Archive | February, 2015

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.

Voice of the Voiceless

15 Feb

A Leader: staying with his people
Before he could even take on his duties and responsibilities, this new leader in Africa stepped on to the scene calling global leaders in influential positions to use their moral authority to speak up and help make a difference in people’s lives in his country and in Africa. Well aware of the fact that his country, Ethiopia, might not be the focus of attention in the media or indeed in technology, he yet wanted leaders and people across the world to know that his country was facing pressing issues that needed to be addressed urgently. This lone African voice, speaking from his established Ethiopian seat of ministry and service, was pleading with organizations worldwide to step in with support and resources before the forces of exploitation and domination got in and made the lives of people in Ethiopia and in Africa difficult, dangerous and desperate.

The 66-year-old Ethiopian leader, the new Cardinal of Addis Ababa, Berhaneyesus Souraphiel, wasted no time in assessing the situation and announcing his plans. Ethiopia’s leading Catholic prelate hopes his own story of standing by and serving his people in one of Africa’s poorest countries will inspire young people to do the same. About two-thirds of the population have not had the benefits of education and, while the country is now considered politically and economically stable, it has gone through lengthy periods of drought, famine, war and exploitation.

Born into ‘a family of Catholics for generations’ in the village in Tchela Claka, near Harar in eastern Ethiopia, the Cardinal spoke of his family and of the fact that all but one of his seven siblings live in Ethiopia. He admitted this sad reality that Ethiopia is losing its valuable talent and assets. ‘While Ethiopians are easily tempted to leave their homeland to live and work in developed countries, the need for educated people here is great,’ the Cardinal Archbishop of Addis Ababa said in a January telephone interview with ‘Catholic magazine’ of America.

A Leader: in an emerging nation
As Cardinal in one of the most recognized cities in the world which is also the capital of one of the important countries of Africa, the Archbishop of Addis Ababa takes on a unique role of pastor and leader. Almost without his realizing it he would seem to have taken on the unenviable responsibility of having to define the place of the Church in a broader Africa, the position of African people asserting their rightful place among the nations of the world and the take of history on the emergence of Ethiopia today as a flag-bearer of genuine African values.

Ethiopia, with a population of approximately 90 million people is the most populous landlocked country in the world as well as the second-most populated nation in Africa. Located in the far north-eastern corner of Africa, in what is known as the Horn of Africa, it is bordered by five countries: Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya. The source of the River Nile in the north would seem to augur blessing and prosperity flowing through large parts of the country today though it has not helped keep off the effects of famines and drought in the past.

The country also stands out anthropologically, offering the oldest evidence for modern humans, Homo Sapiens. The country’s roots can in fact be traced back to the 2nd millenium B.C. For most of its history it was a monarchy that helped develop a unified civilization in the region. In the 19th century ‘scramble for Africa’ Ethiopia came out unscathed because of its organized military resistance. It was also successful in resisting colonial powers and was the first independent African member of the 20th century League of Nations first and then later was one of the founding members of the UN in 1974.

Unfortunately with political instability creeping in, military powers and vested interests, including interference by the USSR, left this country of well-meaning and peace-loving people exposed to exploitation and uncertainty. In spite of challenging and changing times Ethiopia today is still the largest economy in northern Africa and is the centre for many African organizations, including the OAU (organization for African Unity), the Pan African Chamber of Commerce, African Aviation Union and the African Standby Force.

The country is a land of many firsts: coffee beans were first grown here; it has Africa’s largest continuous mountain range; it has the most number of World Heritage sites; its ancient alphabet, the ‘Ge’ez’ script is perhaps the oldest in the world; it has its own unique Ethiopian Calendar that is used alongside the Gregorian Calendar°. The country is a multi-lingual society with around 80 different ethnic groups. The population is largely Christian with a third being Muslim, and the Jews being a large group. Ethiopia is believed to be the first nation to have become Christian, as early as the 3rd Century A.D. ACTS° records the first Ethiopian becoming Christian, while history records the groups of Christians fleeing from the persecution during Diocletian’s° reign taking refuge and then setting up communities in Ethiopia.

