ROME, JUNE 15, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps” in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need interviews Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai in India.
Q: Your Eminence, on your coat of arms you have the scales of justice for your legal studies, the washing of feet for service and” M” for Mary, but you also have a hand shake on your emblem. Why the handshake?
Cardinal Gracias: It is the symbol of reconciliation. And I put as my motto also, “To Reconcile All Things In Christ.” I always had a deep feeling of wanting to be a bridge builder, of wanting to bring people together in conflict situations, in difficult situations. It was a natural feeling the Lord put in my heart of wanting peace in communities even in small issues. As a seminarian, as a priest, I always tried to do that. As a matter fact, when I was asking my friends “what should I put?”, the first thing suggested was reconciliation.
Cardinal Gracias: They perhaps noticed that this was so important for me; that I tried to heal wounds. I tried to resolve conflicts. I was very much involved in conflict resolution. I was the secretary of the bishop and chancellor of the diocese for 20 years or so and whenever there was a conflict in the diocese the bishop would send me and try to sort it out. I felt a great joy and satisfaction that I [was] able to bring harmony and peace. Now that you ask me, that is what struck me.
Q: Pope John Paul II asked you to become bishop and later on archbishop of Mumbai. What particular words did you take away from him, for yourself, for your own vocation and for India?
Cardinal Gracias: I was present [on] many, many occasion [with] Pope John Paul II. So, personally I had great devotion to him, because I was there as a student when he was elected Pope and when he was attacked – the attempted assassination on his life. I was one of the secretaries of the synods helping out. I met him often. I could see that he recognized me. He did not know my name but he would always greet me wherever he met me, or wave. So there was this bonding. His whole life impressed me a great a deal from the very first moment. His fearlessness, his authenticity; because whenever I met him he always [gave] me his blessings for India, and he would speak some words [of] encouragement. He showed great affection for India for one thing. I remember his first words were, “open the doors to Christ” when he became Pope and that deeply impressed me; the fearlessness and the matter-of-fact way in which he said that.
Q: If I remember correctly from an interview that you gave, even the end of his life was particularly poignant for you.
Cardinal Gracias: Yes. I was so deeply impressed by that. I myself was seriously sick a couple of years back. In a moment of sickness when I prayed to the Lord, I saw Pope John Paul II, also sick and struggling. But [he] said: I am going to do what the Lord wants of me. And that impressed me a great deal and that had a great impact on me, that he was finding himself weak and helpless but he went on and did what he thought the Lord wanted him to do. And he carried on until the very end. I thought that was a very powerful sermon he preached, the way he bore his sickness until his last days left a deep impression on me.
Q: Why is Blessed John Paul II, like Mother Theresa, so particularly loved by the Hindu community?
Cardinal Gracias: I think it was his authenticity. He was a man of deep, deep faith. We just celebrated, recently, the silver jubilee of his pastoral visit to India. I installed a statue of Pope John Paul II in my cathedral, just outside the cathedral and people are coming over there, Catholics and Hindus to pray to Blessed John Paul II. The message he gave not only [was] what he said but also the way he said it. Wherever he went he loved the people, loved the country. He was very, very genuine, authentic as I was saying, but he was a man of deep faith, he trusted in the Lord, he left everything in the hands of Jesus, and he loved the Father; great devotion to Our Lady. So I think that impressed people very much. And even Hindus saw in him as a man of God. They felt that he was a person who really is preaching God in what he says, what he does and how he lives.
Q: You are the tenth Cardinal in India, which means that there is a greater weight now being given to the Church in Asia, to the Church in the south. Is this how you would see this at this time?
Cardinal Gracias: Certainly, certainly. I see it -and I have said it at that time also- as an important Church in Asia and India in particular, because India is growing quickly. India is becoming important. Our Indian church, theologians, bishops and priests are making a contribution to the universal Church. They have much to contribute to the universal Church in thought and activities, the method in which the Church is progressing. We’ve received a lot; we’ve give a lot also. And I think India has a lot to give and I think it is [a] recognition of India’s role in the universal Church.
Q: Although the Church has been there for two millennia, the Catholic Church -or Christianity- is still seen as a foreign body. Do you see this and why?
Cardinal Gracias: Often people have said [it] and I think in the minds of many [Hindus] the Church is … or has a foreign element in it. Possibly one reason is because we always had foreign leaders and bishops -now there is not a single bishop who is not Indian- until Cardinal Gracias, who was Archbishop of Bombay in the 50’s. He was the first Indian Archbishop of Bombay… Then the fact that we haven’t fully enculturated our liturgical services, our prayer services. We have remained a little bit too -I am in the Congregation of Sacraments- Roman in that sense, and not sufficiently Indian. Now we are making efforts and the Congregation in Rome is helping [with] this and to see this importance of enculturation. And the more we become enculturated, I think, the more people will see that we [are] truly Indian. Because Christianity in India is from the first Apostle in 52 or so. St. Thomas [is] supposed to have come to India.
Q: India is the cradle of one of the great civilization of the world and prides itself on its pluralistic traditions. Recently in an interview you said that these pluralistic traditions are under threat. What do you mean by this? What are the threats?
