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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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  DEVOTIONAL  
 
   
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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  COUNSELING
 
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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  THOUGHT  
     
 
   
Stewardship and Trusteeship
  By A.J. Philip  
 

I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Satyagraha. One of the highlights of the visit was the opening of a Gandhi museum in the old Pretoria jail where Gandhi was kept when he defied the discriminatory laws in the country.

Among the exhibits were the personal properties of Gandhi like the office table and typewriter he used and some of the books he read. Kept separately from other books and on the table was the Bible he used to read regularly. His writings bear proof that he was particularly fond of the Sermon on the Mount.

I managed to turn the pages of the Bible quickly. I noticed that it was a well-thumbed book with some verses underlined and notes scribbled in it. Biblical scholars trace the concepts of non-violence, truth and satyagraha that Gandhi espoused all his life to the enormous influence the New Testament had on him when he lived in Britain and South Africa.

One such concept is Trusteeship which, unfortunately, did not find many takers. Neither the Leftists nor the Rightists gave much importance to his theory, which he explained in these words: "Supposing I have come by a fair amount of wealth -- either by way of legacy, or by means of trade and industry -- I must know that all that wealth does not belong to me; what belongs to me is the right to an honourable livelihood, no better than that enjoyed by millions of others. The rest of my wealth belongs to the community and must be used for the welfare of the community."

Nowadays, not even Gandhians mention Trusteeship, which is dismissed as an Utopian concept. Few realize that it has a lot of similarities with the Biblical concept of stewardship. Environmentalists often blame Christianity for the havoc man has caused to nature by way of overconsumption. 

Their accusing finger is pointed at a passage in the Bible where God says, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground". (Genesis 1: 26)

It is a misreading of the passage that leads to such wrong conclusions. In no way does it justify man's greed, which alone is responsible for environmental degradation. As Gandhi said, "nature can satisfy man's need, not greed". In Leviticus 25: 1-5, the concept of stewardship is elaborately explained.

The land, like humans and animals, needs to regain its strength. God, therefore, appointed stewardship of the land to humankind, who also was to enjoy its fruit. God said, "In the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest". Alas, God's people acted upon that command with indifference. They gave the land no pause to recover. The result of that disobedience was bitter, not only for the soil, but for the people as well.

The Israelites were driven from their country. They were dispersed for many years until the land received its needed years of rest. 

If India has achieved self-sufficiency in food production, it is because states like Punjab and Haryana are able to contribute the maximum to the national stock of grains.

The food production has not happened without a cost. The underground water level in these states has been falling drastically. The excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has caused enormous damage to the soil. Yet, no thought is given to giving the soil rest to facilitate its regeneration.

In India, nearly one-third of the foodgrains produced is lost to rodents and in storage and transportation. If this loss is prevented, the availability of foodgrains for human consumption will increase automatically by one-third. It can free that much land from cultivation for a few years.

The recent flash floods in Uttarakhand killed thousands of people and destroyed property worth billions of rupees. Most of the damages occurred because buildings were built on what were river beds and there was a large presence of tourists in the area. Earlier, only the very devout and able-bodied visited temples of Kedarnath and Badrinath.

I grew up hearing stories of the "Great Flood of '99 (Malayalam year)" i.e.,1924. At that time, the land where Kochi airport is now situated was under water. If suppose rains of the kind hit Kerala, the damage the state would suffer would be thousand times more than it suffered in 1924. Can nature be blamed for it?

If we see ourselves as stewards of property, there will be no corruption and there will be no overexploitation of natural resources and we will not do anything that harms the interests of the coming generations. It is a concept as relevant today as it was in the Biblical period. In fact, man's redemption lies in adhering to the concept of stewardship in both thought and deed.
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The writer is a senior journalist, member of the Assessment and Monitoring Authority of the Planning Commission and member of St. James Mar Thoma Church, Dwarka, New Delhi

Courtesy: Darshan, a publication of the Delhi Diocese of the Mar Thoma Churc
 
   
   
Th Biblical worldview
  By A.J. Philip  
  WHICH book impacted the world civilization the most? Which is that book for which the printing press was invented? Which is the most translated book in the world? Which book is the all-time bestseller in the world? Which is the book portions of which are considered sacred by three major religions of the world? Which is that book holding a copy of which can land the possessor in prison in some countries? Which book contributed maximum idioms and phrases to the English language?

