An Interview With Archbishop Leobard D'Souza: Contemporary Mission as “Integrative Revolution”
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: email@example.com.
Stidsen: Bishop Bhai, what I understand by an integrative revolution is that modern Catholic mission at home and abroad, indeed all of Christian mission, now aims at the integral human development of every person on the earth, whether they convert to Christianity or not. But before we discuss that I think we need to reflect on previous models of mission and some of the language that is abroad today about mission. For example, there is much talk in mission circles today about "inculturation", "acculturation", "indigenisation", and so on. Could we perhaps begin our discussion with your understanding of these terms?
Bishop Bhai: I haven't really gone into trying to define these terms as much as I have tried to define the concept of mission for myself. I firmly believe that Christ incarnated himself in human history, becoming man, and by doing so he opted to be born in a particular place, of a particular woman, and in a particular country, which had a culture, history, civilisation, and above all, a religion of its own. And by so doing, he sent a message to all the world that God is with us in all our history, but more so in our particular histories. Therefore, by leaving his body, the church behind, to spread the Good News and to proclaim the Good News to every creature, Christ indicated a direction in which we should go, that is, to be faithful to his God's mission to all nations of the world. He could not multiply himself in his physical presence but would do so through the body he left behind, viz., the church. This church, following in the footsteps he traced out here on earth, would be faithful to the process he lived through here on earth. So the church will be faithful to the mission of Jesus, if the church incarnates itself, as Jesus did, into the lives of the people to which it addresses itself. This way of Jesus would be the normative way in which the church would live his life.
This means that the people representing the church must be respectful of what has gone before them, among the people to whom they are sent. They must believe that God has not sent them to a totally degenerate people, to a people that does not know God, to a people that is completely blank concerning values in life. They must believe that God has anticipated the Christian missionary by a presence that is already there amongst the people and so a Christian missionary respects this presence of God which he or she finds among the people. In that presence, if he discerns well, and understands the people well, he would see traces of the gospel already there because, I feel, Christ proclaimed that he was wanting to give life and life more abundantly to the people. This life is a life with which we are all endowed. When a missionary goes to another people, he sees this life, all that is good, true, and beautiful, and offers to these people also the model of the life of the way of Jesus. This model is offered as something to complete what they have, to bring to perfection what they have. In offering the model of Jesus, they offer a very intimate personality who understands human life from within. This, I believe, is the work of the missionary.
In this approach there are two aspects: 1) the aspect of understanding what is there in the language, culture, song, dance, world views of the people and, 2) the aspect of recognising what is there that militates against the normal understanding of law all over the world. This understanding of law, if it is violated, needs to be corrected. The missionary could offer al-ternatives in this case to the people to whom he is sent.
Stidsen: Could we come back to that idea of "normal" law for a minute. I'm not sure I understand what you meant by that.
Bishop Bhai: I will give an example in married life. All over the world, mono-gamy has been the normal law in marriage. It is accepted for the good of the society for various valid reasons. Monogamy prevails in most parts of the world. Among certain peoples of the world, other norms exist. In Africa it is polygamy and in Tibet it is polyandry. While there is no immorality in polygamy and polyandry, the good of society requires that they approximate monogamy gradually in their evolution into modern society, because of the difficulties that arise in polygamy and polyandry. So, I feel that these norms which might prevail in the territories to which he is sent, might offer the missionary the opportunity to persuade these persons toward the normal ways of marriage. I think this would be one of the correctives that we could see the Christian missionary doing.
It needs to be remembered that on the part of the missionary there are always two options. One is that he maintains his own culture. The other is that he adapts to the culture of the people among whom he lives. Adapting to another culture is one of the hardest things that anyone can be asked to do because his own culture is so much a part of his life and of his thinking and acting. He could well make the option not to adapt. In that event, I would say that he would be ill-advised and it would, in fact, do damage to his mission if he imposed, let us say, any of his western way of thinking, dressing, eating, etc., upon his people. This, of course, has happened in the past, either due to ignorance or the fact that it was the "done thing" in those days. The desirable thing would be for the missionary to adapt to the extent that is possible for him for the reason that it would make his entry to the people easier and his person more acceptable. This has to do with the person the missionary.
What should he attempt to do? He should gradually educate his people to preserve the best in their culture. He should work to bring this best especially into all the expressions of worship that the church offers this community. The Second Vatican Council and all the liturgical documents allow for maximum adaptation along this line and he should do this despite all those who discourage this kind of in depth inculturation. The people themselves, especially the more knowledgeable and the leaders of the community, should be given the opportunity to discern what is good in their culture and be encouraged to incorporate that into what they pray, sing, dance, and in their own idiom give honour and glory to God.
