Sunday, 30 August 2009

The name 'Benji'

Feeling the loss of Fr Benji, I certainly affirm what Fr Noel has to say of him: The very name 'Benji' has become a legend. All those who met him at least for once in their lifetime, will never forget that name. Calling up people and informing them that 'Benji' is no more made me realise that there was nobody - literally nobody - who asked me "Which Benji?" Everyone who met him, just knew him well.

Added to that his profound love for Christ and his Priesthood, his passion for Don Bosco and everything Salesian (often bordering fanaticism!), his filial attachment to Mary Help of Christians, his trust in St Joseph, his daring leadership abilities, his eloquence and sharp knowledge of facts and above all, his knack at striking a personal rapport with all who meet him have made of him a man who long ago crossed the borders of mortality.

Though departed from this world you will continue to live in our hearts! Do keep aflame in us that passion which guided your life, which inspired so many and challenged us all to greater things than just the here and now. Thank you!! You mean a lot to us!!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Not for what he was but what he made of us...

Last night (or I should say, early this morning) after being surprised by the news of Fr Benji passing away, passing on the information to the Province, friends and well-wishers, posting the news on the website and mailing the same to others interested, I hit bed again. Only this time, sleep evaded me. It was only then that the fact that he was no more, really started to sink in. To have met him, spoken to him personally, driven him around the city, helped him with his talks and presentations and given him a bear hug at the airport before he left for Chennai, to imagine that he was no more, was a very uneasy feeling. No fear or sorrow, just heightened anxiety!

The day just passed by in trying to convince people/confreres that Benji really passed away and in the sudden manner that he left us, made this all more difficult. Anyhow, after all the hustle and bustle, I took up today's newspaper and my eyes fell on a beautiful quote about Nelson Mandela: "Every time Nelson Mandela walks into a room we all feel a little bigger, we all want to stand up, we all want to cheer, because we'd like to be him on our best day."
Thank you dear Fr Benji, not so much for what you were, but for making us what we are!

The one and only, Benji... no more!!

The one and only Benji, passed away last night ... Fr Benjamin Puthota, the 7th Provincial of the Salesian Province of Chennai (then Madras, 1976-1982)and the first Provincial of the Salesian Province of Hyderabad (1992-1998) passed away around 22.00 hrs (IST) all of a sudden while in his community at Istanbul, Turkey. He was one of the first Salesians to set foot on Andhra soil, way back in 1964, along with Fr Panampara Abraham and the late Br Gabriel Fernandez.Fondly known to all as Benji, he was an epitome of Salesian spirit and a true son of Don Bosco. Known for his passionate love for Don Bosco and the Salesian charism his death comes as a shock to all especially those of us in India. Besides the several other qualities that made him someone outstanding was his far-sightedness. He was a visionary and he knew no obstacles to make that vision a reality. In this process he also knew how to get all those around him become passionately involved in what he dreamt for others. That is what made him a great leader and animator. He would set us ABLAZE with his mere presence!!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Moving out of 'I, me and mine'

The community reflection on the theme of return to the young took a very interesting twist this evening when it came to the situation and Salesian involvement at the Province level. We are really proud to say that all - literally, all - our institutions cater directly to the poor. There is no institution about which we can say that it caters to the elite, "and also to the poor"... none!! However most of us felt that though we have the infrastructure and the setup to cater to the young in need, our focus is not the poor, not the young. Most often we end up doing the administration work (putting up new buildings, purchasing land, hunting for property, collecting rent, erecting compound walls, repairing structures which are not even 5 years old!!). Young people are not the centre of our mission. Secondly, we pamper ourselves! It is sometimes shocking to see that the running expenses of three or four confreres equals that of maintaining 80 to 100 of our boarding boys!!

In this context 'Return to the young' would primarily mean shifting the focus from ourselves, from our buildings and structures to others. Only when we can think of others before ourselves can we prioritize the lives and dreams of young people.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A living monument to Don Bosco!

I've always admired Fr John Lens. He has always been someone whom I really looked up to, right since my school days. In fact, when I joined the Salesians and began my study of Don Bosco, I had no difficulty in understanding who and what 'Don Bosco' was because I knew Fr Lens! Today I feel elated for at last I have found one small way of showing my respect and admiration for someone I adore... together with my helper, Ms Sheeba, we published online (through Lulu) the major works of Fr Lens (most of these are abridged versions of the originals found in Italian or French).

Not one to know what 'free time' is, he has been busy (and is so today too!) translating texts from foreign languages into English, with the sole purpose of making known Don Bosco and his love for God and young people, to as many people as possible, especially those aspiring to be his sons! His body is 87 now but his heart, mind and eyes are still that of a teenager, passionately in love with Don Bosco and Christ. (Of course, his ears are a bit shut now!! But never mind, his walking stick is handy for those who take too much advantage of his hearing!)

May the lives of such living role models inspire and encourage us all to a greater commitment to Christ and Don Bosco!

Books of Fr John Lens

Three spoonfuls a day
A compilation of amusing anecdotes and jokes - just three of them for a day!! (But the whole book too can be devoured in a day - after all who follows the doctor's prescription, these days?!!)

Snacks
A handy alphabetical compilation of anecdotes, stories, values and themes which can be used for animation, sermons, talks, reflections and sharing.

