Archive | December, 2014

The Lady and the Jars

31 Dec

Risking life to save lives

Irena: the Saviour
On 12 May 2008 a 98-year-old passed away after a severe bout of pneumonia in Warsaw, in Poland. It didn’t make headline news almost anywhere in the world. But many Polish families (and families in some parts of the world) knew that Irena was a heroine who deserved to be remembered and honoured as much as (or perhaps more than) war heroes or political heavy-weights.

Irena Sendlerowa (popularly known as Irena Sendler) has often been referred to as ‘the female Oskar Schindler’ in her native Poland for her daring and ingenuity in saving the lives of more than 2,500 people (most of them children) in German-occupied Poland during World War II. Unlike Oskar Schindler, whose story was the subject of the Academy Award-winning 1993 ‘Schindler’s List’, Irena was a relatively unknown figure to the world at large until 1999, when four Kansas (USA) high school students wrote and performed ‘Life in a Jar’, a play about Irena’s life-saving efforts in the Warsaw Ghetto. Irena along with her underground network rescued Jewish children and adults from the middle of the turmoil, confusion and cruelty of the War. Many of this number were already outside of the Ghetto created by the Germans and in hiding.

Irena’s background
Irena Sendler was born as Irena Krzyżanowska on 15 February 1910 in Warsaw to Dr.Stanisław Krzyżanowski, a physician, and his wife, Janina. Her father died in February 1917 from typhus contracted while treating patients whom his colleagues refused to treat for fear of contracting the disease, among them many Jews. After his death, Jewish community leaders offered her mother help in paying for Irena’s education. Irena studied Polish literature at Warsaw University. She opposed the ghetto-bench system that existed at some pre-war Polish universities and defaced her grade card. As a result of her public protest she was suspended from the University of Warsaw for three years. Irena was born in Warsaw in 1910, but she grew up in the town of Otwock, Poland. Irena’s name-day is October 20, while her birthday is February 15.

Irena’s great grandfather led a rebellion against the Czars. Irena’s father was a doctor and died in the typhus epidemic of 1917 when he contracted the disease while caring for poor Jewish people in Otwock. Irena was an only child, but she had a son and a daughter. Her daughter, Janka, still lives in Warsaw, Poland, and her son Adam passed away in 1999 (interestingly enough, the day the Life in a Jar project started on September 23rd). Adam’s daughter, (Irena’s granddaughter) Agniesa, is the same age as the girls who started the Life in a Jar project.

As early as 1939, when the Germans invaded Warsaw, Irena began helping Jews by offering them food and shelter. When the Warsaw Ghetto was erected in 1940, Irena could no longer help isolated Jews. The Ghetto was an area the size of New York’s Central Park and 450,000 Jewish people were forced into this area. Once the Warsaw Ghetto was formed, she started by saving the orphan children. Irena used her papers as a Polish social worker and papers from one of the workers of the Contagious Disease Department (who was a member of Zegota) to enter the Warsaw Ghetto. Irena and her helpers made over 3,000 false documents to help Jewish families before she joined Zegota and the children’s division. Irena was in charge of the Children’s Division of Zegota (a Polish underground group to assist Jewish people).

From Anna Krzyzewska, who is the daughter of Mrs. Maria Kukulska (Anna’s mother helped care for Irena’s children after they left the Ghetto, before they were placed) says,’ Irena was not only very active in saving Jewish children but also in the resistance against the Germans. She was frequently at our apartment.’ Irena used the old courthouse on the edge of the Warsaw Ghetto (still standing) as one of the main routes of smuggling children out.

Irena: and ‘Life in a Jar’
The students of the ‘Life in a Jar’ project gathered over 4,000 pages of primary material and research on the life of Irena Sendler and on the work of Zegota, the Polish underground organization. Irena’s story became known to the world through the Life in a Jar project. The author of the Polish book which features Irena’s life story says, ‘Everybody I talked to in working on this book, said that international and Polish interest in Irena’s activities was begun and provoked by the activities of the Kansas girls and by popularization in the American media.’ Irena was also the 2003 winner of the Jan Karski award for Valour and Courage, given to her on October 23, 2003 in Washington, D.C.

‘Life in a Jar’ started as a National History Day project in September of 1999. Four students (Megan Stewart, Liz Cambers, Sabrina Coons and Jessica Shelton) began looking for information about Irena Sendler. Mr. Conard had given them a clipping he had found in a 1994 issue of U.S. News and World Report. The mention of Irena was in a story called ‘Other Schindlers.’ Only one web site on the Internet mentioned Irena, it was not until the students visited Poland in 2001 that Irena’s story became known to the world. At the last count there were over 500,000 web sites on the Internet mentioning Irena.

When Irena first heard about the project in Kansas, she said, ‘I was stunned and fascinated; very, very surprised; interested.’ In one of Irena’s first letters to the girls, she wrote, ‘My emotion is being shadowed by the fact that no one from the circle of my faithful co-workers, who constantly risked their lives, could live long enough to enjoy all the honours that now are falling upon me…. I can’t find the words to thank you, my dear girls…. Before the day you wrote the play Life in a Jar — nobody in my own country and in the whole world cared about my person and my work during the war …’

Irena’s Cover methods
A Los Angeles Times obituary for Irena described how Irena, a Polish social worker, passed herself off as a nurse to sneak supplies and aid into (and children out of) the Warsaw Ghetto, and the punishment she endured when she was finally caught by the Nazis. Before her clandestine nurse operations Irena got into her ‘saving’ activities by working as a plumber and sewage cleaner –activities that often go unchallenged even in the most secretive societies.

Irena (code named Jolanta) and the ten who went with her into the ghetto, used several methods to smuggle children out. There were five main means of escape: 1 – using an ambulance a child could be taken out hidden under the stretcher. 2 – escaping through the courthouse. 3 – using the sewer pipes or other secret underground passages to take a child out. 4 – using a trolley to carry out children hiding in a sack, in a trunk, a suitcase or something similar. 5 – a child pretending to be sick or actually being very ill, could be a legal reason for removal using the ambulance. Irena did use a dog on occasion, but very few times out of the many rescues. Also, the number of babies saved was small in relation to the total number of children rescued.

There was a church next to the ghetto, but the entrance leading to it was ‘sealed’ by the Germans. If a child could speak good Polish and rattle off some Christian prayers it could be smuggled in through the ‘sealed’ entrance and later taken to the Aryan (German) side. This was very dangerous since Germans often used a rouse to trick the Poles and then arrest the escapees who were carrying Jolanta (Irena) documentation tags referring to the strips of paper she had buried in the jars, as well as the locations where the child was taken in the first phase of its escape. Irena and her network also made sure that each family hiding a child realized the child must be returned to Jewish relatives after the war.

Irena’s life of daring
She was a social worker in Warsaw when the German occupation of Poland began in 1939. In 1940, after the Nazis herded Jews into the ghetto and built a wall separating it from the rest of the city, disease, especially typhoid, ran rampant. Social workers were not allowed inside the ghetto, but Irena, imagining ‘the horror of life behind the walls,’ obtained fake identification and passed herself off as a nurse, allowed to bring in food, clothes and medicine.

