A Seminar on “Issues and Concerns of the Christian Community” jointly organized by the Catholic Association of South Kanara(CASK) and the Sylvester Frank Centenary Foundation was held on 1ST May, 2015 at St Aloysius College Auditorium.
The two sponsoring organizations also took the opportunity to felicitate the new Mayor of Mangalore – Ms Jacintha Alfred and also acknowledged the past mayor Ms. Hilda Alva and past deputy mayor – Ms Judith Mascarenhas.
The invitation had drawn a lot of attention as the burning issues faced by the Christian community were being addressed by six eminent experts :
- Mr Francis Colaso, IPS(Retd) – Former Director-General of Police-Karnataka on the topic ‘Issues and Concerns – The Way Ahead’.
- Mr P.D.Sabastian – Principal, SDM Law College-Mangalore on the topic ‘Constitution and Minorities’.
- Ms Flavia Agnes – Director – Majlis-Mumbai – Legal Expert and Activist on the topic ‘Crimes against Women’
- Mr Ronald Fernandes – Chief of Bureau, Deccan Herald- Mangalore and recipient of the Sarojini Naidu Award for Journalism, on the topic ‘Role of Media on Issues and Concerns of the community’.
- Fr Vinod Mascarenhas OFM(Capuchin) – Director, Vimukti-Ujire on the topic ‘Ghar Wapsi – the Reality’.
- Professor Elsie Tharian – Head, Department of Psychology, St Agnes College-Mangalore on the topic ‘Effective Parenting in the Present Scenario’.
The auditorium was packed to capacity with over 200 people attending, representing both the clergy and laity of Mangalore city. It was obvious that the various problems grappling the Christian community were causing distress not only to the Christian and other minority communities but also to the enlightened members of the majority community.
The six speakers ably fulfilled the expectations of the audience with their well prepared discourses as indicated by the many questions posed to them during the Question/Answer sessions.
The seminar started with a prayer song “HERE I AM LORD” sung melodiously and meaningfully by students of Capitanio and Mount Carmel School and an enthusiastic and hopeful audience were sure there to participate actively on matters that were hurting our sentiments and challenging our times.
Professor Edmund Frank – Chairman of the Sylvester Frank Centenary Foundation welcomed the gathering and Captain John Prasad Menezes, President-CASK, spelt out the objectives of the seminar and introduced the first citizen, Her Worshipful Mayor-Jacintha Vijaya Alfred who has the distinction of being the 3rd lady mayor from our community. Ms. Jacintha Vijaya Alfred was ceremoniously honored by Mr. Edmund Frank. Ex Mayor Mrs. Hilda Alva and Ex-Deputy Mayor Mrs. Judith Mascarenhas were also recognized and acknowledged for their contributions to society. Mrs Jacintha Alfred in her brief address expressed gratitude for being invited and felt privileged being part of the seminar. She complimented the two organizations for taking the initiative to highlight the growing challenges of the Christian community and was confident they would make effective inroads in tackling the problems.
In his address on the topic ‘Issues and Concerns – The Way Ahead’, the Chief Guest of the day Mr Francis T. R. Colaso bemoaned the communal situation in our society which has drastically deteriorated coinciding with the BJP Government coming to power in May 2014. He said “This is because of our beliefs and because we are small in numbers especially in the north” and added “With extremism and communal activism on the rise, minorities have become soft targets. We Christians have been attacked verbally and physically. In the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, many incidents of attacks on Christians and churches were reported and in 2008, churches were attacked here in Mangaluru by fanatics. Attacks on Christians are increasing in the entire nation and yet the culprits go scot free or with minimal punishment. The leaders of these parties themselves are delivering statements portraying the Christians in poor light and he rued the fact that Christians were not even being considered part of India. Though the Prime Minister has said that he would take strict action but nothing has been done. He has not rebuked anyone and his insincere statements only aggravate the situation. Our unresisting nature has been misused by these fanatics. Other groups are more zealous than us. To overcome these kind of attacks on Christians, all Christians need to unite. We have to talk when it is necessary and we should talk stating truths and facts. We have to stop the false and baseless allegations directed against us. It is distressing that hateful statements are being made by people in authority” . The attack on Mother Teresa was blasphemous and he also quoted the sentiments expressed by Julio Riberio “Today, in my 86th year, I feel threatened, not wanted, reduced to a stranger in my own country. The same category of citizens who had put their trust in me to rescue them from a force they could not comprehend have now come out to condemn me for practicing a religion that is different from theirs. I am not an Indian anymore, at least in the eyes of the proponents of the Hindu Rashtra.”. Mr. Colaco reiterated in conclusion “We have to be knowledgeable. Lay persons should take the lead and writers and orators should strongly voice facts and reasons and not anger and hatred on effective platforms”.
