Delta Flight 15

6 Mar

The amazing story of how good people always turn up.

Frankfurt Flight diverted
On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, we were about 5 hours out of Frankfurt, flying over the North Atlantic. We were more than half-way to our destination in the USA suddenly the aisle curtains parted and I was told to go to the cockpit, to see the captain. As soon as I got there I noticed that the crew had that strained business look on their faces. The Captain handed me a printed message from Delta’s main office in Atlanta, ‘All airways over the Continental United States are closed to commercial air traffic. Land a.s.a.p. at the nearest airport. Advise your destination.’

No one said a word. We knew it was a serious situation and that we needed to land quickly. The Captain determined that the nearest airport was 400 miles behind us in Gander, Newfoundland (Canada). He requested approval for a route change from the Canadian traffic controller and approval was granted immediately. We found out later, of course, why no questions were asked and there was no delay in getting the request approved.

While the flight crew prepared for landing, another message came through from Atlanta telling us that there had been some terrorist activity in the New York area. A few minutes later the news got a bit clearer when we were told about the hijackings and the attacks on New York. We decided not to tell the passengers any of these bits while we were still in the air. We told them the plane had a minor technical problem and that we needed to land at the nearest airport, Gander, to check it out.

More planes grounded at Gander
We promised to give the passengers more information once we’d landed in Gander. There was quite naturally a bit of murmuring among the passengers which is understandable. Forty minutes later, we landed in Gander; at 12:30 p.m.! [11:00 a.m. EST]. As we were landing the passengers couldn’t help noticing that there were already around 20 other airplanes of different world airlines on the ground that had also taken this detour on their way to the USA. Did all of them have technical problems at about the same time?

After we had parked on the ramp, the Captain made the much-awaited announcement, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all these airplanes around us have the same technical problem as we had. The reality is that we are here for a totally different reason.’ Then he went on to explain the little bits we were told about the situation in the USA. There were loud gasps and stares of disbelief. The Captain then informed the passengers that Ground Control in Gander had informed all aircraft to stay put.

The Canadian Government was in charge of our situation and no one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground either was allowed to come near any of the aircrafts. Only airport police would come around periodically to look us over. In the next hour as we waited more planes landed and soon Gander had 53 airplanes cramped into the little airport, 27 of which were US commercial jets.

The ‘plain truth’ of the situation
Meanwhile, bits of news started trickling in over the aircraft radio and for the first time we learned that airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York and into the Pentagon, in Washington DC. Some passengers were trying to use their cell phones, but were unable to connect due to a different cell system in Canada. Some did get through but were only able to get to the Canadian operator who would tell them that the lines to the USA were either blocked or jammed.

Some hours later, in the evening, the news filtered to us that the World Trade Centre buildings had collapsed and that a fourth hijacking had resulted in a crash. By now the passengers were emotionally and physically exhausted, not to mention frightened, but everyone stayed amazingly calm. We had only to look out the window at the 52 other stranded aircraft to realize that we were not the only ones in this predicament.

We had been told earlier that they would be allowing people off the planes one plane at a time. At 6 p.m., Gander airport authorities told us that our turn to deplane would be 11 a.m. the next morning. The passengers were not at all happy about this but stayed calm as they prepared themselves to spend the night on the airplane. The Gander authorities promised us medical attention, water, provisions and satisfactory toilet facilities. They were true to their word. We had no medical situations to worry about, but we did have a young lady who was 33 weeks into her pregnancy. Many of the experienced mothers and medically trained women stepped forward to take really good care of her. The night passed without incident in spite of the uncomfortable sleeping arrangements.

No ‘Red Alert’ –but Red Cross
About 10:30 on the morning of the 12th September a convoy of school buses showed up. We got off the plane and were taken to the terminal for Immigration and Customs. We then had to register with the Red Cross who took charge. We (the crew) were then separated from the passengers and taken in vans to a small hotel. We had no idea where our passengers had been taken. The Red Cross told us that the town of Gander which had a population of 10,400 people was faced with the challenging task of taking care of about 10,500 passengers who had got off the planes! The Red Cross told us to relax in our hotels and that we would be contacted when the US airports opened again, but that we should not expect that call for a while. Only after we got to our hotels and turned on the TV, 24 hours after it had all started, did we really find out what had actually happened.

Meanwhile, as we began to settle into our situation, with quite a bit of time on our hands, the passengers soon found out that the people of Gander were really an extremely friendly bunch. They started by calling us ‘our friends the plane people’. We enjoyed their hospitality, explored the town of Gander and ended up comfortable and cared for, almost as though we were back in our homes.
Two days later, we got that call and were taken back to Gander airport. Back on our planes, we were reunited with our passengers and began finding out what care and kindness they had experienced over the two days that they had been away from the airplane. We heard incredible stories of kindness, friendliness and generosity.