By 1942, when the deadly intentions of the Nazis had become clear, Irena joined Zegota. She recruited 10 close friends –a group that would eventually grow to 25, all but one of them women—and began rescuing Jewish children. She and her friends smuggled the children out in boxes, suitcases, sacks and coffins, sedating babies to quieten the cries. Some were whisked away through a network of basements and secret passages. Operations were timed to the second. One of Irena’s children later told of waiting by a gate in darkness as a German soldier patrolled nearby. When the soldier passed, the boy counted to 30, then made a mad dash to the middle of the street, where a manhole opened and he was taken down into the sewers and eventually to safety.

Most of the children who left with Irena’s group were taken into Roman Catholic convents, orphanages and homes and given non-Jewish aliases. Irena recorded their true names on thin rolls of paper in the hope that she could reunite them with their families later. She preserved the precious scraps in jars and buried them in a friend’s garden.

Irena’s Capture and torture
Unfortunately in 1943 she was captured by the Nazis and tortured, but she refused to tell her captors who her co-conspirators were or where the bottles were buried. She also resisted in other ways. According to Meghan Felt (one of the authors of the project Life in a Jar), when Irena worked in the prison laundry, she and her co-workers made holes in the German soldiers’ underwear. When the officers discovered what they had one, they lined up all the women and shot every one. It was just one of the many close calls for Irena. During one particularly brutal torture session her captors broke her feet and legs, and she passed out. When she awoke, a Gestapo officer told her he had accepted a bribe from her comrades in the resistance to help her escape. The officer added her name to a list of executed prisoners. Irena went into hiding but continued her rescue efforts.

Felt also said that Irena had begun her rescue operation before she joined the organized resistance and helped a number of adults escape, including the man she later married. ‘We think she saved about 500 people before she joined Zegota,’ Felt said. This would mean that Irena ultimately helped rescue about 3,000 Polish Jews. When the war ended, Irena unearthed the jars and began trying to return the children to their families. For the vast majority there was no family left. Many of the children were adopted by Polish families; others were sent to Israel.

Irena: denied recognition?
The popular belief was that Irena Sendler was a candidate to receive the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, but that honour was not awarded to her. It is not exactly accurate to state categorically that she was ‘nominated’ for the award, since information for Nobel Prize nominations and opinions is kept secret for fifty years. In 2007, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and former US Vice-President Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. ‘for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change.’(Al Gore was also involved with another significant award in 2007, when ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, a documentary about his campaign to make the issue of global warming a recognized problem worldwide, claimed an Academy Award as ‘Best Documentary Feature’).

The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) expressed its disappointment that Irena Sendler had not yet been honoured with a Nobel Prize:
IFSW sends congratulations to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on winning the Nobel Peace Prize 2007. The issue of climate change is affecting all individuals and societies and it is a more than worthy cause to help begin the change in our lifestyle to prevent destruction of our planet. Social workers know from daily experience that this is an immediate and pressing social and personal issue.

However IFSW remained deeply saddened that the life work of Irena Sendler, social worker, did not receive formal recognition’, said David N. Jones, IFSW President. ‘Irena Sendler and her helpers took personal risks day after day to prevent the destruction of individual lives — the lives of the children of the Warsaw ghetto. This work was done very quietly, without many words and at the risk of their lives. This is so typical of social work, an activity which changes and saves lives but is done out of the glare of publicity and often at personal risk. IFSW recognises her again and at the same time celebrates the commitment and dedication of thousands of social workers around the world who also bring hope and care to people often living on the edge of despair.’

[most facts from http://www.irenasendler.org : edited & adapted by T.D’Souza only for Trodza –31.12.14]

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The Story of a Dream

31 Dec

A Dream turns into Reality

The Dream
When John had a dream at the age of nine his eldest brother thought he was crazy and some of the neighbours wrote him off as a dreamer. But his saintly mother had a hunch that probably God had designs for him. Her three boys went their separate ways but John the youngest decided he would become a priest and work for deprived and abandoned youth. He went through difficult and trying times but he was able to get human and divine interventions to help him reach his goal. Providence continued to play a significant part in his plans and ventures. Soon John, as a priest, took on the establishment and set up organizations to address the youth issue.

At a time, in the 19th Century, when religious movements and Christian organizations were under scrutiny and were being suppressed by secular authority, John, almost singlehandedly organized groups and societies that would initiate and support educational and social ventures. He founded religious Orders for men and for women and other lay organizations that would support these initiatives.

John never forgot his roots. The loss of his father when he was only two years old, due to a severe bout of pneumonia, left a void that psychologists and sociologists believe propelled him into starting off the dynamic ventures and initiatives that made a difference to society. With no father-figure around he depended on his mother while growing up. She in turn watched over him and supported him even during his early days at the fledgling projects he started for young people. In fact she played a powerful role in shaping his personality and giving him a sense of direction.

The Dream shows promise
John was born in the evening of 16 August 1815 in the hillside hamlet of Becchi, in Piedmont, in northern Italy. He was the youngest of the three boys of Francis and Margaret Bosco. Together with his elder brothers, Anthony and Joseph, John helped to run the farm of his father. John was born into a time of great shortages, following the devastation caused by the Napoleonic wars and the drought of 1817

In 1825, when he was nine, John had the first of a series of dreams which would play an influential role in his life. This first dream left a profound and lasting impression on him, as his memoirs record. In his dream John apparently saw a great number of very poor boys who were blaspheming as they played their games. Then a man appeared who was nobly attired, with a manly and imposing bearing. The man told him: You will have to win these friends of yours not with blows, but with gentleness and kindness. So begin right now to show them that sin is ugly and virtue beautiful.

Meanwhile when the travelling entertainers performed at local fairs in the nearby hills, John watched and studied the jugglers’ tricks and the acrobats’ secrets. He then put on shows of his own showing off skills as a juggler, magician and acrobat, however with prayers before and after each performance. That was the twist that made the difference. These were his early attempts to try and get his message across to the great army of young people he (and later his followers) would one day encounter through schools, colleges, youth centres and institutions.

The Dream has problems
John’s family weren’t by any means well off and Margaret struggled to provide for everyone. There was little she could do to get John through any schooling. John’s early years were spent as a shepherd. He received his first instructions in academic learning from a kind parish priest. His childhood experiences are thought to have inspired him to become a priest. He had winning ways and knew instinctively how to stop a fight and how to comfort some of his mates when they suffered in any way.

But, at that time, being a priest was generally seen as a profession for the privileged classes, rather than farmers, though there was the occasional surprise when a farmer’s child achieved that position. Some of his neighbours and even some of his biographers portray his older brother Anthony as the main obstacle to John’s ambition to study. Whenever John brought into the home a book to read or some little assignment his parish priest had given him Anthony would bully him out of developing any form of study habits. Anthony kept protesting that John was just a farmer like any of them and did not need any book to do his farming chores.