I can fill up the space for this article by asking dozens of such questions for which the answer is the same, "The Bible", which literally means "The Book". Instead, I would try to explain how the Bible impacted the world civilization during the two millennia with the help of my friend Vishal Mangalwadi's "Missionary Conspiracy" (Good Books).

Nearly two decades ago, I met a Bible translator in the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh. The Catholic priest, who had already translated Catechism into that tribal language, was busy finalising the translation of the New Testament, when I met him at a makeshift church on the state's border. But before attempting any translation work, he had to prepare a lexicon in that language. Thus, what first emerged was the first dictionary in that language, followed by Catechism and the New Testament, the first books in that language.

What is true about the language spoken by the people of Arunachal Pradesh is also true about many major languages of India, nay the world. Today the world has become a global village, where complex ideas can travel around the planet instantly and be understood cross-culturally. "This is substantially a result of the Herculean efforts of the Bible translators, who went to the remote corners of the earth at great personal costs, and transformed primitive dialects into literary languages, capable of transmitting learning, knowledge, international understanding and the highest ideals of civilization".

This happened because the Bible postulates a God who speaks, putting a high premium on human languages. In their effort to translate the Bible into as many languages as possible, the translators of the Bible became the foremost champions of the science of linguistics. It is this worldview that forced William Carey, a British cobbler, to violate the British law and come to India in 1793. He chose to settle down in Serampore, one of the most inhospitable places, not because he fell for the charms of the big mosquitoes and reptiles that lived in the marshy area but because it was under Danish, not British, control.

His labours triggered off the movement of translating and publishing the Bible into hundreds of Oriental languages, many of which did not have any grammar or dictionaries or literature. Carey and Company not only translated the Bible but also the literary riches which existed in those languages. Today you and I can read many of the sacred books of the Hindus like the Vedas and the Upanishads only because of the translation movement started by the Serampore missionaries.

In any other culture, the translators would have been honoured. Here they are just footnotes, if at all they figure in the big narratives. Like the Catholic priest I met, they prefer to remain undercover. But the truth remains, all the first dictionaries and books of grammar in almost all Indian languages, whether Malayalam or Hindi or Punjabi, were written by Christian missionaries. But for them many of the languages like Manipuri and Assamese would have died by now.

Not many remember that Carey also set up several small schools in Serampore. It is not that education was not valued in India before the missionaries came. But it was reserved for some. The Eklavyas were not allowed to learn and even if they managed to learn, they were prevented from making use of it. While Christian missionaries set up schools and hospitals in India, rich Hindus set up temples all over the world. It was the belief that truth could be taught that gave birth to the university movement in the West.

In India, the defining event in pre-Independence period was not the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, as many claim, but the setting up of the universities in the principal cities of the country which helped instil in the people a sense of nationalism that resulted in the formation of the Indian National Congress. "Kerala became the most literate state in India because the Malayalam word for school, Pallikoodam, means "next to the church". A church was not considered complete if no school was associated with it.

It was the Biblical worldview which created the institution of the Press. It began in the 16th century Britain when the Puritans began publishing tracts to question the religious practices enforced on the people by the state and the church. In India, it began at Serampore where William Carey brought out the "Friend of India" in 1818. In the first issue of the paper, he wrote an editorial attacking the system of sati practised in the country. The pioneers of journalism were all missionaries. In the whole of 19th century, the Indian peasant had no voice other than the missionary's. Is it any wonder that the first journals in all Indian languages were started by the missionaries?