Lewis Porte and ‘people support’
Gander rose to the occasion. All the surrounding communities (within about a 75 km radius) had closed all high schools, meeting halls, lodges and any other large gathering places. They converted all these facilities into mass lodging areas for all the stranded travellers. Some had cots set up, others had mats with sleeping bags and pillows set up.

All the high school students were required to volunteer their time to take care of the ‘guests’. The 218 passengers on our plane ended up in a town called Lewis Porte, about 45 km from Gander where they were put up in a high school. If any women wanted to be in a women-only facility, that was arranged too. Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were taken to private homes.

What about that young pregnant lady? She was put up in a private home right across the street from a 24-hour Urgent Care facility. There was a dentist on call and both male and female nurses remained with the crowd for the duration. Phone calls and e-mails to the US and around the world were available to everyone once a day. During the day, passengers were offered ‘excursion’ trips. Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbours. Others went for hikes in the local forests. Local bakeries stayed open to make fresh bread for the guests.

Food was prepared by all the residents and brought to the schools. People were driven to restaurants of their choice and offered wonderful meals. Everyone was given tokens for local laundry mats to wash their clothes, since luggage was still on the aircraft. In other words, every single need was met for the stranded travellers.

The passengers were literally in tears just recounting the kindness they were shown. Finally, when they were told that US airports had reopened, they were dropped off to the airport right on time and without a single passenger missing their flights or getting there late. The Red Cross had all the information about the whereabouts of each and every passenger and knew which plane they needed to be on and the departures of all the flights. They coordinated everything beautifully. It was absolutely incredible.

The flight back –a party mood
When passengers came on board, it was like they had been on a cruise. Everyone suddenly knew everyone by name. They were swapping stories of their stay, impressing each other with who had experienced the better time. Our flight back to Atlanta looked like a chartered flight with everyone in a party mood. The crew wisely just stayed out of this friendly reunion of people who hadn’t really known each other. It was mind-boggling. Passengers bonded and were on first-name terms, exchanging phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses. But perhaps the best was yet to come. Something unusual happened.

One of the passengers, on our plane, approached me and asked if he could make an announcement over the PA system. We never ever allow that. But on this occasion the mood was different. ‘Of course,’ I said and handed him the mike. He picked up the mike and reminded everyone about what they had just gone through in the last few days. He reminded them of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He continued by saying that he would like to do something in return for the kind folk of Lewis Porte.

He said he was going to set up a Trust Fund under the name of DELTA 15 (our flight number). The purpose of the trust fund would be to provide college scholarships for the high school students of Lewis Porte. He asked for donations of any amount from his fellow travellers. When the paper with donations got back to us with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, the total was more than $14,000!

A Gentleman’s word
The gentleman, an MD from Virginia, promised to match the donations and to start the administrative work on the scholarship. He also said that he would forward this proposal to Delta Corporate and ask them to donate as well. As I sat to write this account, some weeks after I got back to base I had reliable news that the trust fund had reached more than $1.5 million and that it has already assisted 134 students with their college funding.

I just wanted to share this story because the world needs good stories. It gives me hope to know that some people in a faraway place were kind to some strangers who literally dropped in on them. It reminds me of how much good there is in the world. In spite of all the not-so-good things we see going on in today’s world this story confirms that there are still a lot of good people in the world and that in moments of need they will always come forward.

–Story narrated by Jerry Brown: attendant on Flight Delta 15 on 09.11.2001]
[Thanks to Isabel Roche fmm, Gabriela Martins fmm & PeterLourdes sdb for circulating the story]
—Edited by T.D’Souza for TRODZA – 050315

A Taste of Convent Life

3 Mar

When Akiko and Fumiko arrived at the Trappist° Convent of Our Lady of Imari in the Saga Prefecture° (northwest of Kyushu island in Japan), they were not there to join the Order. They were not casual visitors either. They had set aside three months in their lives for a program in which they would live with the Nuns as temporary members of the community. The Convent started this program to give young people a chance to make prayer the center of their lives, not only during their stay but in their lives later too. The Convent sits on a mountain overlooking Imari Bay in Saga Prefecture, some 940 km west of Tokyo.

Prayer is like the pulse of this convent. The first prayers begin promptly at 3:50 am, and the day ends with a Marian hymn at 7:40 in the evening. The traditional form of Christian devotion at Our Lady of Imari focuses on the Mass° and the daily office°. Akiko and Fumiko joined in this experience and devoted more than four hours to prayer each day, in addition to three and a half hours set aside for study and about three hours for manual labor.