The Cardinal clearly has his work cut out: leading a vibrant church in a country that stands out in history and in reality, guiding mainly a bulk of his country’s population through developing and challenging times. There’s no doubt that he takes on a role that is as daunting as it is exciting: enabling Ethiopia to use its historical richness to be the template for future greatness. Fortunately he has broad shoulders: his education, his background and his pastoral experience will serve him in good stead as he steers his ship through calm and troubled waters.

A Leader: leading the Church
‘As a Church,’ the Cardinal said, ‘we need to work to change the situation in Ethiopia, that of poverty and injustice, so that young people have more opportunities.

The Church in Ethiopia (and in Addis Ababa, its capital) was first established in 1839 as the Apostolic Prefecture of Abyssinia, taken off the Apostolic Vicariate of Syria, Egypt, Arabia and Cyprus. Gradually over the years, from 1846 right until 1960 the Church developed, grew and took on more governance and independence. Finally in 1961 it was named the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Addis Ababa, with three ‘suffragan’° dioceses. Archbishop Souraphiel took over as Archbishop in 1999. Pope Francis, who is always full of surprises, appointed him and 19 others from different parts of the world as Cardinals, in February 2015. The Pope’s appointee choices ranged from Myanmar to Mexico, Portugal to Panama, Vietnam to Uruguay, France to New Zealand, Italy to Tonga, Spain to Cape Verde, and of course from Thailand to Ethiopia.

Cardinal Souraphiel is President of the Catholic bishops’ conference of Ethiopia and Eritrea. In July 2014 he was also elected chairman of AMECEA (Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa) based in Nairobi, Kenya. After studying theology at King’s College in London, he returned to Ethiopia and was ordained a priest in 1976 as a member of the Congregation of the Mission who are also known as Vincentians or Lazarists.

A Leader: surviving under oppression
He worked as a pastor in the south-western part of the country and was imprisoned in Jimma for seven months during a crackdown on religious leaders by the communist military regime. Mengistu Haile Mariam’s junta committed many atrocities on thousands of its opponents, imprisoned people on religious grounds and confiscated property. After his release from prison, Souraphiel studied social sciences at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome before returning to Ethiopia. He became Provincial Superior of the Lazarists in Addis Ababa and, after the junta was overthrown in 1991 and Ethiopians were free to practise religion, he taught at the seminary there. In 1994, he was appointed prefect of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jimma-Bonga, in western Ethiopia.

‘It was good to be back in Jimma, when things had changed and we were able to practise our faith in freedom,’ Cardinal Souraphiel said after he had suffered years of repression and imprisonment. In 1997, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Addis Ababa and was named Archbishop two years later.

A Leader: leading his suffering people
‘The oppression of Christian churches and other religious groups under the communist military regime brought us together, as did our joint efforts in the years of drought and famine,’ he said.
‘The fruits of collaboration,’ he summed up, ‘have resulted in a strong national interfaith forum of religious leaders.’

On a 2013 visit to the United States, Cardinal Souraphiel told Catholic News Service, ‘Education is the key for development and peace. The Ethiopian church leaders hope that education can help fight some cultural traditions, such as female circumcision and beliefs that epileptic children are possessed.’

In 2009, Ethiopian religious leaders, including Cardinal Souraphiel, wrote to U.S. President Barack Obama ahead of the 2009 international climate talks in Denmark, urging him to adopt a strong ‘position and to give a full pledge on a sound climate change policy.’ They called such a stance a ‘moral and ethical imperative to ensure a preserved environment.’

A Leader: urging others to speak for his people
Souraphiel is one of 20 new Cardinals created by Pope Francis to help build a more vibrant Church in Christian centres across the world. Francis has used his own natural love for people and their lives to urge the Church to awaken to its Christian obligations of service and dedication. He believes in this vision of a Church well established and developing locally. He is moving towards a more inclusive Church also when it comes to it leading prelates, the Cardinals. He would want them to be more than just symbols of authority to be the ones who eventually are responsible for governing their areas and not be just the electors of his successor. The voices of Africa and Asia will also now be significantly more, in number of Cardinal-electors, up from approximately 9% (when Francis was elected) to around 12% now.

