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Being Salt & Light

Being Salt & Light

Fifteen years ago I had an opportunity to accompany a group of 80 members of a Catholic women religious congregation to Anandwan, Warora, 100 km south of Nagpur for exposure as part of their provincial Assembly

Anandwan’s founder, the charismatic Baba Amte, was still alive then. When I introduced the sisters as the leaders of the congregation to him, Amte, who was then 88, said lying in his bed with his usual enthusiasm, “Sisters don’t delegate your job to God.” Speaking of his reverence to Jesus Christ he continued, “I am a disciple of Christ, not a member of the Church.”

The sisters later said they were edified by the exposure to Anandwan campus and Amte’s work for thousands of leprosy inflicted people, the blind, the deaf and those abandoned by society. They also understood the meaning of his words. His policy was not providing charity but parity. Everyone was given dignity and all earned their living by work.

I have no hesitation to say that I have not seen a better Christian than Baba Amte in my life. I had witnessed how he fully lived the life of Christ without being a member of an institutional Church.

Another such Christian who was not part of any Church was Mahatma Gandhi. One of Gandhi’s admirers, great philosopher Bertrand Russel once remarked: “I have seen only one Christian in my life but he was not a Christian.”

I had been reflecting on Amte’s words to the sisters. Amte was calling for action here and now instead of saying prayers and offering many rituals asking God to help people in distress. When Covid-19 shut down the worship places of all religions, God expected His people to get into action to serve those suffering.

The rich and the well to do people were happy to shut their homes and sit inside. They had time to relax, indulge in hobbies and eat regular food. However, life has become miserable for around 400 million workers in the unorganized sector. The migrant workers stuck in big cities and far away from home are forced to stay in difficult conditions.

When the world faces sufferings and chaotic situations because of the coronavirus pandemic,  a few religious women and men have opted to delegate to God the job of taking care of the people. They do this through a variety of prayers and rituals. They are now busy broadcasting their rituals of delegating to God the job of solving the situation.

However, a few priests and nuns enthusiastically have gone into action through the traditional charity work of distributing food to the poor with their banners and labels. Many of them faced resistance from biased fundamentalist groups who accuse Christians of using the facade of charity to propagate their religion. In some places, government officials who subscribe to this view have stopped Christian charity workers citing instructions from above.

I was inspired to know the dedicated service of 30 young students of all faiths who are assisting the city administration as volunteers in the Covid War Room in Indore city. They work 24X7 in three shifts to attend phone calls from residents seeking help in various areas including medical, emergency, ambulance, free food and ration.

The volunteers have contacted 2,50,000 people so far. “This situation is difficult but we are working day and night to help the residents,” said Rohan Verma, a volunteer. Rudraksh Pradhan, another young student, says, “Personal safety doesn’t count when you work for nation.”

Should not we collaborate with the government departments at this time of national emergency shedding our desire to project our identity? It is time for us to follow the example of the Good Samaritan who did an exemplary service, yet there is no mention of his name. If hundreds of young people, men and women risk their lives to serve those in distress why don’t the young and healthy religious, priests and seminarians stop delegating the job to God? Like ‘salt’ they should join hundreds of volunteers to help the local administration.

We have much to learn from young people such as Pradhan who are doing dedicated service as volunteers in various parts of India.

(Published on 27th April 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 18)