A drop of honey
The Spirituality of St Francis de Sales encapsulated through stories from the life and works of the Saintly patron of the Salesians of Don Bosco. Ideal for sermons, animations, retreat talks especially for young people. (Abridged from the voluminous study of Msgr Francis Trochu. Lyon: Librairie Catholique Emmanuel Vitte, 1946)

Don Bosco: The Founder

In the 150th year of the Congregation, this new, small and compact book (just 60 pages) presents a bird's eye-view of the challenges, support and inspiration that guided Don Bosco in forming the religious group, today famously referred to as 'the Salesians', with a clear vision of reaching out to the numerous young people in need, with the heart of Jesus Christ.

The Annals of the Salesian Society (Vol. 1)
A chronicle of the beginnings of the Salesian society (founded by Don Bosco) since 1841. Vol. I spans the history of the society from 1841 to 1888 (the death of Don Bosco)

The Annals of the Salesian Society (Vol. 2)

A chronicle of the Salesian society (founded by Don Bosco). Vol. II spans covers the history from 1888 to 1898... the first part of the Rectorate of Don Rua.

The Annals of the Salesian Society (Vol. 3)
A chronicle of the Salesian society (founded by Don Bosco). Vol. III spans covers the history from 1889 to 1910... the second part of the Rectorate of Don Rua.

The Annals of the Salesian Society (Vol. 4)
A chronicle of the Salesian society (founded by Don Bosco). Vol. IV spans covers the history from 1910 to 1921... the Rectorate of Don Paul Albera.


Here is a list of other books ... thanks to Fr Julian Fox for making known these:

Digital Virtues (Fr Julian Fox)

Hacking the way to heaven (Fr Julian Fox)

Autobiografia dalle lettere di Don Cimatti (G. Compri) [first of three volumes - in Italian]

Salesian, Communicator (SC Department) SC Handbook - English
Le Sal├ęsien, un comunicateur - French
O Salesiano, un comunicador - Portuguese
El Salesiano, un comunicador - Spanish
SC Documents (SC Dept) - English

Documenti CS (Sc Dept) Italian

Project of Apostolic Life (Sal Coops)

Age, wisdom and history

It is said that when Don Bosco began his "society" - for he was cautious to name it a 'Congregation' - in 1859 there were only 17 members in it. Fr Alasonatti was the eldest (47). Imagine the age of the councillors?! Just 21 and 24!! Cagliero and Bonetti were 21 while Ghivarello was 24. Today by that age one barely gets past the post novitiate formation. Though the Brothers in Practical training manage the boys, I wonder if they have the sense and the wisdom to manage the house. On the other hand, I've known several diocesan brothers - some of them, my students - who would be put in-charge of vast farm land (nearly 40 to 50 acres of fruit trees and forest) all by themselves. No priests or seniors, just farm hands. Either because the Bishop did not trust his priests or he found it is better that Brothers manage the farm and priests be left for pastoral ministry, whatever be the case, the Brothers ended up knowing life the hard way. By the time they are ordained, they know to manage any given situation. I wonder if we are ready for such a risk.

However, what makes all the difference is experience, learning and faith. Perhaps this is the reason there are some appointed Rectors in their early 40s while some in their 70s have never ever been Rectors! Must remember that even the three councillors in 1859 were chosen only after some hesitation! (Don Bosco in his times by Francis Desramaut and translated by Fr John Lens, p. 103)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

History, in bits

My reading of the history of the Congregation surprised me with two small instances today:
It is said that when Don Bosco died, Vatican thought of fusing the Congregation with another one!! Now given the fact that we were already 768 perpetually professed members in the Congregation, this idea of merger sounds a bit ridiculous. Maybe Rome was unsure if the Salesian society would continue without Don Bosco. Well, this fear cannot be ruled out as irrational. Given the charismatic towering personality that Don Bosco was, it would surely have taken a great amount of faith to see someone else (anyone, for that matter) take his place!

The second discovery was that the Holy See's decree of appointment (I think, of Don Rua as Rector Major) could not be traced! I thought that was my problem (I really wouldn't be able to tell you where the decree of appointment of Fr Provincial is, in my archives!!).

Confused beginnings

This evening we commenced the community reflection in preparation for the Provincial Chapter. We began with the personal review of the first theme: Return to Don Bosco. I shared my reflection about my resolve to take up reading some matter on Don Bosco and the history of the congregation. Surprisingly I noticed that both my readings of the history of the congregation outside Turin, that of England and Poland, revealed another angle of our ministry.... not all things are always rosy and inspiring. Both these places, it looks like, we started off on a wrong foot. Not that the intention was lacking or the time was not proper but perhaps the pioneers were not really exemplary - at least, for those times. In England we have the Provincial of the new Province who is unable to carry out his responsibilities and in Poland we have Fr Bronislaw Marckiewicz who takes off at a tangent. The congregation placed quite a bit of responsibility on their shoulders but it turned out to be a fiasco.

Anyway, I suppose God knows how to write straight on crooked lines!

Monday, 24 August 2009

How about CTA?

Got another passport off my hands today!! With all the experience I am gaining in getting and putting together and processing the visa for our confreres going abroad, I might very well open a travel agency! How about CTA? Castilino Travel Agency!!! Anyway, just one more invitation letter to arrive and all that process to go through and with that this years' 'travel agency' work will be done with - hopefully. Doing all this is so tricky, you never know what can go wrong, where things can get delayed or for what reason things are not moving. Amidst dealing with the inviting group, the travel agency, the Bishop's house and all the other nitty-grities, there are the confreres themselves. They hear all sort of things they want to know about their trip/stay and then ask me for confirmation of what they hear, as though I was born and brought up there. Whatever be the case, all this gives me enough work, that I am sure of!