Stidsen: Previously you and I have discussed the overlapping of rites going on in India now. It seems to me that if Catholics from the south of India are coming to other parts of the country in terms of mission, and bringing their Syro-Malabar or Syro-Malankar rites to these news areas, that is anything but an incarnational approach. So it is not only persons who might wish to impose a western mindset on eastern peoples that is a problem, but Indian Catholics who want to impose their own particular rite on them that hampers adaptation. Am I right?
Bishop Bhai: To put the record straight, the present tension in the church in India is not only because of the Holy Father's letter in which he has established the diocese of Kallian , which covers the whole of Mumbai, Pune, and Nasik, in which areas the Syro-Malabar Christians are now asked to give personal allegiance to their own bishop, not the ordinaries of the dioceses. This is causing much disruption. In Nagpur itself, people who have been for three or four generations in the city are now gathering into their own Syro-Malabar communities and wanting to build their own churches. This is difficult enough but within the Syro-Malabar rite two opposing factions have arisen. There is a minority group upholding the principle that the Syro-Malabar Church should be all in all eastern and that the whole history of its presence in India should be revised so that it is in keeping with the pristine liturgy and religious life from whence it came, which is Syrian or Chaldean in origin. This would mean a complete revision of all their liturgical books, bringing all the old formulae and traditions into the church. This would mean a complete change in worship in the Syro-Malabar Church. Anything that is of Latin origin would be eliminated. A few examples would be the recital of the rosary which is obviously of Latin origin. This would not be in keeping with the Syrian tradition and therefore would not be promoted in the Syro-Malabar Church. The Way of the Cross, which all Syro-Malabar Christians have practised for centuries as part of their devotions, would gradually be eliminated from the church. The reservation of the Blessed Sacrament , which all of us know was not part of the practise of the early church, would gradually be eliminated from Syro-Malabar churches. So, all of this would be changed.
The other group, the majority, are against this return to the pristine liturgy of the Chaldeans and are advocating not only the practises in the prevailing tradition of the church and what has been accepted in the spiritual and religious life of the people, but also that they open the church to adaptation and inculturation in territories where this church will be sent. Quite clearly, this serious division is taking its toll on the Syro-Malabar Christians.
Stidsen: It sounds to me that if this revision suggested by the minority were to go through, the Syro-Malabar Church would be even less "Indian" than it is now.
Bishop Bhai: Yes. Very clearly, it would be less Indian. That means that the protagonists for inculturation would have lost, and the division is currently so sharp that Rome is hesitant to pronounce on it because people on both sides have said that there will be grave consequences if Rome decides in favour of one position or the other.
Stidsen: This emphasis on becoming "eastern", or "more authentically eastern", is an interesting one. In all that I have been reading about India these days and the Roman Catholic Church's attempt at adaptation or inculturation, there are persons who are saying that if you do that, you will once again be on the margins of Indian life because of the globalisation going on especially in your major cities. Of course, by globalisation they mean westernisation. Does that criticism have any validity?
Bishop Bhai: It has to the extent that the metropolitan cities of the world are the same in all aspects. What is the part that the church has to play there? I think it is the same role the church has to play in London, Rome, Paris, Mumbai, or Calcutta. But I don't think the world is in a metropolis. As a matter of fact, if there is anything we can see now it is sub-urbanisation. People are moving away from the metropolis which is a business, commercial, and perhaps cultural centre. People are living outside in smaller areas. In smaller areas you have the urban life, a more relaxed life, depending upon the place. Obviously, from the material point of view people will have the same gadgetry that people all over the world want to have and families will go for that. But a suburban area in Mumbai is quite different from a suburban area in New York. Each suburb of a metropolis will be a unique reflection of the nation's life. I feel that in India and in all the developing nations where we are dealing with a cultural gap of nearly five centuries, that we are far from this steamroller effect of modern life which we are calling globalisation.
I think in Asia and all of the Third World for that matter, the church still has a major role to play to preserve the ancient values, the best that the people have in their lives. This was in fact the theme of all the major speeches the Holy Father made on his last trip to India. He made clear that the church has the duty to preserve, protect, and defend the religious principles of all the peoples of the world. In doing so the church will preserve the sense of the Divine which the peoples have. And we could not preserve the sense of the Divine if we do not accept the whole luggage, the whole vehicle by which the sense of the Divine is expressed.