In his address on the topic ‘Constitution and Minorities’ Mr. P.D. Sabastian squarely blamed the Christian community for being too passive, not attempting to counter-attack and not having the word ‘revenge’ in their vocabulary, dictionary or practice. He listed it as a major reason for being harassed. He also felt that the value of ‘forgive and forget’ and ‘show your left cheek when the right cheek is slapped’ that is imbibed in us is exploited by the extremists and they treat us like puppets. He cited the recent example when the Chief Justice of India convened a meeting all Chief Justices of High Courts on Good Friday, 3rd April 2015 which was objected to by two Christian Judges-Justice Kurien Joseph and Justice Vikramjit Sen, without success. He cited various provisions in the constitution that protect our rights and which we could exploit to make our case stronger but unfortunately, in the bigger picture we do not have too many to support us he felt. “We are targeted for obvious reasons. A person who is unable to understand his own religion will attack others. Every religion is a message of love”
In her address on the topic ‘Crimes against Women’, Ms Flavia Agnes said “We are a persecuted community because we do not respond” and posed the questions – “Why were Christians attacked everywhere? And Why don’t we know to assert ourselves and respond??”. She said that our weakness lies in the fact that we claim rights as citizens after we have been attacked! “It is important we point fingers inwards rather than outwards because most often we are responsible for how we are treated”. Christians are in the forefront of educationforefront of education and health services in India. But have we given it a thought and analyzed what kind of education we impart through these institutions? If we had educated these young minds soundly, what is it that is triggering them to attack the very institutions they got educated in?
The women who are minorities needed courts to intervene when our churches could have helped in marital problems. We depute nuns to work in places like Nagaland and Arunachal untrained/unprepared and unprotected to provide education and health facilities. They make the attempt to adjust to a new culture, learn a new language but often end up as targets of attack. In her opinion the church does not think women are important. Only when there is a protest women are upfront but otherwise they are treated subordinately. Women are expected to succumb to anything and everything. She felt women are only attendants of the church but not helped or adequately treated in turn. She said we were being short sighted of women’s rights and also rights of minorities.
There is a severe erosion of secular rights in the recent years. There are innumerable rapes that occur but only a few high-profile ones get highlighted. Another interesting fact is that strangers raping girls are more commonly spoken about but as startling it may seem, there are more rapes taking place within the confines of homes by fathers, brothers etc. which are hidden under the carpet. In conclusion she said “Whatsoever you do to the least of my sisters you do unto me”..
In his address on the topic ‘Role of the Media on Issues and Concerns’ Dr. Ronald Fernandes emphasized that media was a powerful tool and had a profound impact on society. “It was a powerful entity to create awareness, to influence formation of opinions, can make or break people and sometimes makes criminals out of innocent people and vice versa”. He highlighted 3 recent events which were on the front pages of dailies pertaining to the catholic community and lamented that though it is within our domain to rise and shine in assisting, solving or contributing to ease a situation, most often we are laid back and treat it like another bit of news and nothing more. The events referred to are :
(1) The confusion about inclusion of Christians in the ongoing Caste Census;
(2) Case of wheel-chair import by Mervin Vas
(3) Unlawful arrest of Gladys Almeida in a false divorce decree;
If we take events or situations affecting our own people seriously and are proactive, we can surely make a difference to lives and our community. He concluded with a quote from Martin Ninontus: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me”.