Margaret however kept tabs on the sensitivities and aspirations of her beloved John. She did her best to shield him from the taunts of Anthony, and saved up her pennies to allow John to follow his aspirations. And so it all finally happened when, on a cold morning in February 1827, John left his home on an adventure that would lead him to new horizons. This was a small step, but a significant one. He went to look for work as a farm-servant. At 12, he found life at home unbearable because of the continuous quarrels with Anthony. Having to face life by himself at such a young age may have helped him develop his later sympathies to help abandoned boys. After begging unsuccessfully for work, John ended up at the wine farm of Louis Moglia.

However, John was not able to attend school for another two years. His first break-through came in 1830 when he met Joseph Cafasso, an elderly priest, who spotted the natural talent in John. He supported John’s early efforts at learning. This in fact was the first schooling that John went through. He had to use his own learning skills to enhance the bits that Cafasso had led him into. It is difficult to imagine the amount of specific and all-round knowledge that John had by now acquired. What was amazing is that he proved to be bright and qualified enough to enter the seminary. Life moved on, and after six years of study, he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1836 in Turin.

The Dream moves on
At that time the city of Turin was just a reflection of what industrialization and urbanization had done. Young and old flocked to the cities for work of any sort. Numerous needy families ended up in the slums of the city, leaving poor but fairly stable settings in the countryside in the hope of a better life in the cities. In visiting the prisons John was disturbed to see among the inmates many 12 to 18-year-old boys. He was determined to find a means to prevent them ending up there. John found the traditional methods of parish ministry ineffective for this rapid increase of people migrating to the city. He decided to try another approach. He began to meet boys where they worked and gathered i.e. in shops, offices, market places. They were pavers, stone-cutters, masons, plasterers who came from far-away places

In addition to his search errands, he founded the ‘Oratorio’ (a modern-day ‘Youth Centre’, where educational nurturing leads young people towards healthy moral living and prayerful habits), as his main Sunday ministry. It was not however just a charitable institution, and its activities were not limited to Sundays. For John it became his permanent occupation. He looked for jobs for the unemployed young people who came to him. Some of these boys did not have any place to stay, and often slept under bridges or in bleak public dormitories. On two occasions he tried to provide lodgings in his own little house. The first time he tried that the boys stole the blankets. On the second occasion they emptied the hay-loft. But John did not give up.

In May 1847, John gave shelter to a young boy, in one of the three rooms he was renting in the slums of Valdocco, in Turin, where he was living with his mother. They then began taking in orphans. Before they could realize it the number of sheltered boys had grown from 36 in 1852 to nearly 800 in the late 1860s. John struggled to find a permanent home for his Oratorio. He was turned out of several places in succession. Some people even lodged complaints to the municipality because these street boys had not yet been trained enough to behave properly all the time. But John was an optimist. He never gave up.

The Dream keeps growing
Some of the boys helped by John were inspired by him, and offered to do what he was doing. They began to help John in his work in the service of abandoned boys. They liked what he did and decided to team up with him wherever and whenever they could. This was the origin of the Salesian Society. Among the first members were Michael Rua, John Cagliero (who later became a Cardinal), and John Baptist Francesia.

John took heart from that and, in 1859, selected the experienced priest Vittorio Alasonatti, 15 seminarians and one high school boy and formed them into the ‘Society of St. Francis de Sales.’ This was the nucleus of the Salesian Society, the religious Order that would carry on his work. He chose Francis de Sales, the French saint, as his patron because he wanted his followers to imitate the kindness and gentleness of this Saint. The word ‘Salesian’ in fact comes from ‘Sales’. When the group had their next meeting, they voted on the admission of Joseph Rossi as a lay member, the first Salesian Brother. The Salesian Society now consisted of priests, seminarians and Lay Brothers.

John then worked out a similar plan for women with a lady, Mary Mazzarello, in the hill town of Mornese, in Piedmont. In 1871, with her he founded a society of religious Sisters to do for girls what the Salesians were doing for boys. They were called the ‘Daughters of Mary Help of Christians’.

The Dream crosses boundaries
When John founded the Salesian Society, the thought of setting up his centres in ‘foreign’ lands still obsessed him, though he knew realistically that he lacked the funds to support his plans. John himself expressed his wish to go to work for young people in other lands. John claimed he had seen another dream where he was on a vast plain, inhabited by primitive peoples, who spent their time hunting or fighting among themselves or against soldiers in European uniforms. He then saw a band of priests but they were all massacred. A second group then appeared which John at once recognized as Salesians. He was then surprised to witness an unexpected change. When his Salesians approached them the fierce savages laid down their arms and listened to them. This dream made a great impression on John but he remained puzzled for the best part of three years trying to identify the places he saw in the dream.

As his society began functioning requests began coming in from countries in Europe and from beyond. One of the requests was from Patagonia in Argentina. A study of the people there convinced him that the country and its inhabitants were the ones he had seen in his dream. It was not long before John did receive requests to open centres in Argentina. John regarded this as a sign of providence and joyfully began preparing his followers for these projects. He sent letters to his Salesians asking for volunteers for these plans. He got more volunteers than he needed which spoke of the generosity of his first Salesians. He also ensured that in the arrangements he made with Bishops that his Salesians would not be placed where unfriendly tribes could harm their work.

The Dream Today (2014)
The Head of the Salesians is the Rector Major. The Society has 94 geographical provinces each of them headed by a Provincial, who serves a six-year term. The Rector Major and his General Council of Advisers also have a six-year term and are chosen by representatives from all the provinces in the world who form the General Chapter. Each local community is headed by a superior who is called a Rector who is appointed for a three-year term.

The present Rector Major is Father Angel Fernandez Artime, who was elected on 25th March 2014. Perhaps it was not by a mere coincidence that Father Angel, during his time as a Provincial in southern Argentina, came into close contact with Pope Francis, who was then Archbishop (later Cardinal) Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The Salesians today operate shelters for homeless or at-risk youths; schools; technical, vocational, and language instruction centers for youths and adults; and boys’ clubs and community centres. In some areas they run parishes. The Salesians are also active in publishing and in communication activities, and in educational-pastoral work across the world. The Salesians publish their official publication, the Salesian Bulletin, in 32 languages.
The Salesians (SDB) today number over 17,000 working in over 120 countries. The Salesian Sisters, [the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians] (FMA), number more than 15,000 in the world. The Salesians today also run over 58 colleges and universities. The official university of the Salesian Society is the Salesian Pontifical University (UPS) in Rome. In India, the Salesians started India’s first Catholic University, in Guwahati, Assam: Don Bosco University.
John also established a group called the Salesian Cooperators and another worldwide group called the Past Pupils (of the SDB & of the FMA). The Cooperators are lay people who live the spirituality and ministry of the Salesians. The Past Pupils are men and women who as young people attended a Salesian school, club or parish. Both these groups bring to the workplace, the home and to society the special Salesian ‘charism’ of joyful service that they imbibed during their student days.
John also pioneered a different style of education. He introduced the ‘Preventive System’ which provides guidance and a sense of direction to youth so that they can focus on their personal growth and development. The ‘preventive’ criterion believes in the strength of the good already present in every youngster, and seeks to develop this through positive experiences. It uses three pillars as supports in this system: reason, religion and charity.