I had an occasion to visit the jail in Pretoria where Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned. Today it is a museum. On the desk Gandhi used was a well-thumbed Bible. Now the question, from where did he get the idea that it was moral for an individual to disobey the legally constituted authority of the government? The concepts of human rights, respect for individual liberty and creativity, entrepreneurship and the like have their origin in the Bible.

Monogamy is now the norm in most countries. Neither Hindu, nor Jewish, nor Buddhist, nor Muslim civilization has been able to have monogamy as the norm. The very first chapter of the Bible suggests that a fuller image of the Triune God can be found in "man" as "male and female" with the possibility of having children. It is the security, provided by monogamy, which empowers a woman. In other words, the Bible is responsible for making monogamy the norm in India and elsewhere.

Again, the rule of law is the norm the world over. This concept, too, came from the Bible. A few years ago the American magazine Time had a cover story on Moses. He was described as one of the greatest leaders of the world. He, in fact, liberated a people enslaved, without violence and transformed them into the mightiest nation of that time. He could have used the two tablets to chronicle his achievements. Instead, he put on those tablets God's law for mankind, to be read and followed by his successors who wished to rule Israel.

The above Biblical mindset set in motion the modern ideas of human equality, dignity and individual rights replacing the ideas of the Divine Right of Kings with the idea, summed up by Samuel Rutherford in Lex Rex (Law is King).
Democracy was tried and rejected in pre-Christian Greek city-states. Plato called it the worst of all political systems. What then caused its resurrection in the second millennium? It is the Bible. Scholars inspired by the Bible like Rutherford argued for democracy. One such scholar is James Harrington. His book, "The Commonwealth of Oceana", sowed the seeds of two legislative chambers from which we got the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha. The use of the ballot in general elections was also his idea.

Innumerable are the ways in which the Bible has influenced and continue to influence India. The other day, when a young swami thrust into my hand a tract containing verses from the Gita, I remembered my school teacher, who gave up teaching to do precisely that, printing and distributing Biblical verses in the form of tracts. Today, the detractors of Christianity try to use the same methods used by the missionaries of yore to spread the word of God. Whoever had said that imitation is the best form of flattery could not have put it better.
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The writer is a senior journalist and member of the St. James Mar Thoma Church, Dwarka, New Delhi. He can be reached at ajphilip@gmail.com

Courtesy: Dharma Jyoti Vidyapeeth
 
   
   
Truths about Palestine
  By Sarvjeet Singh  
  RUSSIAN Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's assertion of support for creation of a separate state of Palestine has indeed served to put the spotlight back on the long-festering dispute between Palestine and Israel.

The flurry of diplomatic activity that has followed it would suggest that Mr Medvedev seems to have succeeded in lending a sense of urgency and priority to the resolution of the dispute, at a time when it was threatening to recede from the collective world conscience.

With several South American Governments also recognizing the Palestine state within the 1967 borders, the hope that the long and arduous journey of distrust, violence and counter-violence that the people of Israel and Palestine have undergone together has a distinct possibility of ending now appears realistic.

However, the new journey of peaceful co-existence that the people of Israel and Palestine must embark upon is no less arduous. Both sides have radical elements who thrive on their doctrine of hatred and distrust and constantly feed the fears of people on both sides making a solution elusive.

The manner in which French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie was mobbed in Gaza over her remarks expressing sympathy for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held in captivity by the extremist elements in Gaza gives an ample demonstration of how future peace process is akin to a tightrope walk for the world community which has to balance the concerns, aspirations and fears of both the people of Israel and Palestine.

According to Palestine Prime Minister Mahmood Abbas, President George Bush told him in Sharmel-Sheikh, "I have a moral and religious obligation, I must give you a Palestine State and I will". Such powerful words employed by the world's most powerful Head of State should have led to some forward movement towards peace and just solution but it never did. It is not a reflection of lack of sincerity on the part of President Bush but the strong pressures that come into play every time a solution is attempted.
The resignation of Ehud Barak, Defence Minister of Israel, to protest against what he termed as "too fast a movement towards dovish end of political spectrum" indicates the stiff odds any peace initiative is bound to face. The Palestine Authority Government headed by Mahmood Abbas is also battling to gain credibility both outside and within.