Poverty and inner freedom

Truly speaking our vow of poverty has more to do with a sense of inner freedom than with money. Either an over-emphasis on the latter (or lack of it) or a total "modern" interpretation of the vow itself, renders religious life meaningless. I have heard several Salesians say that having money in hand is no big deal - I'm taking of personal money - as long as you are detached from it. I have my reservations about this concept of 'personal money' altogether! If one is really detached why have it at all and then find ways and means to justify having it!

Anyway, with most of our discussions and debates centred around money/currency, we reduce our vow of poverty to having or not having money. In the bargain we lose out on the very essence of it: a sense of inner freedom in order to be available for works of the Kingdom. Say for example, the prudent and fruitful use of time, talents, human resources, our own potencies suffering from inertia... most of which cannot be immediately calculated in terms of money!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

For love of home

I took time out today to watch the movie 'Fun with Dick and Jane', of course, on TV. It is a nice movie with a good theme. The presence of Jim Carrey is enough to ensure the comedy. Yet there are some poignant moments played by Jim (Dick). Here is a man (and his wife, Jane/Tea Leoni) who suddenly finds his whole life go topsy-turvy because of some scam by his bosses. He loses his job, financial security, pension, and even his house. Pushed to the wall, both husband and wife, risk everything to earn some money. He, though once the vice-president of a reputed company, stands in queue for jobs meant for the immigrants, goes to prison, takes to stealing... She signs up for a medical testing programme for a cosmetic... just to earn some money. I like the part when he works all night to get their lawn done up! In the morning when Jane wakes up, she in fact congratulates him and says, it's beautiful. (In fact, it is all bits and pieces of grass cut up from all over the neighbours gardens).

It reminds me of what parents are willing to undergo and put up with just give their children a decent life. The movie 'Pursuit of Happyness' is another such story. Makes me really thank God for my parents! I know what they have been through. What pains and struggles they have undergone to ensure that both of us (my brother and me) have a secure future. That's the reason, I will always be proud to say that I am a 'Castilino'. In fact, several people ask me why am I not know by my baptismal name. It is true that 'Castilino' is something that brothers started calling me while in Yercaud to avoid confusion (there were already two Vincent's there!). But I still like when people call me by my surname... a small way of showing my gratitude to my Parents. Thanks Papa and Mummy!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

The humane-ness of Ruth

Among all the stories of the Old Testament in the Bible, the one of Ruth appeals most to me. Reflecting as to why this is so, I realise that the story of Ruth is one of common man. It is a story that tugs at your humanity. Nothing supernatural or extravagant, but a simple and straight story of love, concern and fidelity. Perhaps the divine element is there, (may be emerges later, when we see the connection between her offspring and Jesus Christ) but certainly not over emphasised.

This leads me to postulate that Ruth did have a good family upbringing. She sensed the pain and the loneliness of Naomi and therefore was willing to give up her comfort (and right?) to stand by her mother-in-law in her need. It is good to take note of this, lest we have a narrow idea that only the 'chosen people' were the most virtuous. Graces are bestowed upon all, irrespective of any distinction. It is up to us to appropriately respond to them. This response is what makes us sinners or saints.

Most important lesson from the life of Ruth: humanity precedes/channels divinity.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Chain mails... retorted!

An extract from the long list of hilarious things narrated by a frustrated victim of chain mails. All of us 'tortured' by this chain mails will surely connect the context.
I also donated all my savings to the Amy Bruce account. A sick girl that was about to die in the hospital about 7,000 times.. (Poor girl! she's been 7 since 1993...)
Forwarded hundreds of mails but still waiting for FREE DESKTOP, LAPTOP, CAMERA, CELLPHONE etc.
The best was the tag line:
IMPORTANT NOTE:
If you do not send this e-mail to at least 11,246 people in the next 10 seconds, a bird will P on your head today at 6:30pm.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Convergence of energies

In India we, the Salesians, are ranked second only to the Government in running technical schools in the whole of the country. This is a recognized fact and much has been achieved over the last couple of years. However, things can be much better. With the available infrastructure, expertise, man power, funds and the special Salesian charism (or knack), we can really transform the face of the country. Yet the reality is still slow to happen! I liked one of the recent ideas that DB Tech India (the Salesian National Technical schools body) came up with: rather than each technical school in the Province trying to provide all possible skills and equip themselves in every trade, have an understanding by which each school specialises in one or two particular trades. Youngsters eager to learn a trade can be directed to the corresponding institution - after all, practically all the technical schools have boardings attached to them. This way, we can concentrate and specialise in particular fields and reach out to a greater number. If not, we only stretch ourselves too far and wide, waste personnel (because each technical school needs to be staffed) and underutilise the infrastructure and opportunities.

I was just wondering if this principle can also be applied to some other aspects of our apostolate, perhaps the formation sector?

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Specificity?

