Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Misplaced Charity vs Truth

Today Fr Thomas Anchukandam (in the pic, the top left corner) laid down office as the Provincial of Bangalore province to let Fr Joyce take it up.  Fr Anchu has always been acclaimed as a straight-forward man.  He came across to me as a man of principles and values.  He clearly had his priorities sorted out.  Most importantly he never budged when it was a matter of values and convictions.  Even as the Provincial he did stand for what is right and demanded that others too follow the same - "without fear or favour!"  It goes without saying that such a stance where "credibility, transparency and accountability" are stressed, things are never rosy or comfortable - neither for the one leading the charge nor for the one from whom it is demanded!

In his last Circular (TJA/Cir-LXIII.01/2015), he gives a very beautiful message, which I reproduce here below:
Ludwig von Pastor (1854-1928), the author of the History of the Popes, was known for his scientific approach to history and unafraid to speak the truth even if it meant offending the carefully nurtured image of the papacy despite its very human aspects. He believed that the fact of the Popes being the Vicars of Christ, did not insulate them from reflecting in their persons and in their decisions the flaws of their times. Naturally enough this caused some unease in the spacious corridors of the Vatican despite the generally open approach of Pope Leo XIII himself. 
One day Pastor received an invitation to tea by the Secretary of State. After the initial pleasantries, the Secretary of State finally came to the actual reason for his having invited Pastor to tea. The Cardinal told Pastor: “It is a great contribution that you will be making to the Church and to the world when you complete your History of the Popes. But remember that in writing the history of the Popes you should be guided above everything else by charity!” Pastor who understood that what was intended by the Prelate was that he should leave out the more embarrassing or the less edifying aspects of the papacy, answered without the least hesitation: “But the Lord did not say “I am charity”, but He did say “I am the Truth!” Indeed Pastor knew, as also anyone else dealing with human institutions despite their claims to lofty ideals, that misplaced charity only helps to cover up a multitude of defects! (emphasis added)
The choice, I think is very clear: choose values/take a stand and be ready to pay the price (but let everyone reap a rich harvest later) or choose passivity and breed mediocrity, now and for ages to come!

200 Child labourers rescued in Hyderabad

Over 200 children, held bondage as child labourers, were rescued by the city police of Hyderabad on Saturday, 24 January, from one apartment building in Talabkatta, Bhavaninagar, Hyderabad. Finding no appropriate place to shelter these hapless children, most of whom are from Bihar, they were brought to Don Bosco Navajeevan, Ramanthapur where the Salesians, staff and especially resident children have been going out of their way to make them feel comfortable and secure. The operation based on a tip off was carried out by over 400 police personnel under the leadership of Dy. Commissioner of Police, Mr V. Satyanarayana. It is said a cordon and search operation as part of anti-terrorism checks led to his huge rescue operation.

Read more of it here...
donboscoindia (detailed and first hand account)
The Indian Express
The Hindu
The Deccan Chronicle

While on the one hand we rejoice that the government and the authorities thought of Don Bosco Navajeevan Ramanthapur as a possible place for the children.  Of all the institutions and centres, the officials brought the huge number of children to Navajeevan.

On the other hand, there still seem no adequate measures taken to appropriately address the issues of these children.  One of the things being mulled and possibly worked out for execution, as reported by Fr T.D. John, is to send these children back to Bihar by railway! And what would happen to them there and how and by whom, are just a few of the questions that immediately need to be addressed.

This incident is truly a good exercise in getting the government to do its part.  The dilemma of belling the cat is always there.  In such instances, this is made all the more difficult because it is not just one cat! 

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Bicentenary Volleyball Tournament at Karunapuram

On January 25, 2015 the community of Don Bosco Philosophate, Karunapuram conducted a volleyball tournament for the Oratory youth, as part of the bicentenary celebrations of the birth of Don Bosco. Nine teams from the different Oratory centres, frequented by the Brothers on Sundays, competed for the cash prizes in a zealous sportive manner. The chief guest(s) for the occasion were the young people themselves!

