Tuesday, April 9, 2013

P.N.BENJAMIN & his activities


Chairman and Coordinator

Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)

Freelance Journalist
Receipient of Rajyotsava Award-2012

Ex-Member, Karnataka State Minorities Commission


Bengaluru 560 043


Mobile: 9731182308

E-mail: bejaminpn@hotmail.com


• He has been a committed campaigner and crusader of promoting communal harmony, religious tolerance and understanding, pluralism and secularism through his writings and action during the past four decades.

• His passion for communal and religious peace led him to form the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) in 2001along with a small group of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians in Bengaluru to promote inter-faith amity in line with our native wisdom of promoting inclusivism and for preserving India's religious diversity.

• Towards that end, BIRD conducts consultations, panel discussions and seminars and holds an annual lecture series in memory of Dr Stanley Samartha, a priest and theologian of the Church of South India who took pride in always affirming that he was "a Hindu by culture, Christian by faith, Indian by citizenship and ecumenical by choice". He was born in Karkal, South Karnataka.

• During the past ten years, BIRD has organised ten Samartha Memorial lectures. They have been delivered by eminent persons likeDr. David Frawley, Sir Mark Tully, India Correspondent for the BBC; Arun Shourie, Member of Parliament; M.J.Akbar, eminent journalist and author; Justice K.T.Thomas, retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India; Dr. Hans Ucko, Director, Dialogue Division of World Council of Churches; Bishop Philipose Mar Chrysostom, Metropolitan of Mar Thoma Syrian Church; Dr. M.V.Nadkarni, former Vice Chancellor Gulbarga University; Dr. C.T.Kurien, well-known economist & director-emeritus Madras Institute for Development Studies; and Francois Gautier, French author and journalist.

• BIRD and the United Theological College jointly arranged a talk by Mr. Ashok Chowgule on the Hindu view on Religious Conversions, followed by an interactive session on August 5, 2005, at the United Theological College, Bengaluru.

• Member of Fact-finding Teams

• Mangalore Violence 2008

• Served on the three-member team, led by retired IGP Y.R. Patil, that probed the violent incidents in Mangalore, Udupi, and Bengaluru in September 2008. The report has been submitted to the Chief Minister of Karnataka.

• Attack on Holy Family Church, Hinkal, Mysore, 2002

• Led the BIRD fact-finding team that enquired into the attack on Hinkal Church, Mysore in 2002 and wrote an exhaustive report. It is available on the internet (http://www.docstoc.com/docs/30738668/REPORT-OF-FACT-FINDING).

• Wrote the fact-finding teams’ reports on the above incidents.

• Wrote and published the 36-page booklet “A Tale of Three Reports: Facts, fiction and politics behind incidents of violence against Christians in Karnataka”

• Wrote a rebuttal of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2010 and 2011 reports on continuing violence against Christians in Karnataka.

• Wrote the article “Is the Rogue State Number 1?” and rebutted Retd. Justice Saldanha’s allegations and charges against the State of Karnataka. It has been picked up by several news portals.

• Rediffmail News service interviewed me on the subject

• Other Activities

• Organised an Hindu-Christian dialogue in Bangalore in 2002 at the United Theological College

• Organised and/or attended regular meetings, interpersonal as well as official, with Hindu leaders

• Organised a cultural programme titled “An evening with Gandhiji’s favourite prayers and hymns”, on the 60th anniversary of his martyrdom

• Delivered talks on the need for Hindu-Christian dialogue at many meetings in Bengaluru, especially at the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Whitefield, Mar Thoma Church, Dharmaram Vidya Shektra, Rotary Club East, etc.

• Presented a paper at a meeting of intellectuals held in Varanasi on “Foreign money, foreign missionaries, and conversion activities”

• Participated in the Hindu-Christian Dialogue at Aluva, Kerala, 2001

• Participated at the Thinkers’ Meet at Bhopal in 2005

• Participated as a delegate from India at the one-week consultation on “An Ethical Code of Conduct for Religious Conversion” organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Catholic Church (Vatican) in Toulouse, France, in August 2007

• Served as Vice President, Karnataka State Guruji Centenary Celebration Committee

• Drafted and circulated the following Declaration:

Christians against Proselytism

As Indian Christians, we believe that the best and perhaps the only way we can bear witness to our faith, is by extending our unconditional love to our neighbours and expecting nothing in return as Jesus Christ showed us. As such, we are against aggressive faith marketing by any religious group because such efforts discredit India's tradition of respecting all religious thought and also runs counter to the true spirit in which the Constitution grants people the right to profess, practice and propagate their faith.

