An Interview With Archbishop Leobard D'Souza: Contemporary Mission
Nagpur , M.S., India
With few exceptions, charitable organisations throughout the world are experiencing "donor fatigue". The Catholic Church is no exception to this situation. Many Catholics are confused about mission, at home and abroad, and wonder what they are being asked to support. The following interview with Archbishop Leobard D'Souza of Nagpur , India , is an effort to understand contemporary mission. Ordained a bishop in 1964 at the Eucharistic Congress in Mumbai , India , Archbishop D'Souza is a Father of Vatican Council II. He was chair of Caritas India for six years, and has served in administrative capacities in catechetics, liturgy, biblical studies, labour, immigration and many areas for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India and internationally. He has also been a member of the standing committee of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences. He has visited North America in connection with his work five times in the past ten years. He currently teaches church history and pastoral theology at St. Charles Seminary, Nagpur .
The interviewer, Catherine Berry Stidsen, Ph.D., is a religious studies educator of adolescents and adults, who has worked in the United States , Canada , and most recently in India . She has helped to build and is now equipping a learning centre in the city of Nagpur , a "school where anybody can come to learn anything". It is intended primarily for persons on the margins of Indian political, social, and economic life. The most recent addition to the centre is a community computer assisted learning laboratory. Dr. Stidsen and Archbishop D'Souza met in Rome during the last session of the Vatican II. She is a published author. Her doctoral dissertation focussed on aspects of contemporary Christian mission. *
Archbishop D'Souza has asked that his colleagues and people call him "Bishop Bhai", which literally means Bishop Brother. He sees the role of bishop as walking side by side with his people as their brother, thus the appellation used in this interview. Taped versions of this interview are available from Archbishop D'Souza at St. Charles Seminary, Seminary Hills, Nagpur 440 006, M.S., India. Phone/Fax: 91-712-525-090. Dr. Stidsen resides at Rural Route Three, 535 Irish Line, Cayuga, Ontario, Canada, NOA 1EO, Phone/Fax 01-905-772-3790, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stidsen: Bishop Bhai, in a previous interview, "Contemporary Mission as Integrative Revolution", we discussed the history of mission and the present understanding of mission in the Catholic community, well, at least in some parts of the community, as the integral human development of all peoples. Now I would like to know more about how you are doing this in your own archdiocese.
Bishop Bhai: Yes, of course. But I think first we must put what I am doing into some context. I believe all too great attention is being given to works of charity done by the church. This is happening all over the Third World . The works of charity which are traditional to the church in which they show the compassion of Christ, toward orphans, widows, the destitute, lepers, and now victims of AIDS, are good. But this aspect of charity has been glamorised by secular society, especially in Third World countries. So the church has been identified as the best social service agency for such disadvantaged citizens in the country. These citizens are usually not provided for by the country's own social service agencies. So the church has been accepted for this kind of work. Granting that this is an important service, the church's work ought not to be exhausted by these kinds of works of charity. The church has another work to do, the work of development, its work to effect the reign of God, in which it is called upon to build a new society.
Stidsen: Ah, I see.
Bishop Bhai: This society will be more human, more just, more equitable, and so this aspect of the work of the church which has been entrusted to us by Christ is that of building a new heaven and a new earth, right here and right now. This work involves action for the transformation of society. That means work for social justice, the ending of discrimination, that all inequalities built into any system are somehow diminished, so that we have a society in which every citizen is recognized as an equal to another. As I experience it, this work of the transformation of society is not being recognised by the powers-to-be.
Stidsen: Who do you mean by the powers-to-be, the governments of Third World countries?
Bishop Bhai: Yes, the governments. When church people work for this transformation of society the governments say that they are getting involved in political action which should not be its business. They say that the church should concern itself with the destitute, the poor, and the people whom nobody else is caring for. The governments say that that is the work of Christ and the work of transforming society is not. In all the work that I have been involved in at home and abroad, it is my constant concern to make clear to everyone, especially international funding agencies, that the work of development, the work of justice, not just the works of charity as much as they are needed, is the work of Christ, and this work must be supported in all Third World countries, in fact, in all countries of the world.
