As I Pass the Baton….

Dr Suresh Mathew Dr Suresh Mathew
27 Nov 2023

Change is the law of life. Every change in places and positions brings growth in individuals. It lets fresh air into the institutions. It is time for another change of guard in Indian Currents. 

As per the statutes of the Krist Jyoti Province of the Capuchins, to which I belong, a friar can be in the same place and the same position only for three terms, i.e. nine years. I have now completed a bit more than nine years. Priests and religious in the Catholic Church submit to the will of God expressed through the decisions of the higher authorities without questioning the order.

I had a long stint in the weekly. I was appointed as the Managing Editor in 2001 while pursuing post-graduation in Journalism from the Institute of Media Studies and Information Technology in Delhi. I was sent for higher studies in Rome in 2004 and I returned in 2007 with another Post graduation in Social Communications and Licentiate in Missiology. Upon my return, I was appointed as the rector of our minor seminary; the province also wanted me to help the then chief editor, Fr Jacob Kani, as the assistant editor. I continued in the post until 2011 and proceeded to Rome for Doctoral Studies. I returned in 2014 after an inter-disciplinary doctoral research on Media and Mission. I was then appointed as the Chief Editor in May 2014, and I assumed the role in June. 

It does not seem long ago, with trepidation in my heart, that I walked into the office of Indian Currents to assume the role of Chief Editor. It was not easy for me to step into the shoes of my great predecessors and mentors like Fr John Vallamattom of happy memory, Fr Xavier Vadakkekara, Shri John Dayal and Fr. Jacob Kani. All of them had done commendable job in carrying forward the vision of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. They had made the weekly magazine a buoyant voice of the Christian community before the general public even in challenging times. They had served the magazine with hearts set on fire and ice in their veins. They gave the lie to the belief that good editors are born and not made. 

In my first editorial titled ‘To Scale Greater Heights’, I had outlined my dream for the weekly. I wrote: “IC will give space for expression of genuine human needs, particularly of the defenceless and the relegated. IC will not be a mute spectator or a silent accomplice to the evils perpetuated against anyone in the society. One of the errands of the IC shall be delivering of precise and comprehensive information. In speaking the truth, I will not be seen taking sides. My accountability is not confined to the uncovering of unpleasant events, but will also recognize and display positive accomplishments and signs of renewal. The duty and responsibility of revealing the truth is not limited to the tragic realities of life but even the stories which are encouraging to the readers will be brought out through the precious pages of the weekly. Have no doubt, IC will function like a glass that reflects the world and sheds light to show the way. IC as the modern areopagus and agora will forge new paths in responding to the changing circumstances and conditions facing the society.”

As I look back to more than nine years of editorship, tears roll down my eyes. I feel that just ten days ago I took over the editorship.  God has been gracious to me and to the weekly. Week after week, HE helped me directly and through many writers, readers and supporters. I step out with a sense of having fulfilled the dream of my predecessors, superiors and readers. My objective ‘to scale the heights’, a pulsating desire to bring out the truth transcending all hurdles and challenges, has been realized. 

I admit that the editorship was not a bed of roses. Speaking truth to the power is always risky. John the Baptist was beheaded for speaking truth to the king. Oscar Romero was killed for confronting the powerful establishment.
 
Indian Currents was established to speak the Christian conscience to the secular society. Hence, I could not compromise on the vision of the founding fathers and my predecessors. Moreover, a follower of Christ can never align with fundamentalist and fascist regimes nor keep silence over their policies. The Church had many daring personalities in its chequered history. I was convinced that it is not in Church’s interest to identify too closely with regressive and oppressive governments. Its mission is to stand with the oppressed masses with little voice to raise their demands and grievances. The Dalits, tribals, minorities, farmers and workers in the unorganized sectors are at the receiving end of the biased policies and programmes of the government which is adept at dancing to the tune of corporate houses and vested interests. There are examples of prelates and priests in Latin American countries, Africa, Philippines, etc. who were powerful critics of despotic governments just as St. Brandsma did during Nazi regime. 
 
Pope Francis canonized Father Titus Brandsma, a Dutch priest belonging to the Carmelite Order, in May 2022. He was more than a priest – a fearless journalist to the core. He was martyred in the infamous Nazi concentration camp at Dachau in Germany. He stood alone against a government that exterminated people by poison gas or shooting. Fr. Brandsma would probably be the only journalist-saint in the family of the ‘holy persons’. Like the prophets of the Bible who fearlessly took on the brutal and heartless kings of those days, Fr. Brandsma went hammer and tongs against the ruthless Hitler regime.

The Dutch Saint is a role model for journalists like me. Moreover, my training in journalism, both in the church universities and a secular college, has helped me to stand up for truth. Moreover, as cited earlier, my association with priests and journalists of no-nonsense has contributed a lot to my determination to stand up for truth.

I have carried many cover stories, presenting Pope Francis as the role model for the Church in India, directly inviting the prelates to follow his path. I had also spoken in public against the attempt of some sections in the Church to align with the BJP for crumbs falling from the table of the government. 

I am a faithful son of the Church and orthodox in my beliefs. My authorities in the Province and the diocese know it well. I was also a parish priest along with my editorial responsibilities. Personally, the Church is my mother. My occasional criticism was not against the Church as many have misunderstood. expressions of disgust were against elements that ruin the credibility of the Church by their failure to read the signs of the times. My rants were against over-emphasis on ritualism, often ignoring the spiritual depth of Jesus Christ, that has alienated our people from the Church. 

