Transform Ordinary People by Strengthening Them

Light of truth

Bp Vincent Nellaiparambil, Bijnor

When is your Episcopal Ordination? What motto do you wish to take?
My episcopal ordination will take place on the first of November. My motto is ‘With Love for God and Humanity.’ I feel the entire Bible is there in that particular motto, the love between God and humanity.

What do you want to tell the people through this motto?
My motto was inspired by these words of Jesus: ‘Freely you are given, freely you give.’ God has given us freely His blessings, so it is to be given freely. It is moreover a great responsibility that calls for greater work. Till now I have been a priest, but now God has asked me to shoulder a higher and more serious responsibility. It means God wants me to do more. Instead of one particular mission station, my work is expanded to a larger area. I have been experiencing God’s love throughout my life and the same love I want to give to more people with greater intensity.

How do you describe the diocese of Bijnor?
The size of the diocese is almost that of Kerala. Its population is about one crore, but Catholics are very few, about five thousand. Although the number is very small, when we started the forty-seven years old diocese, there was not a single Catholic there, not a single Church or a mission station, not a single place where we celebrated the Eucharist. We have now come from that position to a diocese having more than forty-five centres where we have the presence of the Eucharist. This growth of the diocese is proof of God’s protection and the power of prayer. The pioneers worked very hard and they were accepted very well. They made a lot of sacrifices to build up this diocese. I heard from the elder priests how they faced difficulties. God provided them solutions to those problems. We are made to wonder how God sometimes intervenes in certain situations. There are so many stories of human and divine collaboration that made the diocese what it is today. Therefore, I could feel the divine and human contribution, which needs to be continued in a spirit of love.

How many priests and religious sisters do you have you in your diocese?
We have sixty-one diocesan priests and a few religious priests including CMI priests. We have about 150 religious sisters of different congregations working in the diocese.

What future direction do you want to give to the diocese?
Many people contributed to the growth and development of the diocese. Thanks to them, it is now on a solid foundation. The Lord has really blessed us and so we need to look into new areas. My emphasis will be on going to the people. We already have an extraordinary missionary month. We need to go to the people. Of course, we have been doing so, but now we need to concentrate more on people. The very purpose of our existence here is the ultimate reward. We live for the people. How we can share the legacy of Christ to the people, that is what I am looking at.

Do you have educational institutions in your diocese?
We have many educational institutions, including 35 schools.

What is the priority do you envisage for your apostolate?
Of course, education is a vital means for entering into the people and relating with them. Earlier, we had social work as well as the health apostolate. Now we have so many government hospitals nearby. So, those things are no more essential. Education is important, because it transforms the people; transforms their heart and mind. Our educational institutions are vital means for transforming the life of the people. The value and culture of the new generation have to shifted from materialism and secularism. Respect for plurality of sentiments needs to be respected and nurtured. Educational institutions are very important for inculcating these values in the young generation.

You are working in the heart land of Hinduism. You have there many many sacred Hindu places. How do you relate with the religion of the majority?
In our 47 years of history we have lived harmoniously with the majority community and we haven’t faced any threat to that. Some opposition props up here and there occasionally, but that has not in any way affected our harmonious living. Though it is a holy land of Hinduism, our presence and works are very much appreciated. True, some polarisation is taking place. So, we may give a new direction to our activities, concentrating on promote values. Vatican II tells us that there are elements of the revelation of Christ in other cultures, which need to be nurtured and promoted.

At the same time, you are there as a representative of the Divine Word, which has to incarnate itself in the local soil. How do you do it in a Hindu culture?
Incarnation of the Word in the local culture is an important element. For that I feel person to person contact is very important. When they know who we are and what we have, then only will they be able to experience the power and richness of what we posses. The Eucharist that we celebrate, the Eucharist that we live, the Eucharist that we carry in our daily activities can become an actual incarnation. As we live in contact with the people, of course without the intension of a making them Christian, we can preach the Word of God in a way that they understand. How we share Christ with the people whom we encounter in our day-to-day activities is very important. If the Spirit works through us, then I feel even in the heartland of Hinduism we can share what we have experienced and are enriched with.

Have you done an experiments in inculturation, either in your liturgy or in your way of life?
It is important to see how much we can incorporate the values into our liturgical elements in line with our ecclesiastical tradition. Only then we will be able to do inculturation, because we need to present certain dimensions in local language and form. Unless and until the people are unable to understand what we are doing and what we preach, it is difficult for them to grasp. In liturgy, especially the Eucharist, the summit of the whole Christian life, our celebration has to be made a meaningful experience for the people.