The debate of the 'specificity' of the Salesian formation of a Priest and Brother saw some heated discussion yesterday. Thanks to that I think I need to get myself to really clarify for myself what this whole thing is (or is not!). While at Shillong I was totally averse to demanding this specificity from the Professors of the Theology course for the Brothers, I am now doubting where exactly is the dividing line when it comes to formation. After all, we are called to be Salesians. How we live that one vocation is what makes us a Brother or a Priest. But for that 'way of living' is a separate structure, plan, course, and all that required? I'll have to get my head clear about that.

Vocation promotion and foundation

One of the points that came up yesterday for discussion was the vocation recruitment strategy. While Fr TV truly said that youngsters look for something challenging and that is what draws them to the Salesian way of life. But I expressed my doubts... perhaps today, some youngsters see our lifestyle as something that offers life on a platter. So they say, 'Why struggle when life can be so easy and ready made!' Vocations of this sort, need to be 'purified' in the course of our formation. But I also have a strong feeling that some of our young people are determined to grin and bear the chiselling of the formation period to 'bloom' (or bloat) once they are perpetually professed or ordained.

There could also be another possibility: youngsters join us for very good reasons with a high level of motivation, but down the line (may be due to the lacklustre community life or a couple of disoriented minds) all of it evaporates! Just like Andy saying to Red in the movie 'The Shawshank Redemption': "Outside I was an honest man. Straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to become a crook." However, this is the case of only a few. The congregation thrives on the sweat and blood of the majority who slog it out.

All said and done, vocation still continues to be His gift and our response to His generosity in my context. If it were not for this truth, someone would have put the congregation for sale long ago!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Formation insights

The joint meeting that we had of the Youth Pastoral and Formation commissions, this whole day was quite an enriching experience. Besides the normal ingredients of a meeting, some sharp and 'out of the box' thinking, made the sitting very exciting. Here are some personal insights:
  • When we invite youngsters to our way of life, on the basis of what do we invite them? What is our USP (Unique Selling Point!)? Do we propose to them to join our institution, our mission, our community, our way of life... I personally feel, our invitation to them is to know and love God and the young, like Don Bosco did! The rest is secondary.
  • Our lament most often is that young Salesians leave the congregation, mostly during the period of practical training (PT). While it is good to ask why, it is also important to reflect upon this important question that someone raised during the meeting: Young people join us, not to study philosophy or theology, but to work as we do, amidst young people. Why is it then, that they leave during PT? That's what they eagerly look forward to, but what is it that makes them quit when they really enter their desired field of work?
  • Most often our PTs are restricted to the institutional boys within. They are not given an opening to have a share in the mission of the whole community, say the pastoral activity of the Parish, the youth centre, Sunday oratory, group dynamics in the school and neighbourhood... He is totally lost in the boarding. Then we lament that young Salesians, after their ordination do not want to work in a mission station or take up some 'adventurous new frontiers'. Reason: if they have not tasted anything but an institutional (read it safe, disciplined and arranged life) life, for them to opt for something different is to go against the grain!

Some insights...

Some insights I came across in the assignment papers of the first year philosophy students (some book reviews/notices) as part of their 'Introduction to Philosophy'...
  • Teach others what you've learnt.
  • Dream and dare to follow your dreams.
  • Perfection does not come easy.
  • Asking questions and exploring answers for the same is one way of being human.
  • Search for meaning enlightens and sloves quite a few problems in life.
  • Higher the level of being, the greater is the importance of inner experience.
  • Great risks precede great victories.
  • While the globe is expanding, our vision seems to be shrinking.
  • To change the system, you've got to be in the system.

A drop of honey...

Another era of my journey in the media world commences today - thanks to Fr Julian Fox, I now have a blog on the www.sdb.org!!! I never ever imagined that I would one day be so closely connected with the central website of the congregation. I feel so enthralled.

Thanks to Fr Julian for accepting my suggestion to name it A drop of Honey. When asked for a name, this the first thought that came to my mind. The reasons are evident and I've not hesitated to commence by blogging with that. Check it out...

What gives me immense joy is also the fact that now I have another reason, why should get myself to reading more of Salesian literature!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Quite a bit, for a day!

This day has been quite an eventful day. But I've stuck to my schedule and have achieved much too. Most important of all, been able to keep my cool and did all I wanted to, beside my office work.

There was Fr Joshtrom today with us till lunch, Mr Amalnathan's youngest son's nuptial, death news of the Bp of Eluru, the heaviest shower of this year, washed my hands of one more passport (in the process of procuring the visa), finalised the Council agenda, called up a couple of friends I'd been postponing since long, cleared all bills and dues of the SPCSA, cleant my room and office (spic and span), started reviewing the assignments of the first year students (introduction to Philosophy)... and to top it all off, was the conversation with Fr Julian Fox (more of this later).

The only thing that didn't really take off as planned was my attempt to draft the editorial policy for Kaburlu (the Province magazine). But fine, I shall start that tomorrow for sure! Look forward to another insight-filled day tommorrow: Youth Pastoral team with the Formation Commission.

The Salesian Brother

Regarding the Salesian Brother, there has been a talk since long, that he should be on the staff of every major formation house in the Province. At first I too was for it. But not of late! I don't remember who put this in my head, but I'm now beginning to see the wisdom in it: that Brothers need to be present in the school settings. The idea however, is that given the fact that there are very few vocations to Brotherhood, we first need to have good sizeable number. For that to happen young people need to SEE Brothers and see them doing well. So, place them amidst young people who are most open to a religious vocation - whether that be a school or a technical school. (Parishes, I think, we do not really fit in - I'm speaking from the perspective of our Province.)