In his address, Fr. Vinod Mascarenhas on the topic “Ghar Wapsi-The Realities” said we have to salute ourselves for the reverence we have for our community but should not stop there. ‘Ghar Wapsi’ or Home-coming is a polite word but has impolite, imposing ambitions – terror, of a sort that needs discussion and resolution by us.
GHAR VAPSI according to him is an attempt by certain people to capture and made to forcefully adopt the religion dictated to them. It is a dangerous exercise to create a majoritarian dominated Hindu rashtra which offers those who convert to Hinduism safety, security and benefits. People have converted and reconverted and we are all products of conversion. The present Central Government and some State Governments are encouraging a vigorous revival of religion in politics. Conversion is hotly debated and is falsely implicated to give Christians trouble and harass them. Fr.Vinod suggested priests should come out of liturgical celebrations and come to the rescue of Christians and help sort the problems of Christians in society. He felt our networking was very weak and said “Lets prepare our sheep like serpents”. We speak about all other values except constitutional values. Hatred against minorities is very prevalent in backward schools. We have to seriously concentrate on sheep that need our attention. Recently an open invitation was served on a golden platter to Christians to get reconverted and to re-embrace the religion of the land.
It would be relevant to ask whether the ascent of BJP to power with a big majority provided a fillip to such “reconversion” efforts. It reflects on the manner in which Indian politics is shaping up after the present dispensation came to power. Hinduism – a Way of Life from where people were historically scattered due to persecution or allurements to embrace foreign religions, Christianity and Islam. Ghar Wapsi calls to get reconverted. Let us understand them as such – “birds return to their nest without anybody’s interference, animals walk back to their dwellings spontaneously, then why our own people hesitate to return to their home religion – Hinduism”; it is the working hypothesis behind Ghar Vapsi”. Our community is ignorant, if not entirely impotent, in how to respond to the Ghar Wapsi movement. He quoted the bible “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” was his concluding thought.
In her address on the topic “Effective Parenting in the present scenario” Professor Elsie Tharien conceded that parenting is difficult today. Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. She said “a personal relationship with god will help a better relationship with your children”. She believed divine guidance is inevitable in today’s world. We cannot helplessly look along or play along with our children. Unconditional love is imperative and keeping your child’s self esteem alive is as important too. Love and discipline are like 2 sides of a coin. Being able to say NO to them without making them rebellious about it is quite a challenge. Values like Love, Honesty, Integrity should not be taught but be caught which means parents should lead by example. They should be role models for their children. Communication is a very important tool in a happy home. Adolescents appreciate discipline but it has to be an invisible curve. It is best if we can walk in through their door and walk out of our door. The only earthly possession that parents can take to heaven are their children. So they should always work on their strengths and weaknesses so that they are ready for the challenges of the world. She concluded quoting social reformer Patrick Douglas “It is better to build stronger children than to repair men and women later”
The six topics were divided into 2 sessions of 3 talks each. Session-
1 was ably chaired by Mr Marcel Monteiro, Former President of ‘RACHANA’ Catholic Chamber of Commerce & Industry and Session-
2 was competently chaired by Dr. Anand Periera, the well-known Environment and Ecology expert. Both the sessions were followed by a Question/Answer session – many pertinent, interesting and soul searching questions were directed at the speakers who provided convincing answers.
Prof. Edmund Frank in his concluding remarks thanked the speakers for bringing out the many problems affecting our community and assured that CASK and SFCF will embark upon necessary follow-up actions.
Capt. John Prasad Menezes in his concluding remarks hoped that we could awaken the giant in us after this seminar and also stand tall and be visible as good but effective citizens. Exploring the leadership potential within the individuals of the community would be a priority too. He highlighted the CASK Projects on the anvil and hoped this was an effective beginning to many more to come. All the speakers were given mementoes as a token of appreciation.
Mr. Mario Saldanha – the Secretary of CASK proposed a Vote of Thanks – to the 6 speakers for their inspiring and enlightening talks and to the very enthusiastic and active crowd.
As the seminar concluded, I for one pinched myself and am sure many others did the same because there were many bitter truths that were conveyed that needed to be addressed and tackled. Sure ‘the road ahead is long…the path is steep…And there are miles to go before I sleep …..”