‘Reason’ allows for flexibility and persuasiveness in the education process. ‘Religion’ seeks to develop the sense of God present in every person. ‘Charity’ or loving-kindness enables growth and socio-educational development. This System has proved itself over time more than 125 years after John, popularly known as Don Bosco, left this world in 1888. ‘Don’ meant priest [Father or Reverend] in Italian and John wanted to be known simply as Don Bosco. The Church by making him a Saint in the Catholic Church not only singled him out as an outstanding model of holiness but also confirmed the effectiveness of his System of Education.

Young people today across the world stand in endless queues to enrol in a Don Bosco institution, or proudly proclaim the ‘Salesian’ experience they treasure. The Salesians [men and women Orders, and associate Institutes] celebrate the feast of their Founder, Saint John Bosco, or Don Bosco, each year on 31st January.

[Facts from the DB Net sites: written jointly by Una Reeves and T.D’Souza –for Trodza: 31.12.14]

Modern Parables

28 Dec

Lessons to Learn

Lost in the flood
There was a man who prayed very much. He expected God to help him but he had his views about how God should help him. Once, it began to rain continuously and the whole area was flooded. When the water levels were still low, the man noticed that there was a land-rover going around rescuing people who were stranded. The man did not avail of that help. The man who always depended on God expected that God would do something special to save him. The flood waters rose higher and then a boat came by rescuing people. The boatman told him to hop onto the boat but the man refused to do so. He kept saying that God would save him from the flood. The rain continued to fall, the water rose higher.

The man then found a way to get the highest point around, a little hillock, and prayed to God to save him. When the rose higher still, a helicopter came around picking up the last few who could be saved. The pilot kept pleading with the man to come on board but he persisted in his fixed idea that he wanted God to help him. It is difficult to understand what his ‘God idea’ was. All we know is that finally he drowned. Well, when he finally caught up with God he didn’t lose time in complaining to God, ‘I prayed to you, but you didn’t come to save me.’ God replied, ‘I sent you a jeep, a boat and then, I sent you a helicopter, but you refused to use all the help I sent you. What more did you expect from me?’ The poet Tennyson said, ‘more things are wrought by prayer than this world can dream of.’ Prayer will work if we do what we can and don’t leave everything to God.

Car breakdown
Once there was heavy rain in heaven and outside heaven, and the ground was slushy. The car in which Mr. Moses and his family were, had broken down. They were a bit worried they would not be able to get back into heaven. A Prophet and his disciples were walking on the same road and noticed that the family was in some difficulty. Moses told them that they were waiting for someone to come and help them. After a while, the Prophet and his companions saw another car, that of Mr. Joshua and his family. The father was at the wheel and the family, –two grown-up sons and a grown-up daughter– was pushing the car.

The Prophet and his disciples felt sorry for the family especially for two little children in the car with the mother. They rolled up their sleeves and began to push the car together with the sons and daughter. In a while, the Joshua car was out of danger and moved on. When the Guru then looked back they saw the Moses car was still there, stuck in the mud! The story goes that they didn’t get in that night into heaven. Moses was just too dependent and just didn’t ask for help. God helps those who help themselves. Joshua believed in interdependence, and got the help he needed.

Frogs in the well
Deep in a certain forest there was a well where many big and small frogs lived. For many years they did not see the light and the warmth of the sun, the beauty of nature and the grandeur of living in a wonderful world. One summer day, a daring swallow ventured to enter the well and sitting on the walls of the well began to sing beautiful songs which captured the attention of the young frogs. The swallow invited the frogs to a life of freedom and joy on earth. She praised the blessedness and friendship of all the animals and the other creatures on earth. The little frogs listened attentively and wanted to follow the swallow and come out of the well.

The big frogs were angry and scolded the little frogs for listening to the fairy tales of the swallow. They told the little frogs to forget the swallow’s invitation and to continue to do their work in the well where they were comfortable and secure. The little frogs continued to argue with the big frogs and won the argument that they were not really very happy in the well. They wanted to experience the world of the swallow which seemed so beautiful, free and prosperous.

In the morning the swallow came back and sang her songs to the frogs and invited them to follow her. The frogs were scared to leave the place of security, comfort and the place of their ancestors. But some of them decided to follow the swallow and enjoy liberty and freedom and to share their love and warmth with others. When they came out of the dark and lonely well they saw a completely different world and began to experience a different life full of joy, happiness and prosperity. Sometimes we need to have the courage to leave our comfort zones in order to set new goals and experience happier achievements.

Council in Hell
There was a council in hell. The issue was that the devils saw more people were going to heaven than landing in hell. They wanted to dissuade people from going to heaven. One devil said he would go to earth and tell people that there was no God and that they would believe. Other devils said, ‘Nonsense! They know that there is God.’ Another said he would go and tell people that there was no hell and so they would continue sinning and then quite naturally just fall into hell. The devils did not agree for they knew that men still believed in Heaven.

Finally the last devil came up and said he would go to earth and tell people that there was plenty of time and so they could enjoy themselves without trying to do anything. The devils seemed to think this would work. They began to spread this message and people fell for it. There are many people who postpone, delay and neglect their work because they believe that there is no hurry. They believe that things can always be done later, which of course seldom happens. Laziness prevents people from setting goals. Procrastination is the easy way that takes people to hell!

[from Petals & Pebbles: by E.Dias and T.D’Souza –publ:CreateSpace -2013 ]

One of the bravest

28 Dec

Story of Selfless Courage

The Flight to Philadelphia
On a Sunday afternoon in January, 1951, a National Air Lines DC-4 with 25 passengers aboard landed on an icy runway in Philadelphia. In the thick of the Korean War, several of the passengers were soldiers and sailors. Flight 83 was just a short one from Newark to Norfolk, with this brief stop in Philadelphia in between.
On Saturday, January 13, Frankie called Peggy Egerton from the Jacksonville airport and said, ‘… Darndest luck, I’ve got to work, so no double date tonight. Some girls were sick, and there was a foul-up.’
She flew to Newark, New Jersey that day, planning to fly the Norfolk, Virginia shuttle and return to Jacksonville on Monday. But that was not to be. Instead, on Sunday, January 14, she was on National’s Flight 83, a DC4, from Newark to Norfolk with an intermediate stop in Philadelphia. Rain and snow swirled around the slushy runway as they approached the Philadelphia airport. Although it was mid-afternoon the pilot was ordered to make an instrument landing.
The 25 passengers and three-person crew landed on the 6000-foot runway but overran it and plunged through a fence with most of the fuselage thrust across a 10-foot ditch. The left wing was severed and high-octane gasoline tanks ruptured and the fuel ignited.
Frankie Housley wrestled open the cabin door and looked down at the ground eight feet below. Women and children were screaming behind her. Down there was safety and Frankie could have been the first to jump. Instead she went back to her passengers, as she had been trained to do in the five months she had been a stewardess. Working swiftly she released the seatbelts that balked at the efforts of frantic passengers.
In all Frankie made 11 trips from the door into the cabin, guiding frightened passengers to the door and urging them to jump. Some were reluctant and she shoved them. Maybe they would be slightly injured, but they would survive.
An 18-year-old sailor told newsmen a few hours later, ‘The stewardess was the calmest person on the plane.” “She was calm and tried to quiet those passengers who were yelling,’ said a young soldier. The pilot and the co-pilot were out, unscathed and unburned, as were most of the passengers. But Mary Frances did not return from her 11th trip back into the hot and smoking plane. After the fire subsided and the wreckage had cooled, they found her body with a 4-month old baby cradled in her arms.
As the cabin filled with smoke, passengers screamed. Some were on fire themselves. Frankie Housley was the lone stewardess. She would soon find out what doing her duty would mean. She was a striking young woman with dark-brown hair and darker eyes, so dark that some described them as black. The 24-year-old had been a stewardess for only five months, but she demonstrated what the training had done to her. The other two members of the crew took their leaps to safety, but not Frankie. She took charge of the situation. ‘Take it easy,’ she commanded in her strongest voice.