The recent disclosure on Al-Jazeera that way back in 2008 the Palestinian negotiators were ready to concede most of Jerusalem and also offer other huge concessions without any substantial reciprocal offer or concession from Israel would have definitely eroded Mr Abbas's stock among his own people. This disclosure is sure to let the cat among the pigeons or doves in this case within the Palestinian mindset.

Now Mr Abbas would find it very difficult to make any concessions. In the backdrop of this deep-rooted mutual distrust, the interim peace plan being put forward by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman which talks about provisional state of Palestine with limited powers is sure to be met with cynicism. According to the plan, Israel on its part would turn over 45 to 50 per cent of West Bank to the provisional state.

The opposition this plan is facing from the people of Palestine seems justified as the present Palestine Authority Government of Mahmood Abbas set up in 1994 is also a result of such an interim measure and replacing it with another interim measure cannot be termed as a step forward in the peace process of the region. Mr Benjamin Nethanyahu, who had earlier pledged his support for a final accord to end the crisis, now seems to be veering towards the interim peace plan in what is likely to be seen as succumbing to the pressures from the hardliners.
The fractured and divided leadership of Palestine is no different. To make matters worse, the Palestine Authority is in the hands of Hamas, widely viewed as a radical organization involved in terrorist crimes. Any major concession made to an organization with such a track record is bound to be perceived as surrender to terrorist ideology that kills innocent unarmed civilians.

The onus would be on Hamas to build its credibility before it can stand on a moral high ground and further the just cause of Palestinians The longstanding dispute has seen worse examples of violence. While the State of Israel and its people have been targeted in bombings, the State of Israel on its part has resorted to some heavy handed measures resulting in civilian casualties. The State of Israel has often resorted to use of disproportionate force when dealing with protest as was evident from the assault on Flotilla and the use of banned tear gas to quell protests.

Three major roadblocks stare at anyone approaching the road of peaceful co-existence in the present context:

Jewish settlement -- The Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem with 500,000 inhabitants have always been perceived as Israel's attempt to change demographic realities on ground. The Jewish historians counter it by claiming that there has always been Jewish presence in the area even in the 1920s. If a climate of mutual give and take has to be created, Israel being the powerful player has to concede some ground for the sake of peace.

Separation wall -- the separation wall built by Israel, ostensibly to protect its civilian population from terrorist attacks, cuts the Palestinian population into three zones of East Jerusalem, Gaza and West Bank with each zone inhabitant requiring a permit to vist others. Effectively this converts the landscape into three cages. The wall has also severed farmers from their farmland and children from their schools .Will it be possible for Israel to dismantle it as the first step towards confidence-building?

Terror threat -- The manner in which Hezbollah has taken over Lebanon shows that some of the fears of Israel on the issue of the independent state of Palestine becoming a hub of anti-Israeli terror forces are well founded. The right of the Palestine state to exist cannot be at the expense of the right of Israel to exist. It is here that International community, specially the United States of America, can play a major role in providing a buffer zone and ensuring protection of the Jewish state.

Another challenge is the general unrest the Arab world is beset with. If both sides have to secure their future generations from violence and distrust, a bold initiative that puts the past firmly behind them is required. This bold initiative seems to have emerged from an unlikely quarter. Mark Sofer, Israel's ambassador to India journeyed to Ajmer and offered prayers at the famous Sufi shrine. He said that Jews and Muslims as part of three major Abrahamic religions were brothers and the Israel-Palestine dispute needs to be looked at outside the religious frame as it is not a religious dispute. His remarks expectedly evoked criticism from a section of the Muslim leadership in India which accused Israel of pursuing a blatantly anti-Muslim agenda in Palestine while undertaking a public relation exercise outside to confuse the world.

The significance of this remark thus and the conciliatory tone of this brave pronouncement by a high ranking Israeli official was lost in the din. One does hope that this kind of moderate voice reverberates and influences all future peace initiatives in the troubled region. The people of Israel and Palestine deserve their share of sunshine and happiness. Let not this be clouded by mutual hatred and distrust.
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Sarvjeet Singh is Assistant General Secretary of New Delhi YMCA.
 