Souraphiel is Ethiopia’s second Cardinal. He took over from Cardinal Paulos Tzadua°, who resigned in 1998 after guiding the Church steadily and wisely, through some difficult times, for over 19 years. Souraphiel takes over a Church building on a past of suffering and a present of uncertain times. Without sounding prophetic he would want institutions like the Vatican, and the Pope, to focus their energies towards speaking up on behalf of suffering people around the world, wanting them to be ‘the voice of the voiceless’ who are not in a position to speak out. He was speaking specifically about people in East Africa who are being displaced from their homes in efforts to mine natural resources. The Cardinal emphasized this in strong words: ‘These people need to be heard.’

‘The Vatican is a big voice in the world,’ said Souraphiel. ‘It is also not just a voice. It is also a moral voice. It has to be the voice of the people in Africa. The Vatican could help us with that: To be the voice of the voiceless.’ Cardinal Souraphiel, who is head of Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa Archdiocese and the country’s Conference of Bishops, was speaking in an exclusive interview with NCR at the Collegio Etiopico, the historic seminary for Ethiopian priests that was founded in the 15th Century, located next to the Vatican gardens in Rome.

[by T.D’Souza- who has done six years of project work in East Africa]
(Facts from ‘Catholic’ USA, NCR, Wikipedia & internet sources: 15.02.15)

-Acts: the Acts of the Apostles. The reference is to Chapter 8: vs 26 to 40
-Cardinal Paulos Tzadua: (1921 – 2003): head of Ethiopian Catholic Church from 1977 to 1998.
-Diocletian: Roman Emperor – who ruled from 284 to 305 A.D.
-Gregorian Calendar: the calendar the world uses today, started by Pope Gregory XIII in February 1582.
-Suffragan: A Bishop subordinate to a Metropolitan Arch-Bishop.

Go to Joseph

10 Feb

‘Go to Joseph,’ was the proclamation from the highest authority in the civilized world two thousand years ago, the Pharaoh, asking everyone in the food famine to go to the Governor Joseph. ‘Go to Joseph,’ in 2015, in a world going through a ‘value’ famine, is the recommendation of the highest authority in the Catholic world, the Pope, to go to Joseph Vaz a Saint of modern times, a model of holiness.

Joseph: a model of holiness
The 14th January 2015 was indeed a red-letter day as much for Sri Lanka and for Goa as it was for those who bear the name Joseph and for those who are looking for modern-day heroes. Pope Francis, on his second visit to the Far East, gave the Catholic Church a new model of holiness and Sri Lanka its first Saint. Joseph Vaz however is also Goa’s first Saint and one of the chief Patron Saints of Goa for Catholics. In fact there were as many celebrations in Goa (in India) as there were in Sri Lanka when Pope Francis declared Joseph to be a Saint, an honour bestowed on those who have excelled in goodness and holiness while they lived on earth.

Becoming a Saint is a lengthy process today. In early history it was done almost entirely by positive acclamation by those who had known or lived with the person, vouching that the person should be raised to Sainthood. In modern times the process is more elaborate with one of the requirements, besides the establishment of holiness of life of the individual, being the performance of miracles attributed to the person cited for holiness. In the case of Joseph Vaz the miracle that was deemed by medical experts to be ‘miraculous’ was the birth of Father Cosme Costa (now a member of the Pilar Society) whose mother gave birth to him with the incurable condition known as ‘placenta previa’. Cosme was privileged to be present at the ceremony in Colombo on 14th January when Joseph Vaz was made a Saint. Pope Francis bent Church rules and dispensed with a regulation that normally requires a second miracle before anyone is proclaimed a Saint.

In the process towards being proclaimed a Saint, Joseph Vaz had first to be declared ‘Blessed’, the final stage before reaching sainthood. Pope John Paul II, a predecessor of Pope Francis, officiated at that ceremony 20 years earlier, on 21st January 1995, when he visited Sri Lanka.

Joseph: a life of commitment
Hundreds of thousands of people packed into the open-air ocean-front, in Colombo (Sri Lanka’s capital) after a 300-year campaign to get the holiness of Joseph Vaz recognized for Sainthood. Pope Francis took the occasion to address the hushed crowds that Vaz was an example of religious tolerance very relevant to Sri Lanka at the moment when the country needed to transcend religious and political divisions and strive towards peace. The Pope spoke in English for the first time and so came across to this huge gathering that must have got the thrust of his message. Catholics make up about 7 percent of Sri Lanka’s population, while 10 times as many people follow Buddhism. About 10 percent of the population follow Islam.