When Tribals in many places were being denied their legitimate rights, Fr. Stan Swamy’s consistent question was: “How long will the Adivasis be victims of systemic oppression?” His was a prophetic voice against an oppressive government and its minions. Like a prophet of olden days, he spoke up for the afflicted and the persecuted; and he paid with his life for what he stood for, and what he spoke. 

At a time when fascist tendencies are gnawing into the fourth pillar of the largest democracy in the world, I believe, journalism is in peril. The prophetic voices of journalists that once kept governments and their officials on tenterhooks have turned feeble. Unfortunately, prophetic journalism is slipping to the margins; those who are willing to sing paeans to the powers-that-be are coming to the centre-stage. Instead of uncovering the flips and flops of those in governance, the media is after the Opposition trying to ferret out their omissions and commissions. Against this background, where a majority of journalists were under duress and prophetic journalism was taking a backseat, Indian Currents tried to be the voice of the voiceless without fear or favour. 

As I look back to the three terms I held the office, I have to thank many who have helped in my pursuit of achieving the goal expressed in the first editorial. It was nothing short of a miracle that the weekly was published week after week. We have neither huge human nor fatty financial resources. But veterans who have proved their mettle both in secular and church media have been generously collaborating with the weekly. 

I must acknowledge stalwarts among them like Cedric Prakash, A. J. Philip, John Dayal, Jacob Peenikaparambil, Jaswant Kaur, Aarti, Robert Clements, Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, Bishop Gerald Mathias, Bishop Alex Dias, Joseph Maliakan, Ramesh Menon, Ram Puniyani, Syed Nooruzzman, Mathew John, P.A. Chacko,  Sunny Jacob, Paul Pudussery, Prakash Louis, Jose Vallikatt, Pachu Menon, Tisy Jose, Felix Wilfred, Felix Raj, M.D. Thomas, M.L. Satyan, Albert Thyrniang, Asha Khosa, Elsa Joel, George Plathottam, Joseph Gathia, F.M. Britto, Paul Muricken, Julian Das, Jessy Kurian, Prashant Palackapally, Sacaria Joseph,  Lancy Lobo, Joseph Xavier, P.A. Joseph, Jose Vattakuzhy and scores of others.
 
I must thank Anju Grover and Manoj Varghese for the regular interviews they conducted with politicians across the spectrum.  

I must mention, the weekly has been a double-engine machine, to borrow a phrase of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  The double engine was a combination of Marydasan John and myself. It is a confession and an acknowledgement. IC would not have risen to this height without the passion and commitment of Shri Marydasan. He was more than a brother to me in my personal life and a professional editor who had a passion for objective news and qualitative journalism. Associated with the weekly for more than two decades, he encouraged me to be a proficient and skilled editor. His guidance and support cannot be thanked by words. I was able to move around different corners of the country taking sessions on various topics and conducting workshops, seminars and preaching retreats because of the editorial backing I received from him. 

Many thanks to Asha Benno and Joyce Sebastian too who have been of great help in editing the weekly on numerous occasions. 

I must appreciate the role played by the directors of Jyoti Press where the weekly was printed regularly under the leadership of Frs Baiju Chalakkal, Anoop Paulose and Anoop Abraham. They toiled day and night to print the weekly on time and pack them for posting every week.

I fondly remember my Staff who had to occasionally bear my brunt for keeping administrative professionalism in the office. Foxviewmedia led by Shinto designed the pages and deserves a special mention. 

When I took over, I had requested my provincial to give me editorial freedom to continue the vision of the CBCI and Fr John Vallamattom, the founding editor of the weekly. I had promised them that I won’t compromise on the faith and morals of the Catholic Church while carrying stories on various issues. 

My former provincials, Frs P.A. Joseph, Benoy Joseph and Skylark George, gave me full freedom regarding the content of the weekly. They were strong pillars of support even when many had questioned them on the very purpose of the weekly. 

There is a marginal increase of readership of the weekly during the last few years, thanks to the writers and editors of the weekly. Their ability to write on current issues, even at short notice, has attracted readers across the spectrum to the weekly. Their pieces are in no way less relevant than what appears in the secular newspapers and magazines. A few of them are veteran journalists who have proved their mettle in secular media and have had long stint in newspapers. People from various religions regularly wrote for the weekly giving it a secular identity.

With the help of my office staff, I could marginally increase subscriptions of hard copies during this period. The weekly is read by thousands on our website. More than 20,000 people receive free soft copies through Email and WhatsApp.

With very little advertisement, escalating cost of paper, printing, postage etc. the weekly struggles to make ends meet. Yet the religious authorities, people and institutions of goodwill sustain it through various means. 

Now, as I leave the office of Indian Currents, I hold my head high, raising my heart heavenward, and wish to move forward. The inspiring words of John F Kennedy come to my mind: “Those who look only to the past and present are certain to miss the future.”  

I hand over the keys to my successor, Fr Gaurav, with a blessing to go still higher, focusing on the future of the weekly. The journey must go on. The show must continue. 

 Those who have no passion for reading are sure to comment and recommend that the era of internet has rung the death knell of print journalism. Financial gains or losses are their only concern. 

Indian democracy and Indian Church look at the weekly as a force in promoting secular ideology, and Christian conscience and values. Print media still remains an authoritative source of facts, truth, objectivity and honesty in journalism. It is the information bank of the common man. May IC, as the weekly is fondly called, be a torchbearer of truth and justice.

Thank You…Bye…

Fr Suresh Mathew Pallivathukal OFM Cap

(I am transferred to Amritsar in Punjab. I will continue to be available to direct retreats for priests and religious; seminars and conferences for educationists, priests, religious and heads of institutions. Contact Details: Mob: 7042562963; Email: frsureshmathew@gmail.com)

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