   
   
Acclaim after shame
  By Sarvjeet Singh  
  THE spectacular opening ceremony is likely to put a lid on the unrelenting CWG-2010 bashing worldwide. We certainly earned the bashing as much as we deserve the praise.

The event, however, throws up issues that go well beyond sports management in the country and also beyond as to who runs sports in the country. When we bid for the Commonwealth Games, we intended to announce our arrival on world stage in style with this sports extravaganza.

Unfortunately, due to rank inefficiency, rampant corruption and absolute ineptitude of the people entrusted with the event, the message that went out in the initial phase was exactly the opposite. Now on hindsight, was it wise to splurge a huge amount on organizing an event for countries that have once been ruled by the British Empire?

Why couldn't the same world-class facilities be provided to train our sportsperson not only in Delhi but in various forgotten corners of the country which have been producing world beaters despite all odds? The doubling of prize money for medal winners to induce participation shows how misplaced our priorities in sports are.

The stutter and stumble in planning and preparation of the games should serve to shake up the sports administration set up in the country post CWG-2010. It is indeed unfortunate that our sports establishment is in the hands of people who push away illustrious coaches and those who add 'Azad' to the name of an ex-President at the opening ceremony of CWG-2010.

In a country where women's hockey team members, participating in a National event, are accommodated in a stationary train bogey and other state and national -level teams are regularly made to train in su-bhuman living conditions, distribution of money in support of our CWG bid to countries who are waiting for a chance to heap scorn on us looks absolutely ridiculous.

Equally ridiculous is the hollow lament of the so-called civil rights groups about the missing beggars from Delhi streets. Anyone acquainted with driving in Delhi would vouch for the hazards that beggars pose on the streets of Delhi as they dangerously dodge past vehicles when the lights turn green.

In the Connaught Place area they can be seen snorting and smoking stuff that is supposed to be illegal. Go to any of the popular restaurants in the area and your are sure to be badgered and if your do not relent, you are abused. Yes, they have a right to shelter and food which the Government ought to provide but should anyone be allowed to squat at anyplace of his/her choice, harass others for a living and take banned substances openly just because he/she is poor?

Should they be allowed to remove iron railings from the footpath and sell them for their next fix? Again, in Connaught Place area there have been numerous instances of snatching assaults on Indians as well as foreigners by these elements. The Police officials on condition of anonymity express their helplessness in acting against them because their medical condition is precarious and if taken into custody, they sometimes inflict self injuries and attribute them to the Police officers in the court. The citizens of Delhi have a right to a secure and peaceful life. It is immaterial whether that right is under threat by rich brats running amok in their fancy cars or by people who are in the organized profession of selling poverty.

Surely, the citizens of Delhi should be sensitized about their responsibility towards the poor and the related agencies can consider taking contribution (based on the area of residence) on the lines of house tax etc to build shelters which takes care of their basic needs. But allowing begging and accepting to live with it will only encourage the criminal misuse of the poor for the organized begging syndicate which has time and again been exposed in the media. The Commonwealth Games have definitely opened windows of opportunity for Delhi. This opportunity should not be restricted to window-dressing for the event only. Delhi deserves our constant care.
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The writer is Assistant General Secretary of New Delhi YMCA and a regular contributor to The Herald of India
 
   
   
Peripheral people?
  By John Dayal  
  I AM just back home from Manipur, where 40 kilometres on the National Highway (the old Burma Road) from the international border, near the Meitei village of. Kakching, a police party stopped my car, poked around, saw my several credentials and then grimly reminded me "they kill non-Manipuris here, you know". I continued, my Manipuri colleague handling the car, all the way to Imphal airport another 40 km away without incident. The Air India flight was an hour late.