We are Christians. Some of us were born into Christianity, others freely chose to embrace it. We also believe that the Great Commission in the Gospel according to Matthew unequivocally calls us to witness Christ in a pluralistic setting without violating the right of the other to preach, practice and profess his/her faith. Witnessing Jesus cannot in any case be done by questionable means, whether by exploiting people's socio-psychological vulnerabilities or by running down other religions.

Furthermore, we believe the Christian injunction to make disciples of all nations in today's context is best honoured by the bearers of the Good News living exemplary Christian lives and showing respect for the nations commitment to pluralism, for the larger public good in a civil society. Conversion of faith, given its life-changing nature, stems from a considered personal experience and is less likely in this day and age to be the stuff of dramatic immediacy.

When India's Supreme Court ruled, in 1977, that a citizens right to "profess, practice and propagate" ones religion does not include the right to convert another it was merely reaffirming both tradition and the Constitution. We believe that every nation should give primacy to maintenance of public order by ensuring safety and security to the life and property of its citizens.

India's all-encompassing culture and secular Constitution allows not only its citizens but also visitors the freedom of religious practice. But, Article 25 of the Constitution which guarantees that right also subjects it to the maintenance of "public order, morality and health" of the citizenry. We therefore call on the Government of India and all secular countries to seek an amendment to Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights by expanding it through the addition of a second sentence: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. However, no individual or organisation may seek to convert an individual or a group of individuals, including minors or individuals of limited cognitive abilities, formally or informally, from one religion to another by offering financial or other material incentives; through physical, mental or emotional coercion; or through threats or intimidation of any kind."

While we decry the attempts of religious leaders and fundamentalists of all varieties to convert and re-convert, we pledge to work diligently for inter-faith amity in the best traditions of Indian culture. We hereby call on all Indians to join in our efforts to preserve a pluralist India founded on secularism and religious inclusion and governed by a Constitution that guarantees all its citizens all freedoms vital to the functioning of a modern democracy.

• The BIRD declaration is signed by nearly a thousand Christians addressed to the Prime Minister of India, the USICRF, Secretary General of the United Nations, and President of the European Union. It is available online at www.petitiononline.com/panaveli/petition

• Senior & popular freelance journalist and columnist

• Since 1965 has contributed hundreds of feature articles, interviews, opinions, letters to major newspapers and journals, both English and regional, like Deccan Herald, The Hindu, Times of India, Indian Express, Vijaya Times, Vijay Karnataka, Samyukta Karnataka, People’s Reporter, Malayala Manorama, etc and weekly magazines like The Week, Covert, Illustrated Weekly etc.

• Trade Unionist

o President, Secretary, Treasurer. Committee Member of Grindlays Bank Employees Union in Bangalore for over 25 years. Pariticipated in many strike actions.

o During the discredited Emergency days in 1975-77, established contacts with anti-Emergency activists, wrote several letters in newspapers and magazines criticising the Indira Gandhi’s dreaded regime.

o After those dark days, consistently raised voice for the victims of Emergency, many of whom lost their jobs during that period.

• Campaigner & Crusader for Bangalore’s history, heritage and culture and fought long battles through newspapers mobilizing public opinion for the cause.

• Religious affiliation

• Proudly states that he is a Hindu by culture, Christian by faith and Indian by citizenship

• Member of the Church of South India (CSI), the largest Protestant Church in India, with a total membership of about 4 million. CSI consists of 22 dioceses spread over Andhra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, each one headed by a bishop. I belong to the Karnataka Central Diocese.

• He was the associate treasurer of Karnataka Central Diocese, member of its executive committee and member of its medical and education boards.

• Closely associated with the United Theological College since 1963; YMCA (1963) and its Task Force on Secularism since its inception; Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society since 1969; Ecumenical Christian Centre since 1971;United Christian Fellowship (since 1988); Student Christian Movement since 1968.

• He is also an office bearer of the Ys Men’s Club International since 1983. Y’s Men International the Service Club in partnership with the YMCA. It is also an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lord, empty me..

