution Nepal has seen a steady growth of newspapers and other periodicals. Today private radio stations are on the air covering 65 of 75 districts in the country. Still the state owned Nepal Radio continues to dominate. Television was started only in 1985 and its growth is slow as electricity reaches only 40% of the population. Then, there are no motorable roads connecting all 75 districts with Kathmandu!

Mr. Onta said that Kathmandu dominates everything in every way in the whole country! The media and news production are no exception. According to Mr. Onta, Janajati or tribals form 40% of Nepalese population and yet the media has not addressed the problem of social inclusion.

Nepal especially the Kathmandu Valley has many UNESCO Cultural world heritage sites and the delegates visited a few of them like Pashupatinath Temple, the 55 windows Durbar (palace) and Durbar square at Bhaktapur, Changunarayan Temple and Patan Durbar Square, etc.

By far the most exciting item of the UCIP Refresher Programme to this writer was our visit of Lumbini, 300 Kms away from Kathmandu by road. The memorable visit to the birthplace of Lord Buddha itself is the subject of another article. It is a pity that of the 40 plus delegated registered for the UCIP Refresher Programme only 20 delegates could attend it. I wish many more could have profited from it.

A Life Worth Living

A LIFE WORTH LIVING
Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ

“To get such a beautiful death and solemn burial like that of your grand father, you need to lead a life like the one of your grand father”, said my brother Vincent to his teen-aged son Sanu.

My mother and all her nine sons and daughters have been sitting around the dining table after supper. We were reminiscing after the solemn burial of our dad. We had gathered together first time after rushing to father’s death-bed from different parts of India. We recalled many memorable events and occasions of our dady’s life. My nephew was deeply impressed by our conversation about dad. Then, my brother Vincent said to his son: “To get such a beautiful death and solemn burial like that of your grand father, you need to lead a life like the one of your grandfather.”

After being bed-ridden for six months with long sickness my father died a very peaceful death on 28 September 1999. He was buried after 5 days on October 2 as we waited for my sister Celine to come from Eritrea in Africa. More than two thousand relatives, friends and neighbours joined in the funeral procession on the two-kilometer long way from home to the parish church. The procession, Holy Mass and funeral rites took about 4 hours.

In those days during the proceeding and following weeks there were daily heavy rains in the afternoon and my brothers arranged ambulance and buses for the funeral. But it was nothing short of a miracle that on the day of the funeral there was no rain except a short light shower during the Holy Mass as a sign of the showers of blessings from above. So my father’s relatives, friends, neighbours and others could carry the body in a procession in the traditional way in bright sunlight singing prayer songs and reciting the rosary prayer.

My father’s death too was ideal for all people. In the evening father omitted a little blood. My brother Vincent called a doctor immediately. He was also given the sacrament of sick. At the time of his death my married sister and my three married brothers were at my father’s bedside with their whole families. The doctor called the attention of all towards the ever-weakening heartbeat. As my father had expressed his desire, he died very peacefully in the presence of my mother without whom he could not think of living. He wanted to go before my mother and he did.

My father was an ordinary farmer of middle-income group. He was a just man in every way. In his time he studied up to seventh standard and then joined my grand father in farming.

My grand father sold his inherited property at Vazhakulam and then bought the present land property including paddy fields at Enanalloor. I have heard my father saying that when my grand father bought the property the neighbours has said, “Let us make and save money. The new neighbour Mr. Varkey has six daughters. He will sell his land in pieces to marry away his daughters and give them dowry.”

But thanks to the hard work of my grand father and his whole family my grand father never sold any land. On the contrary my grand father and my father worked hard and made enough money to buy three plots of land from the neighbours and educated one uncle and two aunties to become school teachers and principals.

In his youth my dad had even hired farmland and cultivated it to make additional income. After working the whole day in such land, a little away from the house on the way back home he used to drink toddy with the labourers. Then, one day he said to himself: if I make dinking a habit then my wife and children may become without any support. So he stopped completely taking toddy or any other intoxicating drinks.

Like an ordinary farmer my father was a hard working man. He had farmland within the limit according to land-law of Kerala. When the new land reform law came into force he did legally transferred a little extra land to his college-going son, Thomas. He was fully occupied all year around with the cultivation of rice, ginger, saffron, coconut, betel nut, rubber, pepper, oil grass and also a variety of vegetables and plantains for the consumption of the family and farm-labourers. He has often employed a number labourers with him for the seasonal works in the farmland.

Sometimes we had 30-35 labourers in the rice field for planting or harvesting rice. He got the works done from the labourers by working along with them like one of them doing as much or more works than a labourers. He also kept very good relationship with the labourers and their families. Some times the farmer-friends of my father complained that it is difficult to get labourers to work in their fields. But my father got as many labourers as he needed as he kept excellent relationship with each one of them. My parent’s commitment to our labourers was well known. So the labourers always came to my parents whenever they needed some urgent help.

Love for his family was a unique virtue of my father. My father and mother loved each other so much that in their 69 years of married life, we children had never seen them quarrelling! My father is at home if he is not in the farmland. On Sundays he used to visit his farmer-friends in their houses in the neighbourhood; or one or other neighbour used to drop in to the house in the evening. They talked about farming, marketing of farm-products,
social issues, labourers etc. while sharing tea and snacks at home. Father was always home for family prayer and supper with the whole family.

Both my father and mother used to chew betel-leaf, betel-nut and tobacco every day after supper. Then, my father and mother talked long about family, relatives and farm matters while chewing tobacco. My parents discussed every matter concerning them during these times together and decided together on everything.

Like at home my father kept very a good relationship with the relatives and neighbours and kept himself up to date with every thing especially about farm matters. He was ahead of other neighbours in some matters. My father was the first to plant rubber in our neighbourhood. Today most of Kerala is covered with rubber plantation. Way back in 1964 my father built three toilets and bathrooms in a row attached to my house as he had seen in public institutions like priests residence and convents. The toilets were something of wonder for neighbours. Till the toilets were built we used to go and sit behind buses with stick to drive away pigs, which cleaned our toilets as soon as we moved away.

Our parents gave us education and formed our characters mostly with their own personal examples. My parents had deep faith and trust in God and their lives were in tune with their faith. They never failed to attend Sunday liturgical services in the Church. Like all practicing Catholic Christians they never missed the Sunday Holy Mass. Then we had daily family prayers late in the evening in which all including children participated fully. If my father had gone out for some reason or another, he made sure that he is back in time for family prayer followed by supper. He insisted that we too are back at home for family rosary and supper.

During his final years he was not able to work in the field with the farm labourers. Then, he made it a practice to go to church every day morning and participate in the Holy Mass.

My father had achieved many things in life. With his hard work he bought three times the amount of land which he got by inheritance from his father. God has blessed him and our whole family abundantly. My father had only one way to acquire wealth: hard work. He was extremely grateful to God for his achievements and he generously gave alms to the needy and the poor.

Once giving thanks to God for his abundant blessings my father said to my younger brother Vincent that he never thought that one day he would ride in an Ambassador car.

The famous English writer Barnard Shaw said about life that, creating one’s life is a long, laborious and painful process. Life from birth to death is indeed a long process. If you are able to built up a world of your own, different from others, only then your life is considered a success. But it is easy to appropriate the life which someone else has created. These words of Barnard Shaw are proved true by my father’s just and successful life.