I had come to Kakching to see the village, now a small town of 20,000, which had rebelled against a King's dictate, then suffered its consequences, later fought a legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court so that the people could enjoy the affirmative action fruits of being defined as a Scheduled caste. Manipuris, or the Meitei to be precise, were not always, and are still not all, Hindus. King Charai Rongba in the 15th century first heard of Hinduism from Guru Aribom, a mendicant missionary. A Meitei scholar told me Vaishnavaism was made the state religion in 18th Century by King "Pamheiba" and it Puya (Meitei Religious Script) Meithaba (Burning) is known as the day on which Meitei were converted to Hinduism from Sanamahi, their original faith. "It was on 23rd Wakhching (January) 1729. It is being observed every year," says my friend. Manipur also has local Muslims, and in recent centuries, many Christians, from Catholics to the Good Shepherd Community Church, the latest evangelical denomination.

But we were taking of the village Kakching and its rebellious people who defied the dynasties, and refused to accept Vaishnavism. They were, of course summarily excommunicated. The Kakching populace is also known as Lois, which means the "expelled community" for not obeying the royal command. The village had thriving local industry in iron mining and smelting, so it could defy His Majesty. After Independence, they wanted legal recognition, but it was not easy -- it was decades before they were classified as Scheduled castes, and could seek government jobs and education as a right. Today the village boasts of schools, a people's library and a people's Eco Park, created not through government grants but by local genius.

Planting a tree in the Park, the fault lines of Manipur seem far away. Just the Vaishnav and Sanamahi Meitei who live in the central valley -- about a third of the land for two-thirds of the concentrated population -- think of themselves as an independent kingdom whose former king was bamboozled into joining India. Irom, the iron lady, is on a ten year hunger strike, and women old enough to be her mothers, paraded naked before TV camera protesting the Armed Forces Special powers Act, yes, and the same law operational in Kashmir valley.

Not that even this is a universal demand. Some Meiei would rather the Army remained, just as a check on the home-bred militants-terrorists. Very complex feelings.

The Meitei youth, with few jobs and ill educated for the most, have evolved a dozen and a half underground militant groups, most fully armed with the latest in military technology. In the hills surrounding the valley, the Imphal Valley that is, till the borders of Nagaland and Burma are tribes of the Nagas and Kuki. They too seek an independent identity. A Naga group is currently in Delhi asking for liberation from the Meitei. And between them, the Nagas and Kukis have another dozen or so underground groups.

All these militias make their money from extortion, and occasional abduction. No one really complains in Imphal, for politicians and bureaucrats and middle men are making their own money by pilfering from the massive central grants. Very little percolates to the people. Sons and daughters of impoverished families are seeking jobs in Delhi and Mumbai as waitresses and shop assistants. A data of the North East Centre and Helpline shows, many of these youth are racially profiled in Delhi by our own boors, and some of the girls come face to face with gender violence, often rape.

The focus may for the moment be on the Kashmir valley, but New Delhi seems not to bother about any of its more distant citizens on the 24 X 7 basis that it should, be it Manipur and Tripura in the far north-east, or the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Andhra, or for that matter, the deep villages of Kandhamal in Orissa and Udaipur in Rajasthan. Out of sight is out of mind for the bureaucrats of North and South Block, and nothing more than "objects" for the "joint command", the euphemism for the Army acting in conjunction with local armed police sand the political elite.

All we hear is Central and Planning Commission sops. And sometimes they use the term "the peripheral peoples". That is a dangerous, feudal word which ought to have no place in the vocabulary and thought process of a civilised modern democracy where everyone is equal and central. They forget something very seminal about India. We are not a melting pot, and "they" in Kashmir and Manipur, are not "peripheral people". If we actually believe in the Idea of India, we with our imperial myopia in the political-financial twin capitals New Delhi and Mumbai, would have to come to terms with the fact that the "heartland" remains but an island which could become very isolated very fast in the larger ocean of the assertions of a diversified, polyglot, multi-racial, multi-hued, multi cultural, multi-ideological India.
 
