Global Perspective

May 31, 2005 Vol. 3, No. 5

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Fr. Francis Gonsalves
Fr. Francis Gonsalves is a Jesuit in the Gujarat Province, India. He lectures in systematic theology at Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi, and has published many articles on theology, spirituality and social justice.



Open Letters to the New Pope:

Wilkommen, Welcome, Swagatham!

By Francis Gonsalves, S.J.

(Editor's Note: Beginning this week, Global Perspective will feature Catholics from across the globe writing open letters to the new pope, Benedict XVI. Today, Jesuit Fr. Francis Gonsalves writes from Chennai, India.)

Dear Holy Father:

Wilkommen! Ben Venuto! Welcome-words like these must be resounding in Europe as you travel through familiar terrain. And we Indians are overjoyed that you've made this yatra (pilgrimage) from Rome to India -- not merely traversing miles by air but transcending cultural confines with mind and heart. So, with a billion Indians, firm believers in God, I enthusiastically exclaim, "Swagatham! "

Read more letters to the pope
  • Jesuit Fr. Francis Gonsalves from Chennai, India: Wilkommen, Welcome, Swagatham!.
  • Joseph Adero Ngala from Nairobi, Kenya: Africa knows the church's good works, not its doctrine.
  • Geraldine Hawkes from Adelaide, Australia: In the right hands, a garden can flourish.
  • Janina Gomes from Mumbai, India: Churchgoers must confront some tough questions.
  • Michael Gillgannon from La Paz, Bolivia: We can, must learn from our errors.
  • Antonio D. Sison from the Philippines: The musings of a Filipino Catholic.
  • Dominic Emmanuel from New Delhi: Building bridges to other religions doesn't compromise Catholic identity.
  • Virginia Saldanha from Mumbai, India: Asian women request a true dialogue.
  • Greg Lopez from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: How much is too much?.
  • In India, TV-coverage of your election and installation as pope was overwhelming even though Catholics account for less than 2 percent of the Indian population. Since Indians deeply respect gurus (teachers) of all religions, this is not so surprising. The Indian masses -- especially dalits (former untouchables) and adivasis (aboriginals) -- want their gurus to make God come alive with down-to-earth religious practice. They yearn for spirituality, not theology, for true liberation, not pious platitudes. For these "broken" yet "believing" Indians -- many of who are Catholics -- Jesus is a dalit and adivasi who cries with them, dances with them, dies for them, and liberates them, integrally.

    Most Holy Father, just as Jesus proclaimed his inaugural "mission manifesto" -- "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor," and the "eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him" (Lk 4:18-20), so too, on April 24, millions of Indian souls were riveted on you: watching, listening, and now, waiting. With Hope.

    Enshrined in our interreligious national consciousness are some pearls of your inaugural "bene-dictum", your "good news". You said, "My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church." Bravo! Many Indians who religiously listen to God's voice in nature, in other faiths, and in their neighbors, complain that the Roman Catholic church only teaches and never listens. It is only an ecclesia magistra never an ecclesia audiens. Thus, everybody, irrespective of religion, welcomed your word "listen."

    Your Holiness, you spoke of "deserts", repeatedly: "the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, the desert of God's darkness." India is often deemed a "desert of poverty." Millions of Indians are poor, hungry, dying. Conversely, the so-called "Christian West" dies from a "poverty of desertion" as Westerners conveniently desert spouses, children, churches and seminaries leading to "spiritual poverty." Worse, powerful nations sometimes called "Christian countries" desert their responsibility towards their poor and suffering brethren. When you condemned "the powers of exploitation and destruction" we exulted because some guru, David-like, must someday stand up to global Goliaths and shout, "This is not Christianity!" We pray you will be that one.

    You rightly said, "The church is alive!" We experience this aliveness in Indian Christian communities where bread is broken according to different rites, where native dances, vernacular prayers and indigenous liturgies go Godward with sacred smells and melodies fully Indian, fully Catholic. Thus, we hope you will not enforce Roman uniformity, worldwide, but encourage catholic diversity like that One Pentecostal preaching intelligible to "every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5-12). In this spirit, and in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council which you so earnestly desire to intensify, our Indian bishops and priests, as well as committed laywomen and laymen, look forward to greater mutual listening and sharing, so as to foster a profound sensus fidelium, that "sense of the faithful."

    Beloved Dharma-Guru, your "shepherd" and "fisherman" symbolisms impressed Indians like me, influenced by Western thinking. But, shepherds (govaliyas) in Gujarat are outcastes, and fisherfolk of coastal India, especially after December's tsunami, are rootless and roofless. Thus, symbolisms appealing to Near Eastern and Western cultures do not necessarily resonate with the Far East. Therefore, East-West Catholic dialogues will help us to be better listeners and learners. Already now, the peoples of India and other Asian countries are contentedly conscious that their spiritualities are reservoirs for a religious and cultural renaissance in Europe and North America.

    By describing yourself as "a weak, humble, laborer" and especially "servant of servants," you touched Indian hearts uniquely. These images appeal to us, Indian Christians, a miniscule minority in a sea of spiritualities, with which we discerningly dialogue, from which we learn, and also to which we add flavor, in our own little way as salt, as leaven, as light. Thus, we felt you were almost an "Indian pope" when you said you wished: "To continue building bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions in order to seek the true good of every person and of society as a whole." That's what all Indians want.

    May your papacy, Pope Benedict, be a benediction to this ancient oasis of spirituality, India, that birthed a "Mahatma," beatified a "Mother," and cradled most world religions. We share the hope of President Pervez Musharraf in neighboring Pakistan, who said, "I hope the pope will bring harmony between the two worlds: Islam and Christianity." We Indians add, "to all worlds and all peoples as servant of servants." Wilkommen, Welcome, Shanti! Swagatham!

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