A year before his death he had an attack of thrombosis, that is, bursting of nerve on his head and he was unconscious for five days. But my father returned from the mouth of death, as he was accustomed to fight his way in life. He was recovered enough to move around in the house and in the courtyard on his own for about six months.Then with the paralysis of his right side he became bed ridden.

During the last six months of his life my father was fully bed-ridden. He was helpless to do anything on his own. Yet he had no complaint and was happy in lying on his bed. It was a great blessing to my whole family that my sister-in-law Aice left nothing to be desired in nursing my father. My aged mother was at his bedside 24 hours a day. In sickness as in life my father led a very dignified life as an example for all his children. Once when I was with him when he was paralyzed and bed ridden, he told me half jokingly and half seriously, “I have even learnt to pass urine and shit lying on my bed.”

Indeed my father’s life was so inspiring and exemplary that my brother could truly say to his son, “To get such a beautiful death and solemn burial like that of your grand father, you need to lead a life like the one of your grand father.”

Who is the number one enemy of women?

WHO IS THE NUMBER ONE ENEMY OF WOMEN?
Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ

I have no doubt about who is the number one enemy of women. I have known it form my childhood. I remember an incident when I must have been just eight years old. Then about one thousand meters away from my grandfather’s house, my father, mother and five children staying in a newly constructed house in the midst of our farm land. It was the season of heavy monsoon.

One day late in the evening after finishing the works in the field my father went to meet his friend staying less than a kilometer from our house. Some times his friend came to our house and sometimes my father went to his house. That was the custom. That day it began to rain cats and dogs. Heavy rain is in order during the monsoon season in Kerala. But that day the rain was exceptionally heavy with thundering and lightening with no end.

Usually my father comes back after spending an hour or so in his friend’s house. When his friend comes home they speak about their works in the field and about the market as well as about their workers in the field. But my father always returned home in time for the family rosary and supper. But that day the rain continued to pour. Thunder and lightening made the atmosphere very frightful. To make the matters worse our dog tied in the varanda was barking non-stop.

After waiting for sometime my mother and we children said the family prayers including the rosary. The thundering and lightening seemed to become more terrifying. My mother went and checked and made double sure that all doors and
windows are locked from inside. When mother got tired of waiting she served us supper. My three young brothers were put to sleep after the meal. But my mother did not allow my elder sister of 11 years and me to go to sleep, as she was afraid to be left alone.

Why is that Appachan has not come? He never comes so late! What must have happened to him? My mother’s worry and fear seemed to increase by every passing minutes. Did some tall trees get fire by lightening? Why is that the dog is barking so fiercely? Are there some thieves outside the house? My mother was at the end of her wits with fear and worry.

The night was very dark. Mother lit lamps in all the rooms of the house. All the doors and windows of the house were closed tightly. Yet the light of lightening flashed inside the house through grill of the wintilators. After about three hours the rain subsided and my father returned to the house. Only then my mother was at peace and mother allowed my sister and me to go bed and prepared out bed spreading the mat on the floor.

That day I experienced how frightened my mother was. If one thinks intellectually there was absolutely no reason to be afraid. The house was new and strongly builded that no thief could enter it easily. And if any stranger dares to come close to the house there was a tamed but ferocious dog to attack. If anyone tries to enter through the window or door there were big kitchen knives to attack the intruder in self-defense.

If fact, mother told us the incident when a thief came close to the house looking for a way to get into a house, where a mother and her daughter were alone, the mother through the window threw a heavy sharp knife and wounded the thief. He pleaded with the woman for some clothes to bandage the wounds and stop the flow of blood. The woman pointed a gun at him and shouted that she would kill him if he does not run away from there. The thief had to go away from there for his life.

That night I could not but feel sleepy. But mother managed me some how to keep awake with her. That day I understood that the biggest enemy of a woman is her fear. I also learnt recently the same thing of women’s fear from a high official of the Indian Public Service.

Addressing the first national meeting of young women of All India Catholic University Federation (AICUF) at St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad Miss Radhika Duraiswami, IPS said, “The life-journey for women is specially painful. I speak specially about women, because we women have to face many obstacles and difficulties from our birth. If those obstructive difficulties are not taken away from childhood, they make us handicapped.

“What are those obstructive difficulties? It is fear. The fear to be alone is slowly put into our minds. Fear is shown to us in living alone or without any life-partner. To hide this fear we begin to think and act in a certain way.

“We prefer to live under someone. We become humble and submissive. We become obedient.We try to make others happy. We smile in our effort to be pleasant. In other words we put on a mask. As time passes, the mask becomes part and parcel of our being. Not only that, we are afraid that if we try to put aside our masks, we will suffer its consequences. We will be thrown out of the door of Paradise of happiness and peace

“But the truth is, we will be living incomplete lives as long as we do not become true to ourselves. And as long as we lead an incomplete life we never enter the Paradise. On the other hand, it is also frightening to speak with courage, without fear and live true to ourselves on the path of morality and justice. There is pain also in a life free from fear. The journey is difficult. The consciousness of the difficulties creates conflict situation.”

After speaking about such painful and fearful mentality of women in Indian Society Radhika Duraiswami continued, “The wonderful freedom and the very different ways of thinking and acting make the human beings distinguish from the animals. But most women throw away their gift of freedom and under pressure from the society live an ordinary rut of lives.”

Ms Radhika Duraiswami at the end of her short but thought-provoking and enlightening speech said that many women approve and accept this situation and give up the opportunity to develop themselves. Instead of this traditional life, if a woman wishes, she can make a life worthy of her dignity.

In practical terms Ms Duraiswami has given three advices to women. First, study well and find a job that you become financial independent and become free from the fear of lack of economic support; second, cultivate a relationship of equality in thought and actions with others; and third, through on-going formation develop yourself continuously.

These three advices given by Ms Radhika Duraiswami in the AICUF meeting on December 29, 2004, at St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad apply to all people but specially to young men and women. If a person can study well and earn enough to be financially independent, then such a person need neither be dependent for his/her survival on someone else nor be a slave under someone’s care.

Similarly, the human dignity is cultivated by accepting and treating all people as equals. Human dignity is the source of peace and equality. Finally, the whole world would become a better place to live when everyone takes the path of on-going formation and continually develop oneself leading to the welfare of all people.

Every year on March 8 we celebrate the women’s day with the whole world. In this context the three point of Ms Radhika Duraiswami can help us and especially the women to become free from fear and from the sources of fear. Finally all women need to remind themselves that nobody would give them their just rights but they have to take the initiative to get their rights and rightful place in the society. If there is need, the women should use just force to get their due rights.

The empowerment of women is in women’s own hands. The women should continually fight for the rights and equality in their families, societies and religions. In this fight they need to recognize the demon of fear and conquer it. Conquering the fear will lead a woman to her rightful place of equality and dignity.

Home, An Abode of Peace

HOME, AN ABODE OF PEACE
Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ

Some times back a young mother came to meet me. She complaint that her husband is harassing her and there is no eace in her home. There is no peace of mind. The atmosphere at home is so tense that its effects are felt even at the place of her job. The mind does not get concentrated on anything.