Stidsen: So, some of the criticisms that have been levelled against Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity that what they are doing in the long run is not really changing the structures --
Bishop Bhai: [Interrupting] Well, yes, I would accept the fact that there are two aspects to the work of Christ. One is the work that is being done by the Missionaries of Charity and no one else would do it. They have taken as part of their special calling to work with the poorest of the poor for whom no one cares. They are human beings, they are our brothers and our sisters. They need caring and love, much of which they have usually missed out on in life. Their condition should not in any way be held against them.
Stidsen: One of the criticisms I was going to mention is that some opponents of them are saying the Missionaries of Charity are letting the Indian government off the hook by their caring for such persons. So long as they do it, the government doesn't have to take its rightful responsibility for them.
Bishop Bhai: Well, I don't think the government of India is thinking that far but that it is using the Missionaries of Charity and the late Mother Teresa to show that this is what the church should be concerned with, charity toward the destitute. It is members of the church that must take the initiative and show that these works of charity do not exhaust the mission of Christ. It is members of the church who must make clear that ours is a both/and mission, a mission of charity and of justice.
Stidsen: Yes, but what does it mean then when we have the Holy Father saying that he does not want priests and religious involved in political action. I think he is the most political pope we have had in centuries, but he still -- I mean, I am thinking for instance of his requiring Fr. Robert Drinan to resign his political office. He was probably one of the best congressmen that the United States has ever had. What I am asking is how do you square what you are saying with a precise directive from the pope telling priests and vowed religious to stay out of politics?
Bishop Bhai: There is in the world political action and political action. I think what the Holy Father is saying, as I see the law written and as I understand its essence, is that political action is identified with party politics. In party politics, there is a way of life required, which does not allow a person who is consecrated to deal equally with all people. The politician is not free to do so but is tied to a party platform. If a priest has to follow that line he would be alienating a good many people who do not subscribe to that line. I think this is one of the reasons why being a politician on the part of a priest would mean that he is not available equitably to all people, and that is what his priesthood is all about. Such a priest in a parish would be alienating perhaps one-half of the people who are not subscribing to his party.
Stidsen: Oh, I see, O.K.
Bishop Bhai: This would also make him less available for sacramental ministry, for the listening required, for the proclamation of the word. His people would hear everything in the light of his politics. But the other half of political action is, and the Holy Father has not pronounced about it, and he himself is involved in it, is that any action for the good of society, for the good of the people is political action. That means taking part in those significant actions that change society, which will involve us in some instances, in agitation, in taking to the streets, because certain basic values are threatened and because we want them to be reinstated.
I feel we must be involved in political action for the growth of society, for the transformation of society. For instance, political action against the disabilities that are experienced by the dalits in India , social disabilities and legal disabilities, is on one side political action and on the other side exemplary Christian action for justice for peoples denied that for centuries. There are many other lines of activity like this. But, I also think, in the first case the Canon Law and the Holy Father's prohibition which we have discussed is also rooted in the fear that such political persons can be instrumentalised by the party for their own purposes. The prohibition is a caution that people who have been set aside for the whole People of God should not leave themselves open to be instrumentalised.
Stidsen: So in our discussion last night when I asked you if you would ever consider running for politics, you replied that if you did, you would run as an independent, is this what you had in the back of your mind?
Bishop Bhai: Sure.
Stidsen: So it's the idea of a party, of aligning oneself with a particular party, that would be the problem?
Bishop Bhai: Yes. Also the rough and tumble political maneuverings that take place in parliament or in congress or in any of the legislatures, does not allow a person to have so much of independence. I do see in certain circumstances, in countries which are developing, that there is a possibility of a priest's being in a political office where he can possibly help the people in parliament or congress to see things in another aspect, rather than through the narrow vision of gaining ground for their party platform.
There is an opening even now in Canon Law that should the bishop give permission and where the national conference of bishops supports that bishop, a priest could take a place in politics. I think it is there even in present law. So it is a not altogether closed avenue but generally speaking it is discouraged.
Stidsen: Just to review, then. You are saying now again what I read in your 1981 pastoral * on the occasion of the silver jubilee of your priestly ordination, that custodial and charitable work is good and is needed, but it is not enough. And this custodial or maintenance work ought not to be continued at the expense of working to change unjust structures.
