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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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  A tale of two churches  
  The French connection  
  JERRY and Shobha are an unusual, made-for-each-other couple. They are very popular among the Marthomites in Toronto, as I could infer when I attended a cottage prayer they organised to celebrate, I do not know what all -- their wedding anniversary, a daughter's birthday and another daughter's visit to the CN Tower for a cloud walk that cost $185.

Unlike most Indians who have a home-office-home routine, except for a weekly visit to the church or the temple or the mosque, they make the most of their SUV to travel and explore places in Canada. If you ask Jerry whether he has visited Appleton in Newfoundland, chances are that he would tell you how many times he has visited the little town on Gander Lake, southeast of Glenwood.

It is also possible that Shobha would tell you in which restaurant you can have the best trout preparation in all of Appleton. What I found most appealing about the couple is that they complement each other. They share a passion for travel and much else and they make no bones about it. They have many tips for travellers.

Never travel in a large, heterogeneous group, not because you are racists but because every time you decide to have a quick meal, they would debate it like the United Nations debated Kashmir when Nehru took the issue there within months of the Partition and reach a conclusion that leaves you with your large intestine swallowing up the smaller one. Fortunately, he did not advise the two of us to travel alone for that would have scuppered all our plans to ride piggyback on Alex's generosity.

Jerry and Shobha are the ones who dissuaded us from visiting Calgary in Alberta, not because it was far away but because we had less than a week at our disposal. He has a photographic memory of the lanes and by-lanes he has traversed in his four decades-old stay in Canada and enjoys being a trip adviser, though engineering is his profession.

As he was telling us about the pluses and minuses of visiting Calgary, a young girl dropped in to consult him on her impending visit to St. John's. He gave her some tips that we, too, found useful. After we agreed with his advice to drop Newfoundland from our itinerary, he drew up an alternative that included Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec, like the Jaipur-Agra-Delhi triangle.

Alex was unimpressed, for he had visited Montreal and found the place unappetising. "What's there? Just a church", was his refrain. Jerry corrected him, "No, there are two churches to visit in Montreal. They are grand in many ways and you would never regret visiting them". Little did he know that I am an inveterate shrine-visitor, no matter whether it is Hindu, Buddhist or Islamic.

Jerry's description of St. Joseph's Oratory at Montreal was indeed captivating. "It is second only to St. Peter's basilica at Vatican" we visited in the Jubilee year 2000. Although I knew that St. Joseph was a patron saint of the Catholics, I did not know that the largest church in Canada was devoted to the least discussed figure in the Bible.

I do not know why Joseph is neglected, not just by the Bible writers but also by the Bible scholars. To me, he remains one of the greatest characters. When Mary told Joseph about her pregnancy, Joseph knew the child was not his. His respect for Mary's character and the explanation she gave him, as well as her attitude to the expected child, must have made it hard to think his bride had done something wrong.

Still, someone else was the child's father and it was mind-boggling to accept that the "someone else" was God. Joseph decided he had to break the engagement but he was determined to do it in a way that would not cause public shame to Mary. He intended to act with justice and love, unlike veteran politician N.D. Tiwari, who persisted with his lie that he had nothing to do with Ujjwala Sharma and her son Rohit Shekhar, until the Delhi High Court disclosed the DNA test finding that he was indeed his biological father.

Yet, Joseph figures only in Matthew and Luke but there too, he does not speak. The last we hear about him is when Jesus, at 12, visits the synagogue with his "parents". When Jesus turns 30, Mary had already been widowed. Joseph's birth and death are lost to historians and theologians, who have only fanciful imaginations to draw up what is called Mariology.

In Montreal, nobody asks for the location of the Oratory. The Biblical prescription "look and you will find" is literally true in this case, except that you have to "look up". The basilica is located at the highest point in the city and is visible from a long distance.

I have always wondered why over the millennia people have built shrines at the highest points in every town or village -- the Shankaracharya temple on the Godabari hill at Srinagar, the Sri Venkateswara temple on the Tirumala hill at Tirupati, the Ayyappa temple on the Western Ghats and the Benedectine abbey on Montserrat near Barcelona.

People have always believed that God dwells in the high and they have built shrines with spires and domes that take them closer to Him. The only exception I found was when I visited the temple-less Ochira temple in Kerala where the presiding deity -- Parabrahmam -- is believed to be situated underneath a large banyan tree that shelters animals, both two-legged and four-legged.

A Mohanlal-starrer narrates the story of the temple where the indigent can apply for and get a bull to make a living by begging in the name of the animal, a variant of which is the vehicle on which the God of Death Yama travels.

Joseph, the faceless character in the Bible, who is more often sympathised with, rather than admired for his sagacity and sense of justice and fair-play, was suddenly found towering over the whole of Montreal, as we parked the car at a free parking slot. After all, he is the patron saint of Canada.