How do we adapt ourselves to all of the mythology which these religions offer? This for me is the $64 thousand question. What is the local Catholic to understand of the myths with which he is surrounded, the Krishnas, the lingam, the statuary, and all the rituals which go with all of this? I think it is the process first of appreciating what it is that the people have, and in the gradual process of appreciation, we will see that we can accept many of the signs and symbols that, for example, the Hindus use. Essentially, Hinduism is a household religion, and the hearth is preserved by the woman of the house. Each house is a temple where the household god or goddess is worshipped. I think in the Indian tradition it is possible that we Catholics might get to the point where in every house there is an altar, with similar kinds of statuary, except that in place of the Hindu gods and goddesses we would have St. Francis Xavier, three kinds of Blessed Virgins, including our own Lady of Vellankany [laughing] that we have in India. What I meant to say is, that if we Catholics were to adopt this practise of a home altar we would be saying to our Hindu brothers and sisters, that we value and respect their worship, and that there is nothing wrong with having a room in the house set aside for worship. We would be saying to ourselves that there is nothing wrong with this. I know of a family, in fact, in a mixed marriage where they have done precisely this, establish an altar in the style of the Jains. I think this is a way in which inculturation can take place. People should not lose their roots. They should not cut their moorings from their pasts. I know that eventually what I call the Coca-Cola culture will catch up with them but they should not lose especially their ways of praying. They ought not to lose their ways of thinking. I hope, too, for a creative and innovative national educational program which will preserve the best of these cultures and help people not to cave into materialism. I hope it will offer people the opportunity not to be suffocated by the glamour which the media is offer-ing. I think all of this is a possibility if we are not overrun by the multinationals. We will save the soul of these people. How this is to be done we are grappling with in all sorts of meetings.
For me, much of what we are doing in these meetings are puny efforts. I was thrilled to see recently that the Japanese church has decided to address itself to this question in a major way. With all the consciousness and all the expertise they have they are meeting to effect a peoples' programme for the twenty-first century. They are planning on presenting alternatives and possibilities for this kind of preservation not just for the church but for the world.
Stidsen: How are they planning on doing this?
Bishop Bhai: They are having a meeting of Japanese persons only! That is brilliant because then they will not be distracted by trans-cultural ideas. Persons other than Japanese have been invited by sufferance. They are invited because they are sympathetic to what the Japanese are trying to do. This isn't patronising but it is an effort to keep Japanese reflecting on their own situation.
Stidsen: I'm curious. When you have international gatherings around these kinds of issues, what language do you use when you celebrate Eucharist?
Bishop Bhai: Ah, we use English.
Stidsen: And the traditional Latin Rite?
Bishop Bhai: Well, you see in order to have a creative liturgy one would have to prepare and we are too bogged down with the agenda so we give ourselves only so much time for the liturgy. And it all depends who is present. If there are a sufficient number of participants from any one area, I have sometimes seen some very creative liturgies. Then the organisers will say that Southeast Asia prepares one day, South Asia the next day, East Asia the following day and then they do so in their own idiom. I haven't seen any radical cultural adaptations from the Japanese, Koreans, or Taiwanese. I have seen it from the South Pacific Islands. Very, very significant facets of their lives are incorporated into their liturgies and in them the woman takes a very active role. You experience in them the whole easy, "pacific" approach to life, and yet they are still very rich in ritual. And the rituals are things which are carried over from public life and into public life.
This is one of our main difficulties with inculturation in liturgy in India. Our Catholic lives are very different from the bulk of Indian secular life. Our Christian community, by and large, has a way of life that is alien to the rest of the people except in certain parts of the country like Kerala -- and even there the Christian way of life is distinct from the way others live. So we have to make a deliberate effort in our secular life and in our liturgical life to adapt. This means a cultural adaptation and as I have suggested previously that is not easy to do, even with an apostolic intent to do so. Making rules about how people should dress and what they should eat will not help with this. It is something that will come in time but it is not easy.
Stidsen: Thank you. That helps me to understand the effort to incarnate the good news of Jesus into the local scene. Now, I'd like to ask you about the history of this whole mission effort. I remember that you told me years ago that in 1957 when you returned to Jabalpur after your ordination in Rome, your bishop there, Bishop Dubbelman, told you that your work was to "plant the church". What I would like to know is what that meant specifically in your case in that particular location. What exactly were you expected to do? How was all of this to happen? And were there time lines to get this planting of the church done?