Joseph Vaz was born to Christopher Vaz and Maria de Miranda, Christian parents of the Konkani Brahmin Naik family. He was the third of six children born on April 21, 1651 in Benaulim, in South Goa. The local mothers’ gossip assessed the new-born as tall, slim and good-looking even if a little darker than the preferred almond-brown of the majority. His father, proud of his boy predicted, ‘one day he will become a great man.’ This honest parent who was an independent farmer was proud of his heritage too. He was an educated man, fluent not just in Konkani (the language of the Brahmans of Konkan on the west coast of India) but also in Portuguese, which was important because Goa was then a Portuguese colony. Joseph later attended primary and secondary school in Sancoale, one of the bigger centres in the Benaulim beach area, where he learned Portuguese, and later in Benaulim, where he learned Latin. He studied rhetoric and humanities at the Jesuit College of Saint Paul, and later philosophy and theology at Saint Thomas Aquinas Academy of the Dominicans in Goa city.

He was ordained a priest in 1676. In addition to his priestly duties of preaching and counselling his clients, he also opened a Latin school in Sancoale for prospective seminarians. He always had a great devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and in fact in 1677 consecrated himself as a ‘slave of Mary,’ sealing it with a document known as his ‘Letter of Enslavement.’ He was also greatly influenced by Saint Philip Neri and his Rule. He, together with four other priests, founded the Oratory, where they bound themselves by the Rule, without being committed to any Vows that religious take, but yet supported each other in ‘community’. This was a bond strong enough for them to keep dedicated to God’s service and to a life of prayer. Later, in Sri Lanka, he encouraged his fellow-priests from the Oratory in Goa to come to share his work in Sri Lanka. Many of them did.

Joseph: a desire to serve the people of Sri Lanka
It was just about this time that Joseph came to know of the condition of Catholics in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon). They were apparently persecuted by the Dutch who tried to enforce their own version of Christianity when they ruled Sri Lanka. This gave Joseph the strong motivation to go to work in Sri Lanka. He used his own initiative and with the blessings of his Superiors in 1686 he landed on the northern tip of Ceylon, in Jaffna.

The Dutch in Europe came under the influence of two major forces not long before Joseph Vaz came to face them in Sri Lanka. In Europe the power-hungry nations were looking for new lands and wealth. In these thrusts the Dutch were one of the nations that came out strong and powerful in acquiring colonies across the world. Sri Lanka was one of their strongholds. They ruled there for over a century from 1656 to 1796 and indeed dominated the scene during the entire time that Joseph Vaz was around.

Another powerful movement in Europe also took over Dutch thinking: the reformation. John Calvin (1509 to 1564) influenced largely by Martin Luther and the other socio-religious reform movements in Europe became the standard bearer for this ‘reformed brand’ of Christianity that seemed more ‘puritanical’ than tolerant in its methods and applications. So it was difficult for the Dutch colonizers to see themselves as anything but standard bearers of truth and Christianity to erring pagan-natives.

Joseph Vaz on the other hand, from a strong Portuguese-Catholic tradition, couldn’t but see the Dutch as a protestant brand of fundamentalists. Yet he was powerless to confront the colonizers’ military machine that carefully coated Christian values with their aggressive tactics. All Joseph could do was to operate as God’s messenger on his own proclaiming the Christian message the Catholic way whenever and wherever he was allowed in Sri Lanka.

Joseph: the Apostle on a mission
Joseph Vaz spent five years secretly spreading the message of Christ in the lush lowlands of Sri Lanka before making his way to the Kingdom of Kandy in the highland rainforests (in central Sri Lanka), where he was captured and accused of espionage for Portugal under the guise of religion. He was captured as a suspected spy after he had crept into the tropical island in disguise. He was 36 when he travelled south, from Jaffna (where he had landed) dressed as a beggar, into a country then divided into kingdoms. He soon found out about the harassment of Catholics by the Dutch Calvinists and realized that he had to look for patronage. He was fortunate as he was able to work for many years under the protection of the Buddhist king.