The team from Diesel colony, Kazipet won the coveted first prize (Rs 1'500/- in cash and the rolling trophy). The last year runners up, from Battupalli village, retained their title this year too as they won Rs 1'000/-. Fr Mallavarapu Rayanna, the Rector, while giving away the prizes, reiterated the message of Don Bosco for the young: to be good and honest citizens. He expressed his joy at their presence and active participation in the day-long event.
The organizing committee of Brothers K. Ravi, Paul Makri, Pramod, Sravan and L. David who volunteered, did an excellent job of seeing to every detail and ensuring a smooth and enriching experience for all those involved.

Monday, 19 January 2015


Faith is often spoken of as something that we need to grow in.  Something that we need to have in order to be good Christians and all the more, good religious.  It is classically defined as believing in what you do not see or affirming something that is apparently absent.
However, I think faith is also about letting go. It is about realizing that it is not I who have to hold on to God, but letting go of everything with the assurance that God will hold me!  So I ask myself, does faith also include letting go of God himself?  In a sense, yes! Because it not ultimately me 'saving' God for myself but God 'embracing me'.  

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Taking offense

In the community, as I go about my usual self now - I wasn't so, for quite sometime - I realize that very many Brothers take offense when I tell them something or point out something that they are supposed to do or know.  I demand that Brothers be on time for class.  (I am there myself and ensure that I stop class at the bell too) They would like to take their own time getting into the classroom, take time to settle down, chat about (immediately after a 15 minute break)... all of this while the Professor is yet to reach the class. In this case the Professor is to be blamed primarily.  But when one 'strange' guy turns up on time, the story is still the same!  When demanded that they be in class at the bell, they are offended!

Some Brothers are angry that their nonsensical thesis papers are not approved by their respective guides. So the guide, who is doing his duty, is the one at fault. The Brother does not see that it is he who failed to do a decent work, in time and with some finesse. Leave alone feel guilty or sorry about this; he feels angry that the guide has not approved his paper!!

In such an ambiance where people fail to demand and set standards, for themselves and for others as well; where all have settled for a comfortable level of mediocrity (either out of fear or laziness) ... any change for the better is always seen as a violation of 'fundamental rights'.

That, is certainly a sign that things need to change!  

Come and see

The Lord's invitation to the disciples of John the Baptist, "Come and see!" caught my attention this morning during the gospel.  I realized it was a personal invitation.  Not a detached functionary and uninvolved description of where he lived and what he did.  He was inviting them for an instant first-hand experience; not a lecture or a description about himself, from someone else, at a later period. He invites them to come, just as they are so that they can see him as he is.  No pretensions or fear of skeletons in the cupboard leading to a double life.
Implications for formation:

  • Is it that we lead our formees to an experience of the Lord or are we merely doling out theories which in fact do not in any way assist them to have an encounter with the Lord?  
  • Is our invitation to young people who join us a genuine open invitation or a 'conditioned' entry ticket?  Not something 'put up for them' other than what we truly are.
  • Do I tell young people with me, 'Do as I say' and lay down rules while in fact, I have another set of criteria and attitudes I live by, for myself? 

Friday, 16 January 2015


Describing the difference between knowledge and wisdom is not always easy.  However, at times the difference just tumbles before us without much effort.  Here is one witty fact driving home the difference between knowledge and wisdom.
Knowledge is what teaches us that tomato is a fruit and not a vegetable.  Wisdom prevents us from adding the same tomato to a fruit salad!

What has religion to offer?

The recent outbursts against Islam - camouflaged under the term 'terrorism' - is not a very healthy sign of things to come.  Every action, yielding a reaction which again becomes the source for a reaction.  Sooner than later, there would be violence and hatred and suspicion and most dangerously anarchy everywhere.  No one would trust anyone.

This brings me back to the question that I've been battling with myself: The relevance of Religion? Responding the reactions to the murder of the cartoonists in France, a person has this to say:
When we get stuck in a religious debate we are never going to win, we miss the point, which is that extremists are offering young people a sense of belonging, an outlet for adventure, and some kind of enhanced status. To combat this, we have to appeal to them as young people more than we have to appeal to them as Muslims. (Here's the source). Emphasis added.
So what does religion offer? Merely a sense of belonging, an adventure, an enhanced status? Then anything that offers these is a 'religion'...?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Growing up...