Again, the tag line: no point having Brothers in strategic places, if the quality of life is pathetic. For that matter, Brother or Priest, let quality of religious life be the best wherever one is. The rest will follow!

Formation and responsibility

For our spiritual reading this afternoon we read the discussion of GC 26 about Formation, especially the ambiance of a formation house and the role and responsibility of the formation staff. Quite interesting, but nothing new! I suppose, cannot expect to see some 'different' formation, altogether!

However, I'm now convinced that 80 % of formation takes place outside the formation house. That large share of formation responsibility rests with the confreres of the province as a whole, not just the formation staff alone. The latter contribute just 20% to this process.

The basic thing of formation however, remains the same: it is the responsibility of the individual, ultimately!

With Jostrom

This afternoon had the privilege of celebrating Mass with Fr Joshtrom. Just the three of us, including the Lord. A short Mass, no homily or sermon. Only a special prayer for someone whose dead body Fr Josh say on the railway track this early morning on his way to Hyderabad from Vizag. But being there with him, was something special. His calm, reserved, sensitive celebration of the Eucharist made me literally feel that something very special is going on. He had a tenderness which only can be felt. Perhaps if it was anyone else celebrating Mass that way, it would have been a very nauseating experience - but not with Fr Joshtrom. With him it was a very soothing spiritual exercise - very much humbling and special.

My first thoughts when I concluded the first reading (from the book of Judges, Yahweh reprimanding and 'persecuting' the Jews for infidelity, in spite of repeated help and support): I wonder if God, if given a chance to write another Bible, would be writing differently. I think the basic attitude and spirit of going about our life is basically the same. But the difference I believe is that there are still some good people who neutralise the negative impact of most of us. That's why, God is still patient.

Priorities ?

The news of Shah Rukh Khan being frisked in the US taking centre stage in all newspapers and TV news channels was too much for me. To make it worse, Deccan Chronicle had that as the main news with a photo. Beside the same, in smaller print, was the declaration of the PM on fighting drought and famine! Where have our priorities gone?

I understand that this sort of reaction is justified when it was the former President, Mr Abdul Kalam, but is all this hype justified when it is about an artist.? I'm not saying this is not news, but headlines and main news??

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Liberation and hibernation

Perhaps after several months that I was able to stick to my resolution for the day: no office!! I successfully managed to keep my office locked for the entire day! Now that's an achievement. However, I ended up driving till now: Provincial house - airport and back, then back to the airport for the second trip, from there to the railway station, search for a petrol bunk, and back to the house (it is almost 3.30 now)... so good morning!

Tomorrow is again a 'holiday' for me, literally!

Dogmas and life

In his sermon this morning, Fr Tom shared about the dogma of the Assumption and the joy that this proclamation brought about in the year 1950. However my mind drifted to another stray thought that emerged in my mind then: Will it be the same if the Pope were to announce another dogma on Our Lady now? I have a feeling that it would not be the same! There certainly would be a lot of hesitation to declare any further dogmas now. Not that their value has diminished or that there are no more facts to be ascertained. It is only that people (read as faithful and the not-so-faithful) are no more interested in dogmas. I think, all would be happier if they'd find some exemplary persons whom they can look and live up to rather than have more some more truths ascertained intellectually.

Of course, the whole dialogue with the other Christian groups is another large factor to be kept in mind. I do not mean that we stop proclaiming what we believe in but I suppose my belief is in persons and not mere truths, and certainly not for antagonizing someone.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Consultation insights

Some comments / observations / insights after the consultation session...
  • Concerning Formation: The formees in our formation houses truly feel that they are not meant for the formation house but for the Province. So far so good. But when they see the Province is much below the standard of the formation setting, they'd gladly fall or lower their standard to meet that level!
  • The community itself is a mission, besides being a means for the mission. Therefore the need to build the community while tackling the mission. Furthermore, while taking up new offers from various places, we need to keep in mind that there is enough work for a community, not too little that will need one or two persons who could be left to do the work there. That is not the Salesian style of life and functioning.
  • The fact that young clerics and those in initial formation leave us is a blot not on the formation staff, but on the confreres of the whole Province, especially with whom they live and work. I liked what Fr Maria Arokiam said in this regard: Young people join us to work for the youth, not to study philosophy and go through the aspirantate and all that stuff. Why then do they leave us when they begin to work? It is either because too much is demanded of them or they see a real discrepancy between what they so far were told to believe in and what they practically see now or they are led astray.
One thing that struck me during the session was the lack of Scripture-based confreres in the Province. Confreres rooted in and in love with the Word of God. Fr Maliekal quotes the scriptures, Fr Balaraju too is good enough, then there are a handful more, but that's it. I am beginning to wonder where does our speciality lie in?

This one is for the 'mission': Going by Fr PE Abraham's comments and remarks, only Jesus Christ can be elected as the Provincial!!

Storm - after and before!

Calm after the storm:
The SPCSA is over and for lunch today we were only 8 of us!! Wow what a sudden change. All of us could sit and eat together peacefully, without running round making sure that the dal is sufficient, that so-and-so got his garlic, whether hot water flask is full, making sure the 'foreigners' have their diet on table.... what not!! Then at last when you have your plate in hand, the phone starts ringing or there is somebody wanting-but-not-wanting to disturb you with a paper/pen drive in hand for some printing/photocopying.
This is a peaceful afternoon.