But there too he was first detained for nearly a year until he convinced the powerful Buddhist king that he was a priest. King Vimaladharmasuriya II protected him from the Dutch and their Calvinist restrictions. Joseph Vaz’s reputation was further bolstered when he was said to have made rain during a drought. Vaz remained in Kandy until his death at the age of 60. By that time he is believed to have brought over to the Catholic faith over 30,000 people. He also created a network of priests and centres to serve the people, and almost single-handedly re-established Catholicism in Sri Lanka.

The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka had had no priests for 50 years. His zeal to spread the catholic faith made him seek for permission to work in Sir Lanka after he had become a priest, but instead his religious managers (Superiors) in India asked him to go to support the catholic work in Kanara, which is present-day Mangalore. Even while working as the Vicar of Vara in Kanara, doing his work of preaching, hearing confessions, visiting the sick, helping the poor, ransoming Christian slaves, and working to settle jurisdictional disputes that interfered with his Christian work, his thoughts and his heart were in Sri Lanka.

Joseph: the Apostle faces trials
When Joseph finally started his work in Sri Lanka he went through a series of trials before he could achieve what he had set out to do. He suffered from acute dysentery, contracted from the terrible travelling conditions, and upon recovery he began his mission by contacting Catholics and hiding from the Dutch who wanted to promote Calvinism. He was taken in by a courageous Catholic family. From there he ministered to his secret flock by night.

In 1690 Joseph moved on to Puttalam in the kingdom of Kandy (in central Sri Lanka), where 1,000 Catholics had not seen a priest for half a century. In 1692 he left for Kandy which he felt should be the centre of his apostolic work. He was quite confident he would obtain royal permission to travel freely. However he was dogged by Dutch Calvinist accusations of being a Portuguese spy, and was imprisoned with two other Catholics. There he learned Sinhala (the language of the majority Sinhalese population and indeed of Ceylon). The prison guards left the prisoners alone as long as they didn’t try to escape, so he used the opportunity to build a hut-church. He later made that a proper church dedicated to Our Lady and began spreading the Christian message to the other prisoners.

In 1696 the Kingdom of Kandy was suffering a serious drought. The King asked the Buddhist monks to pray to their gods for rain but there was no rain. He then turned to Joseph who erected an altar and a Cross in the middle of the square and prayed. Almost miraculously abundant rain began to fall, while Joseph and his altar stayed dry. The King then granted Joseph license to preach freely throughout the kingdom.

Joseph: the Apostle moves on
Making the most of his new-found freedom, he made a bold move to visit to the Dutch zone and ministered to the Catholics in Colombo. Not long afterwards, in 1697, three priests from the Oratory of Goa arrived to help him and also gave him the news that Don Pedro Pacheco, Bishop of Cochin (in India, which had Church jurisdiction over Ceylon), had appointed him Vicar General in Ceylon. Just as he began organizing the basic apostolic programme small pox broke out in Kandy. His work with the sick then convinced the King that Father Joseph should be allowed every possible freedom in his work of relieving the suffering of the people.

Joseph then moved on shifting his apostolic work to the main centres of the island. In 1699, he returned to Kandy with Father Joseph de Carvalho who had been expelled at the instigation of Buddhist monks. Meanwhile he completed the construction of his new church, and then went into service for the King, translating Portuguese books into Sinhala. From this vantage point, he intensified his human-Christian ministry, and even brought over some Sinhalese notables to the Christian faith. But the Dutch didn’t let him off and continued to spread slanders against him and to persecute those who had turned Christian.

More priests from India arrived in 1705 to help him in his work. This enabled him to organize the Christian mission into eight districts, each led by a priest. This also gave him time to create a library of Catholic literature comparable to that of the Buddhists, and to assert the rights of Catholics with the Dutch Protestant Government who ruled the island.

King Vimaldharna Surya II, Father Joseph’s mentor, died in 1707, but Narendrasimha, his successor, was an even greater supporter. More priest-helpers arrived in 1708, and in 1710, despite health problems, Joseph took another apostolic trip. On his return, he fell seriously ill, and reached Kandy in this condition. Though he recovered from a series of infections and fevers, over the next year, age, work and disease finally took their toll. He undertook nine days of spiritual exercises prescribed by the Rule, but before the seventh day was over he passed away, on 16th January, 1711.