Fumiko (23), who lives in Fukuoka Prefecture (Kyushu Island- southern Japan), heard about this program by word of mouth. ‘I was in a tough spot psychologically, so I wanted to get to know God and find my path in life,’ she says of her motivation to participate. Akiko (28), from Aichi Prefecture (between Osaka and Tokyo), had embarked on a career but maintained an interest in the consecrated life. She learned of this opportunity during a chance visit to a church that she did not usually visit. She quit her job, persuaded her non-Christian family members to give her decision their blessing, and filled out the application.

When they first joined the program, the two women primarily worked in the garden ‘with a sickle in the hand, morning and afternoon,’ says Fumiko. ‘It was really hard at first,’ she added with a pained laugh. Under the Nuns’ instructions and supervision, Fumiko and Akiko not only helped grow rice and vegetables for the community’s table but also assisted with the production and packaging jelly to be sold.

It was about a month into their participation in the program before they were admitted to the private cloistral living area of the nuns and, thus, into the innermost communal life of the convent.
The two had bedrooms on the second floor. ‘Really, there’s the bed, and there’s the dresser, and that’s it,’ says Akiko. In this new life, they exchanged cell phones for simple poverty. They prayed from early morning until night. It is a life they could scarcely have imagined before, but it helped them turn toward God. As with all Benedictine orders, the Rule of Saint Benedict° governs life here. ‘I don’t really know much about the specifics of the Rule,’ says Fumiko, ‘but I can see it is aimed at helping people love both God and man.’

For Our Lady of Imari Convent, the program was something of a trial run. Sister Setsuko Shibuya, Prioress at the Convent, says, ‘The life of this community is something that you can’t really grasp just by thinking about it. We take joy in coming together to praise God; that’s really what it is. We think of it as ‘getting close to God,’ but that’s something that you can’t do if you don’t make space for it.’

That is why the Nuns made this ‘wholehearted’ decision to open a portion of these ‘religious practices dating back to the sixth century’ to women who are not consecrated. For Fumiko, occupying the space provided by the program had a crucial impact on her faith. ‘When I was working, I would not even go to Mass on Sundays. But now, I really understand the meaning of the words, Happy are those who are called to his supper.’

[Edited for TRODZA by T.D’Souza: taken from –Sept 2013]

Notes: [signposted at these words in the text with a ° sign]
-Benedict: Sant Benedict (480-547 AD), is the patron saint of Europe. He founded 12 communities of monks in Subiaco, Italy (about 60 km to the east of Rome). His main achievement is the ‘Rule of Saint Benedict which has precepts for his monks, which later influenced many religious Orders.
-Mass: the main liturgical function, held daily, in the Catholic religious belief and practices.
-Office: a set of psalms, readings and prayers: said seven times a day –basically a call to prayer.
-Prefecture: an administrative division in Japan, with a Governor at the head.
-Trappist: The Cistercian Order had become lax in their observances in the monastery in La Trappe, in France, and so the Abbot there enforced stricter discipline. Later, all monks and nuns who follow these new revised laws are called Trappists. Ordinarily the Cistercians are also known as Trappists.

Indian Treat in Charleston

3 Mar

It’s really a misnomer. It’s not so much a dish for the Charleston tables as a feast for the South Carolina music world. Vaibhav, now 16, hit the headlines with his music compositions. It isn’t easy to imagine that a talent from Orissa [Odisha] in India would capture the imagination of music enthusiasts in America.

He began playing the piano when he was four and saxophone at the age of nine, the same year he composed his first original western music piece. He composed ‘Floodgate of Happiness’, which won the first prize at the school and later the state level. His composition also received an honourable mention at a national level.

‘Altitude,’ which he wrote when he was 13, was performed by Piedmont Wind Symphony at Winston-Salem, North Carolina by about 50 musicians and by All-National Honour Band of National Association for Music Education at Grand Ole Opry House, Nashville, Tennessee, using more than two dozen instruments. The winner of the National Young Arts Foundation award later showcased his musical talent in Miami, Florida, during the National Young Arts week where he was selected by Young Arts as a gene U. S. Presidential scholar (academics).

‘Verve Street’ which Vaibhav wrote at 15, was performed by 20 professional musicians of Charleston Jazz Orchestra in October 2014. He was honoured at the South Carolina Music Educators’ Conference as the gifted young musician of the year. Earlier he also won six national and international music competitions. After turning into a professional music composer, JPM Music Pushing in Festus, Missouri, USA, published his music compositions: ‘Scherzo’, ‘Train Ride’ and ‘Humoresque’; while Lighthouse Music Publishing in Ontario, Canada will publish: ‘Altitude’ soon. Several of his compositions are in the process of review for publication.