A Stewardess at twenty-four
Though she’d recently lived in Jacksonville, near her brother, she’d grown up in Knoxville, in North Hills and Fountain City, the daughter of a cigar-company owner. A Central High graduate, she had attended the University of Tennessee for a year before joining a women’s literary society. But then, perhaps too early, she got married. As some of her old friends were graduating from college, she was getting a divorce. She kept her maiden name, unusual for a divorcee in mid-20th century America, and worked for a time as a stenographer for a Jacksonville dentist before applying with the airline. She was hired on the first interview.

As the chief official attendant on that flight she had to rush to open the emergency door. She turned pale when she looked down at an eight-foot drop to the ground. But she performed heroically as one after another, she escorted passengers to the door and then encouraged them to the drop. To those who resisted the jump, which was like leaping off a garage roof, she offered a firm shove.

She got 10 passengers out that way. Among them were soldiers, sailors, and young mother Manuela Smith and her two-year-old daughter. But Smith’s infant, Brenda Joyce, was still in the plane. Frankie felt she had to rescue that child. She went back in, one more time, but this time she didn’t emerge.
When the fire was out, they found Frankie in the scorched fuselage with the baby in her arms. A soldier she saved called her ‘a real heroine.’ One congressman swore she was one of the bravest Americans in history.

She helped everyone but herself
Her body arrived back in her home town by train. The public wasn’t invited to her funeral, but more than 200, described as ‘close friends,’ appeared for the service. She was buried on a hill at Lynnhurst in Fountain City. The story made national headlines that week, and an item in Time magazine. The Philadelphia Bulletin editorial said that she should be honoured with a permanent, conspicuous memorial, and collected money for such a project, suggesting that, for maximum exposure, the best place for such a memorial should be in her hometown, at the university where she’d been a student.

The University of Tennessee’s President C.E. Brehm immediately agreed. Although she wasn’t a graduate, UT offered to install a prominent memorial to the former student, and Brehm decided Ayres Hall would be the best place. Word got back to the Philadelphia Bulletin, which reported, that UT ‘would accept any contributions that could be forwarded through this newspaper and would undertake the erection of a memorial in Ayres Hall, where Miss Housley pursued her studies.’

Her story captured the national imagination. NAL installed a plaque in her honour in a Miami hospital. Show-biz legend Eddie Cantor, the Apostle of Pep, performed a benefit comedy show in Jacksonville to raise money for a new wing of the Hope Haven Hospital for Crippled Children there to be named in Frankie’s honour. ‘It seemed appropriate,’ he said, ‘because she died trying to save a child.’

Some of it bothered her mother, only because the national media kept referring to Frankie as a Jacksonville resident. ‘This is her home, not Jacksonville,’ she said. The local chapter of the Shriners, who funded Knoxville’s own Crippled Children’s Hospital on Laurel Avenue, dedicated a room in the hospital to Frankie Housley.

Mr. Housley, her father, represented as ‘a salesman’ in newspaper accounts, mourned quietly. John Housley was, by some accounts not a trader who worked on the front rows of society. He’d come up the hard way in the ‘20s, when a lot of Knoxville business had different ways of operating. Besides selling cigars, according to family members, he was also involved in trading that didn’t always appeal to most ordinary people. He’d run the Housley-Mayer Cigar Co. out of the back of a building on Gay near the train station, and later set up in a bigger storefront on North Central near Broadway.

The bravest woman in America
Some years later, writer MacKinlay Kantor, author of the Pulitzer-winning historical novel, Andersonville, took an interest in her story. He called her ‘the Bravest Woman In America’—and came to Knoxville to have a look around the city where she grew up, hoping to find clues to her heroism. He visited each of her childhood homes, and her grave, and observed that each was on a hill. Readers Digest, then the most popular magazine in the nation, published A Girl Named Frankie (by M.Kantor in May 1966). Some readers travelled to Knoxville just to see her grave.

There are processes and advocacy groups for memorializing soldiers, even those who never showed conspicuous courage, but not for flight attendants. Some Knoxvillians today, like Jack Kramer, who were impressed by her story, think she deserves a statue, or a street named in her honour. Kramer grew up in Florida, and eventually joined the Navy. After seven years of service, much of it in the vicinity of the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam, he returned to an America he didn’t recognize: divorce, crime, and drugs, he says, had eroded life as he knew it. Looking for something more meaningful, he moved to Spain, where he found values that resembled those of the America of his youth. He settled there, and taught there for some time.

An amateur bibliophile, he often found himself browsing used-book sales. At a flea market he found a children’s book in Spanish, called ¿Que Quieres Ser?—What do you want to be? It told inspiring stories from around the world about people in different professions: Henry Ford, Pablo Picasso, Florence Nightingale, and Frankie Housley. ‘I was moved by her story,’ he says.

After four years in Spain, he realized, “You just can’t step back out of life. You’ve got to get involved.” He moved back to the States, got his masters in Spanish, and began working with the Catholic Church. Through a couple of twists of fate, Kramer found himself editing the Hispanic edition of the Catholic Church’s newsletter for the diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee. He now suffers from Parkinson’s, and has some difficulty speaking, but still works as a consultant for the church’s Hispanic ministries.

Central High honours Frankie Housley (1926-1951) in its Alumni Hall of Fame—they display the portrait of her used by Reader’s Digest—but Kramer thinks there should be something more out where anybody might encounter the story. He’d heard the Knoxville Fire Department might be interested in helping, and mailed them his copy of the book. Unfortunately, the person he mailed it to lost his job soon after that, and Kramer never saw the book again.

The room named for America’s heroine at Crippled Children’s Hospital did not survive that hospital itself, which closed only about a decade after the dedication of the Housley room. If you walked around Ayres Hall looking for a plaque, you’ll soon discover that UT never got around to installing it. No one seems to know what became of the money pledged in Philadelphia.