Lord, empty me of me so I can be filled with you.

Lord, empty me of the selfishness inside

Every vain ambition and the poison of my pride. And any foolishness

my heart holds to.

Lord, empty me of me so I can be filled with you.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A moving tribute


By Sudheer Kulkarni


My very dear friend, Asif Ali Khan, is no more. He breathed his last yesterday afternoon at his home near Byculla in Bombay after a prolonged but brave battle with cancer.

I joined a large number of his admirers (among them my longtime friends Javed Anand and Feroze Ashraf) to bid him final goodbye at the Nariyalwadi Qabrastan late in the evening. It’s a very serene place, full of trees and flowering plants. My grief-stricken heart recalled that it was at this very place that Asif, Javed, Ferozebhai and I had come, a little over a year ago, to bid goodbye to our common friend, Sajid Rashid, a renowned Urdu journalist and writer. First Sajid and now Asif, their departure leaves a big void in the field of social activism in a city that direly needs more such activists.

Asif strove passionately all his life for communal harmony, Hindu-Muslim understanding and amity, national integration, and socio-economic and educational progress of the Muslim community. Against all odds, and with an exemplary spirit of selflessness, he pursued ideals that were close to his heart. He constantly and sincerely struggled to build bridges of dialogue and cooperation between people with divergent views on socio-political and religious issues. It’s an endeavour that can easily create misunderstanding and disillusionment. But Asif’s sincerity of purpose and unassuming style of functioning won him the trust and admiration of a wide range of personalities in public life.

Asif gave expression to his thoughts and concerns through cartoons – he had an amazing sense of humour – journalism and non-political social work. He was very dynamic in his work, a person always on the move. Yet, he was also very gentle in the way he worked and interacted with people.

Asif was full of love for life. However, his fullness of love for life flowed from a deep awareness of the injustice, exploitation, cruelty and suffering in the world around him. He hated hypocrisy, bigotry and dogmatism. This dichotomy between Life, that is forever longing and trying to create a better world, and a world that is unable and unwilling to become better, was a source of perpetual sadness for him. But he rarely showed his sadness, except in private conversations with trusted friends. The sadness was well hidden beneath the natural smile on his face. His smiling face (which adorns his Facebook page) greeted me even when I last saw him on Wednesday, even though he was no longer in a position to speak.

My wife Kamaxi and I knew Asif and his family since the mid-1980s. We conveyed our heartfelt condolences to his old and ailing mother, wife Sharifa, their newly wed sons Naved and Rameez, and their daughters-in-law.

Asifbhai, you’ll forever remain in my heart. I am grateful to you for your love and friendship, for your understanding and comradeship. I shall forever remember your unpretentious but internally solid personality; your strength of character; your lifelong endeavour to contribute to justice and peace in this world (in Bombay, our beloved city, to begin with); and for all the happy moments we shared. Surely, you were the kind of person that our Almighty Creator has a special liking and love for.

Father Harry Stocks



Father Harry Stocks, CSC passed away on Saturday, January 19, 2013 at Hospice Niagara (Canada) after a lengthy, courageous and serene struggle with cancer. Born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, he was the son of the late Andrew and Jean Hunt Stocks. After his early education, he advanced from copyboy to reporter at newspapers in Edinburgh, Golspie and Glasgow, and then immigrated to Canada in 1957, believing his future lay in print or broadcast media. After a year as the city life reporter on the Toronto Telegram, he changed course dramatically and joined the Congregation of Holy Cross in August1958, after philosophy studies at the University of Notre Dame and theology studies at Holy Cross College in Washington, DC, he was ordained priest in May 1966.

His first assignment, to the Holy Cross Missions in Bangalore, was the beginning of a life-long, passionate commitment to India and its people. He learned the Tamil language and was initiated into his option for the poor by his involvement in two large projects: a workers' centre and a housing project for the homeless. He developed a special sensitivity to people who are deaf and dedicated the next 42 years of his life to their benefit. He built a training centre for the deaf in Bangalore. Its modern equipment enabled students to get jobs especially in many public sector factories in Bangalore. He began a second such centre in Karwar.

