I was fortunate to spend 36 out of 39 years of my priestly life in youth ministry, mostly with the youth belonging to different faith, caste, region and culture. This work with the young students provided the opportunity to work with a large number of teachers and people belonging to all faith and walks of life. After launching the Universal Solidarity Movement of Value Education for Peace in 1993, this opportunity to work with different sections of people belonging to other faiths and walks of life increased and expanded. I was also blessed to have close association and interaction with a large number of priests, religious, bishops and leaders of different religious congregations during many seminars and retreats which I conducted for them in different parts of India. However, as I reviewed my works of the previous 39 years as a priest I felt that I was called and appointed to work more with people of other faith. Even my sessions for the clergy and religious were aimed to motivate them to reach out to people of other faith with the life-giving message of Christ. I was not upset and surprised to receive the rejection and indifference of our own people because that was the experience of Jesus and St. Paul. As I travelled to various cities and villages in the country I wrote down my reflections on this mission for ‘gentiles’, rather, the universal mission to all people.
After reading about the heroic lives of missionaries during my school days, I visualized going out to the regions where Christianity had not reached. It was with this passion for missionary work that I left my home town in Kerala in south India in 1970 at the age of eighteen and came to Madhya Pradesh in central India. Preaching the Gospel of Christ and making all people followers of Christ was my aim in life. During the seminary formation and initial years of my priestly life, I kept up this zeal and went around passionately preaching about Christ to people of all walks of life. All my writings and activities in those days were aimed at converting people of other faith to traditional Christianity.
My involvement with youth ministry, exposure to various cultural context and encountering intelligent scholars of other faith gave me better enlightenment into the life and teachings of Christ. Deeper reading and study of the teachings of Christ, history of the Church and review of the aggressive missionary activities of many centuries provided deeper insights into the life and teachings of Christ. Analysis of the impact of the Church’s mission and the growing hostilities from people of other faith, especially fundamentalist groups in India led me to deeper reflection about my sacred call and mission.
I became more convinced of the relevance of THE WAY of Christ to solve all problems the world is facing today. The way of Christ consists of unconditional forgiveness, equality, justice, peace, fraternity, liberty, dignity to all human beings without any discrimination and exclusion. This way is against the culture of consumerism, competition, exploitation and exclusion. The way of Christ is of protecting nature and all kinds of life. It is a prophetic way of protecting the rights of children, women and all who are weak and oppressed. The way of Christ promotes universal solidarity, Vasudaiva Kudumbakam (the universal family). Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi and many such sages and saints were following the same way. It is the way of SPIRITUALITY of universal values without RELIGIOSITY of rituals, dogma and oppressive laws. This new way rules out any kind of conversion from one religion to another. It demands conversion to a new value system and a new world order.
After receiving this enlightenment my zeal only grew; zeal to communicate this simple way of spirituality to the whole world. The focus and content of all my writings, talks and activities changed to promoting this new WAY OF LIFE. The response of people from all walks of life was enthusiastic and encouraging. Thousands of young people who participate in our orientations across the country commit themselves to this new way. Thousands of people from all faith and walks of life who participate in our seminars are inspired by this new way of life.
Over 18,20,300 parents who participated in the seminars organized in 191 schools in 23 states of India till November 2019 were not of Christian faith. They all participated in the three-hour seminars with rapt attention. Hundreds of people in the big cities, towns and interior villages who belonged to fundamentalist groups opposed to Christian missionaries also expressed their admiration for our mission after participating in these seminars. Demand for this programme is only increasing from all parts of India. Everywhere at the end of the seminar many come up to the stage to share their positive impressions and resolutions. The way of Christ and His values are presented effectively in these sessions without mentioning the name of Jesus or Church documents.
During the last 30 years, I was also blessed by God to address over 10 lakh youth in small and large groups who belonged to other faith in all parts of India. The content of the talks and training sessions was THE NEW WAY to create a better India and a better world. The youth were open to accept the new vision for a society of peace, harmony, equality and justice. They were prompt to follow the principles and action plans proposed to them. I have crisscrossed this large country several times from south to north, west to east and to the ends of the northeast region. I cannot measure the distance I have travelled by road, rail and air. I could only count 39 airports and hundreds of railway stations in India which I have passed through several times during my missionary journey. The absence of dedicated mentors for the youth and adults at the local level failed to sustain their enthusiasm generated in our sessions. It is a pity that the spirit and enthusiasm of the youth, teachers and parents faded away in some places due to lack of regular follow up by local mentors.
The unique one-week leadership training which was organized in the USM community at Indore (Universal Solidarity Movement) in every week was attended by 8055youth in 398 batches from 23 states of India till November 2019. They come from villages and cities belonging to all faith. At the end of the one-week training, all of them resolve to follow THE NEW WAY of spirituality based on the universal values presented in the preamble of the constitution of India. They sustain their vision and resolutions in their daily life. Parents and teachers testify their commitment. It is accomplished without quoting texts from the Bible or taking the name of Jesus. None of them participate in Holy Mass or church prayers. The frequent change of principals blocks this mission in many schools.
Apart from conducting motivational sessions for a large number of parents, teachers and young students we are also engaged in networking with various secular organizations such as Rotary International, Society of Authors and many other social organizations. This is done following the teaching of Christ to be the salt and light of the world to enter into the mainstream of the society. Despite doing much selfless service the church personnel and their works are more misunderstood today than understood. Once we enter into society with total transparency the society will not only accept us but be inspired by our commitment and credibility. Though I am the only Christian in all these organisations I am not only accepted but respected by all of them. I am able to present a positive face of the Church to society. They are happy to entrust leadership responsibilities to me and gladly work together. I am not alienated because of my faith, instead is respected. Launching of the National Peace Movement and organizing various activities to promote peace in different parts of India are the best proofs of acceptance of the NEW WAY of Christ by people of other faith from all parts of India. It is very edifying to see how women and men belonging to all faith express their commitment to the cause of peace by travelling to distant places to participate in the Peace Conventions we organize every year. It is an example of people of other faith accepting the leadership of a Catholic priest without prejudice. If the thousands of priests and religious in the country could make a paradigm shift in their missionary approach and methods how much influence they could make in Indian society. They need to understand the meaning of their call to act as LIGHT of the world and SALT of the earth. They need to go beyond the exclusive cultic institutional culture and work to be PROPHETS TO THE NATIONS abandoning petty and exclusive agenda and identities. They also need to realize their mission as bearing LASTING FRUITS instead of gaining short term profit through shortcuts.
Without writing names in the baptismal register or pouring water on their heads all these people of diverse faith and walks of life are baptized into THE WAY of Christ. It is a mission for ‘gentiles’ without establishing the traditional church as St. Paul and missionaries did in the past. Participants of numerous programs go home with positive feelings about the NEW WAY and the Catholic priest who facilitated them into the new way of universal values without wearing clergy dress and exhibiting external identity of priests. It is the beginning of a revolution: A RELIGIONLESS SPIRITUALITY, realization of a spirituality of “worshipping God in truth and spirit”; building of a world of peace, universal solidarity, friendship, fellowship, justice, peace and freedom; a world free from violence, hatred, competition, exploitation and fear.
The miracles that I see in this universal mission and the conviction about the sacred call for this unique mission motivate me to go ahead despite adverse circumstances. God provides energy and enthusiasm to travel across the cities and villages of this large country. Biting cold of the winter, heavy rains, scorching summer heat and physical fatigue from ill-health do not stand on my way of reaching out to maximum people with this universal mission. If the numerous disciples of Christ could join this universal mission, how fast we could have established a CIVILIZATION OF LOVE with universal values.(Published on 13th April 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 16)