“Father, what shall I do now?” the young mother asked me.

I listened to the woman’s story with keen attention. He has reached at the end of her rope. She even contemplated suicide. I know her husband. The young couple after many years’ of courtship got their marriage finally registered in a civil court. The families of both the young man and the young woman opposed there inter caste marriage. They lived a few years a very happy married life. They have a six year old girl as the proof of their happy married life. But now they ware at the loggerheads.

One big draw back of people is their tendency to forget the good things of their partners. But they always remember and recall the defects and evil things of their partners! We can see this reality in the relationship of husband and wife or in the business partners even among two friends. After quarrels between two close friends everything goes wrong between then. They find fault with anything and everything with their partners.

When the love-relationship is spoilt between husband and wife a wall of differences of opinion comes up. The wall is built by remembered and recollected faults, defects and evils, Hed by the opposite partner at supper computer speed. At the same time the person forgets or consider as insignificant all the good things and the virtues of the other partner.

This situation also brings deep suffering and depression to the person. The book of Lamentations in the Bible brings this state of mind in a telling way. “The thought of my pain my homelessness, is bitter poison; I think of it constantly and my spirit is depressed.” (Lem. 3, 19-20).

These sufferings and bitter memories affect a person like poison in the body and mind. A person is traumatised. S/he feels all roads closed before her/him. There is one, very affect medicine to combat the situation. It is the medicine of love. The awareness of God’s unconditional love for her/him brings a person out of any and every difficult situation. That love is so powerful that by recognizing and accepting that love a person is inspired and is able to love and forgive the opposite partner.

I believe that there is no power in the world like the power of love. The young mother who came to me has experienced that love in the past. The experience of unparallel power of love helped her to go and get married to the young man whom her parents and community did not accept. She had committed her self totally to the man whom she sees now as her bete noire. That young man too once committed him self totally to love and serve the young lady.’

The persons contracting love marriage and forming a family must know that they have the power and the ability to make their family life the havenless Garden of Eden or turn it into a hell. But the family life under holy sacrament of matrimony is not for creating and experience the hell on earth but for creating and living ineffable happiness of heaven or earth.

The young woman who came to see and her husband are now well aware of the destructive forces at work in destroying their blissful happiness and family life. Those forces or the agents of hell are the self pride, egoism, mutual distrust, habit of insulting one’s life-partner, back of love and concern for submitting and serving one another, lack of humility and finally cheating on one another on small things.

I am confident that by becoming aware of these evil forces at work in their lives, the young couple will be able to overcome the enemity they now feel for one another. They need to cultivate consciously thoughts of love and positive thinking. They can certainly become the lovers which they were in the past. With patience and understanding they can overcome their hate red and enemity towards one another. They can once more make their family life happy and successful.

In the history we find many couples that have made their married life very happy and blissful. The story of Winston Churchill is well known. The former Prime Minister of England was leading a quiet retired life. Then, a reporter asked Churchill, “Mr. Churchill, if you are born again on this earth what would you life to become?”

“My great desire in my new birth on earth would be that I become again the husband of my wife,” said Churchill with a smile. For Churchill his family was a heaven on earth. For, he always made consistent efforts to make his family happy and contented. He always behaved with his wife with love and respect. Similarly Churchill’s wife too behaved always with great love and respect for him. So they both shared one-another happiness and suffering, success and failures. They stood by one another in all occasions and in every situation.

Christians know that in the story of the Eden Garden the force of destroying the (family) life of Adam and Eve was their selfish desire the selfish desire to become Gods. Instead of putting their trust in God and live by living one another, they succeed to the great desire of their selfishness. In their desire to become Gods they became the victim of the devil’s temptation and they lost the Garden of Eden!

Most people of today too have lost the Garden of Eden by destroying their happy married family life like the young couple that provoked me to write this article. Still, I am happy to note that there is many happy families even today who makes their family experience the happy bliss of the Garden of Eden. I know a few such couple that makes their family life a heaven on earth.

I recall here the story of Abert Einstein and his wife Milva Merik which I read some where. When the couple were celebrating the golden jubilee of the marriage someone asked Einst.

“Sir, what is the secret of your happy and successful life?”

“When we got married we made a decision. That decision was I would take all major decisions affecting our married life and my wife will take all small and minor decisions. These decisions are the secret of our successful married life,” said Einstein.

Then, after a short pause of silence Einstein added, “during the last fifty years of our happy married life, I never took any major decision and that is the interesting secret of our happy married life.” That is to say, Einstein and his wife made all their decisions of family life with mutual sympathy and understanding.

In our time too happy and successful families like that of Einstein is not rare. But the number of families where mutual trust and understanding exist between husband and wife are on the decrease. Still I am confident that the families like that young couple, will be able to make their family life happy and successful if they make the efforts to build up their family with mutual trust and understanding. That young couple has the capacity to build up a happy and successful family life to the envy of others. That is also the challenge for them.

Finally, an ideal family is an abode of peace for all the members. So everyone especially the husband and wife need to be alert about the forces which comes to interrupt the peace and happiness of a family. If anything happens in a family which might interface with the happiness and peace then the concerned persons with forgiveness and understanding need to dialogue and find solution to the problem. If needed, the persons should be open to seek the help of a third person who is competent to handle the persons and their problems. In a family everyone need to make the efforts to make one’s family a happy and peaceful family.

Inter-Religious Chaplaincy

My friend, Mr. Prakash Mody from Toronto, Canada recently sent me an e-mail letter with many questions about hospital chaplaincy. He requested me to give him a detailed answer to all his queries. “We are working on a project for ‘diversity in chaplaincy’… I am required to provide some information about chaplaincy in general and non-Christian chaplaincy in particular,” Mr.Mody wrote.

I have had a little experience of chaplaincy as a substitute chaplain in a big hospital in New York in 1977. I have also some experience of visiting the prisoners in Sabarmati Central Jail at Ahmedabad. I also participated in the voluntary social services of St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad by visiting the patients in Civil Hospital once a week for four years.

Still I did not feel sufficiently informed to reply to Mr. Mody. So during two weeks time I studied the subject searching in the internet and reading a book about chaplaincy. Then, to my luck, my cousin brother Fr. Mathew Vellankal, the Pastor of Holy Spirit Church at Fremont, California, made an appointment and took me to meet a well known hospital chaplain, Fr. Geff Finley. He also introduced me to another full-time chaplain, Fr. Johnson Abraham.

During my travels after the World Congress of the International Catholic Union of the Press (UCIP) at Sherbrooke in Canada, I was lucky to meet Fr. Lawrence Culas also. He is a visiting chaplain in Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania state.

Recently I also read a book entitled “My Life with Saints” by a Jesuit priest, Fr. James Martin, a former Editor of “America” one of the most quoted monthly magazine in America. The book is not about chaplaincy. But the author has shared his experiences as a chaplain in a prison in one chapter of the book entitled “Full of Grace”. Fr Martin’s narrations give a fair idea of a Christian Chaplain and his services.

Christian chaplains used to be well trained priests who were appointed to render spiritual and psychological services to various military groups, hospitals, nursing homes, counseling centres, mental health institutions, university colleges, etc.