Bishop Bhai: Yes, what I say is our work must always be both/and not either/or because when Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you," it was in the mind of the apostles that Judas had gone out to give some of the money from the common purse to the poor, that there was a concern already among the Twelve that the funds that they had was not only at the disposal of their own needs but also of the needy whom they came across. So it was almost taken for granted that those who were hanging around were to be helped from the common purse. Jesus, in that context, says that you will always have the poor, the n'er-do-wells, the tramp, the alcoholic on the road, the persons who have used up, drained up all their humanity, who are the dregs of that society. Our compassion should go out to them. We are not supposed to be a Hitler and consign them to the gas chambers. They must have our concern and care, the concern and care that any human being has for another. They have come to a state of sub-humanity either through their own fault or through the fault of others or of society, whatever it is, they need the care, and therefore I endorse fully the work of those like Mother Teresa along that line, but I resist that we exhaust our concern by doing only this work. Any government that wants us to restrict our work to these kinds of works of charity and not to be involved in the transformation of society, must be resisted. Therefore, anything that exaggerates the work of the Missionaries of Charity or others like them, against the work of transformation is letting down on our commitment to what Christ asks of us. Jesus had a much larger vision. He touched the leper, was touched by the widow, reached out to them, so we must not lose that compassionate heart. But yet at the same time we must work from that larger vision that it is our duty to restore the world, to make it better, to make it a more beautiful place in which to live.
Stidsen: And perhaps there is a need to remember that Jesus also reached out to the establishment of his time. There is pretty good evidence that no grassroots revolution makes it without the support of some persons in the establishment.
Bishop Bhai: Yes, yes, yes. He had a total vision. This is my point, he had a total vision, everyone had a part to play. But it was a work of transforming human society where his Father's values of justice, peace, commitment, joy, concern, forgiveness, were to be paramount.
Stidsen: I am remembering that one scripture scholar, Fr. Michael Mulhall, O.Carm., suggested that Jesus was hoping that the religious Jewish establishment would honour the jubilee year of its people which meant a redistribution of everything in the temple treasury because that was how the Jews were determined to make sure that the people were not paying for the sins of their parents.
Bishop Bhai: Sure.
Stidsen: Apparently that jubilee year was supposed to take place just before Jesus began his public ministry. It's possible that Jesus was waiting for the establishment to distribute those things the way they should have and when they didn't he decided he had to do something about it.
Bishop Bhai: I don't know those facts in detail but I do know that the Jews, by having this inbuilt system of redistributive justice, wanted in some way to make amends for the inequalities in the lives of their people. They were opposed to the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer. This periodic redistribution was to make sure that didn't happen. It would be good if we had some system like that inbuilt into our modern societies.
Stidsen: What about specific ways to effect this kind of redistribution? Have you thought about this? Do you have ideas about how this could happen in Nagpur ?
Bishop Bhai: First of all we have a minority situation and that we have to accept. We are in a minority in terms of Christian personnel and of the Christian community itself. By and large our work, as you well know, is concentrated in schools and in social work, but mostly in schools. We seem to have exhausted, in the history of the church in India , all our work for the people in these activities. I believe that we should make a turn around. The turn around as I see it is not to dismantle the system which we have because people are involved in it and served by it, and to disturb the people in this work would do more harm than good. The turn around is to make a preferential option for another aspect of mission and that is to go to the people where they are.
The best option I can see at this moment are the numberless villages in the country. There, we usually find ready acceptance by the people when we go to live among them, and that is a positive point. There is ample opportunity for animating, empowering, educating people to understand their own dignity and position in human society, because of their openness and simplicity. They do not know, they have not been told that these things are possible to them. There are things that must be offered to the people by the government because of the Constitution, but many do not know that they are entitled to these things because no one is telling them. Our personnel who go into villages can provide them with this information.
By this action, by this living amongst people, we can work with them to bring about changes from within by them. This is the action which I would call action for the transformation of society, working with the poorest of the people, at the basic level of the village. The three institutions which I see which would be instruments for the transformation of that village are primary school, the primary health centre, and the village panchayat. These three primary institutions require active participation on the part of the village people, which is not taking place so far. Why not?
The primary school is run exclusively by the state government, through its intermediary offices, and is responsible to and accountable only to the state and not to the people where it is placed. So the people are either indifferent to the school, or angry with the school, and only very rarely pleased with the primary school.