Vaibhav Mohanty lives with his parents in Charleston in South Carolina. He loves to compose for concert bands, small ensembles and jazz bands. The Odisha press ( reported that his performances have brought him several national and international awards leading to performances at different venues in America, including one at the world famous Grand Ole Opry House. ‘We are extremely happy with our son’s achievements,’ said his parents Bidyut Mohanty and Sangeeta Mohanty, speaking over the phone from the USA to the Odisha correspondent.

Vaibhav has got admission to Harvard University and plans to pursue his studies there. Music, however, which would appear to be his first love, will for sure still be on his agenda. He said, ‘I want to compose more and more music and win laurels.’ When asked about his future plans, Vaibhav said, ‘I want to be a doctor.’

[Adapted by T.D’Souza for TRODZA – Original story by Malay Ray in Matters India- 260215]

The Final Interview

3 Mar


The soldier stood and faced God,
which must always come to pass.
He hoped his shoes were shining,
Just as brightly as his brass.

‘Step forward now, you soldier,
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To My precepts have you been true?’

The soldier squared his shoulders and said,
‘No, Lord, I guess I haven’t.
Because those of us who carry guns,
Can’t always be the saint.

I’ve had to work most Sundays,
And at times my talk was tough.
And sometimes I’ve been violent,
Because the world is awfully rough.

But, I never took a penny,
That wasn’t mine to keep…
Though I worked a lot of overtime,
When the bills got just too steep.

And I never passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear.
And sometimes, God, forgive me,
I’ve wept unmanly tears.

I know I don’t deserve a place,
Among the people here.
They never wanted me around,
Except to calm their fears.

If you’ve a place for me here, Lord,
It needn’t be so grand.
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don’t, I’ll understand.

There was a silence all around the throne,
Where the saints had often trod.
As the soldier waited quietly,
For the judgment of his God.

‘Step forward now, you soldier,
You’ve borne your burdens well.
Walk peacefully on Heaven’s streets,
You’ve done your time in Hell.’

Honour to them who help us live our day!
Bless them, O God, we humbly pray!

It’s the Military, (not the reporter), who have given us the freedom of the press. It’s the Military, (not the poet), who have given us the freedom of speech. It’s the Military, (not the politicians), that ensure our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s the Military who salute the flag, who serve beneath the flag, and whose coffins are draped by the flag.

If you care to offer the smallest token of recognition and appreciation for the military, please pray for our men and women who have served and are currently serving their duty-times, and pray for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

[Source: unknown. Edited by T.D’Souza for TRODZA – 030315]-bna

Selfless in Adversity

22 Feb

Athena: Living Life to the full
She was just a 12-year-old school-girl enjoying life to the full in Leicester when life suddenly changed for her. When Athena Orchard knew she wouldn’t survive her bone cancer diagnosis, she wrote a 3,000-word inspirational secret message, using a black marker, at the back of her bedroom mirror. The mirror was always kept leaning against the wall and so the family never noticed that she had written those soul-searching words at the back.

At Christmas, 2012, Athena collapsed at home and was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (one of the most common types of bone cancer) in December 2013 when they found a lump on her head. The malignant bone tumour affected her spine, left shoulder and head. In the following months, she underwent intense chemotherapy. She had to have a seven-and-a-half-hour operation to remove the tumour on her spine and wore a wig to cover her hair-loss.

Her father, Dean, who discovered this positive message a few days after she had passed away, admits that he was ‘blown away’ by it. He told the local paper, Leicester Mercury, ‘I started reading it but before long I had to stop because it was too much. It was heartbreaking.’

He also stumbled upon a bundle of self-penned songs. Her mirror writings and her songs detail the innermost feelings of a girl who had put up a courageous fight for her life.

Athena: the impact of her words
Dean, 33, said of the note, ‘She never mentioned her mirror message, but it’s the kind of thing she’d do. She was a very spiritual person, she’d go on about stuff that I could never understand – she was so clever.’

Athena left behind six sisters and three brothers. But her mother, Caroline, 37, said that the mirror-note Athena bequeathed the family will help ensure that her memory stays very much alive.
‘We’re keeping the mirror forever. It is a part of her we can keep in the house. It will always be in her room,’ she said. ‘Just reading her words felt like she was still here with us. She had such an incredible spirit.’