Today the chaplaincy gained new meaning and involves many more services than before. As Fr. Lawrence told me, the chaplains now adapt an holistic approach in their ministry. So they try to know not only the patient’s present and past situation but also they try to get acquainted with their family people and their history.

Here let us mainly speak about the hospital chaplains and their services in which people like my friend Prakash Mody are interested. “The goal of spiritual care is to engage the spiritual dimension of people, their belief, faith, culture, values and religious practices for healing, well-being and growth. Spiritual care services provides to patients, their families and friends, meeting individual needs according to the particular circumstances”, said Fr. Lawrence.

My talk with Fr. Geff Finley was mainly about hospital chaplaincy. He is the Spiritual Care Coordinator of Washington Healthcare System. The hospital has appointed him as a full-time chaplain to the post. Fr. Johnson Abraham is also a full-time chaplain in the same hospital.

But Fr. Abraham is paid not by the hospital but the Deanery or the 5 or 6 parishes of Fremont city where the hospital is situated. For the Catholics in the area wanted a Catholic priest to accompany them in their sickness and death.

The hospital has provided offices spaces to both the chaplains where they can meet patients and counsel them in privacy in the hospital premises. They are also available for patients and those who take care of them for counseling and prayers and also administering sacraments.

In Washington Healthcare Hospital there are also 12 voluntary chaplains including Hindus and Sikhs. On certain days these voluntary chaplains are called to duty by turn. Their voluntary services are also available whenever a patient asks for one or another voluntary chaplain. But in many cases the Hindu and Sikh patients call for Catholic priest chaplains and they are happy that a Catholic priest chaplain prays over them or counsels them.

“Chaplains are available to hospital staff for emotional support, crisis intervention and spiritual and religious counseling on confidential basis”, said Fr. Lawrence.

Now lady chaplains and Muslim chaplains also are appointed as full-time, regular chaplains in some hospitals in USA. But they are required to undergo regular training in chaplaincy and obtain “Certification for Pastoral Education usually called C.P. for being appointed officially as chaplains in hospitals.

But hospitals may exempt Catholic priests from the requirement of undergoing P.C. training as they have long periods of formation in subjects like World Religions, Scriptures of different religions, Counseling and various Spiritualities, etc.

Fr. Finley told me that Washington Healthcare hospital has appointed him as Spiritual care Coordinator of the hospital without the C.P. as he was considered a very experienced and well-qualified person for the post of the hospital chaplain. He also told me that his predecessor was a lady chaplain.

The concept of Chaplaincy is basically Christian. The pastoral care of Christians throughout their life is part and parcel of Christian religion and spirituality. Today other religions like Muslims and Hindu have begun to realize the importance of the pastoral care of their followers. But generally speaking it is not common yet for the Hindus, for instance, to ask for pastoral care while they are sick and are under treatment in a hospital or at home..

On the other hand, the Christians suffering from serious sickness or in critical situation of death ask for pastoral care and Christian sacraments like the Sacrament of the sick. And even if a Christian patient in a critical situation may not ask for pastoral care, their relatives may approach a hospital chaplain or a priest for the pastoral care. In fact, the Christians have a special sacrament called the Sacrament of the Sick,This not the case with other religions.

Spiritual gurus of different religions with appropriate attitude and dispositions and with the required P.C. training can help patients in the hospitals or at homes with spiritual advice and counseling. Most patients faced with death are in need of such pastoral care and often ask for it.

Hospital chaplains can also help the family members through counseling to face serious sickness or death of a near and dear person like for instance, one’s life-partner. They can also assist the patients and the hospital authorities in critical time to make ethical and moral decisions concerning questions of life and death.

Well qualified and experienced chaplains are also called for to assist the hospital authorities as a representative of the hospital in making decisions in moral and spiritual matters. Chaplains are called by their hospital to serve, for instance, as a member of the Ethical Committee of the Hospital.

With Relatives and Friends

WITH RELATIVES AND FRIENDS
Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ

I was going first time to Philadelphia. But I was not worried in any way as my niece Shiji and her husband and my friend Selvan had phoned me at Los Angeles on the previous day that they would be at the airport to receive me. At Los Angeles Airport the machine of United Airlines issued me a boarding pass without a seat number. My first attempt with machine had failed as the machine was offering me a morning flight and a gift of an extra free ticket! Then, I approached a flight attendant and with her help I got a boarding pass without seat number!

I thought that being a night flight there may not be enough passengers to fill the aircraft and hence it must be free seating. But at the gate there were repeated calls for half a dozen volunteers to choose a morning flight and avail a gift of an extra free flight ticket! From a Negro flight attendant at the gate I came to know that the airline had overbooked passengers and they could not accommodate everyone who has come and hence the repeated request for volunteers. Anyway, after about 45 minutes of anxious waiting my name was called out and I was given a boarding pass with a seat number.

There was morning traffic rush of office goers and so it took two hours for Selvan and Shiji to drive me to their home at Devon in Pennsylvania State. Both of them opted to work from their houses during the week while I was with them. They had both the laptops of their company and I had the choice of their two tabletop computers to work. So while enjoying the love, warm hospitality and choice food prepared by Shiji, I was able to write an article on Inter-Religious Chaplaincy.

To my luck Fr. Lawrence Culas, a friend of Selvan came to meet him. As he was introduced to me as a visiting chaplain in Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital at Philadelphia, I told him about the article I was writing. Fr. Lawrence’s ideas and experiences helped me to improve my draft copy of my article.

Though I told Selvan and Shiji that I was not interested in any sight-seeing trips they organized two outing for me. The first was to the Amish village and then to the historic places of Philadelphia.

The Amish village is the place of a Christian sect who tries to live the Christian message without the modern amenities like electricity and motor vehicles, etc. The Amish village is located on Route 896 two miles north of Strasburg. The only vehicle they use is horse drawn cart.

I was happy that Fr. Lawrence Culas joined us in the trip to Amish village. We reached the Amish village just in time to join the last guided tour in the evening of July 27. The tour guide, a lady, gave us a general outline of the history and the daily life of the people in Amish village. Then, she took us around a typical Amish house, built in 1840, room by room explaining the foot habits, dresses and dress codes religious practices and marriage customs, etc.

Then, we visited a one-room schoolhouse at the Amish village. The Amish people study only to read and write up to primary level. They have their own Amish newspaper. They harness solar energy for light. Water pumps are operated by windmills. Water wheels are also used to pump water for animals and farm lands. Their livestock include piglets, goats, horses, donkeys, etc. An important part of Amish life is the tools of trade produced in their own blacksmith shop.

After the guided tour Selvan drove us through several small roads inside the village where we could see people at work, returning from work in horse-carts and a group of people relaxing in front of their house. All Amish houses have large chimneys as smoke outlets.

To me the visit to Amish village gave an idea of people who lived in the 18th and early 19th century. But the buffet dinner that evening in Hershey Farm Restaurant brought me back to 21st century USA. For me there were endless choice of food items and cold drinks in the Restaurant. I like the buffet because I could see the food items and select from them. The dishes were identified with nameplates Cleanliness of the Restaurant was outstanding.

On the next day after working whole day in the room in the evening Selvan drove me and Shiji to Philadelphia. We saw the historic town hall. Then, we visited the Liberty Bell at Market Street. The Bell is a symbol of freedom for all Americans. We were a bit late for the inside tour of the Bell house. But Bell was clearly visible from outside and on the outside wall close to the Bell we could press a button according to the language of our choice and we heard the recorded history of the Bell.