His work with the deaf and the workers' movement led to national involvement with several organizations, other religious communities and non-Christian agencies. His work with and advocacy for the deaf extended into Asia. Because of declining health he moved back to Canada. Still he was able to serve as Chaplain to the Deaf Community in the Archdiocese of Toronto from 2005 to 2010. At the same time, from 2005 up to October 2012, Father Harry ministered to the deaf of Niagara at a monthly Mass at St. Kevin's Parish. Because of his poor health, this was not easy for him in the last several months but he carried on with what he called his sacred duty.

His energy that seemed to keep him forever mobile and his unstinting commitment to the poor, especially to the deaf in India, and the deaf he worked with in different networks throughout Asia and in Canada. Fr. Harry was well known for his inimitable Scottish humour.

Father Harry was an instrument of peace, a channel and an avenue through which God’s love and compassion flowed out to others. Essentially his life, as I knew it, was a reminder of prophets in the Old Testament who declared God’s will to the people. “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

Deeds of righteousness are what make a good and godly man. And these were the stuff of Father Harry’s life. His was a humble walk with God, not visible to people, even to himself. His life was a life lived with God - a life not lived to be visible, approved and applauded. It is not a subject to our pietistic judgement but thrives upon its simplicity and straightforwardness, even dispensing with the culturally prescribed norms of social behaviour. Its deceptive lack of visibility makes for depth and a hidden richness.

Father Harry died not in defeat but in victory, unafraid and in unabated trust in his Maker. He always remained calm and undismayed, never displaying anxiety or concern for himself. In his passing, he has left in me and many others around the world a legacy of compassion and care for others.

P.N.Benjamin Coordinator Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Magnificat



[Coordinator, Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)]

There is more to Christmas than peace and goodwill. The story of the birth of Jesus Christ begins with a revelation to a peasant girl that she would be the mother of the Messiah – the Saviour of the world. She would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God. She was so overpowered by the message that she breaks into poetic utterance:

"My soul doth magnify the Lord/ And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour…/He hath showed strength with his arm/He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts/He hath put down the mighty from their seats/And exalted them of low degree/He hath filled the hungry with good things/And the rich he hath sent empty away…"

This Song of Mary is called the Magnificat. Mary sees a vision of a new order of things where the weak and the poor will throw off their shackles. It is a song of liberation for man as well as for woman.

The Song of Mary reflects the teachings of the prophets of the Old Testament in the Bible. These prophets denounced the oppressors of the people, those who would sell the needy for a pair of shoes. The prophets were constantly exhorting the people to "untie the knots of the yoke, and loose the fetters of justice, to set free those who have been crushed". And, Mary belonged to this oppressed section of the people.

It might seem strange that in this momentous hour of her life when the angel had cast her in this stupendous role, she should be preoccupied with justice for her people. But one can well imagine that, then as now, this was a burning question. The Jews were under the Roman yoke and longed for the Messiah who would liberate them. Mary’s Song is a song of deliverance not only from foreign domination but the oppressor within the gates.

She did not know then that beginning with the Magnificat the road would end at the Cross where she would stand weeping for her son would show the world an entirely new way. But now it is a cry for justice, liberation from the tyranny of the rich and the exalted. Thus, woven into message of peace and goodwill is also the lesson that these conditions can only come when there is social justice.

It is unfortunate that the Church has sidestepped this problem dispensing charity while ignoring the deeper claims of equality. The Song of Mary is a reminder that charity without justice is an insult, and peace only a graveyard where there is no equality.

Yes, the voice of Christmas cries in the wilderness. It is not a call to violent revolution – for violent revolutions always end in tyranny of one kind or another. Christmas calls for a change of heart, a turning away from oneself to one’s neighbour, and therefore to God. We like to imagine that religion is a love affair between man and God. But the face of the neighbour intrudes.

Christmas reminds us that in a creative relationship there is God, man and always his neighbour – only in such a cooperative partnership can we hope for a restructuring of the social fabric, which will be permanent. In short, Christmas comes to remind us that we are all inextricably bound together in this brief sojourn on this troubled planet – that either we are ALL saved or we are ALL damned for we are all human, all vulnerable, all in need of one another.

One of the joys of Christmas is that we take time off to bring to mind all those whom we carry in our hearts and let them know they are wanted and loved, that they mean much to us, that we wish them the fulfillment of their deepest desires!