Bishop Bhai: When Bishop Dubbelman gave me that directive, he had in mind the church in Chota Nagpur, the church of the Belgian Jesuits, where he saw how in a given population, the whole people were educated to the Christian way of life. Planting the church, according to the Belgian Jesuits was putting in the middle of the people all the instruments they would require for their religious life, for their educational life, and for their social life. This means providing institutions which are going to keep the people together. So, one would have in the middle of these communities, a church, educational institutions for boys, for girls, a dispensary, which in due course would grow into a hospital. There were also certain social activities instituted, like the cooperative movement. The purpose of the latter was that through the spirit of cooperation the people could help themselves through their own contributions. But by and large, the religious, educa-tional, and medical institutions took priority over the cooperatives. If, in fact, the cooperative movement had grown as it could have, we would have another kind of church today in Chota Nagpur. Therefore, planting the church among the people means to be visibly present to the people.
Bishop Bhai: Building-wise, institution-wise, and offering them opportunities for growth. And the chief of these opportunities was education. So you could only plant the church if your people were educated, thus, there was a massive attempt to get schools in every village where Catholics were present.
Stidsen: Every village?
Bishop Bhai: Yes, every village, but these schools would all be linked with the central school where the church was established, so there was a network of schools culminating in the high school boarding in the church compound. So this planting of the church was a duplication of the villages in Belgium, into the Chota Nagpur situation, except that the adivasis did not have an architecture of their own. Their development had not reached that point. So they have massive churches of the Belgian type! These were the places where the people could worship in comfort and in security.
Education was the vehicle that opened all of these opportunities to the people. When they were educated, they were able to take care of themselves. So the church was present in and through the people and in this way they were Christianised. This, I feel, is what Bishop Dubbelman wanted to duplicate in Mandla District. The Dutch missionaries were given this district in 1938 and they thought they saw a compatible people in the Gonds. Unfortunately, the Gonds did not accept the missionaries in the same way as the Oraons in Chota Nagpur did. The Gond mission proved to be a much harder work. Between 1930-1940, the Dutch missionaries spread like wildfire all over Mandla District and followed the same path as the Belgian missionaries in Ranchi. They built as many schools as villages they visited. So we had in the Mandla District which you saw, at least you saw a good part of it, over 200 primary schools.
Bishop Bhai: And that was for Bishop Dubbelman, planting the church, because through the school system he was going to Christianise Mandla District. The people whom Fr. Piemans and Fr. van Heurten contacted [early Dutch missionaries] were told by them, "You give us schools, you can have our children." They could baptise them, do whatever they liked with them.
Stidsen: The adults didn't convert?
Bishop Bhai: The adults did not convert in large numbers but they had no objection to their children's being converted. Yes, and you understand what it means to be in the school and to be converted? But in 1942 one of the disciples of Gandhi came to the Mandla District because he heard that not only in Chota Nagpur but also in Mandla, missionaries were converting people in masses! So to disabuse the population he did a walking tour, a padiyatra, a pilgrimage through the district, and started the anti-missionary campaign. Thakar Bapa was his name. He was assisted in his campaign by Verrier Elwyn, the great English anthropologist. Elwyn said the missionaries were westernising and Christianising and therefore destroying the tribal culture.
It was about this time also that the training school, or normal school, from which the tribal teachers were coming, and which, at first, had been given to the church to run, was taken over by the government. All of this resulted from the anti-missionary campaign. At the same time the massive financial help which Bishop Dubbelman was getting for the church in Mandla District was cut off because of the war. To keep and maintain 200 schools was an impossibility without this financial aid, so he closed down all these schools, and maintained only the schools at the centres, which is why we now have only the boardings. And thus we have the results of the planting of the church, a compound Christianity, a greenhouse Christianity, a protected Christianity.
Stidsen: Would you say that this planting of the church, this contained, protected Christianity was the norm throughout India?
Bishop Bhai: Throughout most of North India, the places where the Latin Rite was, this was the mission method, the compound approach to proclamation.
Stidsen: What's the status of this method now? I think perhaps I saw more of this when we toured your former diocese of Jabalpur than in your own archdiocese of Nagpur. Is this method still valid?
Bishop Bhai: I don't think anyone has broken through. We have had several meetings as to missionary approaches in the North of India and we have always come back to the secure institution of the mission compound. I feel the small attempts I am doing in Nagpur are something different.
