In his 2012 Lenten Message, Pope Benedict XVI draws upon St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews (10:24) to reflect upon the very heart of Christian life – love of God and love of neighbour. In it he outlines three points – concern for others, reciprocity and personal holiness – that give us the key to our relationship with our neighbourhood and with society.
“The great commandment of love for one another demands that we acknowledge our responsibility towards those who, like ourselves, are creatures and children of God…If we cultivate this way of seeing others as our brothers and sisters, solidarity, justice, mercy and compassion will naturally well up in our hearts.”
Concern for others, the Pope said, means being aware of their needs and wanting what is good for them, physically, morally and spiritually. “There is a real need to reaffirm that good does exist and will prevail,” he said, defining good as “whatever gives, protects and promotes life, brotherhood and communion.”
The Pope also called for a renewal of a forgotten aspect of Christian life – fraternal correction. Often, out of “purely personal convenience” and a sort of “spiritual anaesthesia, which numbs us to the suffering of others”, Christians adapt to the prevailing mentality that is contrary to the truth and does not follow the path of goodness. The Pope, therefore, urges, “We must not remain silent before evil” but speak out against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to truth and justice.
However, our fraternal correction must never be accusatory or recriminatory. It must always be “moved by love and mercy, and spring from genuine concern for the good of the other”. It is in Christian charity that we must help others and allow them to help us so that “we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives and walk more uprightly in the Lord’s ways.”
The Archdiocesan Synod 2001 called the Church in Mumbai to be a participatory-servant church. The recommendations outlined in the Post Synodal Document (PSD) and later the Mid Term Synod Assembly (MTSA) 2006 provided the goals and action plan by which individuals, groups, associations and parishes could work towards creating a better world for them and the next generation.
The Archdiocesan Survey 2012 (AS) reveals that much has been done, but much still needs to be done. There is a measure of openness to people of other faiths, especially among the 18-25 years age group (72%). However, while 75.4% stated that they share their faith experiences with people of other faith in their interactions, the youth and senior citizens were more hesitant as compared to the other age groups. While parish initiatives to care for creation have been significant, individual participation has been average. Active response to civic concerns and violations of human rights are higher among the middle and older segment of society than the younger group.
The Small Christian Communities (SCC) movement has grown but it is the age group of 46-60 years that recorded a good response. The reluctance to participate in community programmes is high among the below-45 age group and among male respondents. Some of the priests reported that SCCs are slowly dying. Also, while 82.79% of all respondents state that the Church should reach out to people of other faiths as well, participation in the functioning and activities of Centres for Community Organisation (CCO) in the archdiocese is low, both among the clergy and the people.
Life is incredibly extreme and violent. Fierce emotions wage silent wars and people are in dire need of hope and healing. As children of a loving, compassionate and generous God, every one of us baptised in Christ has been charged to witness His saving grace. “I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35)
So, let not our hearts be so wrapped up in our affairs and situations that we fail to hear the cries of the poor and marginalised the distressed and oppressed, the spiritually needy, and the anguish of creation. Reaching out to others and opening our hearts to their needs can bring us to salvation and holiness.
Care for creation
§ Initiate and participate in conservation of natural resources such as water harvesting, installing solar systems, protection of tree cover, and preservation of mangroves
§ Conduct Audits of church’s carbon footprint
§ Promote recycling and reusing of non-biodegradable products
§ Segregate garbage and encourage others to do the same
§ Prevent misuse of open spaces
§ Initiate and take part in cleanliness projects in the neighbourhood
§ Do not contribute to environmental pollution (eg. littering, loud music, fireworks, vehicular exhaust)
§ Get involved in social audit of municipal works carried out in the locality (eg. laying of pipelines, road resurfacing , cleaning of storm water drains)
Faith in action
§ Support and rehabilitate victims of domestic violence and abuse
§ Create a city level counselling helpline and website ; could collaborate with other christian or non-christian bodies.
§ Reach out to the needy in times of natural/manmade calamities
§ Empower the underprivileged to obtain their rights – housing, food, education, etc. Consider initiating food security programme in the Archdiocese - ‘Not-even-one-goes-hungry’ Day
§ Explore micro-housing projects, or subsidised housing loans for the poor.
