Monday, January 14, 2013

Pakistan and India Friendship Forum

 Fr. Joe Kalathil’s beautiful faith-based narrative is the story of an initiative to build Social Capital to bond the peoples of Pakistan and India with the aim to bring union of minds and hearts among the people.

The Present Pakistan and Hindustan together were once a powerful and resourceful country known as United India not so long ago. The two peoples were culturally knit together as one family of a deeply God-fearing people. We struggled together until we achieved independence from the British. Then came the sad division and political compulsions have kept us separate as two inimical nations. The division of the once united God-fearing people was a God- less act done by God-less people in the name of God, for their own vested interests.  This division resulted in the cutting off of connections of  thousands of united families all along the border stretching out to nearly a thousand kilometers. Many of them long to meet each other and to be united, but cannot even make a telephone call, even after 65 years of painful separation.

Therefore, the great challenge before us is make a deliberate and firm ‘choice’ to once again humanize our two peoples. The question we must ask:  
Can’t we ‘humans’, so richly endowed, correct such a ‘human error’?  When will we do it?  The answer I received from the enthusiastic young, middle aged and elderly men and women of Lahore in Pakistan was a determined “ ‘I’ will do it and ‘I’ will begin it ‘Now’ ”.
I am deeply convinced that we can, with the help of  the ‘divine’ grace, enter into this peace and friendship-building initiative. Such a conviction and determination will come from an ‘act of faith’ by both the peoples of India and Pakistan.  Through such an ‘act of faith’ we, both peoples, will develop union of minds and hearts and grow to become more human, even while we keep our cultural and religious diversities, as dreamt by Mahatma Gandhi. “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable fire in their mission can alter the course of history This will result is great progress for both the peoples of both the nations.
Let me narrate the story of how it all happened. It began on the 18th of March, 2011. I was called to Jammu by Bishop Peter Celestine O.F.M.Cap for a meeting. With a firm resolve to help Bishop Peter Celestine, the Jammu-Srinagar Diocese and the people of J&K, in whatever way I could, I reached Jammu. The proposed meeting was to be in the Pastoral Centre, Smailpur at 10.30 a.m on 18th of March. Immediately after the breakfast at about 8.30 a.m., Bishop Peter Celestine and Fr. Frederick D’Souza, the then Asst. Director of Caritas India, told me about their very noble vision to establish ‘peace between Pakistan and India’. Their search was for a person who will carry it out.

During the meeting,  the ‘baby’ was passed on to me. Initially it gave me a shock since I could well imagine what it takes to establish ‘peace between Pakistan and Hindustan. The enormity of the mission and my limitations and weakness along with my advancing age flashed through my mind. Soon I began to see this as an ‘opportunity’ for me to surrender myself into the hands of God with a strong conviction that ‘nothing is impossible to  God’. From that very moment, God’s active presence has very tangibly been felt by me. The work was started in Jammu and in R.S.Pura area with unexpected success.

A year went on and the work was satisfactory which was an encouraging experience and everyone was convinced that time had come to go to Pakistan to launch the same work there too. Only then can it be called ‘Cross Border Peace Initiative’ (CBPI). The first time I went to Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi to get a visa to go to Pakistan was in March 2012. The first question asked by the man at the counter was: ‘Do you have any relative in Pakistan? My reply was negative and the response from the other side was very definite and decisive : ‘you will not be given a visa to visit Pakistan’.  I returned with a heavy heart. I looked for another opportune time to make the next attempt to request for a visa to visit Pakistan. On 17th of October, to everyone’s surprise, a visa to visit Lahore, Pakistan for fifteen days was handed over to me. God’s ways are mysterious! God’s hand is stronger than any other!

I was born in Kerala in the united British India when the present India and Pakistan were one and therefore, I do feel that Pakistan is also my motherland. I have great admiration for the God-fearing wonderful people of Pakistan. I have very pleasant memories of having some good contact with some of the very hospitable ‘Pakistan Rangers’ posted in Huzainiwala Border of Ferozepur who offered me pleasantries in the early 60s when there was much feelings of brotherhood, peace and understanding between the leaders and people of Pakistan and India.