Stidsen: Let's talk about what these "small attempts" are. I see your effort as encouraging all your personnel to work toward basic human community, that is, the integral human development of all peoples. I know that such efforts are going on in other places in India but what I am experiencing in your operation is that this is your diocesan policy, it is your pastoral thrust. You have identified this as, I am almost inclined to say have mandated this as, the approach in your diocese and are not leaving this method simply to persons on the fringes of the Catholic community. You see the dialogue and inculturation this approach requires as central to mission effort.
Bishop Bhai: Ah, yes. I don't know of any bishop apart perhaps from Bishop Saupin whose work I know only by reputation, not first-hand, who is doing what I am. His people, however, are different from mine. They are tribals, Oraons and others, and they are an overflow of the Ranchi mission, so they have villages of Catholics which we really do not have in the areas in which we are working in Nagpur. Like myself, he is working toward sustainable development of the total person in these villages.
Stidsen: How do the Oraon priests, bishops, and archbishops deal with issues like integral human development, sustainable development?
Bishop Bhai: I don't think they have given it a thought because they themselves are products of the mission compound and they would not in any way take a critical view of the situation. It has served them. It has brought them up and one would need a view from the outside to evaluate the method. But you must also remember that the Oraon bishops will essentially be bishops to their own people. In some case it is their only concern. And if, in fact, they do not broaden their outlook eventually, it will be a disaster for the Chota Nagpur church. I do not believe that they intend this but they are so caught up with being of service to their own that any attempt to broaden their mission outlook in our meetings on method is often met with emotional reactions. Their concern is for their own and it should be universal.
Stidsen: They would be Latin Rite?
Bishop Bhai: Yes, Latin Rite and adapting liturgically as permitted, a little late in the day. The adaptations they are making are very good ones. Universality is something that the tribal bishops must keep in mind. They have a wealth of priestly and religious vocations and they are spreading all over the north of India. They must give their people a catechesis of the universality of the church. As they go out to others they must have the confidence and strength in themselves to believe that they can adapt. When that day comes, and when I see an adivasi priest effecting that kind of adaptation, I will know that they have come of age. At this moment I see that they are good Oraon Catholics and pleased to be that and not yet seeing that like any Catholic anywhere they have a mission to others than their own particular community.
Stidsen: Just to summarize then, the mission compound method has been the traditional one since the inauguration of the modern era of mission. Your own mission approach to effect integral human development through dialogue and inculturation and the establishment of basic human communities, is definitely different from the norm. But in the history of mission, both Catholic and Protestant, there was a break with the planting the church approach in what came to be called the "presence" model. When I look at the work in your archdiocese with persons on the margins of Indian economic, political, and social life, I think I see much of this presence model in what your village personnel do. I wonder if you feel the same way. But before you comment on that, I might just add that I am thinking of what I have read and studied about mission in Africa, for instance, in the writings of John Vernon Taylor, the Anglican bishop.
Taylor talks about his experience in going into people's homes and having people come into his in which he and they literally sat in each other's physical company, in many cases with not even a word passing between them except to say hello and to say goodbye. And in fact, the traditional goodbye translates into,"I have seen you." When I read about this approach to mission, I thought of Charles de Foucald, and of the begin-nings of the work of the White Fathers. I think of the presence of the Little Sisters and the Little Brothers of Jesus, growing out of the thinking of de Foucald. I know you tell your village personnel not to go there with projects, but to be with the people. Is this the presence model or are there some differences in the approach you recommend?
Bishop Bhai: I would say that the mission compound approach works well for people who have been and will be responsive to the church. We divide the church in India into these two areas, responsive areas and not-responsive areas. The responsive areas are the areas where the people are hungering to enter the church, and where they are coming as villages, not individuals.
Stidsen: Mass conversions?
Bishop Bhai: Yes, along the same line as mass conversions. I am not getting into the sociological and cultural reasons why they are doing this, but I see that the churches in those responsive areas find themselves unable to cope with the invitations that are sent out to them to provide the institutions that go with the mission compound approach. The demands are for getting land, building churches, putting up schools, dispensaries, etc., etc., etc. It's impossible for them to keep pace with the demands. But they are doing their best with the help that they are getting.
What is happening now is that the government and the hostile populations are getting wise to this and it is becoming increasingly difficult to buy land in the name of the church. It is increasingly difficult to put up places of worship because new laws are being imposed on the population which require prior permission for building. All sorts of other difficulties are put which before were not present. So while the going is good in the responsive areas I think we should go full steam ahead with the mission compound model. Whatever else their motives, the people are looking for liberation and salvation which they believe only the church can give them. I believe in due course correctives to their thinking and motivation can be made.