Stidsen: Where does the principal come from?
Bishop Bhai: The principal is appointed from Bhopal via Chhindwara.
Stidsen: So it will not necessarily be a local person?
Bishop Bhai: Never!
Bishop Bhai: Hardly ever, hardly ever a local person. And this is part of the instrumentalisation of the district headquarters and state headquarters where offices are up for sale! Therefore, transfers are either resisted by money or transfers are bought by money.
Stidsen: Is there a whole pecking order in terms of schools?
Bishop Bhai: There's a whole pecking order with which the local population has nothing to do. So they are at the receiving end and can only suffer the people who are sent.
Stidsen: So it isn't simply a case of we will send you into a village area so that you get some experience and then we will send you on elsewhere?
Bishop Bhai: Who is "you"?
Stidsen: Teachers or principals.
Bishop Bhai: The teacher is just sent. Most often it is a punishment or an initiation for the beginners. You have just joined the teaching service and that means you have passed your B.Ed. and been accepted and you are in the pool of teachers who have passed their interview. You are a first-year appointment and so you will get a village to work in. You have just bribed your way through the interview and you have already mortgaged three years' salary to the person giving you the job.
Bishop Bhai: You are putting all of that on tape. I am going to get murdered. And therefore you have to pay that off and therefore you take your first appointment because you must give it in instalments to the person who has given you the job, or the people who have given you the job. So when you have done that and have paid off these instalments, then you start moving in, and that means you mortgage the next set of your salary for a job that will give you more plums.
All right, because you have moved into a new job, now you are part of another instrumentalisation of people. Students have to pass from one year to another year. There is a board examination at the primary school level, the middle school level, the high school level. Each board examination is necessary for the next year. So you want to pass? You get all the questions given to you beforehand, if they are not worked out literally for you, so all you have to do is sit down and copy out what has been written for you. You can do your three weeks examination in one day because it has all been done for you. The teacher is paid to make sure the student gets to the next level.
Stidsen: How can that be ended?
Bishop Bhai: That can not be ended except by a revolution.
Bishop Bhai: So we are getting to a stage, like in the 1989 agitation in China, where the students spontaneously came out because they saw that the party men are so deeply enmeshed in the corruption of that system, that the only way to get out of it is to break it, to say that we don't agree with it, that the Communist party which says it is for the people, run by the people is doing an injustice to the people.
Stidsen: You see the same kind of thing with the Indian situation?
Bishop Bhai: The Indian situation is the same except that all the political parties are part of the game, so we don't have a domination of power by any one party, but we put these people into power by the same corrupt system.
Stidsen: So you would want your people on the line protesting this kind of thing?
Bishop Bhai: [Forcefully] I would like to have that the people themselves, want the good of their children, at the basic level. Let us start at the basic level. I'm not starting at the top. I believe, in the long run, the people want the good of their children, but if they don't have the power to participate in these primary education institutions, they do not have the power to determine or self-determine what they want for their children. It will be dictated to them by the people who have the system in their hands. And that system is absolutely corrupt. By having them participate, a corrective can come into the village by having the people come together and say, "We want our school to be run this way and we will hire and fire our teachers as we want."
Now, if the villagers decide that they want to be a mediocre sub-standard village, then that is their problem. But if they want to have a teacher and a school of some standard they will make sure that they can hire and can fire, and they will want a democratic form of management of that school.
Stidsen: And through the panchayat the set up is really there.
Bishop Bhai: The set up is there but these two operations, the primary school, and the primary health centre are not run by the panchayat. Both are financed and manned -- or "womanned" -- by the state. The panchayat is often a spineless organisation with no money of its own although Rajiv Gandhi officially designated it the third tier of government. His intention was that villages were to run themselves via this organisation and have the money to do so. They need at least to run the primary school and primary health care centre so that the people get a sense of responsibility, a sense of self-respect that they are running their own institutions, and a sense of fulfilment that they are managing their own affairs.
Stidsen: Just to be sure I understand your sense of renewed mission, let me summarise. You want your Catholic priests and sisters, and perhaps some lay persons, to go into the villages, to live there, and to inform the people in the villages of what they are entitled to under the Indian Constitution.
