Looking Beyond Oct 31: Need to learn from Sardar Patel what unity, integration, service is all about!

imagesBy Fr Cedric Prakash sj*

Come October 31st 2016: India remembers Sardar Vallabhai Patel who was born on this day in 1875 in Gujarat; he was more famously called ‘the Iron Man of India’. As free India’s first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, he worked tirelessly for national integration, fully convinced that groups like the RSS (whom he banned) were doing their best to destroy the unity and secular fabric of the country. Unfortunately, today the ‘powers-that-are’ are doing great disservice to this visionary statesman and of all the values he embodied, by attempting to construct a so-called ‘statue of unity’ (at a scandalous cost and great profits for China), by displacing the poor tribals and destroying the environment and the fragile eco-system. We need to learn from Sardar Patel what unity, integration and service to the country is all about!

Come October 31st 2016: On this day, Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India was assassinated in 1984; this heinous deed was condemned by all. What followed was even more gruesome, when thousands of Sikhs in India were massacred, burnt alive, brutalized, left homeless. Many of us were witnesses to those bloody days of India’s history. Till today several of those responsible for this communal carnage have not been brought to book. A hindi film, ‘31st October’, on the aftermath of Indira’s assassination, has just been released in Indian theatres. Indira’s ‘emergency rule’ and ‘Operation Bluestar’ will always be major blots on this two-time Prime Minister who did plenty of for the poor and marginalised of the country. We need to do much for justice for all- specially for the minorities and sub-alterns!

Come October 31st 2016: It is New Year Day for several Indians- especially for those from Gujarat and Rajasthan. It comes in the midst of the five-days of Diwali (the Festival of Lights), which is celebrated by a significant percentage of Indians. The ‘light’, which we need, to illuminate the darkness which engulfs us, which suffocates us; this darkness is reflected by divisiveness and discrimination; by hate and violence; by greed and corruption; by destruction and death. We celebrate the purging of all that is evil in society and in our own lives. We celebrate the importance of the newness of life. On these days need to re-visit and to re-live the guiding principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity for all!

Come October 31st 2016: The Feast of St Alphonsus Rodriguez. He was a Jesuit brother from Spain who died on this day in 1617, almost four hundred years ago! His entire life was punctuated with several personal tragedies and disappointments. He was however, relentless in his pursuit of holiness. He was no intellectual but left a profound impact on everyone he came in contact with. He served as a doorkeeper in one of the Jesuit institutions, where he always warmly and lovingly welcomed those who knocked at the door- be it student or stranger. The Jesuit General Congregation in Rome will begin a crucial week this day. St Alphonsus with his humility, simplicity, availability and sanctity will surely be an important guide.

Come October 31st 2016: A historic day as Pope Francis goes to Sweden to mark the joint Lutheran-Catholic commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. A gesture just unthinkable a few years ago. It will certainly go a long way in healing the wounds of centuries of acrimony and mistrust. It will be a much needed event for the whole world to realise that however painful the events of the past have been, they need to be addressed; the wounds need to heal. Christians, above all, need to take seriously the prayer and mandate of their Master Jesus “that all may be one!”

Come October 31st 2016: The ‘prophets of doom’ are now predicting that the world will ‘surely’ end on this day. They earlier predicted July 29th 2016 as the last day! Their original video (now with a new title) has apparently more than seven million views! They proclaim, “that the second coming of Jesus Christ will occur at the same time as the magnetic polar flip in a matter of minutes, which will cause a catastrophic global earthquake. The Earth will crack and shatter and split open!” People of faith, intellectuals and the vast majority, are certainly not buying their doomsday prophecy. The world however has to pay greater attention to climatic changes: to the devastating earthquakes, hurricanes, cyclones and floods and pledge to do much more substantial action for the ‘care of our common home’.

Come October 31st 2016: Lebanon will hopefully have a new President after an agonising wait of more than two years; Pope Francis has invited all on that day to PRAY FOR SYRIA very specially (#peacepossible4Syria, #Pray4Syria). He will be doing so at the Ecumenical gathering in Sweden; let us pray much that peace actually returns to Syria and all other areas affected by war and violence; let us pray very specially for the millions who are refugees and IDPs. It is ‘Halloween’ once again for the Americans. It is the end of another month, which for Catholics was dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. It is not merely a day for tricks and treats. It is much more! It is a day on which we need to reflect and recollect; to repent and to reconcile; to renew and to recreate!
Above all, we all need to look beyond October 31st 2016!

*Human rights activist. Currently based in Lebanon and engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications

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