But, by and large in India, whole areas are not responsive to the church. Therefore, in those areas, what is our approach? You may say it is a tactical approach. Some question why we should be there at all, and say that we should leave the people to their own way of life which is essentially good and ask why we should we disturb it. That's a big question and not really pertinent to our discussion. I do feel that all peoples of the world should be present to one another and give one another their best, both in terms of what is prevailing in the wide world, as well as to preserve what can be damaged by excessive modernisation. By that I mean a culture which is being created in the modern world which takes people away from their spiritual roots. I feel that people who are committed to humanity and to full human life should have this uprooting as our chief human concern. We must preserve the best and give the best of human life to the people, through educational institutions, through building up awareness, through building up the interior strengths of people, so that the people can take their destiny into their own hands. This, I think, is the essential missionary or evangelical work that we have cut out for us. So, the question that you are posing is?
Stidsen: It seems to me that some of the groups most committed to the presence model, in my mind the Little Sisters and Little Brothers of Jesus, are now becoming radical, at least some of them are. In fact some are leaving their communities to become political activists. It seems that being present to and with the people is not enough any more, for example, to peoples who are oppressed. Many religious personnel come from middle and upper class families and have chosen poverty and know that things can be different. They want to facilitate change for the better. So, I think the presence model is not enough. It is only a beginning. If it continues only as being present to others, it is inadequate. I'm remembering that you once said to me, "I tell my people we have an option for the poor not for poverty."
Bishop Bhai: I think the presence model as it has come to you through your study of the protestant missionaries and the Little Sisters is not complete. I believe that presence is an entry point into the lives of the people. Once present among the people, and once the people accept the personnel of the church as their own, then the animation that is done by that religious personnel can lead the people to greater growth and transformation, to a greater concern outside their family concerns, towards others in the village, from a too inward looking village mentality, to an other directed village mentality. I think this progression is part of the Christian message, that we have an ever-radiating concern that reaches further and further. While it is radiating further and further, by their sharing they in turn become missionaries by their own witness. And that witness is the sharing of the best that they have with each other, and with all others, with whomever they come in contact in the concourse in the wider marketplace.
In our own mission in Surli, for example, the people in the nearby villages are always saying, "If the sisters are there in Surli why don't they also come to our place and live amongst us?" I think this is also an invitation to the people of Surli. I think these people are saying, "We would like to see done in our own village what you have done in yours through the inspiration of the sisters." I think this process of the good diffusing itself is the self-propagation, the evangelisation that is coming.
At the same time, we must strengthen the forces for good. We cannot rely only on the good diffusing itself. We need institutions that will preserve this on-going process. What are those institutions? What are those processes that we should encourage? I think this is where the coming together of people at various levels is needed, and that requires courage. How do we encourage the cultural life of the people, the ethos of the people? How do we encourage their view of life no matter how limited it is in view of other people? How do we help them to understand the ways of life of other people, to know that others have ways of life which are important to them and which they have preserved? We need to help them to understand that they are not just one frog in a well with a patch of blue sky above but they are a part of the whole human family, an important part, that they have the right to be proud of who and what they are.
I think essentially in the end this means a responsibility on the part of every family to preserve family life, and through the family preserve the best of education, the best of culture, the best of their heritage, which is then passed on.
Stidsen: We've reflected on the mission compound, the presence model of mission, and now I would be grateful if you would reflect on modern mission theology as that of integral human development, or what some are calling the "integrative revolution". What would that mean for you?
Bishop Bhai: Mission theology as understood now by most people is proclamation, proclamation of the good news, proclamation that Jesus is saviour. Therefore, Jesus has come to redeem the people from sin and he is the good news. He is the world's saviour and liberator. Conversion and the subsequent baptism becomes the object of all mission activity, the goal of all mission activity. I firmly believe that there is another way of looking at this classical formulation that Jesus is saviour.
Jesus no doubt comes to us from God, to proclaim God's reign, and to offer to the world that freedom, that liberation, that salvation that God desires for the people of the world, and the world itself. How do we accomplish this in a world that is the reality that we see? It is not a pretty world. There is no doubt that a lot of what is in the world is damaged by sin and systems of sin. Huge sections of the people of the world are enslaved, are not living their full human lives. All over the world, in one form or another, this sinfulness is prevalent. Jesus came to bring wholeness to this world, to all people. We Christians are sent out to be messengers of this wholeness, we ourselves who require wholeness. How do we go about it?