Bishop Bhai: Yes, this is what I see as the contemporary mission of the church, of church personnel, going into the village, identifying themselves with the people, and bringing about an awareness of what the government, through the Constitution, is offering India. And I think we have a lot in the Constitution, which should be brought to the people, and implemented, and people should be made aware that we have these rights and duties.
Stidsen: O.K., then what kind of training do these modern missionaries need, do they need novitiates, do they need training in social analysis, what formation do they need?
Bishop Bhai: I think we learn by doing in this kind of work. Given the circumstances and conditions in India and our distance from the village reality, unless they enter into the village for sometime, they will not be able to understand what is happening and what people are talking about and wanting. So I think the first step is entering into the village and understanding them and that means spending a lot of time listening to people, being with them, seeing everything that they do and why they do it, because it would be a fatal day when we start imposing our urban, middle-class ideas upon them, thinking that that is the way to be of help.
Secondly, our personnel must understand the tempo of the people. They are not the swift-thinking people that we are used to dealing with in the town. They take their time. And we must understand that. If we don't, and if we start running ahead of them, that would be fatal to our entry.
Third, our personnel must understand the language of the people. Hindi is the national language, and all follow Hindi, at least the normal simple Hindi, but behind the Hindi the people speak their own dialect and have their own ways of expressing themselves and only a length of time among them will help any animator to pick up the nuances of their very brief comments that they make. They are not expansive. To understand their comments, their dances, their songs, time is required.
To return to my first point, this is why it is necessary to spend a considerable period of time with the people, to get a sense of what they are about. I would even put it at three years. After that, according to the aptitudes they have, they can find out how they can enter into this particular village. Everyone has their particular talent, their intellectual preferences, and they should take that as their point of entry. It could be in the line of community health, for instance. Someone thinks perhaps that community health is the best way they can relate to the people, they think that is the way to get something done that needs very much to be done. Then they should take time off to get that training, if they don't have it already. But they should not take too much time away. Any long absence alienates our personnel from the people.
Stidsen: You're talking then about a lifetime commitment to this village work.
Bishop Bhai: I talk about a lifetime commitment. And all things being equal, that means good health, compatibility, etc., etc., etc., I would think persons would commit themselves to this work for life.
Stidsen: This is real mission!
Bishop Bhai: Yes, they would need normal vacation and recreational time out of the situation -- everyone needs to get out of their situation now and then -- they need time physically away from the whole thing and some time away from the village to another situation where you are at ease and able to talk with others who are working in similar situations. We must be able to take time away, to get some distance, not to be so totally immersed in the situation. I think that is required. But any great length of absence would be detrimental to the relationships with the people.
Stidsen: So, if for example, you had a community of five persons, and there were some kind of rotation basis for study or holidays and so on, there would always be some continuity.
Bishop Bhai: Yes, that's right. I believe that, too. There need to be at least four members of any community, at least four, three is too little. Three is too little because the third person absent incapacitates the two others. I'm thinking more in terms of women animators.
Stidsen: By way of review then, you see the need for your personnel to learn the language and rituals of the village to which they are going, to know what Indian citizens are entitled to under the Constitution, to make of their work a lifetime commitment, to encourage the villagers to become actively involved in the life of the primary school. Earlier you mentioned, too, that the primary health centre must be in the hands of the villagers. Would you elaborate on that now, please?
Bishop Bhai: The state administers the primary health care centre in the same corrupt fashion in which it administers the primary school.
Stidsen: Is it a doctor who gets appointed to head the primary health care?
Bishop Bhai: They are trying to get doctors there in the villages but most of them don't come because they find it more profitable to work elsewhere. There is usually a primary health care nurse, a community nurse, at the centre, who has at her disposal -- at least on the books -- life-saving drugs and all the other things that a village primary health care centre should have. But, I believe that centres never have these drugs available for the people. Between the headquarters and the village most of the drugs are disposed of.
Stidsen: On the black market?
Bishop Bhai: The black market and elsewhere. The primary health nurse is usually anxious about fulfilling her quota of sterilisations and abortions that has been given to her. Her primary concern is to keep the population down. For the rest she is involved in immunisation programmes, anti-polio, anti-cholera, and other work like that, which involves record keeping, and this is time consuming, but the population issue is her chief focus.
Stidsen: This sounds to me very much like a women's issue. Is there some point you would like to make about women in the villages?