When she finally passed away, at just 13, on May 28, 2014 she left a family reeling from the awesome power of her selfless realism, encapsulated in her stoic acceptance of suffering and her moving words. Her life just raced by faster than those around her could even realize the beauty of the wonderful soul that had enriched their lives. Some of her words ring true, ‘You know my name, not my story.’ She suffered in silence, all through the intense chemotherapy, fully appreciative of the time life gave her, constantly concerned more about those around her than about herself.

The poignant words written by a dying teenage cancer victim on the back of her bedroom mirror have touched the hearts and minds of millions of people worldwide. The 1,000-word message of 13-year-old Athena Orchard, of New Parks, Leicester (England) has become headline news all over the world. Newspapers, websites and television channels in many countries have retold the story of Athena’s message from beyond the grave. Athena’s mum, Caroline Orchard, said she felt proud and humbled that her daughter’s words have touched and inspired so many.

Athena’s Message: in her own words
(Extracts from the lengthy yet inspiring message she left for her family and friends):
On Happiness
*Happiness depends upon ourselves. Maybe it’s not about the happy ending, maybe it’s about the story.
*The purpose of life is a life of purpose. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.
*Happiness is a direction not a destination. Thank you for existing. Be happy, be free, believe, forever young. You know my name, not my story.
On Love
*Love is like glass, looks so lovely but it’s easy to shatter.
*Love is rare, life is strange, nothing lasts and people change.
*If someone loves you, then they wouldn’t let you slip away no matter how hard the situation is. Remember that life is full of ups and downs.
*Love is not about how much you say I love you – it’s about how much you can prove it’s true.
* Love is like the wind, you can feel it but you can’t see it.
* I’m waiting to fall in love with someone I can open my heart to.
*Love is not about who you can see spending your future with. It’s about who you can’t see spending your life without.
* Life is a game for everyone but love is the prize. Only I can judge me.
*Sometimes love hurts. Now I’m fighting myself. Baby I can feel your pain.
On Steadfastness and Purpose
*Every day is special, so make the most of it, you could get a life ending illness tomorrow so make the most of every day. Life is only bad if you make it bad.
*Dreams are my reality. It hurts but it’s okay, I’m used to it.
*You have heard what I’ve done, but not what I’ve been through.
*Never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about. I want to be that girl who makes the bad days better and the one that makes you say my life has changed since I met her!
*Don’t be quick to judge me. You only see what I choose to show you… you don’t know the truth. I just want to have fun and be happy without being judged.
*This is my life, not yours. Don’t worry about what I do.
*People gonna hate you, rate you, break you, but how strong you stand, that’s what makes you… you!
*There’s no need to cry because I know you’ll be by my side.

[Extracts and facts taken from Leicester Mercury, and online sites of The Metro, The Telegraph and Caters News Agency, with some comment credits to A.Troughton, P.Warzynski, H.Whitehouse & P.Boucher.]
–Edited and written by T.D’Souza for TRODZA blog : 22.02.15

Elephant heroics

17 Feb

Thinking of Elephants
Some people in Europe or perhaps in America think of India as the land of elephants. While this isn’t really true there are occasions when an elephant does take centre-stage and creates not just adventure but quite some suspense. Here’s an elephant story that nearly made the headlines not very long ago, and it actually happened in India!

I’d been in the ministry for many years in the 1990s and had worked in areas of India that are considered remote, as in parts of Ranchi [Jharkhand State].Yet in all those years I had never encountered a wild animal anywhere. It had never even crossed my mind that I’d experience anything of the kind until it happened, in March 2009.

I was Pastor to what is popularly known as ‘tea garden’ Catholics in a rural area not far from the second largest town in West Bengal, Siliguri. It was the season of Lent, in the Christian liturgy, and we were nearing the end of the preparations before Easter, including Mass and penitential services. I couldn’t get to the initial gathering we had to go to, which included hours spent hearing ‘confessions’ and counseling families who had particular needs. So, I’d arranged for a priest friend from a neighboring parish to start off the Mass and the confessions. I had let our driver take him there in our parish jeep in the belief that I could get there a little later on our parish motorbike.

Sister Magi, of the Nirmala Convent nearby who helps on our ministry team, had warned me that I had to get there early as there would be quite a line for confessions. So, I thought I’d surprise the team by bringing in an additional priest. I made a hasty decision to take along our 80-year-old retiree-priest as my pillion rider and get to the outreach station chapel at Saraswatipur some hours after the proceedings would have started. Just as we were about to leave something cropped up and I decided against taking along my elderly priest friend, Father George. I think it was mainly because of the 16-km lonely ride over a bumpy dirt road through the tea gardens and the thick forest.