We could go about it in the classical way, preaching that Jesus saves, and therefore, repent and accept Jesus as your saviour. I think it is also possible to preach the same good news without this classical formulation, viz., by entering into the lives of the people, identifying one's own life with theirs, by becoming a co-pilgrim with the people, trying to effect wholeness in their lives as much as we desire wholeness in our own life. How are we to bring about wholeness?
Wholeness can only mean that the human person opens himself or herself to all the possibilities that God has given to this person, possibilities of body and spirit, mind and heart, all that is required for human fulfilment. Much of the potentialities of the human person are suppressed by the conditions in which the person lives, by custom, by social mores, by things which are not inherent in human nature but which are imposed on human nature by other persons. To be liberated from this kind of oppression, to offer the individual other options, I think is the work of the evangelist. The evangelist must desire this wholeness for himself or herself and for the people to whom the evangelist is sent. In the process it is not just an individual self-fulfilment and liberation, but soon it is realised that liberation and fulfilment can be achieved only in communion with others, that is, in community.
Therefore, there is a two-fold process of integral human development. First, the person grows in the realisation that he or she has their destiny in their own hands. Second, they grow in the realisation that they have a responsibility to build up the lives of others. In this way it will be seen that the best results are achieved when one forgets oneself in reaching out to others and in that reaching out to others they achieve that wholeness which they have desired and at the same time they have done their bit by giving themselves in the service of others, by seeing that others are growing, that they are transformed. They experience that the system in which they are living is made more and more equal, more and more human, fair, just, so that people can live in an atmosphere of freedom which will promote their growth and will promote fullness of life. This total human development takes in all aspects of life, political, social, economic, educational, and I put that all together in one big relationships which one can call "religious" relationship, which is total human development.
Stidsen: If I am understanding you correctly, this model of mission as integral human development would differ from liberation theologians who believe that by and large the structures, or systems as you call them, are corrupt and have to be replaced. I am not hearing you say that they have to be replaced.
Bishop Bhai: I have spelt out previously, rather abstractly, what I mean by integral human development. But, in point of fact, when one enters into the social reality and one wishes to have human fullness for oneself and human fullness for the community, the social reality consists of hard facts of life with which one must contend, viz., the social systems in which one finds themselves.
No person lives in the abstract. Every person is part of an on-going history. Therefore when one wishes to live this fullness of life there are these hard social realities to contend with. Depending on the place and culture into which one is born, one would have to see how these social realities are promoting or hindering fullness of life. This would be where liberation theology comes in.
In my understanding of liberation theology it is theology from the people, how people see their lives against the Word of God. The Word of God is summoning them, beckoning them, inviting them to fullness of life. "I have come to give you life and life in all its fullness." Caught up in that Word, inspired by that Word, they want to see how this is realised in the circumstances of their lives. They use the inductive method in basic Christian communities, and they hear the descriptions of how people around the table are living their lives. At the basic level many of them are without jobs because the factory has closed down. Many of them do not have proper housing because they are construction workers for the high rise flats but no provision was made for them. Some of the family members have tuberculosis and other diseases because there is no clean water supply and they live in unhygienic conditions. When all these facts are put together, they look beyond these facts to see what are the root causes, why are all of these things happening, not just to them but to a good segment of the population. In analysing the facts, they would see that there is a structure in society that does not promote the universal welfare of people, but promotes by and large the welfare of a section of the people, which makes others victims of the system.
For this reason when one comes to analyse this reality, if the people are to achieve fullness of life, they must take their lives into their own hands by deciding what it is that they want, and work to achieve that while not harming anyone else in the process because all people are entitled to the fullness of life desired for them by God. This desire is what they gradually work to achieve first of all at their own level. They must resolve how they can create an atmosphere of brotherhood and sisterhood among themselves so that sharing is part of life, so that participation in political and social institutions is seen as their obligation and responsibility as citizens of the country and of the world. They dare not opt out.
Fatalism has been the bane of the people who are at the bottom of the world's ladders. They say things like, "Well, we haven't made it because we haven't had the breaks. The people who have made it have had the breaks and therefore we must resign ourselves to the human situation in which we are. And if, God willing, a break might come or someone might come, that's good. But it is always a top dog that is going to call the shots for our country and for the world." I think that when people have attained self-confidence that they can change things at their own level, at the level of their community, that they will gradually build up forces all over the country, all over the world, to unite and change the situation, change the system, so that it is more human, more just, more equitable.