Bishop Bhai: See, in the villages, I'm talking now of tribal villages, the woman in a tribal village has a greater status than some other women in India. They have a dignity of their own, and a certain equality that I don't see in other communities, though at the public level they are not seen or heard. Yet, the destiny of the family is much in her hands, viz., the early education of the child, also all that pertains to the house is under her control. She is also a co-worker with the husband in the fields and, I think, the potential is that, without in any way destroying the system, but by injecting change, change that can be accepted by the male elders of the village, in engaging the women, we would be using a power in the village for growth and development. The first step in engaging the women would be to encourage them to get at least a functional literacy, so that they are on par with any other literate person in the village. This is what we need to do for the women of the village.
The second need is to encourage every girl to join the school so that we have in the village more and more educated girls and women. At the same time we must show that it is possible for girls to go even to higher education so that one day they can take their places in society.
Stidsen: So having the sisters and other educated women working in the villages should have this effect as well.
Bishop Bhai: It should have that effect or at least it could have that effect if the sisters know what they have at hand and if they think in terms of helping women toward higher education. Many of the sisters in village work now are working through community health and through non-formal education to give women help. They work as well through the Mahila Mandal, that is the women's organisation, where the women discuss the problems of the village and problems common to themselves. In these organisations they often decide upon common actions to resolve the problems. Encouraging literacy and education, working in community health, and working through the women's organisation, are all ways which I think the sisters can work for the benefit of the women.
Stidsen: Are the sisters entitled to join the women's organisation?
Bishop Bhai: Always, always. Yes, but they have to be very careful not to overawe the village women and not to undertake to do any office which can be done by a village woman. The temptation would be to take over and then the sisters would be saddled with this and this would not be good. It would not be for the growth of the women. The sisters must always be alert to this temptation and encourage one or two capable women of the village to undertake the offices. The sisters need to give the women full support to run those offices. They need to help them to gain experience in the art of organisation.
Stidsen: The major criticism that I imagine you could get about this work is that anyone could be doing it, this is humanism, there's no Christian dimension to it much less a specific Catholic dimension to it. How would you answer this?
Bishop Bhai: Hmmm, yes. In India, social work is becoming more and more of a profession and there are paid social workers as there are paid community health workers in certain states of the country, Maharashtra being one of them. I'm sure that in due course in every village we will have paid professional social workers. I feel the professional social worker will go the same way as the primary school teacher and the primary health nurse in the village. That means they will be programmed to do what the government wants them to do and they will enter into the corrupt system built around the bureaucracy. So, paid social workers will not be the answer for work in villages. We need dedicated people and therefore people who volunteer to make the life of the village their life's work. For this we require high idealism because it is a breaking away from a culture, a way of life, comforts, that one has been used to, to accepting all that is part of the people's way of life. This high idealism can only be realised by those who are consecrated and who are answering a call from God.
That their work is pure humanism, I do not agree, in the sense that it is a Red Cross work, a bandaging of wounds, of giving comfort to the people, but that it is essentially a work of human growth. It is a work of alerting people to the possibilities that they need not stay in their present life circumstances because they are fated to do so, that there are other possibilities that are available to them, and are open to them. So, an animator entering into a village opens this wide world of opportunity to the people, through an interior process of growth, building up the self-image of the people. From this comes their self-confidence and strength to overcome, on their own, the disabilities they have either through the system in which they are or their own familiar circumstances. This work is, I believe, essentially a deeply spiritual work in the sense that we are talking about putting the spirit back into people, by giving them self-confidence, building up their God-given resources, opening their minds and hearts to avenues that they never had before, which were pre-determined by caste, pre-determined by custom, pre-determined by their social status in the village. The work of the animator, then, is to stir up these human possibilities, to stir up the human spirit. I think this is a work of the Spirit and of evangelisation.
What the villagers do with that animation is the next step of what we can offer in terms of the possibilities of a community working together. This is something that one must think of in wider terms in relation to the services of church personnel in terms of development. But, as of now, I think we are still in that early stage of entering into the lives of people, of animating them, of showing them possibilities. We have not yet reached the macro level where we are agents of influence in a wider constituency. But when that does take place, and people take in hand their own destinies and lives, then we become partners in a common journey for greater growth, in themselves, and in community. I like to dream about it but at this moment we are faced with practical problems at this initial level of insertion into the lives of the people.