Joseph: the Apostle speaks to his clients
*In the measure you are merciful, you will obtain mercy. (Advice given to a person who was troubled about her past).
*We should be detached from everything, even from our very selves. (Advice given to a person who asked him about the high offices he held).
*Call the attention of others to their faults in charity. (Advice given to those who had to take on duties of responsibility).
*Take care of the poor. (Advice given constantly to those who had the care of others).

[T.D’Souza – author of 6 books- Facts edited from Wikipedia, Matters India, & 207 Stories by R.R.Rodrigues]]

Yoga and the Heart

10 Feb

Courses in Yoga, Zen meditation, even extensive studies in religious studies and spirituality can never free people enough to open their hearts to God and His love, Pope° Francis said at Mass° on January 9th 2015. Only the Holy Spirit° can ‘move the heart’ and make it ‘docile to the Lord and to the freedom of love,’ the Pope said at the morning homily°. ‘Catechism°, Yoga°, Zen°,’ the Pope told those attending the service, ‘cannot open people’s hearts to God.’

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper that regularly reports on the Pope’s spontaneous messages at his daily Mass celebration at Domus Sanctae Marthae°, where the Pope resides, is quick to pick up on the themes that this people-friendly Pope touches on. At this talk the Pope looked at how Christ’s disciples could fail to recognize and be open to His miracles, like his walking on water, the multiplication of the loaves and encountering Him on the road to Emmaus.’ They were the apostles, those closest to Him and yet they still didn’t realize who He reallywas,’ the Pope said. ‘It was because their hearts had been hardened….’

‘But how does a heart harden? How is it possible with these people who were always with Christ, every day, who listened to him, saw him … and their heart was hardened?’ The Pope said he had asked his secretary why he thought people’s hearts become so closed and cold. Together they came
up with a number of probable reasons that often affect many people in life.

The Pope thought that painful and difficult experiences can cause people to harden their hearts because they do not want to be vulnerable to ‘another ordeal’ or be disillusioned once again. He referred to a saying in Argentina°: ‘If a person gets burned by milk, he will cry whenever he sees a cow.’ This, the Pope believed, expresses the idea of becoming fearful after a painful experience.

‘Pride, vanity, smugness and a sense of superiority can also lead people to become closed up,’ he said. ‘Religious narcissists,’ he added, ‘also have hard hearts because they shut them up. They are not open, and they try to defend themselves within these walls they build up around them.’

‘Insecurity causes people to look for things to grab onto to feel secure,’ he said, ‘like the Pharisees and Sadducees who were so attached to the letter of the law. These people may feel safe and secure,’ the Pope explained, ‘but really they are trapped in a jail cell behind bars. It is a security without freedom. It was precisely this freedom that Christ came to bring humanity.’

‘When the heart is hardened, it is not free and if it is not free it is because it does not love,’ he said.
‘God’s perfect love crushes fear,’ he explained, ‘because in love there is no fear because fear assumes punishment and whoever is afraid is not perfect in love. Such a person is not free. He is always afraid that something painful or sad will happen.’

‘The problem with a heart that lacks love is that it has not learned how to love,’ he said.
‘So, who then will teach us to love? Who will free us from this hardness?’ he asked. ‘Only the Holy
Spirit can do that.’

‘You can take a million catechetical courses, a million courses in spirituality, a million courses in Yoga, Zen and all these things, but all of this will never be able to give you the freedom of being a child of God. It is only the Holy Spirit that moves hearts and compels people to cry out, Father, and become docile to the freedom of His love.’

–adapted by T.D’Souza from ‘Osservatore Romano’ for TRODZA

-Argentina: the Pope is from Argentina and so is familiar with Argentina’s folklore and culture..
-Catechism: the book/text that explains the beliefs of the Catholic faith.
-Domus Sanctae Marthae: the apartment/flat where the Pope chose to live. He does not live in the Papal Apartments.
-Holy Spirit: the Third Person of the Holy Trinity (in Catholic Belief).
-Homily: the talk given at Mass, which explains the Bible readings of the day.
-Mass: the function or liturgy where Catholics celebrate the most precious mystery of their faith.
-Pope: the head of the 1.2 million Catholics in the world, who resides in Rome. Francis is the present Pope.
-Yoga: in Hinduism (Indian) form of disciplined exercise that aims at physical, mental and spiritual well being.
-Zen: a Japanese form of Buddhism that concentrates on learning through meditation and intuition.