When the declaration of Independence was first read in public the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration. The huge Bell weighed 2080 pounds! The Bell history recalled the biblical verse: “In this way you shall set the fiftieth year apart and proclaim freedom to all the inhabitants of the land. During this year all property that has been sold shall be restored to the original owner or his descendants, and anyone who has been sold as a slave shall return to his family” (Leviticus 25, 10).

Then, we went to the well-developed Bank of Delaware River. There were numerous activities on the river front including live telecast of music and dance programme. Philadelphia city developed on the bank of the river. The first paper mill in America was started here on the river-bank.

Close to the bell house is the first government house with right in front a life-size statue of George Washington, the first President of USA and to date the only president who was elected twice by all electoral votes!

In the morning I had told Selvan and Shiji that I have some money to buy a laptop, which I wanted to buy in India so that repairs and maintenance service would be easily available. Selvan said that there might be cheap laptop available in USA on sale. He offered to look for sale. So on the way back from Philadephia we went to a computer shop ‘CompUSA’ which we found was closed for good.

So on the next day, July 28 after working whole day in the house Selvan drove me and Shiji Compusa at Wilmigton, Delaware to buy a laptop for me as their gift. I choose a Toshiba laptop, which the salesman said, was the last piece in stock for a little less than 800 dollars. The computer comes with free printer but the printer was not in stock. Selvan phoned a friend and got his address for the printed to be delivered. But when the salesman asked to fill a form for it, Selvan said to forget about the printer, as there was no time for it. We were already on hour behind to visit a couple that had invited us for dinner.

Actually, Selvan and Shiji invited the couple Mr. Philip V. M. and Mrs. Achamma Philip to come and meet me and have dinner. But the couple very close friends of Selvan and Shiji insisted that we all go to their house for dinner. We had choicest wine and sumptuous meal with Keralite dishes prepared by the couple.

On July 29 Selvan and Shiji worked at home and I finalized my article on Chaplaincy in my room computer, which I sent to Prakash Mody with a copy to me by e-mail so that I could use it later. Shiji copied the article into her laptop so that she could print and give me a hard copy.

In the evening inspite of my saying to Selvan and Shiji that I could go by a bus or a train to New Jersey they insisted on driving me to Victor Macwan’s house in Jersey City which they did. They were taken up by the loving and warm reception which we received in the house of Victor and his family.

My New Jersey Visit

MY NEW JERSEY VISIT
Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ

Visit to New Jersey was not in my original plan. But the loving and insistent invitations from friends like Victor and Albina, Ketan and Ila, Jagdish Christian were more than tempting. Then, there was also the opportunity to meet many others friends whom I have known during my editorship of DOOT. I am very happy that I was able to spend 3 days with friends at New Jersey and nearby places.

After spending an enjoyable evening with Victor and family including a visit to nearby Hudson river front park I insisted on sleeping in the living room of Victor’s house in stead of going to the motel where Mayur had reserved a room for me. Victor and family thought that their home accommodation would not suit me!

On the next day after a pleasant morning walk with Victor and breakfast, Mayur drove me to Ila and Ketan’s house at South Plainfield. I was delighted to meet Ila, Ketan and their three children as I have not met them after blessing their marriage. Still it was like walking into the house of close friends as we kept up yearly Christmas correspondence and Ila sending me her family photos and often recalling the year she spent with me in CISS Office as an in-service trainee before her marriage.

Ila prepared a tasteful lunch including a delicious dish of shrimps. After lunch Ila drove me with Ketan and children to meet the families of Ketan’s younger brother Kalpesh and elder brother Jagadish.

Early in that morning I had phoned Joseph Parmar whom I was eager to meet. Thinking that the well known social worker Joseph Parmar, whom I have read in Gujarat Times published form New York, was staying with Ketan and Ila, I told him on the phone that I would meet him late that morning. But I could meet him only in the evening as Joseph and his wife Susheela were staying with his eldest son Jagadish and family in Colonia, a little away from Ketan’s house at South Plainfield.

I was happy to know that Joseph Parmar has received not less than four times the Award for Social Service from the Mayor of Jersey City. He was also the Sheriff of Hudson County for four years. But Joseph Parmar is best known for his services through Indo-American Senior Citizens Association of Hudson County as its secretary. Joseph gifted me his book “Social Darpan” which gives very elaborately the benefits by Federal Government and other agencies for the senior citizens in USA.

A highlight of my visit was the Gujarati Mass celebrated in Holy Family Church at Union City, New Jersey. Jagadish Christian had announced the Gujarati Mass in his website and informed all Gujarati Catholics in New Jersey and nearby areas about the Gujarati Mass. So nearly a hundred people participated in the Mass. On the eve Ketan had called the Gujarati choir for singing practice in his house. The choir was still practicing singing with gusto when I went to bed at mid night. Ketan also prepared on his lap top six pages of multi-colour brochure with chosen hymns,three readings of the Sunday Mass, the address of the Holy Family Church, my photo and a short write up about me on the front page.

For the homily I took the theme of forgiveness and Jesus as the model of forgiving and finding ways in difficult situations. I have written three or four articles on forgiveness. My article on the importance of forgiveness in my book “Tamaru Hrudaya Gashe” came to my mind. In the article I gave the example of an educationalist and journalist, Titus Bradma who, inspired by Jesus’ forgiveness from the cross, forgave his persecutors and tormentors in the Nazi concentration camp. So I had enough and more ideas for a homily on the importance of forgiveness in daily lives to lead a happy and peaceful life as Jesus did amidst detractors and growing opposition to his way of life and teaching.

After Mass we had a social gathering in a parish hall. While enjoying snacks and cool drinks the friends shared with me about their two concerns. They said that there are plenty of job opportunities in nursing and teaching of Maths and Science subjects as well as in the world of computer technology. They wanted the Church in Gujarat to prepare the youth for jobs in these fields. I told them that the biggest difficulty for the people in Gujarat is the English language. Now the Church has started more English medium schools and summer coaching classes in English.

The second concern, which they shared with me, is about the need for a priest there to conduct Church services in Gujarati and also to conduct retreat and seminaries for youth. They felt that immersed in American culture the Gujarati Christian youth lacked religious and moral guidance. I told them that I would convey their concerns to the Bishop of Ahmedabad, Bishop Thomas Macwan. But what is more importance is to think that what they themselves can do in the areas of their concerns.

After the sharing Ms Phyllishben Christian drove me to her house at Bloomfield. There her brother Mr. Shantilal Parmar and family were waiting for me. They have a beautiful two storied bunglow in the suburb with ample space in the backyard. They family have cultivated there a kitchen garden with a variety of vegetables.Shantilal, being farm technologist, has been experimenting there even with some variety of Indian plants and vegetables.