Stidsen: I'm remembering as you speak of the caste system at work in the villages, of one of the major surprises in my early visits to India, viz., that the caste system has carried over into the Catholic Church. I had really somehow thought that it had been left behind. So, when I encountered it in the church, and thought about those implications, I was amazed. Do you think that priests and vowed religious who want to work with you in this village effort have a sense of the injustice of caste within and outside of the church? They come to this work or any work with their own history or herstory. What does this mean for mission?
Bishop Bhai: I feel that the first thing any volunteer animator in this work, priest, vowed religious, any worker, must realise is that they will fall, willy-nilly, into a position of superiority, when they enter into a village. It will come from their education, their status as religious, and their caste feeling that these peoples are tribals, a group looked down upon. They are illiterate, and my education puts me on another plane in terms of them. They are my "clients", come for charity. If the animators disabuse themselves of these a priori concepts and put themselves on a par with the people, to learn, and to listen, they would be in a wonderful position, overcoming themselves, overcoming their caste feelings, able to become all things to all people.
Stidsen: One of the most fascinating things for me about the mission formula you describe is that your people are being asked to do something the European missionaries were not. They came usually with their sense of white superiority in all things and your people are being asked to be missionaries to their own people, with a chance to rectify the mistakes of the foreign missionaries.
Bishop Bhai: Yes, but my fear is that what the Holy Father has done in India, bringing in the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches is that they are going to impose what they think is the visible image of the church, viz., churches and institutions like those of Kerala. Success for them is how they can copy the corresponding pattern of what takes place at home. Over this church we have no control for they have immunised themselves against inculturation. Therefore, the Holy Father, by encouraging them to take over areas of India or to administer to their own people is putting them side by side with persons with this newer thinking about mission. I fear this will neutralise, if not damage, our kind of work. I firmly believe this will be a contention for years to come because each community will be saying, "See, the Syro-Malabar Church has put up this school, that hospital, this church, and what are you doing? You come to us, people with no respect, no dignity, no status, no public image. Look at what they are offering. Give us something concrete, something that we can boast of." I see that the "building" that we would be doing is the building up of the people. When I can see a tribal acting out of self-respect, from his own resources, through his own tribal organisation, then I will be truly proud. That he can run his own services, take charge of his own life, of the life of his people, leading them in directions that they have chosen, that they want, after having made a choice from all the options available to them, then I will know that the work of our animators is the work of the church, the work of God.
Stidsen: You really believe that this work of animation is the way to go.
Bishop Bhai: I believe it is the way of the church, this promoting of our own culture through our own resources. I feel terrible that we have a Belgian cathedral in Chota Nagpur, a French cathedral in Nagpur, a German cathedral in Ahmednagar because that is where German missionaries were. I can sympathise with the missionaries who came, who did not know better, because the church was very stolid in its approaches, and they did the best they knew to do, and they gave what they had. Fine. All right. But I can see the same church that one of my classmates in New York has smack in the middle of Ahmednagar! It is white as anything against the monsoon rains. It has a tall steeple with a cross on top of it. It was built by the same German priests who built the church in New York. They thought it was suitable for India and for New York.
We Indians must go beyond that. We should not fall prey to repeating those kinds of institutions. For me it is becoming very clear that our own culture must prevail. Since the Latin Church has many Catholics from Kerala in it, there is a temptation to repeat institutions from that state among the people to whom they go. The position seems to be, what have we to show for what we are doing, what is our image here? We will never be a self-respecting people and the people to whom we go will never be self-respecting, holding their heads high, unless they can show off a first-class educational institution, a first-class hospital, etc. I don't think that is the way to go. We must be there for all the people. I don't think we need competition along that line, along other lines perhaps, but not along that line.
Stidsen: Thank you, Archbishop D'Souza, for helping me and our readers to understand that modern mission in your mind means working toward the integral human development of all peoples and not the "brick and mortar Catholicism" of your salad days and mine.
Bishop Bhai: Thank you. God bless.
* Cf. Catherine Berry Stidsen, The Reconception of Christianity in the Thought of William Ernest Hocking, Bangalore, India: NBCLC, 1993.