Calm before the storm:
There is already Fr Julian Fox mailing and reminding me about the upcoming Social Communications meeting in the last week of October. To add to the zing, two confreres have already informed me about their arrival!!

Whatever it be, there is always the storm!!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Web Chronicling?

Fr Ivo's example of starting multiple blogs for different themes is tickling me. This morning during Mass (of all possible times) I got this idea of starting a blog for chronicling the history of the Province. I could open it up to some selected confreres in the Province who can chip in with photos and events from their communities and institutions - now that's a daily task, practically. But done regularly and well, we certainly will have something to speak about in years to come. Going around the houses and glancing at their chronicles, my heart bleeds! So scanty information while there is so much happening, just within the house. The scope and reach out and activities are being multiplied and changed and revamped, but nothing enters the records. At this rate, I fear, a few years down the line, we will have nothing to speak about, except from memory - which is very short lived! But will that be 'too open' a record to maintain??
That also means, I'm committing myself to more time at the computer - something I must really curb, before I become an addict!

Job well done!

Am reminded of an extract I jotted down from a book years ago (The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall):
There is a certain love which comes from doing a job well. When you can step back at the end of a long, hard day and watch the sun set over a straight and strong fence that you built yourself, you get the feeling that everything is right with the world.
Today I certainly feel this feeling, not merely understand it. The SPCSA meeting is over. It was really taxing. Good work. I should say, Fr Tom did a real good and great job with the food and kitchen. The FMA barging in was rather hard but he handled it all well. What surprised me was that he was quite cool about the whole thing. Merely arranging the travel and journey particulars, I lost my head not just with our staff but with some confreres as well. But he was calm... Nice!!

So here I am at the end of the day - but not of the work - happy, with that sense of feeling of having done well. I hope it all facilitated the participants to focus on issues which matter to all concerned. If all our community efforts succeeded in achieving that, then any effort is no pain!

Monday, 10 August 2009

Prayer for today

Just when I was losing patience and strength, after a really... really maddening day, here comes a note from Fr Lens: "I share with you a discovery, a beautiful prayer of John XXIII..."

PRAYER FOR TODAY

Today I will just do my best
to live this day itself
without trying to solve
all the problems of my life.

Today I will try to go
Where I would rather stay away’

Today I will avoid two things:
Excessive haste, and indecision

In spite of appearances to the contrary
Today I will put my faith
in God’s presence at my side.

I will not let me get discouraged
By the idea that I have to keep it up
All the rest of my life.
Thank you Fr Lens! It couldn't have come at a better time! You see, this is the reason, I adore you: You know best!!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Nature, colour and power

Here's a nice picture of a transparent butterfly.A butterfly with transparent wings is rare and beautiful. As delicate as finely blown glass, the presence of this rare tropical gem is used by rain forest ecologists as an indication of high habitat quality and its demise alerts them of ecological change. Rivaling the refined beauty of a stained glass window, the translucent wings of the Glasswing butterfly shimmer in the sunlight like polished panes of turquoise, orange, green and red.

Looks like Fr Joshtrom through his passionate "secular" goodnight about ecology and the ecological crisis has rubbed something onto me. This pic was sent to me by Fr Koshy and there was a nice statement in the same mail:
All things beautiful do not have to be full of colour to be noticed; in life that which is unnoticed has the most power.

My blog ... anniversary (belated!)

This evening it struck me that it's already more than a year since I began blogging! It was in June last year that I began to blog during my stay at KJC, Bangalore for classes in Philosophy. This evening as I saw Fr Anchu, I was reminded of my stay at KJC and then this 'anniversary' came to my mind.

Am happy that I still am able to put down something or the other (mostly my state of mind, or some thoughts that tickle my mind) almost everyday. At times I wonder if I am reflecting at all or only 'blog-flecting'! Whatever be the case, I'm happy that put down things. May be years later when I wish to look back upon my own life, I will have something to smile and laugh about! Most importantly, they will bring back to my mind, memories of people associated with what I now write.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

A hunger for justice

I really cannot believe this, but I'm doing this: reading a book that too on the eve of the SPCSA meeting in the Provincial house. With all the preparations being done and to be done, here I am reading a book on Globalisation and justice. Only proves what Raphael (my assistant in Yercaud) used to say, "Only a busy man will find time to do more! Give a lazy man something to do and he never finds time!" Anyway, just to say, I'm busy!!

But here's a very provocative prayer that I found in the afterword (written by Theodore M. Hesburgh) of the book Globalisation, Spirituality and Justice: Navigating the Path to Peace by Daniel G. Groody:
Give bread to those who hunger, and to those who have bread, give them a hunger for justice.
I think this is a very genuine and realistic prayer. Most often we expect those oppressed to fight and reclaim their lives, but we fail to see that much before dignity, respect, honour, glory, fame, pride, the people need food to survive. Without addressing the basic need of hunger, it is difficult to 'empower' them to fight for dignity. This is where we need to stand by them. Even to the crowds that followed Jesus, He fed them. He did not preach to them long on empty stomachs! He knew the close link between the stomach and the heart/head.

Online publications...