Do you have made any such cultural adaptation?
Certain forms are there. Our Synod as well as Vatican II has allowed us to adapt certain forms of inculturation in the liturgy. I feel we need not do more. What we have already done is good enough. Our identity is not compromised and diluted. We will remain what we are and at the same time we will give to them the values of Christ in their language and in the way the people understand them. It is not required to bring too many adaptations and too many cultural elements into our liturgy or our way of life.

In your motto, it was very clear that its service to man and to God that is a very unique type of Christian humanism. Does that get diminished in Hinduism?
Humanism is still important. The different levels and form of human life that exist in casteist and Varna of life are all very much prevalent in this area. A kind of compartmentalised life actually exists here. So the standard of human life also will be different.

Do you think that kind of castism and veneration of animals like that of the cow some way affects human dignity?
That’s what I said in the beginning. A kind of polarization is taking place. These kind of venerations did not exist earlier. Now this has been too much emphasized. Whether they want it or not, it is taking place.

Hinduism was a very tolerant and very hospitable religion. Do you think that Hindutva at present is slowly turning away from Hinduism to Hindutva? Is it threatening you in your Christian activities?
It’s not intimidating or threatening us, but certain anxiety and concern is there. Hindus too are experiencing the same. Cows and bulls are wandering on the roads and in the fields. Nobody is able to do anything about it. Because of these elements, even Hindus are scared. So they simply leave it as such. That’s why I feel a kind of polarization is taking place and people are compelled to move to one particular direction. That cannot be called a healthy society in the multicultural situation of India. So, we definitely feel a greater concern and anxiety, though it is not that threatening. But that could happen in the future. It had happened in the Church in the beginning. There were philosophies and theologies that contradicted the Church. But the Church has overcome all those tumbling blocks and still remained, glorified in the world. I think we need not worry about this emerging situation, though I am apprehensive of the future of India as a democratic and secular country. There is concern and anxiety.

Tell me something about yourself?
I am from the Parapukara parish of Irinjalakuda diocese. I studied in a primary school in Thotipalam and high school I did in Parapukura. After high school studies I came to Bijnor for my seminary training. I did my philosophy and theology in Allahabad. I spent two years in Dharmaram for M.Th. I had my licentiate from Louvain, Belgium.

What was your topic of study?
That was a social theme based on Archbishop Romero.

Something connected with liberation Theology?
Not liberation theology exactly, but something connected with the struggles of the people. It is on how the Archbishop experienced situations of the people and how he gave the Christian values to them. He strengthened the people and stood by them.

Archbishop Romero started off as a very conservative person. But he became very popular by agressively questioning the structures of injustice. How do you get inspiration from him?
Definitely, in the beginning he was only service oriented and ignored all issues connected with the government, which was an oligarchy. Romero was archbishop during a time of great political crisis in El Salvador and was outraged at seeing the violence against the weak and the killing of priests and catechists, and so felt the need to question. On March 24, 1980, he was killed while celebrating the Mass. Experiencing the struggle, the pain, the fear of the ordinary people, who are all Christians worshiping the same Lord and God, he felt deeply about the social injustice and exploitation going on there. He was with the people and every Sunday his homily was telecasted over radios to the people. It is interesting to know how he was encouraging and inspiring them. We can make transformation in the life of the ordinary people by strengthening them.

How does Romero affect you?
The Church can play a vital role in the life of the people. Feel like Christ for the poor. The South American Bishops Conference visualized it. Seeing Christ in the sick and the suffering and doing justice for them, that is what the Archbishop was strongly recommending. Though he was initially misunderstood by the Church and even by the people to be moving towards Marxism and Liberation Theology, later the Church and the people understood what he was standing for and he has been Canonized now.

What in the life of Christ is most endearing and challenging for you?
To live in the world, we need to have a spiritual power, otherwise we will feel compelled to compromise. You are trying to live the spirituality Christ lived, for which the world will approach you. Jesus lived the will of God the Father, and the world opposed Him. The more He connected Himself with God the Father the more He was opposed. He could balance life in a peaceful manner, and He was unafraid. He did not turn back. He was not depressed, and He stood where He has to stand and He faced the challenges of the world in a very meaningful way. He was not simply advising them, but, transformed them. In spiritual, religious or social matters. He was there as a person of compassion, mercy of God to them and at the same time telling them what God really wants. It’s not sacrifice but mercy that God wants. It is really a challenge for us even today.

What do you pray and why do you pray?
In prayer I communicate with God. I lift my heart to God. A kind of recharging myself. Early in the morning, I spend one hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament, offering my whole being, thoughts, words, actions of that day to be transformed into His actions and thoughts and words for whomever I meet.

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