Shantilal drove me back to Jersey City for a dinner appointment in the house of Kirit and Rita and their child Kimberly. I was happy that they persuaded Shantilal to stay and share the dinner. Kimberly has recently received First Holy Communion. In the invitation they had informed their friends that Kimberly would receive gifts only in cash and that the cash would go for scholarships for poor students in the schools of Surya street (Anand) Jesus Nagar, Vadod and Khambholaj in Gujarat. Accordingly they had given me a cheque of US $ 4000/- for the Diocese of Ahmedabad which I faithfully handed over to Bishop Thomas on my return to Ahmedabad. After a delicious Gujarati dinner Shantilal told Kirit that he would be happy to reach me to Victor and Albina’s house for the night. Earlier the arrangement was that Kirit would drive me to Victor’s house for my last day in USA.

Back at Victor’s place, he told me that some friends have tentatively arranged for two press interviews for me for the next day. Victor and family had also planned to take me in the morning to ground zero where the World Trade Centre was destroyed by terrorists’ attack on 9/11/2001.

I told my hosts that I am not much interested in the press interviews as I am purely on a private visit. Finally it was settled that they would arrange a telephone interview with “Gujarat Times” a weekly newspaper published from New York and that my host would take me to ground zero on the next day.

It was a moving experience for me to visit the site of world Trade Centre with Victor and his wife Albina and their children Mayur and Megha. I had visited the World Trade Centre during my first visit to USA in 1977 when I spent a month in a Parish Church at Brones. It was an exhilarating experience then to climb up to the 100th floor – a kilo meter into space – in a matter of three minutes and then change the lift to the top floor and viewing gallery.

Most ground zero area is fenced with grills and aluminum sheets as the authorities with a never-die spirit of America have started rebuilding the World Trade Center. We had taken from New Jersey the PATH Metro train, which terminates at ground zero and we could see the construction woks in progress.

Our visit was like encountering history of 9/11 as different galleries with photographs, a perpetual scrolling of names of the victims and other information were prominently displayed paying tribute to the victims. After visiting the ground zero area communicating with history first-hard, we visited closely St. Paul’s Chapel built in the 1760s. It is the only pre-Revolutionary Church in continuous use. A private pew used by George Washington is seen on one side of the church. A prayer service for peace was in progress when we entered the chapel. A volunteer gave me prayer cards with printed prayers for peace from different religious like Jainism, Buddhism, Jewish and Christian religions. I spent a few minutes joining the congregation in the prayer for peace with people around the world who yearn and pray for peace.

The visit to ground zero was celebrated with a huge pizza, which Mayur ordered, and we enjoyed it back at home.

Back at Victor’s place, it was time for the telephone interview with a journalist, Rameshbhai of “Gujarat Times”. Victor, who listened to my responses on the phone, told me that he was quite satisfied with the thing I spoke on the phone. But I felt that I could have been better prepared if the interviewer had given me some idea of the wide ranging questions he asked me.

After lunch with Victor and family on my way to the airport we visited Albina’s parents and her sister’s houses. It was nice meeting Albina’s parents who were pioneers among Gujarati Catholics migrating into USA in the middle of last century.

Then, we had an experience of heavy traffic in New York on the way to New York airport. Since we started about 4 pm to catch my flight of 9 pm, we had ample of time to relax in the heavy traffic. Mayur at the wheel as a seasoned driver drove Victor, Megha and me with ease in the traffic. My hosts accompanied me till I checked in. In short, I can say sincerely that my Gujarati friends in New Jersey made my visit memorable with their love, friendship and generosity.

With Gujarati friends in Los Angelos, USA

WITH GUJARATI FRIENDS IN LOS ANGELOS, USA
Fr. Varghese Paul, S.J.

This has been an exceptional year for me; and what more, I am happy about it. I usually celebrate my birthday with my Jesuit community and friends at Ahmedabad. But this year, thanks to the insistence of my niece Mini and her husband and my friend Ajay, I celebrated my birthday in their house at Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA. I was on my way to attend the World Congress of the International Catholic Union of the Press (UCIP) at Sherbrooke, Canada in June 2007.

The birthday celebrations were special this year because it was celebrated not only on May 31 but also on the following Saturday and Sunday with friends who could not come on May 31, a working day. The memory of my 65th birthday will linger long with me with the beautiful gift of a digital Sony camera and a beautiful shirt from Mini and Ajay.

This year was also exceptional for me because I was able to visit USA again after the UCIP World Congress and meet first time my Gujarati friends who knew me as the editor of DOOT or the author of many books.

At Fremont after UCIP World Congress, I enjoyed the love and hospitality of my first cousin Fr. Mathew Vellankal. He introduced me to his Gujarati friend, Mr. Bharat Shah. a businessman. He came from San Francisco to see me. Mr. Shah is an ardent follower and promoter of Swadhyay Parivar and Mrs. Dhanashree Shreenivas Talwalkar, the present head of the Parivar. He wanted me to take to San Francisco and meet many Gujarati friends there but there was no time as I was leaving later that day to Los Angelos.

In conversation with Bharatbhai I told him about Swadhyay’s services and activities in India and I also mentioned about the clubbing to death Mr. Pankaj Trivedi at Ahmedabad, who was a follower of Swadhyay but asked for financial accountability of the movement. He knew about it and said that Swadhyay has been wrongly implicated in the case. I gifted him a copy of my book ‘Jeevan Sangeet’.

My stay with Fr. Mathew gave me the opportunity to participate in the parish ministry including celebrating the Eucharist and preaching in all six Masses on one Saturday and Sunday! Participating in other parish activities and visiting and having dinner with two families of the parish gave me some experiences of parish life. Then, as part of the parish ‘Bible Week’ the two talks by biblical scholar Fr. Thomas P. Bonacci, C.P., from Pittsburgh were very enlightening.

My next destination was Los Angelos. Fr Ashok Vaghela, S.J. of my community back at Ahmedabad, studying at Loyola Marymount University, had arranged for his friend Mr. Jonathan Vasaiwala to pick me up from the airport.

During the two days spent with Jonathan, Pushpaben and their son Robin I enjoyed not only the Gujarati meals prepared by Pushpaben and the use of Robin’s computer but also their many friends who came to see us. In all the phone calls, which Jonathan and Pushpaben made or received, one news item was that the author of many books and former editor of DOOT was in the house.

The couples’ warm, loving nature and hospitality welcomed many people in their house and gave me the opportunity to meet and make many Gujarati friends. Jonathan also took me in his car, in spite of his knee trouble to visit a few Christian families like the house of Ushaben E Christi in Anaheim Village. In one such visit in the house of Floraben, Rajnikant, Indira and their child Mary, Floraben also invited Fr (Dr.) Jacob Kattackal of St. Thomas Apostle Syro-Malabar Catholic Church at Santa Anna, CA 92703 so that I could meet him as we both originally hailed from Kerala.

Jonathan also took me to visit Crystel Cathedral,an architectural marvel in steel and glass works. John Macwan, a retired teacher from Petlad accompanied us in the visit. Then, Jonathan took us to a Chinese restaurant and ordered the Management’s special dish and none of us could finish the food. After lunch we visited Light House, a Christian bookshop also at Long Beach. The shop has not only bibles and books but also a lot of items as a gift-shop. Jonathan told me to pick up anything I wanted. But I was happy that I was able to get out of a bookshop without picking up a book! In my suitcase I had more literature than I could carry!