Here's something that needs a real study when it comes to publishing and spreading literature:
Thanks to Fr Julian Fox and austraLasia...
First volume of Cimatti's 'Autobiografia' now available

TOKYO: 8th August 2009 -- The first volume of the Autobiografia dalle lettere di Don Cimatti (Autobiography of Don Cimatti, from his letters), edited by Fr Gaetano Compri, vice postulator for the Cimatti Cause, curator of the Cimatti Museum at Chofu, Tokyo, is now available. The tome (there is no other way to describe it!) is 421 pages, a case-wrap hardcover edition with full colour cover, replete with photos, all originals from the Cimatti era. The book costs €18 plus postage. It is in Italian.
The publication of this book, via Lulu.com (the link will take you directly to the book but it is publicly available through search and browse on Lulu.com's website) is something of a first, and raises a number of important questions - possibly also providing some important answers! Pardon me if from here on I speak in first person, because I believe it is important to raise these questions. I have waited, very much with heart in mouth, until Fr Compri purchased and perused a copy of the 'Autobiografia' to determine whether this experiment was indeed successful. It would appear that it is. His comments in an email read, in translated version: "It is an excellent work. Everyone here is in admiration of it. I did not believe it could come out so well. The photos, too, are beautiful".
Why publish a book this way - and how? As always, these things start with personal experience. I am in a position where I daily receive books published, often for academic purposes, by Salesian Publishing Houses around the world. I also, from time to time, visit the Salesian Central Library and the 'Posta' at the Pisana. I see literally hundreds of these books, in multiple copies, come in and languish in these places, so I ask - where does the money come from for all these? Is there another way of doing this? Could Salesian Publishing in fact be moving ahead with the 'digital continent' it lives within, doing what some others are doing? So I set about the task of trying to discover if there are other ways. Some readers will know that I have already published two of my own works, Digital Virtues, and Hacking the Way to Heaven, via Lulu. They were experimental efforts meant to seek answers to the above questions. I won't dwell on the results and discoveries except to say they have been most pleasantly surprising!
So when Fr Compri, such an ardent and determined man when it comes to the Cimatti Cause, approached me with a view to putting Cimatti's letters on SDL, some years back now (SDL came about largely because of this, you need to know), I also put it to him that as well as asking Elledici (LDC) to publish a Teresio Bosco style 'popular' life of Cimatti - which was just recently published - he might take another approach to his proposed 'Autobiography', which would be a running compilation drawn from the 6,000 plus letters in the SDL collection. I argued that the readership of such a biography, at least initially, would be limited, and that no publishing house would tackle the project unless it could guarantee a substantial print-run. I put it to him that I could publish it for him - for nothing! Now who would not accept such an offer?
Nothing does not mean no effort - on his or my part. But given that he had put in the several year's of effort to produce this 'autobiography' (the only non-autobiographical parts are from Compri's own extensive explanatory footnotes) I felt I could at least offer a month's effort to prepare the text for publishing. Let me tell you that the task was not difficult, merely time-consuming. I use a relatively simple program called Lyx, which is not WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) but WYSIWYM (what you see is what you mean). In other words I tell it I want a heading or a title or a list or whatever, and it gives it to me - already formatted as if it were a professional printing agency at work, then it gives the whole box and dice to me in a print-ready professional quality PDF. Why waste time formatting when professionals can do it for you? Then let me tell you it took just one half hour to publish the book!
From several year's experience now I see no disadvantages to this form of publishing for an instance like this. It is print-on-demand. I have paid not one cent (unless you regard half an hour online as costly!) because there is no print run. In fact the base cost of production of this book is €18. 'We' (the spine tells us 'SDB' are the publishers) have chosen to add no royalty - this time. WYSIWYG costwise, that is! If 5 people are interested in it, they produce their credit card and pay up and get the book in the mail a week later. If 500,000 people do similarly they get the same result. If we thought 500,000 would buy the book we would put a royalty on it!! Incidentally, if I buy the book in Europe, it will be printed in Europe. If someone buys it in Japan it will almost certainly be printed in Asia - that's using globalisation to advantage. Could not Salesian Publishers do similarly?
And the postage cost? It won't be cheap - let's say it might be almost as much as the book. But go to any store and buy a 421 page hardcover book and tell me you paid less than the equivalent of €36. I realise that this argument may not apply in places like India, but then I would have another question for our Salesian Publishers there......

Loosing sleep over dreams

Dreams are considered as signs of deep sleep but some say they are signs of a disturbed sleep. Whatever be the case, these days both, sleep and dreams, are rare. I can't even remember when was the last time I dreamt! But I've always found dreams fascinating. They always reveal something to me, mostly about what is to come. But the best part is that when something happens, I would have already forgotten about the dream but some faint memories linger and make me feel as though I've been through that particular event or circumstance before.

I remember Fr Blany taking a session on dreams and study of dreams and all, while I was at Nashik. I really never got to understand what he said then. Neither do I remember anything of what he said then. But this morning it struck me that I really haven't dreamt since long!!

During my meditation this morning, I tried to widen this 'dream' and see if at all I have a 'vision' at all for myself, my work and my future. It was difficult to 'see' one. Perhaps an indicator that things are just running 'one day at a time' without a goal or aim. And then today I read this quote, which now is troubling me all the more: 'Never laugh at anyone's dreams. People who don't have dreams don't have much!'