National Air Lines stopped flying many years ago. It was acquired by PanAm, which subsequently collapsed. The Philadelphia Bulletin closed. Even the hospital in Jacksonville that Eddie Cantor raised money for has since been torn down. Had Housley survived, she might still be alive today. She’d be about 81 and might have given us some insights into what went through her mind. If she had just jumped out, and left the passengers to their fates, she might well still be among us. She might still have been around helping many more people in different situations, and might have become known more widely than as a heroine of Flight 83. She had no time to think. Life just threw the options at her. Her heart spoke: ‘Go for it Frankie.’ She did: that’s her story. No memorials have come up but she will certainly be remembered as one of the bravest women in America.
However, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission presented her parents, Mr. and Mrs. John H. Housley, Sr., a bronze medal recognizing Mary Frances’ heroic acts. Who can say what moulds a heroine? Perhaps the answer is on that marble plaque on the wall in Central High School, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’
[from the account by J.Neely in Metro Pulse-01.01.2008: Edited by T.D’Souza for Trodza– 28.12..2014]

Outsiders and Insiders

27 Dec

A Parable for Today

Once, many years ago, some adventurers (somewhere in the distant islands in the Pacific Ocean) got into a boat and sailed across the deep seas. After many days they sighted a small island and decided to explore what they could find. The place apparently was virgin land with plenty of fruits and other edible vegetation, and they thought they might possibly discover some hidden wealth as well. At first it seemed like paradise to them. The adventurers soon built little homes for themselves quite like cottages even though they couldn’t manage more than thatch or bamboo. They seemed pleased to begin a new life there.

A few years later, some other people, who had sailed along those parts earlier, now noticed that the island looked prosperous. They decided to stop over and check out what the island was like. They were like tourists, very much like cruising groups exploring the world in retirement. At that point in time there were no rules in place like ‘immigration’ restrictions and so these new ‘hoppers’ too decided to pitch their tents and enjoy the benefits of the island. It was not long before news of the paradise island spread across the other islands and the lands around. It wasn’t long before the first settlers on the island felt that these newcomers and others, who started pouring into the island, began to swell the numbers. It was possibly the start of one of modern days’ bugbears: uncontrolled immigration.

The earliest settlers had by now become quite established. They had systematically created farming areas and residential areas. They soon found markets for their produce and had begun trading. It wasn’t long before they began to feel like a ‘corporate’ body and became quite possessive and protective of the wealth they had created and the society they had nurtured. They had also become quite powerful in terms of setting up their own security systems, even creating a police force armed with appropriate weapons to protect their ‘community’ or to fight off intruders, or ‘outsiders’ as they began to call them.

They put up a fence around the most fertile areas so as to keep off the other later arrivals. They also put up signposts which read, ‘No Entry. Private Property. Trespassers will be prosecuted.’ The system seemed to work because the people inside the fence became more prosperous with luxury goods, quality food and a comfortable lifestyle. Soon all their area got fenced off and those outside the fence had no choice but to live with the limited availability of food and other necessities outside the protected area. It wasn’t long before those on the outside began to feel the effects of these restrictions. It was reported by other casual tourists that some people had even died of starvation because of these limits imposed on them.

It is not clear whether the ‘insiders’ wanted to patronize them or whether the ‘outsiders’ pleaded, but some sort of ‘social’ pressure exerted got the ‘insiders’ to agree to give the ‘outsiders’ food provided they offered to work for them. Whatever may have been the case it soon became clear that the two distinct ‘groups’ became the established ‘social divisions’ on the island. Perhaps this evolved set-up eventually panned out to become the ‘class’ system we now have in some what are called ‘developed’ nations, or perhaps the ‘caste’ system that exists in some other countries.

The ‘outsiders’ originally got food for their services. Eventually the remuneration became low payments in gold or silver or the accepted currency of the islands around, which was probably ‘dinars’, or ‘pesos’, for services rendered. But these were very low payments. If the work or task requested was not done or completed because the workers (‘the outsiders’) could not cope because of bad weather or sickness or other reasons, they did not get paid. Poverty grew and resentment grew as well. The wiser and the stronger among the ‘outsiders’ began to get organized. This was perhaps the beginning of ‘trade unions’. Some of the smarter ones among them were able to use their periods of work in the ‘insider’ areas to find out more about how systems could be set up. Some of the more desperate among them began to steal knives, swords and guns. Some of these outsiders in fact made a few attempts to break through parts of the fence that were not too secure.

Soon the ‘insiders’, who had by now developed an ‘intellectual’ approach to living, realised that they would have to set up a ‘police force’ to protect their enclosure. Their only ‘catchment area’ and group to recruit from was evidently the ‘outsider’ group. They also soon realised that this police force in order to be effective had to be paid far better salaries than the ordinary workers (among the ‘outsiders’). This was a clever move that the ‘insiders’ believed would work in their favour. Quite naturally this created tensions within the ‘outsider’ group. Whatever may have been the disharmony in the ‘outsider’ camp, the ‘insiders’ had achieved a master stroke on their ladder of ‘social success’: they had not only established the beginnings of an ‘army’ and of a ‘protection force’, they had created disharmony in the lower ranks and so secured their position of power.

The ‘insiders’ soon found life had become comfortable, and decided there had to be a section of junior executives that needed to be created to establish and manage ‘leisure’. They soon figured out that a section of the ‘outsiders’, who had now become part of the society that moved around quite freely inside the ‘protected areas’ of the island were actually properly educated and seemed smart enough to ‘manage’ their affairs. So they went a step further and recruited more ‘professional outsiders’ to train up a new breed of ‘outsiders’ to become their ‘professional’ messengers and instructors. They would have to teach these special ‘outsiders’ in the ‘enclosure’ proper manners and behaviour so that the community of ‘insiders’ could lead a life of peace and security, of leisure and pleasure. This is not very unlike an ‘office’ class created by a colonial power in the Far East.

Gradually some of these fresh’ outsiders’ got more involved in the lifestyles of the ‘insiders’. Some of them set up small companies of their own and provided more professional services to the ‘insiders’: offering them facilities like massage parlours, beauty therapies, casinos, gyms and perhaps even ‘personal services’ which eventually became unofficial brothels and gradually got recognized as part of their leisure industry. These ‘outsider’ companies possibly became the earliest of the ‘outsourced’ groups providing a stable continuous lifeline to the ‘insiders’. Other ‘outsiders’ got more intimately involved and had ‘affairs’ with those they serviced in their parlours or brothels. Some ‘insiders’ even got to believe that having intimate relationships was above all limitations imposed, even if it meant marrying ‘outsiders’.

