Varanasi: Father Eugene Joseph has been serving as the administrator of Varanasi diocese after Bishop Raphy Manjaly was transferred to Allahabad two years ago. Both the dioceses are in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Varanasi is the Hinduism’s most sacred city and Father Joseph is its third prelate. The 57-year-old bishop-elect is scheduled to take charge of the diocese on August 24.
The bishop-elect shared his visions and dreams for the people of Varanasi in a recent interview with Fr Ajesh Biju, a member of the Indian Missionary Society and a Special Correspondent of Matters India.
MATTERS INDIA: Congratulations for your appointment as Varanasi bishop. How long have you been in the diocese? How do you look back?
I have worked 30 years in the diocese, starting as an assistant parish priest. I have served the diocese as teacher, students’ warden, assistant rector in Minor Seminary, principal of schools, parish priest, director of Regional Pastoral Centre and Kala Kendra, director of St. Mary´s Hospital and founding Director of St. Mary´s School of Nursing. I was a member of the College of Consulters, Finance Committee, Dean, Vicar General, Secretary of Education Society, Diocesan Administrator.
Every responsibility was challenging in its own way. Every task entrusted to me provided a spring board for my spiritual growth. When you are fully into a job with heart and soul, you bloom, you evolve and you experience transformation. This is what makes an impact on your surroundings.
You have been the diocese’s administrator? How was that experience?
It was a rich experience to be the administrator of the Diocese; creating collaboration of all for managing the affairs of the diocese together and the going was indeed a test. I was always chasing time to keep up to the needs and expectations of the diocese and was always in need of spiritual strength. I am indebted to all the priests, religious and laity for their loving support.
Indeed, I feel privileged and blessed to be the bishop of Varanasi whose first prelate Patrick D Souza, who served the nurtured the diocese for 37 years. It is a grace poured on me by God! I believe the spirit of mission we have inherited from Bishop Patrick will stand in good stead for my shepherding ministry.
What is the Church’s role in Varanasi, the holiest city of Hindus?
There is no dispute that Hinduism has enjoyed unprecedented vitality in the more than 4,000 years of history of Kashi (Varanasi), the home of learning and religiosity. Buddhism and Islam have also significantly strong presence here.
The Church exists in the very heartland of Hinduism and Indian culture. Hence it has to respond to the Christ’s call to be the salt of the earth. We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. Therefore, relationship with other religions is very important for us. They are the homes of the Spirit, receptacles of the Word of God to which we must lovingly and respectfully be open.
Evangelization is the primary duty of the Church in Varanasi, the responsibility of the whole people of God. Only an evangelized evangelizer can proclaim the Good News. An important task of the Church in the diocese is to awaken and empower the laity to this duty.
For Varanasi diocese, dialogue with other religions is a “necessary condition for Peace … it is a duty for Christians.” Inculturation and evangelization are intimately related to each other. The Church has made commendable contribution in this area. The Pontifical Council of Interreligious Dialogue summit held here last February showcased the reality and relevance of inter religious dialogue for us as the Church. Today all the more we must consider “a dialogue which seeks social peace and justice as an ethical commitment which brings about a new social situation” (EG 250).
What has been the Church’s record in this matter?St Mary’s Cathedral, Varanasi
It is true that the diocese along with the Indian Missionary Society has played a unique role in this regard from the time of the early pioneers. While much has been achieved in our region, we must continuously ensure that our lifestyle, the language, liturgy, music, art, architecture, etc. should become the indices of our inculturation. Only an inculturated Church can be at home with the followers of other religions. Only when the Message and the Medium are in consonant with each other can the Gospel be communicated effectively. We must live in our diocese the paradigm change that has come about in the Church; not mere accommodation or adaptation, but inculturation.
You spoke evangelization? How do hope to evangelize in this region?
For us, evangelization also means welcoming new members to the Church. Efforts towards this must continue, as it is the command of the Lord. Many are quietly seeking God; led by a yearning to see his face. We have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone (EG 15). Ministry to the Khrist Bhaktasm (Christ devotee), a God-given people who have tremendous yearning for the Word and its healing power, must be seen in this light. We need to put on the compassion of Jesus who was moved by the multitude, hungry for the BREAD, and pressed on Him. Like the Master we must be able say, “I kept them safe by the power of your name, I protected them, and not one of them was lost” (Jn.17: 12).
I thank the Lord for the many religious congregations, men and women, who commit themselves for the spiritual well being of the people at large. I unite myself with them in prayer and ask the Lord to be their strength and hope, constantly guiding them with His Spirit. We hope more priests and religious would be prepared for serving this great need.
Does the fact that Christians are a tiny minority in this region worry you?
The Church in Uttar Pradesh should have no reasons to be subdued for being a minority. True the region is among the most backward and economically the most miserable parts of India. The open and violent disregard for law and the right of others is more rampant than ever and has become a way of life. Of attacks on the minorities, I say, we shall not fear those who harm the body; we should always follow the Lord´s saying, “Be shrewd as a serpent and gentle as a dove”!
It is easily said than done, don’t you think
It can be and should be done, but not on our strength. We must be clear that Church is constantly animated by the Holy Spirit. It is solely moved by the prompting of the Spirit who helps us read the signs of the times. Therefore as Isaiah 40:31 says, “They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint.” Rightly St. John Paul II urged the Church, “There must be no lessening of the impetus to preach of the Gospel.”
Moreover, it is the right moment to take the inspiration from the exhortation of the Holy Father Pope Francis, “to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel.” As an evangelizing community, Church must move forward, stand at the cross roads and welcome everyone and boldly take the initiative to get involved by word and deed in people´s daily lives (EG20) “so that the way may be opened to the birth of a new world” (EG 288).
How is the Pope going to help?
Pope Francis has given us two very important documents which I believe are very timely. One is on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world and the other on the care of our Common Home. Both are in a way complementary in spirit because of the single stream of thought flowing through: safeguard the value of human life in the face of a growing culture of “exclusion and inequality.” We must take to heart his cautionary note on the vulnerability of the pastoral workers to be conditioned, limited and even harmed by a “throw away“ culture which threatens the security of the fragile and defenseless… even the denial of the supremacy of the human person (EG.55).
Today, noticeably, we also face a challenging time of exaggerated individualism and subsequent dampening of missionary vigor. This needs to be addressed through a process of deep spiritual renewal and awakening across all sections of the diocese and seek to build a communion which heals and promotes interpersonal bonds and usher in a renewed missionary inspiration in order to carry the fragrance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to one and all.