Meaning of Christmas

Meaning of Christmas

Christmas gives us a chance to lend a helping hand to those in need. Why is it, then, that we hardly ever take it?

MOST of us who have seen the movie 36 Chowringhee Lane would remember how its director brought out the common understanding and interpretation of Christmas celebrations, as picturised in the rendering of the world's most famous carol, Joseph Mohr's 'Silent Night, Holy Night'. At the same time we are shown both the all-night festive celebrations of the sophisticated and well-to-do, and the innocent slumber of those who have no cause and no means for any celebration - the miserable and the wretched outcasts of society, sleeping on the platforms and on the footpaths, some having only the sky above and the earth below, and only rags to shield themselves from the biting cold of the December nights.

These are the two commonly accepted aspects associated with the annual remembrance of the coming of Jesus -Christ into this world, two thousand years ago, as a little babe, the child of a Blessed Virgin, in an obscure village called Bethlehem.

There is a vast mass of literature about Christmas in almost every language known to man, where the principles which constitute the ideals of Christmas are enshrined for all time. In the English language there are a number of such "Christmas Stories" - some of which have become classics of English literature.

There are a few which are known to almost all who are acquainted with the English language but a look into them, especially at this time of the year, would certainly enrich us and enable us to observe and celebrate Christmas with better understanding.

One of the best known of these classics is the century-and-a-half-old story, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is said that the author himself confessed that he laughed and cried over it as he did over no other story.

The central theme of the story is that 'suffering produces a comprehension of beauty'. The story is about how the sufferings of a crippled child transforms the lives of the members of his family and even of those indirectly related to the family. The transformation is most apparent in the character of the miser, Scrooge, whose only purpose in living was the amassing of wealth. He realises that he can only find true fulfilment in assisting the crippled child find happiness in life.

How is the "cross-grained creature" converted? His conversion is brought about by a series of visions - of Christmases past, present and to come. Scrooge recapitulates his life as a school-boy, apprentice and young lover; he recollects the joy and warmth of the home of Bob Cratchit, his underpaid clerk; he is filled with apprehensions at the thought of dying heartless and 'despised. And ever present in these visions is the picture of the crippled Tiny Tim - to whom he becomes a "second father". All these transform him into a benevolent, cheerful, loving person who, in turn, becomes the beloved of all.

In the midst of temporal realities, the story points to eternal truths, that beyond the fiction of fact is truth, and that in a selfish world only selflessness - the denial of the self and acceptance of the other - brings true contentment, which is the source of all true joy and peace.

Another beautiful and appropriate story for Christmas, which continues the theme of sacrifice, is that well-known one by O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi. Containing perhaps the most famous of his surprise endings, this Yuletide narrative is about a modest husband and wife - the Dillingham Young’s couple, Delia and Jim. The story tells how this poverty-stricken pair are determined to buy each other a suitable present. They do buy the presents, but at what cost! Delia has to have her beautiful hair cut and the tresses sold to buy her beloved a watch fob. But Jim sells his watch, which had been an ancestral heirloom, to buy his wife a set of combs for her beautiful hair.

Perhaps only those who are immersed in the mysteries of their own hearts and in the sorrow and suffering of other hearts can fathom the wisdom of such an act. Have they Buffered a loss when they lose themselves in that spark of selfless, divine love in which the need of the self is subordinated to the need of the other? O. Henry writes: "But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give-and receive gifts, such as they are the wisest. Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi".

Nearly fifty years after O. Henry's story had seen the light of day (1906), Menotti, the Italian-born composer and librettist, commissioned to write a short opera for a television presentation, brought out in 1951 his one-act opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors. Here again, the composer uses the age-old theme of a crippled child's suffering to bring out the message of Christmas, of how the handicapped child, hearing of the birth of Jesus and the purpose of his Incarnation, gets rid of hi? affliction and finds healing and wholeness of life. How does Amahl achieve this? He adds his crutch to the gifts of the Magi!