Stidsen: The major difficulty I have whenever anyone talks about systems or structure, and I have had it for a long time, is that, for me, all action is individual action. When I come right down to it, I cannot see how any institution that exists can exist apart from the people who are in it. I know that the tendency is to say that an institution has a life of its own, but it doesn't. I don't see the logic to that. If, for example, the members of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church refused to follow through on a set of expectations of them in which they no longer believe, then that institution will change. Granted, there are other ways of effecting change, but primarily as long as there are members of an institution acting out the roles to which they have been assigned, then the institution does not change. So my concern with the whole liberation theology thing as I understand it is that they are saying the institution has a life of its own, the institution is corrupt. I don't see how it is possible to separate any institution from the individual members who comprise it.
I do understand how the sum of the whole is greater than any of its parts. I have experienced how individuals can come together and pool their strengths and the membership has more together than any one member does on its own. Unfortunately, they can also pool their weakness. As I said, my major difficulty is that liberation theologians seem to assume that these institutions are inherently evil apart from the persons in them.
Bishop Bhai: I don't think I can go along with that. The metaphor that immediately comes to my mind is that we don't see the forest for the trees. An institution is made up of people, and you have an individual identity. Let us analyse one and the other. A human being has a life of its own for which it is responsible, before God and before itself. No one else can take charge of that. But human beings are not alone. Human beings must live with others. In living with others they come to what Rousseau would call, a social contract. That means they can only come together on the basis of an agreement as to how they will relate to one another. And the relationship to one another is what we call a working relationship, a modus operandi. And this is because they want to live, and that is the modus operandi. Rules of this operation can be as large as understanding the parameters of which we live, such as Abraham's telling his family, "You go to the north, and you go to the south, and you go to the east, and as far as you can go, that's your territory." That means that large parameters of agreement can be made between persons. And agreement can be as close as husband and wife choosing to live together and making of their two lives, one life. Both of these kinds of large and close contracts can be seen in human nature. They are not something imposed from above but natural agreements on a large and small scale.
These two kinds of agreements become models of community life and grow into an institution. The same human beings who are responsible for their own lives and who voluntarily -- because Rousseau says it must be voluntary -- come together for larger reasons, are the roots of all human institutions, social, political, economic.
What then are we talking about when we are talking of systems that are evil? When does a system become evil? I think a system is good when there is agreement that force majeure will not be used to destroy the parameters of it. I refuse to accept the fact that might is right. I will accept your boundary and you will respect my boundary. This is good. The evil system comes in when one group, in order to preserve their territory uses force majeure to protect its institution against another expanding insti-tution and thereby secures through this their own sovereignty at the ex-pense of others. The others may be in need of help, in dire straits, but might is right will be maintained against any human need. In living this way, selfishness enters in. Prior to this, was the sharing of the world's wealth. Now, it is preserving one's assets at the risk of others losing all that they have. When selfishness becomes an ingrained system of self-protection and might is right prevails, this is where the institution and the people who are brought up in it, consciously or unconsciously, wish to remain in it because they wish to share its benefits. They are in an evil institution. Then they will remain in it until they are overcome by a greater force majeure and then we have evil systems competing with each other.
Stidsen: I think, Bishop Bhai, you are in large measure describing what is the hegemony of the West. You and I have discussed that elsewhere, so we need not go into that here.** I do think that economically in the West we are learning that cooperation outstrips competition. Perhaps if we learn this economically we will see other possibilities for cooperation.
I refuse to believe that persons of good will anywhere (and I do believe that there are more persons in the world of good will than of bad) want less for their world brothers and sisters than what they want for themselves, food, clothing, shelter, education, good work, and sufficient l eisure for some kind of reflection. Perhaps when that comes to be under-stood as modern mission, not only will there be an end to "donor fatigue" of every sort, but all kinds of creative dimensions to effect that integral human development of all peoples will come to the fore.
Bishop Bhai: Let us hope so.
Stidsen: Thank you, Bishop Bhai.Bishop Bhai: Thank you.
* Cf. Catherine Berry Stidsen, The Reconception of Christianity in the Thought of William Ernest Hocking, Bangalore, India: NBCLC, 1993.
** Cf., Catherine Berry Stidsen, "An Interview with Leobard D'Souza, Archbishop of Nagpur, India, Vice President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India," Grail, September 1991, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp. 30-43.