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Chalo Afghanistan
  By Ritu Sharma  
  THREE young Indian Jesuit seminarians about to head off to war-ravaged Afghanistan, say mission work there will make their religious commitment more meaningful.

David Raj, 28, Lancy Dias, 27, and Alex Yagoo, 28, volunteered to work in Afghanistan to recapture their congregation's original spirit of going to new and dangerous places to spread Christ's message.

Dias will go to Herat, Raj will go either to Herat or Kabul, while Yagoo will go to Bamiyan, where Jesuits have been working for the past five years.

The three come from the Karnataka, Hazaribagh and Madurai Jesuit provinces.

The seminarians spoke about the challenges ahead, their expectations and work as they waited for their visas at the residence of the Jesuit Provincial of South Asia in New Delhi.

Q: How do you feel about going to Afghanistan?

David Raj: Excited, because first we are going to help a country which is facing lots of challenges and problems, and second, there is personal satisfaction that we are going to do something that gives meaning to our vocation.

I feel that Religious life is very secure in India and I want to face some challenges. I have led a very comfortable life during my 10 years as a Jesuit. I think there should be some challenges otherwise there is no point in choosing this life.

Q: Are you not scared of going there?

David Raj: The first Jesuits who went there five years ago felt so but now everything is almost set up. Anything can happen. Then, anything could happen in India also.

Q: What has motivated your decision?

Lancy Dias: From the beginning of my life in the Society [of Jesus], I was fascinated by its universal character. I had opted for the Afghanistan mission two years ago but due to some reasons could not go. This time, I got the chance. I don't have fear but curiosity to know the place, to contribute something from what I have gained over the years in my vocation.

Alex Yagoo: I am also excited about Afghanistan. Initially I wanted to work in Nepal but the offer came from Afghanistan.

Q: Are you aware that Indians are targeted in Afghanistan?

David Raj: Attacks and deaths can happen anywhere. We are used to such situations and we are prepared. During my early years in the Society, I worked in a mission where a Jesuit priest was beheaded by people who opposed his work among poor people.

Q: What are the challenges you foresee in Afghanistan?

David Raj: The language and culture of that country will be a major challenge. Indians are brought up in a very conservative way. In our society, Hindus and Christians do not have many Muslim friends or vice versa. Now we are going to an Islamic country. We are going to a place where we are not even allowed to carry a Bible. But the values of Jesus can be taught at any place.

Q: How long will you be there?

Lancy Dias: I will be there for one year and the other two or three years. I will be in Herat where I will be teaching English to students in a high school and I will be training teachers also.

Alex Yagoo: I will be in a university in Bamiyan teaching students and training teachers.

David Raj: I will be either in Herat or Kabul. We are to undergo a teachers' training program. If we do so then I will be in Kabul. Two more Ursuline sisters from Pune will join us later.

Q: What preparations have you done for this mission?

David Raj: I graduated from Loyola College in Chennai and attended a program on training of trainers. I am concentrating on teaching English.

Lancy Dias: Last year while doing my regency, I had a chance to teach in St. Aloysius College, Mangalore, and take regular classes in English. I have done industrial training.

Alex Yagoo: I am going to teach in the human science department of Bamiyan University. I have to teach four papers so I have prepared for that but I cannot put all that material together because I have to study the situation and the students' standards.

Q: Would you be able to teach girls in such a conservative country?

David Raj: I think the Indian media is giving a wrong impression about Afghanistan. In the DVDs shown to us, we found both boys and girls receiving education.

Q: But girls are not allowed to venture out in Taliban-controlled areas?

David Raj: Even we are not allowed to go to places where the Taliban are. We have prescribed areas.

Q: Then who will help those people there?

David Raj: We are on the way. We have to explore the possibilities and hope for the better. We are planning to open up new places.

Q: Have you spoken to those returning from Afghanistan?

Alex Yagoo: They are happy about their stay in that country. We want to go with a fresh and open mind. We donít want to take along any prejudices.

Lancy Dias: Indians are very prejudiced. When we hear about Islam, we think of terrorism but what I have heard from returning Jesuits is that common people there are very good to Indians. If we go with prejudices, it will be difficult for us to remain there. All through our formation, we are fed with ideas about taking challenges, risky missions.

Q: Why didn't you choose a comfortable life as a Religious?

Lancy Dias: I joined the Society after graduation. I have seen the outside world also but find more meaning in what I am doing now. I still find meaning in Religious life.

Q: How are your families reacting?

Lancy Dias: My mother was initially very hesitant. I told her that anything can happen to me wherever I am. We are not safe even in our country. I felt peace within after my decision to go to Afghanistan.

Alex Yagoo: My parents normally don't call me but after a bomb blast in Pune where I was studying, I received a call from them. Now, getting a call in Afghanistan could become a daily affair. I had a tough time convincing my parents.

David Raj: I didn't have a very difficult time making my parents understand. My parish priest was with me and my uncle, who is a bishop, convinced my mother. (Courtesy:

Photo caption: From left Jesuit scholastics Lancy Dias, David Raj and Alex Yagoo
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