History has recorded that the powerful nations (mainly the colonial powers with armies and navies) all attempted some of these ‘stop-overs’ that eventually produced numerous offspring whenever their naval vessels docked off countries in the Far East, the Africas and the Americas. Whatever the eventual outcomes, the powerful nations used subtle definitions to justify their methods to provide labour and services for their own needs. The more refined establishments who constantly sought to define (and even re-define) their positions soon developed theories, one of which is possibly ‘multi-culturalism’ today! Eventually, even if not logically, one of the more robust of these practical extensions is how society today would evolve better if ‘inclusive education’ were introduced across the board, especially to groups that were It is difficult to fathom whether modern moves like these are genuine or merely temporary solutions to a problem that has deeper roots.

These two groups however remained distinct ‘classes’ on the same island, and as history goes, capitalist ideology, the ‘North-South divide, the haves and have-nots and the social classes were born! This was the beginning of the ‘developed’ (or wealthy) nations dominating over ‘developing’ (poorer) nations. This domination continues even today though there is a new awakening among people worldwide to enable developing nations to become self-reliant and developed. The United Nations in its Charter (Universal Declaration of Human Rights – 1948) has come out strongly with a recommendation that should become the statute for all nations today:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

(adapted by T.D’Souza: from Petals & Pebbles –by E.Dias & T.D’Souza: Create Space -2013 )

The ‘Unbroken’ Story of Louis

27 Dec

War and Faith

A New York best-seller
Laura Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken, was New York Times’ best-seller for three years long before Angelina Jolie made it into a film adaptation that was released on Christmas Day 2014. It is the unforgettable story of Olympian and American war hero, Louis Zamperini. The narrative records his experiences as an ‘untamable’ child, an Olympic athlete, a prisoner of war and a distraught veteran on the brink of a divorce, who eventually found God.

Zamperini grew up in Torrance, California, and loved to get into mischief. He found structure and success in running, which led him to the University of Southern California and, eventually, the 1936 Olympics, where he was placed eighth in the 5,000 meters. His hopes of competing in the 1940 Olympics were crushed when Europe exploded into war. Louis Zamperini was drafted into the army and became a bombardier for the American Air Corps.

During a rescue mission to search for an American plane that had disappeared over the ocean, the plane Zamperini and his crew were flying had engine failure and crashed into the ocean. After suffering 47 days floating in a raft, he was taken captive by the Japanese military. Zamperini spent two years in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps where he was beaten, starved and tormented by the guards.

Zamperini survived the camps and made it back home to his family but not for too long. He passed away on July 2, 2014, just six months short of the release of the film on December 25. He died from pneumonia at the age of 97.

Religious Faith steps in
Though Zamperini didn’t grow up a practicing Christian — he was described by Hillenbrand as being “thrilled by the crashing of boundaries” — there were multiple times throughout his ordeal where he recognized the hand of God.

The most significant moment followed the crash of the Green Hornet, the plane Zamperini and his crew were flying on the rescue mission. As the plane hit the ocean and began to sink, Hillenbrand writes, Zamperini became entangled in plane wires. He passed out underwater and then awoke only to find himself sinking deeper and deeper with the plane but no longer tangled. Zamperini managed to kick up to the surface with the help of his life jacket.

“If he had passed out from the pressure, and the plane had continued to sink and the pressure to build, how had he woken again?” Hillenbrand asks. “And how had he been loosed from the wires while unconscious?” Hillenbrand and Louis himself see divine intervention playing a role. Whatever the interpretations, for Louis, the seed for religious faith was planted.

Zamperini’s faith continued to grow as he spent 47 days — dehydrated, exhausted and starved — on the raft with fellow soldiers Phil and Mac, the only other survivors from the crash. The life-threatening conditions led Phil and Zamperini to turn to prayer. Zamperini was heard, more than once, by his fellow survivor to say and promise that if God would spare his life, he would serve him forever.

One of those prayerful promises is depicted in the film when the men are fighting a storm, trying to keep their raft afloat in the middle of the crashing waves.

According to Hillenbrand’s biography, it is this promise that Zamperini remembered when attending a sermon by the evangelical preacher, Billy Graham, years after returning from the war. In an interview with the Faith Community Church in his old age, Zamperini talked about the moment he recognized the hand God had in his life and was filled with faith, humility and forgiveness.

The Book and the Film
It is difficult to know why Jolie tells a beautiful story but leaves out some vital details. In fact the turning point of the book never made it to the film. So, perhaps Hillenbrand’s bestseller might not sell to audiences if they knew the whole truth, because the film story is incomplete, even though the film is a classic. Yes, Jolie, who directed the film and the Coen brothers who wrote it left out the most important part of Zamperini’s story.

There have been many World War II stories told in film depicting triumphs of personal courage and survival. The story of Louis Zamperini is one such story, but with an added dimension. Zamperini, who died earlier this year at age 97, came home an angry man. He became addicted to alcohol and cigarettes and verbally abused his young wife as he wrestled with his inner demons. The skeleton of his story is in the film — the plane crash at sea while on a rescue mission; the 47 days floating on a raft before being picked up by a Japanese ship and thrown into a prison camp; the relentless torture and eventual liberation at the end of the war.

After returning to Los Angeles we see Zamperini hugging his brother and parents, but the story ends there, in the film. Director Angelina Jolie attempts to put some flesh on the bones at the end of the film with some still shots and words that tell us that Zamperini’s faith led him to return to Japan on a personal mission of reconciliation. In media appearances, Jolie has refused to discuss why the most remarkable part of Zamperini’s story was excluded from the film. That would be the night he was converted at the 1949 Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles.

As Hillenbrand tells it in her book, Louis came home, poured his alcohol down the drain, threw out his cigarettes, was reconciled to his wife and became a new man because, he said, he had asked Jesus Christ to be his Saviour.

As stories about faith have made a recent comeback on TV and in movies, attracting high ratings and large ticket sales at the box office, it is puzzling why the film leaves out the most important part of Zamperini’s story. Once word gets around that Zamperini’s conversion, which was so faithfully and beautifully chronicled in Hillenbrand’s book, is not in the film, one would suspect that many who share Louis’ faith will not buy tickets. Apologists for Universal Pictures say people can always read the rest of the story in the book. Yes, they can, but then why should they see a film that highlights only half a life?

Just before he died, Jolie showed Zamperini a rough cut of the film. He seemed humbled by the portrayal and did say that it didn’t force religion down people’s throats.

[T.D’Souza –adapted from Wikipedia –Christmas 2014]

The Call that changed a Life

8 Dec

                Listening to an inner voice made all the difference

                                      The story of Radha

 

The burning desire

She was young, attractive and friendly. She had beautiful black hair, long and braided. She was the joy of her parents and the pride of her teachers. Her mates just loved her because she was friendly and kind, and had time for everyone. Yet deep down in her heart, soon after she left school and especially during her teacher-training days, there was a burning desire to do something for God and for others. There was an inner urge to step away from the comforts that surrounded her, from the security of her upbringing, from the solace of an over-protective society.