The Elephant scent
It was in the afternoon when we set out and the setting sun set up a beautiful backdrop as it came through the chinks between those tall trees. Yet in that loneliness nothing really moved, except two local guardsmen going in the opposite direction, riding bicycles, presumably getting home after their shift duties. We reached the place alright, with our ‘catechist’(lay instructor of the catechism), Jerome, negotiating the rough road quite steadily. Everything seemed fine, and I heard at least an hour of confessions at the chapel. These Christians are fervent and devoted and very religiously follow the rituals and practices of Christian life. In fact, usually before Easter and Christmas, there are literally hundreds of confessions to be heard. Most families also renew their baptismal and marriage vows on these occasions. I think they believe, and rightly so, that confession helps reconcile them to God and strengthens them in their Christian living.

It was getting dark and I thought I’d better get going. So, this time, for the return trip, I drove. It was a Sunday and I thought I’d do a slight detour and go through the local market on the way. At the market, the driver of the tea garden manager stopped me. I thought he just wanted to greet me for Easter. He actually had an important message to pass on. He came up to me to warn me of a rogue elephant roaming wildly in the forest.

Facing an Elephant
No sooner had we left the market than a strange feeling of uncertainty came over me that made me drop a degree of confidence. But I am a competent driver and have always known how to tackle eventualities or difficult situations. Yet that day, as we kept moving along I was faced with one of my worst fears ever. My pillion rider, the catechist, in a very soft and calm voice whispered, ‘Father….see elephant!’ It took me a few seconds to take in the message while the motorbike kept moving forward even if a bit bumpily. When the message did register, lo and behold, there was the Indian elephant right in the middle of the road! It was a sight as exciting as it was frightful: one that many adventurers and tourists would have loved or perhaps paid to have witnessed. For me it was a sight I’d rather not recall. It was not one that had come up in my wildest dreams.

There staring down at us, from just about 20 feet away, standing imposingly on the road was the dreaded beast. I pulled the handbrake and stayed seated on the bike, shocked and stunned. My mind went blank. I just couldn’t think. I couldn’t believe I was indeed facing the rogue elephant. As we sat there motionless on our bike, the elephant made the first move. Seemingly the animal had second thoughts and turned around. Whatever his intentions were, for us it was dramatic relief, a time-out, and a real breather. But it was short-lived.

The Elephant in charge
Elephants too, perhaps very much in the way bulls spin around in the bull-fighters’ rings, apparently do these pre-attack drills: they shuffle around a bit and then do the charge after a glorious trumpet blast. There he was: our glorious Indian elephant showing off his prowess, his ability to prove his dominance over anything that moves in the forest. He trumpeted and made as if to attack us. Instinct got the better of us. We abandoned the bike and scrambled to safety: I to the left and Jerome to the right.

Things didn’t go well for me. As I ran I tripped and hit a branch hanging low and fell rather helplessly not far from the bike. Jerome didn’t do much better and fell not far from the elephant who apparently in attack-mode. In fact, the elephant had started moving towards us and was only a few feet away from the bike. In that dusky evening just waiting in fear for our mighty elephant to attack and crush the pair of us, was like waiting for judgment day. In those precious moments, which were really the fine line between living or dying, apart from my whole life whizzing past me in a flash, I was able to spare a thought for Jerome. I knew I was dispensable, but I didn’t want Jerome harmed. He had a wife and a three-month kid. I asked God to take care of us both, but especially of Jerome.

As we waited there, almost with our eyes closed, ostrich-style –head stuck in a hole, we waited in vain. God’s angels must have disoriented the elephant’s perceptions. In that confusion, in our efforts to save our lives, we lost track of the elephant. We just didn’t know where he could have gone. Life was too precious right then for us and all we focused on was an escape route. We knew that to be hanging around in that desolate area was not the wisest of decisions. We got up ignoring the minor bruises we had suffered in our falls and almost instinctively ran towards the safety we had, our bike. We quickly got it upright. Thank God it started. When I fell I lost my specs but I was confident that the desire to live would help me drive through in spite of the blurred vision. I could also feel my chest numb and my face swollen, but I had only one thing on my mind, and I guess so had Jerome: survival. So, as a lover of animals I wish elephants a big ‘God bless’ but as a lover of life it was more ‘Thank you God’ for saving us!

The Elephant haunt
We were at about a half-way point and were not sure whether to go back to the chapel or to proceed home. It was a difficult decision as we just didn’t know where the elephant was or what his intentions were. We finally decided to go home to our centre. Once back home there was hot food and a shot of something stronger to shake us back to reality. Thankfully the medical check-ups didn’t reveal any injuries to either Jerome or me.