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Justice and love

The word 'justice' has several meanings but the one most accepted is 'each one his/her due'. Anyway, during the spiritual reading I was 'playing thesarus' with this word: Justice.
So I came up with equal, balance, exploitation, rights, corruption, peace, fair, sharing, responsibility, right, to each one according to his/her deeds, lobbying, freedom, campaign, community, court, law...
But the word that is most associated with justice in the Bible is none of these!! The one that occurs most often along with 'justice' is 'love'. Now that's strange!! Maybe because love gives the other more than just his/her due.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Province history (DB, Sanathnagar)

Something more about Don Bosco School (my school!):
When Mr Channa Reddy was the Chief Minister, he was determined to get 7 lakhs from us (1 lakh for each acre of land), only to grant permission to purchase the land from the cousin of the Nizam. Fortunately, he was ousted due to some scandal and in came, Mr Anjaiah. That was when Fr MT Sebastian accompanied by one lay person (Fr Sebastian forgets his name) went and met him. Having heard of the intention of the Salesians to start a school, he straight away called for his secretary and ordered him to see that 'Father' gets all that he wants! Work was done in no time!!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Its been a hard day...


As I type this I really feel the first line of the song...
'It's been a hard day's night
And I've been working like a ... '
The only difference is in the second line. Instead of 'working' it ought to be 'driving'!!
When I took the wheel this morning at 8.30 I did not realise I'd end up driving all day and that too in the chaotic Hyderabad traffic. For once, I am tired of driving (but that's just for tonight)!

Living Friendship - not a dead friend!

I got this sms the other day. It was describing the Friendship Day. But if what it said about the origin of the 'Friendship day' is true, then I should say that there isn't a greater fool than the one who 'invented' the day!!

Here's what the sms said (I'd have to check its authenticity, though):
In 1935 american government had killed a person on 1st Saturday of August. The next day his friend died committing suicide. In this memory the American government declared the first sunday of every August as 'Friends Day'.
If this is true that friendship day began because some lunatic committed suicide..., then the americal government is a bigger lunatic!! If the latter was a true friend of the one who died, he'd have resolved to live even his friend's life. Living it to the full and accomplishing all that his friend couldn't. Most importantly, even take care of his family for him. Bring up his children in an upright manner. That would have been an ideal way of living one's friendship, not committing suicide!!

Sunday, 2 August 2009

About working late and long

Two days ago Pradeep gave me a sheet of paper saying that it is the message of Narayana Murthy (Infosys) addressed to all those who work late and long! He had his typical shy smile on when he gave me this paper. I understood what he was intending too. We understand each other quite well - rather, he understands my noisy chatter and I, his deep silence!

Anyway, that sheet of paper says all I need to be told (Fr Benjy himself has been telling me this for the past one week!). I quote parts of his message and content:
Whatever the reason for putting in overtime, working long hours over the long term is harmful to the person and to the organisation.
Another problem is that people who are in the office for long hours are not pleasant company. They often complain about other people (who aren't working as hard); they are irritable, or cranky, or even angry.
I now understand why some people are cautious these days when they approach me - they are just testing my mood and spirit. Earlier they used to just walk in and feel free!!
Perhaps some people put in such long hours because they don't want to miss anythign when they leave the office. The trouble with this is that events will never stop happening. That is life! Things happen 24 hours a day.
Hence, "love your job but never fall in love with your company."
Now that's something I cannot do - I am totally in love with Don Bosco and my Salesian life. But I guess, I should differentiate Don Bosco and my office. I needn't fall in love with my office!!
Anyway, as a sign of my determination to give this idea a serious thought, I am leaving for the airport tomorrow morning!! Of course for some work (drop and pick up) but no office. Shall read something and loiter around there till I get back.

And now, I sign off, shut down and go to bed!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

PCs in INH

Some facts about the Provincial Chapters of the Province:
  • The first one was held in two sessions right at the beginning of the Province (in 1993). The first session was held at Nambur and the next session of the same was held at Jevan Jyothi, Hyderabad. The present Provincial house did not exist then. Don Bosco School, Sanathnagar doubled up as the Provincial house. Fr Medabalimi Balaswamy was the moderator of this Chapter. "Side-effects": Frs TD John, Palli and Johnson were asked to leave the hall (turned Chapel for the inaugural Mass) because they did not have cassocks!!
  • The second one was moderated by Fr Maliekal (dates I am yet to find out). It was in preparation for GC 24 - the one on Lay collaboration. "Side-effects": In Fr Maliekal's words, this is the PC when the Sisters were attacked!! Invited as observers, they were being told what to do by us Salesians. In turn they stated what they wanted us to do. Result... clash of ideas and fire and brimstone!!
  • The third Chapter was moderated by Fr Noel. He was asked to moderate a Chapter without ever participating in one before!
  • The fourth PC was held in February 2000 and was moderated by Fr TD John. Goes without saying, must have been one done with near perfection. It was in preparation for GC 25 on Community life. No wonder he refers to that document so liberally. Shows he was fully into it.
  • The next one, PC 5, was held in February 2003 and Fr Simon was the moderator.
  • The last one so far was PC 6 in two sessions (November 2005 at Chiguru and the final session in Hyderabad in Feb-March 2006). Fr Raminedi Balaraju was the moderator. This was one where the election of the Provincial delegates was jumbled up and had to be redone. I was part of the second session (Provincial delegate). My experience: it was fun!!
P.S.: During Fr Benjy's time there were three PCs: one in the beginning of the Province, the other mid-way and the last one at the end of his term (Fr Balaswamy did not want to have one at the beginning of his term).
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