Probably less known is the Nobel Laureate, Pearl Buck's A Family Christmas, in which the theme of Christmas is brought out in a beautiful story, "Christmas Day in the Morning". Thirty years after his father's death. Rob remembers an incident which took place when he was just a boy of 15 - an incident which made Christmas meaningful to every member of the family. In the twilight of every morn, precisely at 4 o'clock, his Dad would wake him up from his sleep to help him in his daily chore of milking the cow. As usual on Christmas morning, too, his Dad made appearance in his bedroom, with the words, "Rob, we have to get up, son, even if it is Christmas", and moved it to get things started in the barn. But Rob made no attempt to get up and follow him. After few minutes his Dad bursts into the room, almost screaming, Rob, you son of a ..." But in the night

Rob had woken up before 20 times to make sure he was in the barn before his Dad could get there and had finished milking the cows, thus saving his Dad the labour for that day. "It’s for Christmas, Dad", he proudly says. Later his Dad tells Rob in the presence of his mother and younger ones, "The best Christmas gift I ever had, and I'll remember it every year on Christmas morning, so long as I live". Rob, too, learns a lesson that Christmas day, that he could give this gift again and again. And after all the years had rolled by, on another Christmas morning, when their children were not at home to cheer him and his wife, Rob moved towards his desk to write a love letter to his wife, "My dearest love..."

Is not this the magic of Christmas - a kind and thoughtful word - a helping hand - a little deed which shows you care, you will love - and always will?

There are also many legends, poems and carols which present the glorious theme of Christmas. The Little Stranger, an ancient legend, tells the story of a poor woodman and his family and the good fortune that comes to them as the fruit of their concern and kindness for a needy child. One Christmas eve as they sit, contented and cheerful, before their meagre meal, they hear a weak knock on the door of their poor cottage set in the deep forest. When the woodman opens it he finds a tired, shivering child, dressed in rags standing at the door step in the cold snow. Without hesitation or further thought, they bring him inside into the warmth of the indoors, dress him in warm clothes and feed him with the hot food from their own table. After supper they put him in the bed where their own son usually slept. In the_ middle of the night, the whole family awakes to the sound of heavenly music from a great angelic choir. But they cannot find the child, and when they run out in search of the little stranger, to their great astonishment, they see him standing in the snow, dressed in splendid, shining garments, and radiating in a golden glow. They recognise him as the Christ-Child and bow down in reverence before him. The little Christ breaks off a fir-branch, sticks it in the ground and tells them, "Because you have been so kind to me, this tree will always be green, and bear fruit at Christmas, and you will always have plenty to eat at that season".

The golden principle of extending help to the needy is carried forward and presented to us in the famous poem, How The Great Guest Came, by the American poet, Edwin Markham, best known for his protest against the exploitation of the poor in The Man with the Hoe. In this poem, Markham, depicts the simple story of how a cobbler entertains the Great Guest.

One night the cobbler has a dream that the Lord is coming as a guest to his shop the next day. Though the cobbler finds it difficult to believe that the Lord would grace his humble dwelling, he is jubilant that he has been chosen for this singalur distinction. He decorates the place with evergreen boughs to make ready for the Lord's arrival.

The next morning, while waiting for the Lord to arrive, a beggar without shoes comes to his door, and the cobbler's anticipation and eagerness in receiving the Great Guest does not make him neglect his duty to one in need and he gives shoes to the beggar. Later in the day, he gives bread to a poor, hungry old lady, and as the day seems well-spent, with no appearance of the Lord, he gives milk to*a starving little child. As the evening shadows lengthen and darkness creeps around him, the cobbler is greatly disappointed as he feels that all his hopes and dream have turned into disillusionment. But then in the night he hears a soft voice say, "I was the beggar with bruised feet; I was the woman you gave to eat; I was the child on the homeless street". And so, in helping those who came seeking help at his door, the cobbler realises the truth of the saying that in helping others one helps God.

A Christmas carol which brings out this principle of the need to have the largeness of heart to be sensitive to the sorrows and pain of the needy is the one which unfolds the concern of Good King Wenceslas for the poor peasant. The good king is seen pictured sitting down in his palace and looking out on the fields carpetted by deep and crisp snow and at the expanding horizon, when he sees in the bright moonlight a poor man gathering fuel. Learning from his servant that the man gathering firewood is a poor peasant staying quite a long distance away, the king asks him to bring "flesh, and wine and pine logs" so that they could take it to the poor man and see him dine. With these in their hands, the king and his servant start on their charitable journey in the bitter weather. After going a short distance the servant finds the cold unbearable and confesses his fear that his heart fails, and he can go no longer. But the king who is walking ahead of him, asks him not to lose heart but to plant his feet in the king's footsteps and the servant planting his feet in the king's footprints finds that "heat was in the very sod, which the saint had printed".