In the evening while I finished answering e-mail letters on Robin’s computer, Fr. Ashok came from his tour of La Viegas and Grant Crain. Jonathan drove us with his wife Pushpaben to Amrut Macwan’s house for a short gathering and Holy Mass. While I led the Eucharist in Amrut’s family recalling the first Christians who gathered in families for Eucharist, Fr Ashok read the Sunday Gospel and preached a beautiful homily on John the Baptist saying that today we need to live like John in a forthright and humble way.

After the Mass we all relished a good Gujarati meal prepared by Amrut’s wife (name ?). Then Amrut drove Ashok and me to Loyola Marymount University (LMU) campus in Los Angelos where Ashok had already arranged a room for me for the night. Exhausted from a long day I slept soundly.

On Sunday morning Ashok introduced me to the fellow Jesuits of LMU community and we took breakfast in the community refectory. Then, Ashok took me for a tour of LMU by foot and then in a car to reach different areas and institutions of the sprawling campus.

LMU is beautifully situated on a mount overlooking the Pacific Ocean not far from the Los Angelos Airport. From LMU Ashok drove me to Shantilal and Alice Jadav’s house where Fr. Vinayak, Jadav, Induben Rao and others were waiting for us.

I found Alice and the visitors from Ahmedabad very busy cooking and preparing a sumptuous Gujarati lunch. Shantilal enquired about my writing and books. He was happy to know that I have written 26 books and published them through secular publishers. We all enjoyed the Gujarati meal like a family lunch with old friends.

In the evening Ashok had arranged to visit Mrs. Jenine Veraldi, a friend and benefactor of Gurjarvani. We met her on a wheel-chair in the nursing home Singing Oaks Retirement Community at Monrovia in the suburb of Los Angelos. To me the nursing home has good facilities and nursing care. But to Jenine who has led an independent and active life, the place was a ‘hell hole’ from where she wants to escape to freedom! But confined either to wheel-chair or to bed here can she go? So she philosophizes, I am making reparations for my sins joining myself to Christ’s suffering on the Cross.

Fr. Ashok as a close friend of Jenine treated her with kindness and firmness, telling her indirectly that her happiness lies in accepting the situation without crying and grumbling. I heard her confession and we left Jenine in a very good mood.

Our last programme on the day was a prayer meeting and blessing of the new house of Michael and Sheelaben and family. It was a new experience for me and I was very happy to see different Christian denominations coming together and singing psalms and other devotional hymns, old and new. At their request I spoke a few words about Jesus as the host of John the Baptist’s two disciplines and one of them brought his brother Peter to Jesus. I also recalled that Jesus was the guest of Lazarus and his two sisters and also in the house of Simon the Pharisee.

My message was that, a true house is a house of love and hospitality, a house where the members filled with the values and attitudes of Jesus help one-another to grow closer to Jesus and well coming other people with love to the awareness of Christ in their midst.

Fr Ashok read the parable of a house built on solid rock and preached a beautiful sermon in the context of the new house and blessed the house with holy water. The house was filled with many Christians. To my surprise there were no neighbours or any non-Gujaratis!

Sheelaben had prepared a number of tasty dishes for a feast-day dinner, which we all enjoyed.While the guests were still having the dinner Fr. Ashok and I said good-bye to them all and Ashok drove me straight Los Angelos airport for me to catch a night flight to Philadelphia.

With Friends and Nature

WITH FRIENDS AND NATURE
Fr. Varghese Paul, S.J.

Albert Einstein once said? Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. I experienced the truth of Einstein’s saying when I visited Yosemite National Park in California State, USA with three friends. The visit took me not only close to the nature but also to the past and even to pre-history in the company of Frs. Mathew Vellankal, Joseph Parekkatt and Shaji Jose!

In the beginning of June 2007 I participated in the World Congress of the International Catholic Union of the Press (UCIP) at Sherbrooke, Canada. Then, at the invitation of Fr. Mathew Vellankal, my first cousin brother, I traveled to USA.

Fr. Mathew picked me up from San Francisco airport at 3.30 PM on June 14 and drove me to his Holy Spirit Church at Fremont. I knew that my cousin brother as the Parochial Administrator of one of the biggest parishes of Diocese of Oakland, is a very busy Pastor. Yet he told that he has planned a long trip for me to Fresno to meet his friends Mathew and family on Sunday evening. His plans for me included a visit to Yosemite National Park on the next day.

As I am always eager to meet new people, visit new places and learn new things, I eagerly endorsed Mathew’s plans for me. So after all Sunday services in the Parish Church on June 17 we set out in Mathew’s car with two friends: Fr. Joseph Parekkatt and Fr. Shaji Jose. After a three hour-long drive through free ways often crossing orchids and green farm lands we reached the house of our hosts Mathew and Soly at Clovis close to Fresno.

Our hosts were eagerly waiting for us with their two kids Tomy and Tojo and other friends including Mary, a senior nurse and benefactor of many priests. The two-storied bungalow had more than enough space to accommodate four of us, priests. But apart from the company of friends, our main attraction was the specious backyard with a large swimming pool and lawn surrounded by fruit trees like cherries, plums and banana as well as a vegetable garden.

After tea we swam in the swimming pool and played basketball in the pool with a water-ball trying to throw it in to the basket fixed on a tall pole on the edge of the swimming pool. Meanwhile our hosts and Mary fixed sumptuous dinner and carried eatables and cold drinks to the pool-side so that we could take a break from swimming and water games.

We all enjoyed the evening thoroughly with long chat and delicious dinner at the pool-side prepared and served by our generous hosts and Mary. It was great to have Kerala type of meal including tapioca and fish, rice, sambhar and vegetable dishes. Spending a few hours with them I was happy to see that while maintaining their family values, our hosts were also well integrated in the American way of life and culture.

After retiring at 11 pm I was up early in the next morning and I was surprised that when I came to the dining room, coffee and breakfast were ready on the table.

Soly was already busy cooking. It was a great surprise for me to see that Soly together with Mary has also prepared lunch packets for us. They neatly made four silver foil packets and draped in newspaper and put them in a hermo-cool box.

At 6.30 we said good-by to our hosts and headed for Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is about 65 miles from Fresno. The National Park is amazing for me for a number of reasons. First, as we drove up to the Yosemite National Park from Freeway 14 we could see most varied and scenic panoramas of pine trees on both side of the road. The park authorities claim that? Over 1000 species of wildflowers and 37 kinds of trees are native to Yosemite.

Second, as we reached Mariposa Grove we saw close to the parking area giant sequoia trees. They were the biggest trees I have ever seen. A guard told us that the organized Tram Tours through the wild forest would begin only by 9.30 or 10 am when large number of tourists arrives in the park. So we decided to take a walk through the trek-path of the pine forest.

Through the mile long trekking we saw numerous gigantic sequoia trees. At different points of trekking path there are information boards indicating grizzly sequoia trees of even 500 to 3000 years old! With some sequoias with 20 to 30 or more feet base and with more than 400 feet height, the information claimed that they are the largest existing trees in the world! It was enchanting nature at its best!

One sequoia tree fallen across the trekking path is cut and removed the width of the path. The fallen tree trunk’s circumference is so very big, in fact, much higher than a man’s height that Fr. Shaji said. With one sawed round piece we can make a one-piece dining table for a big family!