Another significant event of the day was my meeting the Provincial - something part of the annual Provincial visitation of the community.  Since I had only a single point agenda, the meeting did not last long.  It was brief and am happy, with what I communicated and the all the more, that it was accepted.

With that behind me, I feel a bit free now to go ahead with my personal style. Let's see how the future unfolds...

Let be free!

Just a while ago, I received a strange request asking to sign a petition against separating two chimpanzees who have been together since 20 years in a Lucknow zoo.  Well, after having read the petition and the reasons, I was happy to sign it... although it seems to be closed for now.

Well what struck me was, why at all should these animals be in captivity?  Of course, the fact that watching them live is a great learning experience for children to come to know about wild animals. But with the vast growth of the internet and the information laid bare therein, perhaps it is time this cruelty to animals is given a serious thought and done away with.

Let them live free in their own habitat! 


I am glad that today I was part of something worthwhile... other than the 'normal' routine!  It was the launch of the Action 2015 campaign. Thanks to Fr Palli for making it possible. He landed up here last night saying that he intended to meet the deputy Chief Minister of the Telangana State and petition him as part of launching the campaign.  To his luck and my fortune, he decided to step in here in our own community after his lunch in the neighbouring JMJ college, where something was already done on stage.

This special situation, at least created awareness among us in the community that there was such a campaign being initiated and that we could at least be witnesses to the same... if not be at the forefront of it.
at the entrance of our house with the deputy CM
Fr Palli's comments about how we Salesians take a back-bench attitude for such global campaigns surely have a great amount of truth in them. While we should have been at the forefront of such worldwide movements, we are no where in sight... 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Murder in France vs Massacre in Nigeria

An excellent example of media bias...

Practically everyone now knows about the murder of the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo in France. The would be practically no one who knows about the real massacre on in Nigeria.... read this: How the world failed to notice, to react...
Dead bodies were seen strewn along the streets of this Northeastern Nigeria village
For once, the Catholic Church in Nigeria is asking very pointed and relevant questions, about value of life, media reporting, and the bias in information dissemination.

  • No breaking news cycle, no live reports, no international outrage, no hashtags. 
  • On the same day that 12 people were killed in the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, at least 37 died and 66 were injured in an al-Qaida bomb blast in Yemen that went virtually unnoticed by the international community
  • The difference in reaction to Nigeria and other tragedies was... about the value of a life - an African life versus a European life

'Elusive' Religion

For the last couple of days I've been trying to define religion - or rather, re-define religion.  The ongoing tensions around the world and in my own motherland moves me to this exercise.  France is plagued by a 'religion based guerrilla war'; Germans are divided over PEGIDA; the middle-East is being taken over by the ISIS; the topic of religious conversions is heating up in India.  For once in history, religion is evoking a mixed, varied and I'd say weird feelings.

Naturally viewing from this perspective religion seems a curse or a burden thrust upon the modern era.  So why not get rid of the curse and move on?  Merely cast off the bothersome burden and get on?  Well that's the tricky part.  Everytime I come up with a 'different' understanding of religion, I end up falling into the same trap that I initially intended to escape!  It is as if, when religion is pulled down, something else automatically 'becomes' a religion!  So one ends up with another structure, merely a different name and form... but still the same essence.

Got to do some serious reading about this. Another interesting study would be the relationship between God and religion.


Another imagery of the Baptism that comes to my mind is that of a caged animal or a wild animal in the zoo.  Somehow once caged, the animal still retains its wild character but is never itself.  A pet animal rather is one which is free but never leaves the master.  It has the liberty of taking off and never returning.  But it stays because it has savoured the love of its master.

If baptism truly is an initiation into the Kingdom of God, then no one ought to feel bound or compelled to be or live as a Catholic.  True to its nature it frees us from the state of original sin, rather than bind us to the rules and regulations of the structure of the church.  Viewed from this perspective, it is truly grace.  Or else it is a shackle one cannot but has to live with.