What a sublime royal gesture! What a glorious example for all to emulate!

When we look at these Christmas stories we find a remarkable unifying factor. The stories of these authors, each living in different times and in different places and under different conditions - separated by time and space - instead of being dissimilar - reveal a central theme which is extraordinarily common to all: "Love came down at Christmas". And do not these stories show how love is not abstract, but incarnates and manifests itself in consecration to God, commitment: to truth and concern for others, in and through a selflessness which accepts all suffering for its own? Does not counting the cost of sacrifice make ordinary men and women channels through whom the love of God flows out to those who are in sorrow and pain?

The central theme of Christmas is that in a world of injustices, inequalities are not weaknesses, are not merely negative, or hopeless resignation to an inevitable decree, but are the means whereby we attain dignity and grow in stature to true manhood and true womanhood.

Do we not need, then, to rediscover anew the theme of Christmas and ask ourselves whether, when we are anxious about a lot of things during Christmas, we are concerned about the right things? Do we not need to rise up and respond to the challenge of love? De we not need to look at Scrooge, of whom the author says,"... if any man knew the real way to keep Christmas, it was he", and pray in his words, "Help me to honour Christmas in my heart -help me to learn its lessons of love and kindness - help me to keep it all the year."

In the midst of our eating, drinking and revelry, do we not need to look at the other side of Christmas?

Today's Youth

Today’s youth are marrying frustrations

(New Indian Express, May 5, 2010)

By George Abraham

The conscience of Kerala was rudely shaken by a gruesome murder last week. The life of a newly wed couple ended in tragedy. The husband cut the throat of his wife in a fit of rage only six days after their marriage in a church where he was administered the solemn oath ‘to feed her even if he is hungry and clothe her even if he has nothing to wear’. They had also taken a vow, in the presence of a large gathering, including bishops and priests ‘to live together till death do them part as god had united them in holy matrimony’. The marriage was conducted in Thiruvalla and the tragedy occurred in Bangalore, where they worked; he (Bejoy Samuel) in an IT firm and she (Rajani) in another multinational company.

The reason for the murder was apparently trivial, but it is a malaise that runs deep through the entire spectrum of Kerala life. After lavish weddings where lakhs are spent or change hands in the form of dowry, especially among Christians, it takes little time for discordant notes to erupt in the couples’ lives. All the emotions they had suppressed, all the personality disorders they had developed in their growing years in a changing sociological milieu overtake them, resulting in painful consequences, including family discords, divorces, murders and suicides. Deep in their minds, it seems today’s youth are virtually marrying frustrations and tensions they have accumulated, and not real persons in flesh and blood.

It was a personality clash that led to the murder of Rajani. She was said to be drawing three times the salary of Bejoy, which annoyed him. And she did not feel the need to give him the due regard that he expected. Both belonged to well-off families and so there was no compromise, adjustment, care or love involved, the feelings essential for two individuals to live together. Bereft of tender emotions, like a successful professional, he finished her off with a knife after an argument in the flat where they had come to settle down from Kerala.

The divorce rate is growing in the state, but it is nowhere as fast as in the prosperous Syrian Christian community to which the families of the couple belong. This is admitted by the religious heads themselves, but it is doubtful whether they have attempted to look within and analyse the reasons. The spiritual heads are not setting the right examples to their followers. It is not spiritual welfare but material growth that they are working for. They build up enormous assets in the form of real estate, mansions and church buildings. Service to the poor and the suffering is only a token. And the youth find only masks of hypocrisy in religious places and they turn to other means: drugs, liquor and the forbidden fruit.

They are born into a highly competitive world where success at any cost is the motto of parents who promote selfishness, unrestricted freedom and indulgences of all kinds. Western culture and money from the Middle East too impact their lifestyles. It was only a few months ago that a Syrian Christian emigrant family in the US was wiped out by a relative over an argument about the design of the new house. The youth are driven by a thirst for success and fame without caring a bit for their cultural values and traditions. The fate of persons like Bejoy Samuel, who has landed in a Bangalore lock-up, should be a telling reminder of the dangers we are facing if we do not mend our ways.