Paul Achandy CMI
Corona virus has challenged human life in almost all aspects and it has an impact on every strata of the society without any bias to any region. The socially connected human being was compelled to be physically disconnected and all embraced a self-imposed monasticism with new habits and perspectives on life. The brighter side of Covid-19 pandemic is that people still have hope in science and scientists that preventive vaccination and medicine for cure will be invented soon. There are efforts to make a breakthrough in human efforts to find a solution. Of course, there has been dissenting voices and accusing comments from so called responsible leaders of the nation and there has been bit reluctance among nations for mutual support. Disciplined countries and responsible leaders made a difference than making the pandemic for self-projection.The health workers, police and other civil authorities deserve applause for their sacrifice. Being believers, we submit to God’s providence and strongly believe that by God’s grace we will face it and the end of the story will be for a positive breakthrough.
How do we reconcile our faith with science today in the context of the pandemic? We had great hope in science but it had simply to watch people dying?
People believe what science says these days. That is why despite difficulties of physical isolation and lockdown, people tolerate the guidelines given by the government and health department. People got engaged in hand-washing, wearing mask, physical distancing, and restriction of movements. The leaders of religion obeyed what the science prescribed and they closed down the places of worship. Pastoral leaders to a great extent took a responsible stand despite passing criticisms and failures. But science too has its own limit and its own pace to make breakthrough momentum. True scientist is truly humble and is ever a seeker and the same is the trait of the believer. The faith and the science give a sense of hope and that is the need of the hour.
Many have shut down situations which for their children and youth feel unbearable pressure of loneliness, how do you distinguish loneliness and solitude? How to make the best use of silence and solitude?
We have been created to be socially connected and that is trait of our make. At the same time we need to take break for any breakthrough. Hence we need solitude, time to be with oneself, to see life in the right perspective guided by the Spirit. Seriousness in life and work demands solitude. It is not just being away from others and getting oneself isolated. Voluntary isolation for a higher purpose demands solitude. Otherwise people become merely lonely and will be sad about it. Work from home has become a reality in almost all ways of life and technology has become the tool. A sense of self discipline, self direction and self control are much more needed today to survive in any walk of life or profession. It is the right and best time to learn through reading, meditation, contemplation and reflect on higher questions in life and to make necessary corrections in our routine. This is the new normal and we have to move ahead, than looking back and going back to older days.
All our rituals had a difficult time; we had to set aside the rituals and celebrations which were considered absolute? Do you think there will be a rethinking about the absolutes in religions?
Rituals are important means and symbols to get connected to the Lord as a community and as an individual. Spirituality is the affair of the heart and it touches the inner most existential aspects of life. It is a time for self correction and to discern the purpose of the rituals. People may resort to better rituals and may do away with outdated ones that have no significance. Every crisis is an opportunity to evolve something better. As believers, we shall move from pandemic to a new Pentecost and find new life and new meaning in our practice of faith and rhythm of life.
You have graciously completed your term as the Superior General of the CMI, how do you envisage the future religious life in the world?
Religious life has a long history and it had its own momentum. It is a spirit guided journey and we had different versions of it in different time periods. Religious life is indeed a call of the Lord to live the discipleship radically and prophetically. Religious are here not to govern or to administer, but to inspire the faithful and the society. They support and challenge the Church and walk ahead of the Church. Pope Francis clearly states that the religious life has future if it keeps its prophetic face. The religious are expected to be the prophets of the New Testament and like Prophet Elijah they have to bring fire from above to burn the offerings at the table. Like St John the Baptist, they have to prepare the generation to accept the Lord and to be the voice in the wilderness. Like Mother Mary, they have to prepare the society for a Pentecost as she took leadership in uniting the apostles in the upper room to be powered by the Spirit. The religious life has great future and is more relevant today if it is truly prophetic and honestly lives its mission and legacy. The religious have to facilitate a new spirit, a new language and new mode of evangelization.
The Religious nuns grew and flourished in the shades of religious men, how do you see the future of religious nuns as they are already greying with less and less young ones? The spring of religious nuns started in Syro-Malabar Church after St. Chavara and bloomed from 1950-2000. The fall season is in with winter of death looming, what is the secret of this Spring in the Syro-Malabar Church?
God has his own wayms. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord (Isaiah 55:8). We play our role in the providential project of God and He leads us to greener pastures. There will be ups and downs in any society and any walk of life. When there are challenges real leaders and prophets emerge. Even today the religious nuns are the most wanted ambassadors of the Syro-Malabar Church. Compared to all in hierarchy, religious sisters are highly appreciated for their life and mission and they are the true witnesses of our Church across the globe. Women religious have broken the barriers of language, culture and rite in making momentum and to be at the service of the universal Church in any continent. I have come across very effective religious sisters and today they are not very visible as they are not often given a platform to lead the show. The feminine face of the Church is more attractive with their tenderness and love which they get out of the Eucharistic tenderness. Now the school and college campuses are led by the girls and they have overtaken the boys. Think of the women collectors or other officers, they outsmarted the men. Today the women religious are capable of doing the same in the Church and society. From a sociological analysis, vocation is to be reflected upon with an eye of faith. If the religious do what they are for, there will be future and growth for the religious congregation.