Baptism and the Kingdom of God

This evening Fr Tom shared an amusing anecdote - could very well be a satirical one - about three pastors, all of whom were perturbed by their churches being infested with cats. The first one a Lutheran, stated that he tried catching them in a sack and throwing them in a river nearby.  But soon they somehow all returned. The second one, a Pentecostal, said that he caught them and left them in a far off place, but by the time he returned to his Church they were all there.  The third, a Catholic Priest, was perhaps the only exception.  He stated he did not have any cats in his church anymore. The other two were curious as to how did he manage to get them off his back.  The Priest merely declared: I baptised them all.

As we commemorate the feast of the baptism of the Lord, and thereby recall our own baptism, it is interesting to ask ourselves as to how we view this sacrament.  I certainly have absolutely no memory of my own baptism. But how does one view this sacrament?  Often we consider and treat baptism as a sort of gate key of a mansion with single entry point.  And somehow are convinced that unless and until every one enters the mansion, they are all doomed to die.  I would rather view baptism as an open ticket to participate in a grand fair being held in an open ground.  Everyone is welcome to walk into the open ground.  There are absolutely no restrictions on looking around, walking about, talking, chatting... then one may ask why the ticket?  Well that's for the thrill of participating in the games being conducted.

My analogy may be a bit weird or wonky.  However, my vision of the Church is much wider than a closed up and well guarded mansion. Certainly I prefer the 'Kingdom of God' to the 'Church'!  For some it may mean the same, not for everyone!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Cartoon on Don Bosco

Check out the following video prepared by the Salesians in Naples, Italy along with their students. It is basically in view of the bicentenary, but the process is worth emulating.

It is good and given the fact that it was prepared mostly by students who were involved not just in the making of it but also did prepare themselves to go through the grind of learning the art of making such videos - that makes the effort truly admirable.

Read more about the project here

Time to grow up

An old acquaintance today resounded to me something from his own personal life, that I have heard of myself these past few months: 'Where is the old Castilino gone?' This person replied saying, everytime he heard that question, of course from well-intentioned and concerned people, he said to himself, "He's doing some growing up!"

So I ask myself, do I need to be the same old self again?  Why is it that I strive to be who and what I was? Is it not time to 'evolve' or grow?  Do I wish to regain my old self, because it was comfortable and secure?  Or is it that it was what defined and was my identity card - well-known and appreciated? Can I not learn from the trying experiences of the recent past and grow rather than get back in the previous known mould?  

Free but must!

Quite a few of the Brothers find the recitation of the Breviary very routine and boring.  At every opportunity they get to skip it, they'd gladly replace it with something as fickle as an extempore bhajan service - every week!  This bhajan service at times is so extempore that nobody knows who is going to do what!  Very many of the same Brothers do not feel bored of the game they choose to play everyday.  Given an opportunity they'd play football every day... the same game, the same court, the same rules, the same position... but this is not boring or tiring.

What then distinguishes something as boring and irrelevant  from something else that is interesting and meaningful?

Baruch Spinoza while speaking of God states that he must necessarily emanate while still holding that God is free.  He explains that God's choice to emanate is not decided by someone else.  There is no compulsion from anyone external to him to emanate. Yet, he does emanate. It is his choice to do so.

Explaining this in class, I presented the following analogy:  A young boy is very fond of prayer and he does pray every day especially early in the morning. He perseveres in this choice and is happy about it.  He later decides to join a seminary.  At the seminary there is every morning a bell to rise and later for meditation and morning prayers.  Now in this present situation he 'must' pray!  Is he free now to pray?  Most of the students got the point.  Bell and the timetable does not in any way hinder this young man from praying.  If at all, they serve as an 'additional' help.  But even without them, he will continue to pray - primarily because it is his choice.  The rest of the crowd, who drag themselves to the church to pray, have to make sense of what we are doing once there!  It is often the bell that prays and not me!  

So is the bell and schedule really helpful?  To a certain extent, yes! For those who have not had the facility to fall in love with prayer, these offer an ambiance.  But very often they are seen more as deterrents than aids.

Learning ... and enjoying!