After much effort and very special Providential support, I received a visa to visit Lahore. But my real worry showed up: ‘After reaching Lahore what to do? Where to go? How to go about? Whom to contact? Will anyone support this move? I do not know anyone in Lahore and for that matter any one in Pakistan.’ My feelings of total helplessness compelled me to put my whole trust in the Lord and to ‘abandon’ myself as well as the ‘friendship mission of CBPI’ completely and totally to God’s providential care. Slowly light started illumining my mind. I gained clarity that ‘people to people contact’ will help mitigate and slowly remove prejudices from our minds and hearts and  that will help us to get closer to one another. With such an insight, the following programmes were drawn up, which were launched in Lahore in collaboration with the Apostolic Carmel Sisters (ACs), the Jesuits, the youth and the some of the priests and Faithful of Lahore Archdiocese with tacit approval of the Bishop of Lahore. In such a short time of 11 days of which 4 were holidays, I addressed over 800 senior students of 7 schools, over 40 teachers and 100 catechists all of whom showed their very encouraging and tremendous enthusiasm for building friendship and peace between Pakistan and India and they assured me of their full support. When I went to Lahore, I took with me 35 letters from the students of four schools and I brought 90 letters from the students of Lahore. The Bishop Sebastian Shaw and the Vicar General Fr. Andrew Ansari of Lahore Archdiocese, knowing what it means to build friendship between Pakistan and India, were very happy to welcome me with such a noble mission, assuring me of their full support. I also met a few NGOs and a couple of trade unions and the Director of Caritas Pakistan. All of them were very happy to hear about the move to build friendship and peace between Pakistan and India. In a meeting with Dr. Allah Bakhsh Malik, Secretary, Govt of Punjab Pakistan for Youth Affairs, Sports, Archeology & Tourism Department, he expressed his great joy at this initiative and assured me of his full support. I have no adequate words to express the warm welcome, the love and the appreciation which I received from all, especially from the youth group of Lahore.

The concern expressed by some the elderly well-wishers and supporters in Lahore was about the continuity of the work of CBPI in Pakistan after I return to India.  We believe in the insight of the world-renowned anthropologist, Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever happened.”

 A small body of Agents Of Peace (AOP) consisting of Fr.Maria Antony, the former Jesuit Provincial of Srilanka as the convener, Fr.Imran John the only Pakistani Jesuit Priest, Mr.Daniel Parvez Massih and Mr. Shamiel Saleem as members, was formed before I left Lahore to see that this movement is kept going. Fr.Maria Antony would induct a couple of Sisters and few others including some priests into the ‘ad-hoc committee’. The programmes which have been started during those 11 days are: (a)Peace Clubs (PC) in schools; (b)Cross Border Student Contact (CBSC); (c) Cross Border Family/ Faith Contact (CBFC). It has been also proposed to work on: (d)Student Exchange Programme (SEP); (e) Health Care Support (HCS); (f) Educational Support (ES). This small beginning of Peace and Friendship Building was a strong ‘Act of Faith’ as a token of small contribution of the Church in Pakistan as well as Church in India to the ‘Peace Loving’ people of Pakistan as well as to the ‘Peace Loving’ people of India. It may not be possible for ‘man’, but nothing is impossible for God. God’s guidance and His providential hand could be tangibly felt during the process of this small beginning of the great work. Lot more of work has to be done in various levels and the progress will certainly be slow. We need to be prepared to face many obstacles and some opposition also to this initiative. As Fr.Thomas Kunnunkal S.J said: “no good work can be done except at the cost of the one who does it”

When I was in Kerala I spoke to several people and all were very happy and enthusiastic to support this movement. Five men have already agreed to form support groups in different places: Mr.Leo in Thiruvanandapuram, Mr.Jojo in Kollam, Mr.Dev Raj in Alapuzha, Mr. Saleem and Mr.Jobin in Kochi and Mr.Shelly in Gothuruth. I keep in touch with them. Many more support group needs to be formed and this work need to be expanded to the Indo-Pakistan Inter National border areas in Indian side. Bishop Joseph Karikkassery of Kottaapuram diocese was so taken up by this that he promised to talk about this movement in the next CBCI meeting to be held in Velankanny in February, 2013. This movement needs institutional support too. I am confident that many institutions irrespective of any religion or social division will come forward to give their full support to this initiative in every way. Together we will grow in friendship and peace between Pakistan and India and the beneficiaries of this will be ‘WE’ the people of Pakistan and India.

The same challenge faces us today. So I I ask you to consider: If not this, then What? If not now, When?

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