In the case of another gigantic sequoia tree, the dead part of the base is cut and removed that trekking path goes through it. The gap is so big that even a car can pass through it. Yet the tree is alive on both sides and it stands majestic some 350 feet high! The trek reminds me of John Muir,the first protector of the Yosemite region who said, the clearest way into the universe is through a forest of wilderness.

A third amazing sight is the fantastic view of rocks and water falls which we watched from the glacier point of the Park. We could see the Vernal Fall and Novada Fall at a distance. The giant rocks like Sentinal Dome and El Capitan reveal the story of Yosemite’s geological past. The polished domes and jagged peaks of the higher country tell the story of not only past history but also pre-history of millions of years of glaciers and rock formation!

After feasting our eyes with gigantic rocks and waterfalls from drizzling heights and experiencing a sense of awe, Mathew drove us to Yosemite Valley. It was formed by glacial erosion over hundreds of thousands of years. The scenic valley is 7 miles long and 1 mile wide at its widest part.

Today the valley is covered with pine and black oak trees. The Valley has an (American) Indian Village of Ahwahnee. The history says that the Indians populated the valley some 6000 years before European and American explorers and entrepreneurs drove them away from their habitat during the mid 19th century!

From a parking area of the valley we walked a few minutes to the bottom of Bridalveil Fall. We could see the water flowing out at a height of 620 feet. But very little water flowed down as the water hitting the rocks on the way got scattered in the air and the wind drove the tiny water-particles like snow-flakes and mists. No wonder people call it Spirit of the Puffing Wind?.

Our last and a very enjoyable item was our packed lunch from our generous hosts Mathew and Soly, and also a choice bottle of wine from Mathew our tour host and guide. We took the lunch on a beautiful spot on Merced River which runs through the valley. We sat on small rocks touching the river water that I could wash my hands in the water without getting up from the rock!

The noise of the running water together with chirping of birds provided us with background music. In the midst of enthralling scenic beauty of the place we all enjoyed the meal. So I was not surprised when Fr. Parekatt said that, it was the most tasty and enjoyable picnic lunch which I have relished in my life.

Perhaps it was life-changing moments like this in the lap of nature John Muir wrote, as long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and wind sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.

Shoes and other Footwear Thrown into Temple

SHOES AND OTHER FOOTWEAR THROWN INTO TEMPLE
Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ

I read in a Malayalam daily newspaper dated January 7, 2007 the story of shoes and other footwear being thrown into a temple from an adjoining Masjid at Palayam. I could not believe the story easily. So I read it a second time. The facts were undeniable.

Thiruvanandapuram is the state capital of Kerala. Palayam is an area of the capital city. In British time it was the Camp area of the soldiers and the place got its name ‘Palayam’ in Malayalam, meaning Camp.

Today one speciality of the place is that the area has the places of worship of three religions. The Catholics have their Church, The Hindus have Ganapati Temple and the Muslims have their mosque. The Ganapati Temple and the mosque are so close that they have one common wall between them. But the mosque is located a little higher than the temple. So from the boundary wall of the mosque one can clearly see the dome of the temple.

One evening. The priest of the Ganapati Temple was preparing to light the lamps for evening worship. The devotees had not yet come. The priest and his helper were cleaning the auspicious lamps and lighting them. Then, the unthinkable incident happened. From the mosque shoes and other footwear were thrown into the temple desecrating it. The priest was awestruck as if he was struck with lightening.

According to the local culture, people remove their shoes and other footwear before entering the temple. The place for all footwear was always outside the temple, never inside. So it was unthinkable for anybody to see footwear flying into the temple. But on that day the unthinkable happened! And that too from the adjoining Muslim mosque.

One can imagine the consequences of such a sacrilegious incident! The people in the temple were shocked. But the most shocked were the Muslims who come to pray in the mosque. So some Muslim brotheren ran to the Maulvi, Muslim priest and told him about the footwear thrown into the temple.

In fact, it was a retarded Muslim boy who entertained himself by picking up the footwear and throwing them at random. Some of them fell in the temple.

Hearing about the incident the Maulvi rushed to the wall near the temple. He looked at the temple. His friend the temple priest were standing stunned and looking towards the mosque. Maulvi explained to the priest what actually happened.

“Yes, I thought something amis has happened. But now you don’t worry. I have hidden the footwear behind some bushes so that the devotees don’t see them. After the night worship you may send a bag without anybody else knowing it. I shall reach you the footwear,” the priest said.

Hearing the consoling words of the priest the Maulavi felt at peace in his heart as if water has been poured on burning fire! Blessing his friend, the priest in his mind ‘Aslam alaikum’, the Maulvi turned to the Mosque.

As I read about this event while I was in Kerala my mind flew to Gujarat. I asked myself: if this event took place in Gujarat what would be the consequences? It was good that at Palayam both the temple priest and the Maulvi were friends. They could understand each other. They believed each other. They respected each other.

If such an event occurred in Gujarat, perhaps, the communalist fanatics would have burnt not only the temple and the mosque but the whole city! The desecration of the Ganapati Temple occurred at Palayam, Triruvananthapuram. The cause of the desecration was the adjoining mosque next to the temple. The footwear thrown from the mosque fell inside the temple. Not only one shoe but several shoes and other footwear. There were more than enough reasons for a communal riot to take place. But at Palayam there were two truly religious men. They were friends. They were tolerant. So the desecration did not break into a communal outburst.

The priest of the temple and the Maulvi of the mosque were true religious leaders. They were true leaders of their religions. I call them true civilized religious leaders. They were truly enlightened leaders. Their god-experiences made them mature leaders of their community. As true devotees of God they were not interested in fishing in troubled waters. They did not have any selfish motive or goal to attain through their leadership positions. They did not have any game to play with a hidden agenda.

They could accept a retarded child’s playfulness as nothing else but playfulness. They responded in a mature way. The temple priest could have taken exception to the footwear thrown into the temple and could have created havoc by enflaming the passion of the Hindu devotees against the ‘Muslim Fanatics’ of the adjoining mosque. He could have created at atmosphere of hate and enemity against his Muslim neighbours. Bu no such thing happened. Instead the temple priest proved himself a truly religious man of God by his concrete action.

In the same way the Maulvi of the mosque, taking advantage of a misdeep, could have enflamed the passion of the Muslims who came to pray in the mosque against the Hindus gathered in the next door temple. But the Maulvi as a true devotee of Allah approached the priest and acknowledged regretfully what had happened and brought the situation under control.

Even this inflamed situation did not excite the passion of the two religious leaders against the followers of the other religion. Both the religious leaders behaved in true freedom. They did not poke to awake the sleeping lion of communal hatred. Both gave their mature response to the unthinkable situation. The priest collected the footwear which had fallen in the temple and without calling the attention of the devotees, he returned them to his friend the Maulvi.

Similarly the Maulvi, like a man of understanding and wisdom, hurried to the temple priest as soon as he came to know about the untoward incident and appraised him about the unpleasant but true reality and asked his forgiveness. Thus instead of quarrelling about an event beyond their control, they contained it with their true religiosity and
wisdom. Both the friends behaved with maturity and understanding. Both the religious leaders instead of displaying religious fanaticism and fundamentalism showed the essence of true religion, love and brotherhood. May their tribe increase in our midst.