Cardinal Gracias: Fundamentalist forces which are creating problems specifically for the Christians and other religions sometimes. This is not good. It is not good for the country because I think one of the richness of India is… it is like a tapestry of different religions, different cultures; that’s our richness and beauty. And then when you try say that everything must be uniform, you are threatening that. You are threatening this plurality, the beautiful plurality, the richness, the respect, which we had for each other. I was brought up in the city Mumbai, as I was saying. And we were so friendly! My neighbour was a Hindu. The other neighbour was a Muslim. Religion was not a dividing force. Of late some political parties have exploited religion for political purposes.
Q: We are speaking of Hindu fundamentalists, just to clarify. Why this interest in changing this landscape? What is the interest of these groups?
Cardinal Gracias: I think there is a little bit of the rise fundamentalism all over the world. It began with Islamic fundamentalism, but it is across the border. I want to say that there are Christian fundamentalists also who do not understand fully the Gospel. Hindu fundamentalism is very recent in India. It began as a reaction to other fundamentalisms but [was] also exploited by political parties who instrumentalized religion for the sake of political gain, to get a “vote” bank in a particular religion; you say that your religion is under threat, you vote for me and I will protect your religion.
Q: And so they keep coming to power…
Cardinal Gracias: Yes, I think that it is a dangerous game. And I mentioned this to some political leaders of these parties that they are playing a very dangerous game: “You probably don’t realize this but you’re threatening the very fabric of Indian society; and 20, 30 years down the line, if you carry on this way, India could be fractured and it’s difficult to put people together again. You may not mean it.” No one wants that certainly to happen. That is why it is a threat.
Q: But these groups would like India to have a Hindu identity?
Cardinal Gracias: I think the average Hindu is certainly tolerant, understanding and friendly with people of other religions. There is a small group, which is fundamentalist, and certainly would like to see India as a Hindu country. It is in part a reaction to Pakistan as a Muslim country; therefore India should be a Hindu country. Partition was based because of religion. Our forefathers, the fathers of our constitution, the fathers of our country, specifically wanted India to be a secular country. And that as I said is the richness and greatness of our country because of the wisdom of the people who framed the constitution and brought us freedom and lead our country.
Q: It is a contradiction: on one hand we are speaking of a pluralistic tradition and on the other is the teaching of the Church that Jesus Christ is the only saviour. How do you evangelize in this context?
Cardinal Gracias: There are specific challenges for evangelization in a society which is religious because you are not filling a vacuum. You are going into people who’ve got specific religious traditions to pray to God. In these circumstances, first of all, I think it is important for us to be authentic; to deepen our own faith, to show by our beliefs that really we believe that Jesus is our Saviour, the only Saviour, the Son of God and there is no one after him.
Q: You said that to the Christian the best weapon is prayer. But how can we heal?
Cardinal Gracias: Certainly, prayer is important because it brings blessings from God. Prayer is important also because one gets self-confidence that God is with you and, therefore, I can be fearless and I carry on my work, also for reconciliation. That is why I said prayer is the most effective weapon. We must strengthen our dialogue of life from the local level [upwards], so that friends remain friends even in adverse circumstances. I would say that we dialogue with leaders to explain to them the dangerous situation and with the politicians that they have responsibilities and how they have to contribute to the growth of the nation.
Q: What is the role of Our Lady?
Cardinal Gracias: Our Lady is the favourite of everybody, in a sense even among the Hindus. In my own home Parish, we have novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help every Wednesday from 8:30 am to 9:30 pm every hour and on the hour. And about 70 000 or 80 000 people come every Wednesday over there. I was told that 60 to 70 % of people who come there are not Christians; just to pray to Our Lady. Our Lady is seen as a mother. She is seen as a way that a mother is not threatening. They don’t feel that she is a threat to them, or to their culture or even their religion in that sense. People have different devotion to her. I remember several years back when Our Lady of Nazareth came to Bombay and I accompanied the statue to some Parishes where people came and prayed and the Catholic crowds remained. What struck me very much as I was going –I was a little worried because it was the time of Hindu fundamentalist violence and therefore we had a police escort– is that the Hindus would stand by the roadside and give reverence to the statue. There wasn’t a single incident. It was very impressive how everybody stood there asking her blessings and praying too. She is seen as a mother, caring, loving, bringing favours to people, bringing graces to people, healing divisions. So Mary is an important key to this.
Q: You have said that Christians today are living Good Friday. Is there an Easter Sunday?
Cardinal Gracias: Certainly, I have no doubt about it. As I said India is a big country and a great country, India is her people, and her people are really good people. The problems of the country; they also want to respect every religion. I don’t think the average Hindu is comfortable with what is happening in the country. I had calls from Hindu leaders telling me that they are not happy with what is happening in Orissa, and Karnataka. I receive calls from Hindus phoning me: “Cardinal, please make a statement make condemning this. This is not what we like.” So really I am confident that we will overcome this. I am confident that people will see sense. I am confident that there will be Easter Sunday for Christians, for the Church, and for Jesus.
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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
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