Later as we sat through hot soup narrating the experience, Father Raphael, my colleague, told us how only a few days earlier a rogue elephant had crushed a man in the village. So ours was indeed a miraculous escape, truly providential. I was saved from a painful death and from the chilling headlines that might have hit the local papers, ‘Priest crushed by rogue Elephant.’ I was especially pleased that Jerome came out of it unscathed. He means a lot to the parish team. We Pastors would indeed be weak instruments of God’s work without our Catechists.

[SebuKol’s story edited and retold by T.D’Souza –for TRODZA – 170215]

[NB: SebuKol was Pastor in a ‘tea-garden’ parish near Siliguri, West Bengal, in the noughties.]

‘Wow’ is for Readers ‘Now’

17 Feb

Peter and his ‘road’ to Writing

Peter has always had this flair for what is real and for whatever is relevant for human living. Though steeped in learning in different disciplines, ranging from psychology and sociology to philosophy and theology, he remains a respected analyst when it comes to opinions and advice on a variety of issues that people deal with today. In fact, he has been (and still is) a popular counselor with a long wait-list of clients who are always welcome to his simple yet friendly psychotherapist’s corner, in Kolkata. It is here, at the insistence of some of his clients and friends, that he nurtured the idea of doing a ‘Wow’ book for the benefit of anyone interested in another opinion.

His love for people and his natural friendliness developed into a desire to serve others in the ministry from a very young age. While studying at a Don Bosco School, in Kolkata, he expressed a desire to become a priest. He was not really given information or advice about different religious orders before he and three other mates were sent to Bandel, almost by default, to begin their lengthy training for the priesthood as it was the seminary run by the Don Bosco Order (the Salesians -SDB). He went on from there to complete the approximately 10-year successful run of training that took him through studies in pedagogy, philosophy, theology, a BA degree and some years of pastoral experience known as ‘practical training’.

He was fortunate to have been able to develop this interest in ‘human sciences’ later as a priest, while pursuing studies in Italy first and then in the USA where he completed his Masters and his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and Counseling. His first major assignment then followed when he was, for 20 years, Director of the National Vocation Service Center (NVSC), in Pune, India. Here he was able to use his acquired knowledge and his personal skills to offer specialized guidance to lay people, religious (women and men), and priests. Earlier in the 80s, previous to his long spell in Pune, he also gathered valuable ‘human’ experience as Principal of a degree college that served as a center for Salesian trainees, and later as Headmaster of a large secondary school in Kolkata, where incidentally he had begun his schooling.

Peter and his ‘Wow’ book

It was, however, his talks at a teenage group Mass, more recently (2012 to 2014), where this routine weekly homily attracted the attention also of some of the adults attending the liturgy. This book idea matured when he found that the number of regular attendees increased and developed into a group of eager ‘listeners’. They kept insisting that there was perhaps a little gold mine of thought in the talks that could perhaps provide a ‘spiritual treasure-house’ they could resort to when no human advisor was available.

The book, in fact, is as much a comment on Gospel texts as it is on Gospel and human values. The lucid style of the writing, incorporating the jargon of the day, very nearly confronting the traditional processes of thought and expression, makes the book readable and interesting. The brevity in the development of each Gospel text is a plus point for today’s Reader who is literally rushing through a time-bound modern world.

Once, when a group of college students chanced to visit him and glance through some of the talk-manuscripts, they were impressed at the down-to-earth style of the language and the relevance of the guidance offered. They were quick to suggest that these poignant thoughts, if put into a book, would be invaluable as a guide or a reference as there wasn’t anything like it in the market. That made Peter realize that these talks, in book form, might serve as pointers to teenagers, young adults and indeed perhaps to leaders, teachers and preachers when faced with issues that people have to deal with on a daily basis. The result was his book, ‘Wow Jesus’, published in 2014.

Peter and the relevance of ‘Wow Jesus’

Several people who now hold positions of authority or who have been guided to change or improve their lives can testify to the influence that Peter Lourdes has made in their lives. He still attends conferences and seminars to keep up with new trends in thought, belief and practice. One of his great qualities is that he is able to adapt and to use old and traditional material for a clientele that constantly offers new and complex situations. He has kept up with social and technological progress as well and is on email and on the internet even though he should really wind down in the Seniors’ club.

What however is really amazing is that Peter Lourdes, in spite of all the sophisticated training he’s been through and all the important positions he’s held still has his feet firmly on the ground. He is close to his family (now spread all over the world, though mainly in India and Australia) and enjoys a birthday party as much as a religious symposium. He can in fact talk with ease as much to a professional or a retiree as to an amateur or a teenager. This ability together with his desire to keep himself fresh, alive and relevant has prompted him to put into print this series of regular talks he has been giving to a group of high school teens in Kolkata, incidentally the very city he grew up in as a teenager.