   
   
Pope and the crowds
  By Ross Douthat  
  All in all, the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain over the weekend must have been a disappointment to his legions of detractors. Their bold promises notwithstanding, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens didn't manage to clap the pope in irons and haul him off to jail. The protests against Benedict's presence proved a sideshow to the visit, rather than the main event. And the threat (happily empty, it turned out) of an assassination plot provided a reminder of what real religious extremism looks like -- as opposed to the gentle scholar, swathed in white, urging secular Britons to look with fresh eyes at their island's ancient faith.

And the crowds came out, as they always do for papal visits -- 85,000 for a prayer vigil in London, 125,000 lining Edinburgh's streets, 50,000 in Birmingham to see Benedict beatify John Henry Newman, the famous Victorian convert from Anglicanism. Even at a time of Catholic scandal, even amid a pontificate that's stumbled from one public-relations debacle to another, Benedict still managed to draw a warm and enthusiastic audience.

No doubt most of Britain's five million Catholics do not believe exactly what Benedict believes and teaches. No doubt most of them are appalled at the Catholic hierarchy's record on priestly child abuse, and disappointed that many of the scandal's enablers still hold high office in the church.

But in turning out for their beleaguered pope, Britain's Catholics acknowledged something essential about their faith that many of the Vatican's critics, secular and religious alike, persistently fail to understand. They weren't there to voice agreement with Benedict, necessarily. They were there to show their respect -- for the pontiff, for his office, and for the role it has played in sustaining Catholicism for 2,000 years.

Conventional wisdom holds that such respect is increasingly misplaced, and that the papacy is increasingly a millstone around Roman Catholicism's neck. If it weren't for the reactionaries in the Vatican, the argument runs, priests might have been permitted to marry, forestalling the sex abuse crisis. Birth control, gay relationships, divorce and remarriage might have been blessed, bringing lapsed Catholics back into the fold. Theological dissent would have been allowed to flourish, creating a more welcoming environment for religious seekers.

And yet none of these assumptions have any real evidence to back them up. Yes, sex abuse has been devastating to the church. But as Newsweek noted earlier this year, there's no data suggesting that celibate priests commit abuse at higher rates than the population as a whole, or that married men are less prone to pedophilia. (The real problem was the hierarchy's fear of scandal, which led to endless cover-ups and enabled serial predation.)

And yes, the church's exclusive theological claims and stringent moral message don't go over well in a multicultural, sexually liberated society. But the example of Catholicism's rivals suggests that the church might well be much worse off if it had simply refashioned itself to fit the prevailing values of the age. That's what the denominations of mainline Protestantism have done, across the last four decades -- and instead of gaining members, they've dwindled into irrelevance.

The Vatican of Benedict and John Paul II, by contrast, has striven to maintain continuity with Christian tradition, even at the risk of seeming reactionary and out of touch. This has cost the church its once-privileged place in the Western establishment, and earned it the scorn of fashionable opinion. But continuity, not swift and perhaps foolhardy adaptation, has always been the papacy's purpose, and the secret of its lasting strength.

Catholics do not -- should not, must not -- look to the Vatican to supply the church with all its saints and visionaries and prophets. (Indeed, many of Catholicism's greatest figures have had fraught relationships with the Holy See -- including John Henry Newman, the man beatified on Sunday.) They look to Rome instead to safeguard what those visionaries achieved, to guard Catholicism's inheritance, and provide a symbol of unity for a far-flung, billion-member church. They look to Rome for the long view: for the wisdom that not all change is for the better, and that some revolutions are better outlasted than accepted.

On Saturday, Benedict addressed Britain's politicians in the very hall where Sir Thomas More, the great Catholic martyr, was condemned to death for opposing the reformation of Henry VIII. It was an extraordinary moment, and a reminder of the resilience of Catholicism, across a gulf of years that's consumed thrones, nations, entire civilizations.

This, above all, is why the crowds cheered for the pope, in Edinburgh and London and Birmingham -- because almost five centuries after the Catholic faith was apparently strangled in Britain, their church is still alive. (Courtesy: The New York Times)
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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