During the holidays I upgraded my laptop to Qiana (linux mint 17) from Julia (LM 10). It was a good adventure.  After long I enthralled myself doing something new.  This is the fifth year that I am using my computer without any assistance from a technician.  Linux has made this possible... along with the numerous support groups and forums where people generously offer help.  It works great for amateurs like me.  So far whatever I learnt over the past years, I would bookmark that particular page from which I learnt the lesson.  Today I resolved another issue that I was battling with since the last two weeks. It was as easy as smiling for some one. All I needed to do was ask and lo!  

It's time I too contribute my learnings. So here's my first technical contribution to the online community.  (Nothing new, but my learning!).  The key I used earlier for an apostrophe was printing some other character. Similar to the apostrophe (´), but not the same.  Furthermore I had to press the key, hard and slow to get that! All that I did was change my keyboard setting from English US alternative to English International AltGr dead keys.  And here's my apostrophe... ' ... perfect! 

My prayer

Many people ask many things of the Lord. I too do! Of course, my list is rather small. Most often I find myself asking the Lord for this:
... the gift of discerning His will and the courage to live it. 
However, at times I also pray for a truly personal and deep encounter with Him. I know He meets me very often, but it is I who also need to be present with Him. 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Globalization gobbled up!

An excerpt from the final dissertation of the final year student doing his paper on the impact of Globalization on Indian society... (time spent in research: 8 months and counting).  This section is specifically about the negative impact of globalization... on ´migrant women´ (don´t ask me why on that particular group):
...women leave hometown and villages to find work.  As a result now, most of the Indian women are being misused by the managers and by the house holders in the work places. Globalization affects the poor badly, especially in trafficking of women and prostitution, greater spread of female feticide and female infanticides, dowry demand harassment and dowry deaths.  
There is another section on the impact of globalization on education. You do not want to hear of it!  

Monday, 5 January 2015

To choose or not to?

Among the several things that distinguish us from animals is the ability to make choices.  For the animals, the ultimate goal in life is survival.  Whereas, human beings can choose from the million and one things his heart, mind and soul offers as ultimate goal; or go by the animal nature and settle down only for what the body craves - survival!

As religious we too can be like animals, if our whole and final aim, as religious, is to continue being one... to have a title before (Fr/Br) and after (sdb) our name.  Or as persons / human beings, we can CHOOSE something more than mere titles or tags.

I am able to possess the title ´sdb´ today because one person in the nineteenth century chose to be more than a mere priest. He could have very well settled to be just one among the million priests who ever walked on the face of this earth.  But no! He chose to be more than just a ´Don´.  And for that he poured out his whole life.

What´s my story?

Know not what they are doing

When on the cross, Jesus makes a very bold and startling prayer: Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing!  This morning as I sat for meditation and looked up the cross this is what came to my mind.  Perhaps it is also because last night I came across a clip from the movie Ben Hur (the climax scene) where Ben Hur is touched by this statement of Jesus.

So I was wondering whom is Jesus referring to, when he says ´them´?  Certainly not the Roman soldiers, because he knew very well that they were only carrying out orders given to them.  If Jesus were to be accusing them of murder and praying for their forgiveness, it would be like holding a grudge against the hangman in a prison.

But if Jesus was referring to the Jews who were baying for his blood, then I think he got it wrong. They certainly did know what they were doing.  They had all along schemed and manipulated facts to consciously get rid of him.  So it is neither the Romans nor the Jews who come under the category of ´do not know´. Who then is Jesus referring to? 

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Sharing rather than purchasing

This evening after supper we had a short get-together and sharing of Christmas gifts. Sometime midway through Advent, each one picked up a name from the community list at random and was asked to specially pray for the person during the season.  Before breaking up for the holidays we were reminded to get a small gift for the person, on our return from home.

Most ´bought´ gifts.  I would have preferred each one to share something we had with us rather than purchase something.  The rationale being, the money is not ours, earned either by the benefactors or my parents.  Rather when I share something I have and find it useful, I am giving a part of myself. This makes the gift something ´personal´.  Of course, some may say, the gift is not a brand new thing, rather it is something ´second-hand´. However, I believe the attitude of sharing is the crux. The rest is always debatable.

Where is He?