His experience and his background make his book all the more relevant to ‘Readers and Listeners’ who should be able to find gems of wisdom and comfort in its pages. In fact, ‘Wow Jesus’ is really a handbook and a manual for the teenager as well as for the average preacher, teacher, mentor or animator. People need a reference point and leaders and trainers often look for fresh ideas and stimulating topics especially when they have to address youth gatherings, social occasions or discussion groups. The blurb below, in Peter’s own words, best sums up what the book offers.


Peter’s book: in his own words

Wow Jesus!” may impress you as just another book of homilies. That impression could be very deceptive unless you turn the pages. Turning the pages of the book you might discover that the form and language of the homilies are so different from the “standard model” that one Editor changed their name from homilies to reflections. The Biblical themes flit like a butterfly through the narrative with flashbacks and close-ups. The language may be called non-formal, non-clerical and even non-ecclesiastical, especially because secular and sacred themes keep crisscrossing. Jesus’ words are sometimes translated into jargon or teen-language. While keeping close to the beliefs and values of the original listeners of these homilies, the emphasis is on dysfunctional behavior rather than on “technical” sins.

Wow Jesus!” seems to be fashioned on nineteenth century advice given by a seasoned pastor to a seminarian breaking into the ministry of preaching:  Give up your high-sounding language and stick to dialect whenever possible and when your use (local language), speak the language of the people. Instead of speculations, use examples, analogies, and simple practical illustrations. Bear in mind always that the common

people understand hardly anything you have to say because the truths of faith are never sufficiently explained to them (Pastor of Alfiano to young Saint John Bosco).


  “Wow Jesus!” seems to have followed advice given by Pope John Paul II to priests:  Come out of the sacristy!


Peter: the Counselor and Writer

‘Wow’ is not the first and only published work of Peter Lourdes.  His thesis ‘Indian Students in Italy’ (1967) was published by the Salesian University of Rome (UPS). In published form, it became a front-runner as a valued ‘Asian’ opinion on the topic for a western audience.

His next publication on homilies and prayers, The Hem of His Garment (1996), was a selection from the daily preaching he did to a community of American Nuns whose chaplain he was for nearly five years, in Chicago.

At NVSC in Pune, he directed a research on the personality of priests, nuns and seminarians, The Human Face of Clergy (1991). This publication too was a ground-breaker in many ways as it recorded not merely his work over 20 years (1970-1990) in programs at NVSC for the psycho-spiritual development of clergy and religious but it also served as a template in many ways for those involved in the training of priests, religious and lay-animators in India.

Peter the Priest: an appreciation

‘Peter Lourdes for me is one of the friendliest of priests I have known. He puts you at ease, able to talk about anything from the most ordinary things of life (like eating takeaways, or wearing jeans at functions) to the most sublime (like the ethics of euthanasia or the role of Providence in our lives), or perhaps to a current social-religious issue (like can priests marry today or can nuns become priests). I was privileged to have been his student and to have benefited from his guidance over the years. I’m so glad he’s put out many of his thoughts and insights into his book. I feel it is a ‘must buy’ not just for preachers but also for leaders in almost any field of work.’ [A Priest (ex-student) in Australia].

‘I can never forget the influence that Peter Lourdes has had in my life. His informal yet informed discussions helped me to become more organized in life. In some ways he has got me to where I am today. Seeing his book now is such a pleasure. I hope many people will get a copy for their homes and libraries.’ [A lay Pastor (ex-student) in Canada]

‘Peter Lourdes can comment on almost anything happening around, be it academic, social, religious or spiritual. Yet one has to be attentive to what he says, because every comment could be as wise as it is cryptic, as real as it is subtle. I was glad to have been his student many eons ago. His words inspire, and I’m sure the book will be a legacy that will continue to inspire leaders, teachers and preachers.’ [A lay Pastor in Scotland]

‘It’s been a joy to have known Peter Lourdes. I was fortunate to have worked with him on some of his projects and then have kept in touch with him. His pastoral approach to issues and his realism and dealing with clients places him in a class above the rest. I hope his book will go round ‘pastoral’ circles as it is truly a gem.’ [A Nun in India]

[by T.D’Souza – for TRODZA blog- 170215]

[ Wow Jesus’ published by the Fathers of Saint Paul, India:  ]

[Peter’s email is: ]



-Hem of His Garment: published by Nitika Don Bosco, Kolkata: 1996.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.