A tall statue of Joseph, holding Jesus in his left arm and a flower head in his right arm with an inscription at the base stood in front of the basilica beckoning one and all. Though I do not know French, I had little difficulty in reading the inscription as "Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph the "Patron Saint of the Universal Church" in 1870.

Those familiar with church history would know that what compelled the Pope to turn to Joseph was his own perilous condition. He had shut himself in the Vatican and declared himself a prisoner of the subalpine government. He turned to Joseph when, as the Pope's own decree says, "in these most troublesome times the Church is beset by enemies on every side and is weighed down by calamities so heavy that ungodly men assert that the gates of hell have at length prevailed against her".

It's in helplessness that one turns to St. Joseph as this Pope did in 1870. There was one such person in Montreal who sought his intervention. He is Brother Andre, who related particularly to carpenter Joseph because of their shared experience as labourers and migrants. Posted at the College Notre-Dame in Montreal, to do a lowly job, he earned reputation as a miraculous healer.

Andre selected the present spot on the slopes of Mount Royale and built a parish with offerings from the people he came across. His dream of building a great shrine to St. Joseph became a reality in 1955 when the present basilica was completed. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982 and canonized by Pope Benedict on October 17, 2010.

I would have loved photographing the church from various angles in different light settings but for the fact that we had to reach Quebec before sunset. When I saw a set of wooden steps in the middle that led up to the basilica, meant for pilgrims who prefer to move up on their knees, I feared my wife would choose it like she covered the Stations of the Cross at Rome to the amazement of my friend and church historian Fr Benedict Vadakkekara.

No, we got inside through the main gate and took an escalator to reach the grand church that reverberated with the musical notes from an equally grand organ that had, I understand, 5811 pipes. The two minutes I had spent earlier at a computer terminal to see a series of photographs depicting the various stages of construction of the church, I realised, were well spent.

Brother Andre's popularity could be measured by the signatures of the faithful on his life-size statue in plaster of Paris inside the crypt church. Among them, one name that struck me was "Abdulla" because it was written in large letters and I did not expect it there. We took the escalator again to reach the basilica, which had a large copper dome. Of course, it did not evoke the grandeur of the St. Peter's basilica.

Unlike the Stations of the Cross that are usually depicted in the stained glasses in such churches, it is various episodes from the history of Canada that are depicted there. For that we had to go out and walk in the garden behind the dome to see the Stations of the Cross in life-size statutes which would be familiar to those who had seen the film "Jesus of Montreal

A visit to Andre's chapel and his "living room", preserved in the condition he used it, had to be skipped, as we were hungry by then. Lunch time was almost over when we queued up for food. Alas, the canteen would not accept our credit card and we had to spend all of US $20 we had bought at Rs 60 a dollar in Delhi.

Religious shrines never tire me. Jerry had told us that we would not be disappointed with the visit to the Notre Dame Basilica, modelled after the one by the same name in Paris. Since we had visited the Parisian cathedral, I could imagine how grand it would be. The parking meters were in French and we sought the help of a young passer-by only to realise that the 50 cents Alex spent was sufficient to park only for a few minutes.

When I saw "Restaurant Gandhi" on the way to the Cathedral, I remembered the hullabaloo some so-called Gandhians had created when Mont Blanc introduced a pen in honour of the Father of the Nation, who was, incidentally, a pen lover, though he would not have bought it himself given the high price. Who says Gandhi has not been commercialised?

The basilica was imposing from the outside. We had the option of taking a tour of the church for which we would have to wait and shell out a substantial sum or return to the car and continue our journey. The huge square in front of the cathedral, where Justin Trudeau collapsed while giving his eulogy during the state funeral of Pierre Trudeau, the 15th Prime Minister of Canada, and the young and petite singer Celine Dion married the elderly Rene Angelil in 1994, was the favourite haunt of street singers and street artists.

For all its Frenchness, Montreal is not the quintessential French city in Canada. That pride of place goes to Quebec, capital of the French-speaking province that had nearly seceded from Canada but for a wafer-thin margin in the referendum held in 1995. On the way out of the city, we stopped for a while at the Montreal stadium where the 1976 Olympics Games was held.

Nicknamed "The Big O", a reference to both its name and to the doughnut-shape of the permanent component of the stadium's roof, it is a white elephant that cost a whopping C$1.61 billion by the time it was completed in the eighties, long after the Olympics. As we got into the car and Alex started the engine, the GPS said, "Take a turn to the left and move 900 meters. Now take the right turn". Yes, we had hit the highway to Quebec.
Courtesy: Indian Currents
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  By  A.J. Philip  
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