The most striking sentence of the feast day reading of this morning was the question: Where is the King of the Jews? Among the millions of people inhabiting the earth, it was basically the shepherds and the Magi who inquired and sought the Lord, at his birth.  What about the rest?  Most did not know. Many did not bother to know.  Those few who knew and did bother, were only concerned for their own personal benefits.
Where do I fit in?  Do I seek the Lord, sincerely and earnestly?  Am I consistent in my search for him? Or is it that I get too easily distracted, by fluttering butterflies, leaving behind the brilliant sun? Is my search for the Lord merely for my own personal petty benefits?

Lord, let me seek the things that matter... let me seek You, above all!  

Europe, today; India, tomorrow?

The fact that Church buildings in Europe and the West are being auctioned or sold to different groups for varied purposes, because of the primary reason that there are no faithful to occupy those Churches, comes as no surprise. Where once thousands attended Holy Mass, today there is hardly a handful of elderly participating in the Mass.  Some of the Churches have been sold and renovated as hotels and restaurants.  Some others have been turned in gymnasiums.  Here below is a Church which is now a skating hall (read more about it here).  
I ask myself, what will become of the palatial buildings that we are putting up here in India, in a couple of centuries?  Given my personal prejudice against construction and erecting mighty structures, let me not get into that.  However, what comes to my crooked mind when I look at this photo is the fact that the Church is still occupied. There are people in the Church!!  Only that there are not there for worship!  If only we would concentrate more on building people rather than structures...

Saturday, 3 January 2015

The Blessed Reflex

I just finished reading a book titled Sent Forth: African Missionary Work in the West by Harvey C. Kwiyani.  It is basically about an African Lutheran working as a missionary in the United States expressing his views on how the missionary movement has taken a ´blessed reflex´ - a shift from the West spreading Christianity, to the non-Western missionary invigorating Christianity in the West!

It makes interesting reading.  Most lovely aspect that appealed to me is that the author presents a very unbiased picture of the various Christian denominations.  He gives a rather fair treatment of the topic without over emphasising or simplifying one ´Church´ over or below the other.  His basic premise is not too difficult to identify and he sticks on to it all through - very convincingly and rather tenaciously!

His constant jargon: Mission is now from all to all... the era of the West monopolizing evangelization is dying.  Christianity is turning ´darker´ in colour! (Referring to the growing numbers of Latin Americans, Africans and Asians, who are replacing the diminishing Europeans, among the Christian population). It is no more the religion only of the ´fair skin´. Though not very scientific or scholarly in its content, the experiential and historical flavour of the text is appealing.  

Making a habit to ´Ask the Lord´

The notice board outside my office contained the general timetable of the community and a birthday list - till last month. It dawned on me that I was wasting precious space for something stagnant and repetitive - all year long.  That´s when I cleared the notice board and putting up something or the other as often as possible.

This new year, I prepared a notice board, welcoming the new year with the title: Same life... fresh opportunities.  Besides this title I also began the first of a series of thoughts from the life and words of Pope Francis. Today´s motto: Make it a habit to ´ask help from the Lord´.

I took these (today´s and the forthcoming themes) from here. And right now as I hit bed, I ask the Lord for help, to face tomorrow.  For the new year, I´ve resolved something for myself and I foresee it is not going to be easy for me and for those with me.  Hence I ´ask the Lord´ to strengthen me!

Friday, 2 January 2015

Religion isn´t about right or wrong

Sometime after his search for God and finding no answer, PK now embarks on finding out what is going wrong. He followed the prescribed formula but the expected results still evade him. He then realizes that all the petitions are going to a wrong number.  Furthermore that the one on the other end is taking them for a ride or frightening them.  Thus the concept of ´wrong number' catches on.

Towards the end of the movie, the religious leader asks PK, if what you say is true, that all calls are going out to the wrong number, then what is the right number?  Now this is the tricky part of religion.  The moment one ascertains and states definitely that this (or that) is the right number, one goes wrong!

Truly speaking, Religion is not about right or wrong - that´s the work of ethics.  Religion is all about being beneficial or harmful.  It is an additional help, a means for those in search of God.  Of course, some use it as the most easiest and prompt answer, with the conviction that riding on the wave of religion will automatically lead one to God, without any personal effort or strain.  
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