‘At an age when most of my friends were getting married,’ Radha recalled, ‘I felt an urgent and constant call to meet up with this person who wanted to enter my life.’ She then continued speaking with passion, ‘I felt a burning desire to know him, love him and follow him. It was almost like an incredible power asking for all my attention and devotion.’ It then all happened to her, almost like a benevolent tsunami overpowering her, when she began her life as a teacher of English and Social Studies in a convent school at the age of just 24. The institution, run by the Canossa Sisters, the Daughters of Charity, exposed her to the pious, dedicated lives of the Nuns that seemed to fascinate her. She began to follow them closely in all the little things they did: their daily duties, their prayer routines and their spontaneous friendliness. It wasn’t long before she was truly smitten.

Radha soon discovered that these Nuns lived their lives of simplicity and commitment because they were really ‘in love with Jesus, the person’, as she put it in her own simple way. ‘That only urged me to find out more about this Jesus. That of course was not easy for me. Even though my love for Jesus began growing and I felt a deep desire to know him, love him and serve him, I still felt very confused and a little afraid as I didn’t belong to his chosen group of followers, who were really of another religion. ’

‘I didn’t quite know how to go about it all. I loved my teaching and yet there was this almost haunting call from someone who I felt was pursuing me somewhat relentlessly. This pursuit was interfering with my teaching work, the preparations I had to do, my family commitments and my regular routines. No, it wasn’t in the way a boy friend tracks down his love-target. This was like a powerful ad that keeps coming up on the TV screen, like a message flashing across the dashboard of a driver racing through a fog-ridden highway, like a pilot desperately trying to land his aircraft through a smog-filled runway. It was all getting in the way of my obligatory tasks and my teaching commitments. I just didn’t know how to handle this call that seemed to come persistently relayed from some divine masthead.’

The message

‘Yet, the message was simple: Come follow me. Many years later I was to discover that this same Jesus had used the very same message to recruit his team, his followers. I did find out, quite a long way down the line, that he had brought on board the youthful John, the smart Mathew, the rustic Peter and even the doubting Thomas. Was I to be his latest catch? I couldn’t see myself anywhere near enough even to touch the hem of their garments. I knew I wasn’t worthy to belong to that circle of chosen disciples. I had too many issues clogging the way before I could even try to grasp the hidden agenda behind this call that seemed to be dogging me constantly. Yet there seemed to be something urgent about the message that appeared to have been packaged similar to a Christmas gift, looking quite like a hazy cloud behind a silver lining. It was so much like a glowing diadem at the far end of an enveloping mist, a glittering diamond attracting me to the end of a dark tunnel.’

‘I decided I had to do something about it. One morning rushing into school, just about in time for the morning staff briefing, with my marking pile almost bulging quite clumsily over the top of my hessian bag, I whispered to the senior Nun, who happened to be standing right next to me just inside the door of the staff-room. She had now retired from active teaching yet was always around attending the briefings, often strolling around the classroom corridors encouraging the students with her smiles and supporting fledgling teachers with her inspiring words. I just about managed to get close to her to whisper into her ear, Can I see you for a few minutes, at the morning break?

‘Yes, of course, my dear,’ came Sister Tecla’s spontaneous response. ‘That perhaps started me off to a journey that is now well on its way to what it was perhaps destined to be ,’ said Radha as she spoke of the experience of her life as it had panned out over nearly thirty-five years since it had all happened to her.

Facing the music

Yet it wasn’t quite music to Radha when she began her long journey following the beacons of her call. To begin with she was not an official follower of Jesus, a Christian. She was Radha Krishnan, a Hindu Brahman, the fourth daughter of this high caste family. Her elder sister and her three brothers were all Hindu too. When she taught in the Canossa convent in Mumbai in 1971-1972 she never imagined that she would get her world turned upside down with her family and friends spinning around in circles of disbelief and shock.

Radha, after more than 30 years with the Canossa sisters began to unravel the details of this fascinating tale, which was really not very different from that of Saul, who turned into Paul, after the same Jesus tracked him down on the road to Damascus some centuries back. She began telling her story in bits, somewhat embarrassed to speak of her personal encounters with the Jesus she was drawn to. She started by saying, ‘I enjoyed teaching these young teenage girls in school, but this calling to be with Jesus never faded. I just had to run away from home and all that I was involved with. I was first baptized Radha Maria Krishnan. I then joined the Canossa Order.’

Then, almost with a tinge of sadness and pathos she continued, ‘My family was completely shattered. I had brought shame and embarrassment on the family, especially on my parents. I had to suffer humiliation from my relatives. We were from a very traditional, Brahmin Iyengar family.  Converting to Christianity was a very big blow to our family pride. My parents suffered immensely. My elder sister was already married but she too had to bear the taunts of our well-intentioned relatives. My mother particularly was a very religious person, a devout Hindu.  Her morning began at dawn performing religious rituals. Her afternoons were spent reading sacred Hindu scripture.’

Finally, after repeated requests Radha plucked up enough courage to speak to an interviewer about the inner strength she had to live up to the call she had received. She spoke with a glow on her face, ‘But Jesus never fails his beloved. Over the years my parents, especially my mother, came to terms with my vocation as a Christian and as a Carmelite Nun. Both my parents have died, but were completely at peace with me and with my call. My brothers and sister too gradually accepted me.  Their children too are very happy and reconciled to the way I chose to live. Now they are all at peace with me and my way of life.  My relatives too are now reconciled not only to my being a Christian, a Catholic, but also with my commitment as a Nun.’

‘What gives me great joy is that the family too, in a wonderful way, is united in reconciliation. In fact, occasionally they come to the monastery with their own children – this is a matter of immense joy for me. My Spouse (Jesus) takes care also of my feelings for them and helps me cope with this separation that I have to live with. Even though all of them are still Hindu we all still feel united in quite an amazing way: and I do believe that it is Jesus who has made it all happen.’

Living up to the call

‘After joining the Canossa convent, I was sent for further studies to obtain a master’s degree. However, academic studies left me with very little time for prayer. This made me feel unfulfilled and quite restless. I had a deep desire to devote my day and night to being with Jesus, praying, meditating, sharing, doing everything, just living for Jesus. This busy academic life left a yearning within me. It was at this point that my calling to the cloistered life was discerned. I joined a cloistered Order in May 1977. These last 30 years have been the happiest and most joyful years of my life.’

Radha, at 61 years of age, is now Sister Mary Joseph, and lives in the Discalced Carmelite (cloistered) Order in Mumbai. She would be pleased if people prayed for her rather than tracked her down to get more of her story. She is happy to pray for the world, for people in suffering, for the many needs of the church and of society. She is aware of teenagers going off the rails, of marriages breaking up, of countries going to war, of grown-ups misbehaving, of parents not looking after their children and of society that needs constant reminders to live exemplary lives with those eternal values that make for good living and healthy values.  Sister Mary allowed this insight into her life to be published so that people would thank God for making things happen in her life and would pray for her to continue her commitment to prayer that she truly believes she should do. The interviewer [NC], who feels privileged to have been taught by Sister Mary in that Canossa convent school, is pleased she was able to get Sister Mary to tell her story, and prefers to remain unknown.

[Retold by T.D’Souca for Trodza Blog][Story from ‘Asia News’-November 2008]