§ Provide medical facilities for the poor of all faith
§ Prevent child labour and be alert to child abuse
§ Say no to corruption. Based on the popular Ipaidabribe.com an alternative website Irefusedabribe.com or an ‘honesty meter’ could be co-promoted by the Church and anti-corruption movements.
§ Promote self-help groups. Also consider providing vocational training to equip people for job market. Consider a diocesan level employment exchange.
§ Begin a ‘room of providence’ in each parish where people can put clothes, shoes, etc. in useable condition; needy can visit and take what they want no questions asked.
§ Disseminate information about government welfare and empowerment schemes, micro-finance for start-up entrepreneurs, etc.
§ Use RTI to bring about accountability
§ Contribute to the Community Welfare Fund
Dialogue of life
Dialogue with Christian denominations for mutual understanding
Create an atmosphere of warm fellowship for those in inter-faith marriages
Develop an understanding of other faiths and their spirituality
Appreciate the traditions and sacred rites of other faiths
Show healthy respect for the culture and customs of other faiths
Invite non-Christian neighbours/friends to share in celebrations – baptism and confirmation
Be open to inculturation in Indian culture and learning Indian languages. Promote the use of vernacular to encourage inclusion. Official archdiocesan website could have language options.
Consider twinning with parishes/cities/villages; could involve intelligentsia/volunteers from our archdiocese with the purpose of reaching out to the marginalized.
Dialogue of action
§ Exercise right to vote
§ Get involved in tackling civic issues
§ Join/support NGOs/socio-political movements to reform and transform society
§ Collaborate with ward/area authorities for local development
§ Participate in campaigns to fight injustice at local/national level
§ Support advocacy for just laws and legislations
§ Take up posts in public/government sector to promote Christian values
Establishing Centres for Community Organisation (CCO) in every parish has been mandated by the Synod, yet there are many parishes that have not done so. Further, of those that are in operation, 50% act as service centres providing welfare schemes to the people (Research study, Justice & Peace Commission, 2012). This, in the long run, fails to fulfil the purpose of a CCO, of mobilising the community to empowerment and to becoming self-reliant in taking up local issues and problems. Hence, the need of the hour is to establish a parish CCO as per the guidelines (see MTSA, 12-14). In order to strengthen the thrust of justice for the poor, socially marginalised, victims of abuse, mentally and physically challenged, etc., the SCCs are encouraged to link up with CCOs.
The SCCs have done commendable work in reaching out in service to people in need in the communities. But the vibrancy of a community requires and demands the active participation of each member and hence it is imperative that every family acknowledges their responsibility to contribute to the life of the community. However, in order to participate fully in the dialogue of life and action, SCCs would do well to heed the call of the Synod to gradually branch into and foster Small Human Communities (PSD, 32.2). A radical suggestion is that all priests religious spend at least 30 minutes each day (in their habits/cassocks) getting out of their institutions and walking about their parishes/localities. We call this ‘being Jesus’ walk. By sharing a smile, lovingly walking about, greeting passers-by etc. they can catalyse a movement of encountering christ.
Networking through and with groups like Advanced Locality Management (ALM), Local Area Citizens’ Committee (LACC), residential neighbourhood groups is the need of the hour to resolve local issues like garbage accumulation, water shortage and misuse, road surfacing, ecology conservation, etc.
Also, in order to fight unjust practices such as corruption, violation of human rights (housing, food, education, gender and caste discrimination), consumerism, and other such systems of injustice, people can, individually and collectively, network with local/national NGOs and groups to support local and national campaigns and advocacy.
The Archdiocese of Bombay needs us to fulfil the challenge of Jesus (Matthew 25:35-39): I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” In accepting this challenge we find salvation and holiness. May we outdo one another in charity, service and good works. Many small people, in small places, doing small things can change the world.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Mention at least 3 most important ideas in the paper you agree with, giving reasons for the same.
2. Any suggestions relating to the implementation and the way forward regarding the above?
3. Please mention any ideas in the paper you disagree with, giving reasons for the same
4. Please mention any important aspects that you think have not been covered in the paper.