By Nirmala Carvalho
Mumbai: Sacred Heart Church in Mumbai’s Andheri East suburb was packed with people on July 6 for the funeral Mass of Father Augustine Kanjamala, a renowned theologian and missiologist.
He died two days ago at Holy Spirit Hospital, Mumbai. He was 78.
Bishop Chacko Thottumarikal of Indore, who led the Mass, noted that the Divine Word priest served the Church intensely with his visionary leadership in evangelization.
“He inspired everyone. He was encouraging and motivating. He promoted team spirit and harmony and dialogue in community life,” prelate, who was Father Kanjamala’s confrere for several years, said in his homily. He said people listened to the priest’s “enlightened opinions” on various subjects. He provided “innovative guidance” to the Society of Divine Word as its Mumbai provincial, the prelate added.
In his condolence message which was read at the Mass, Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, described Father Kanjamala “as a zealous missionary,” who worked hard to spread the Gospel. “I am deeply grieved,” added the cardinal who said he knew Father Kanjamala since 1985 when the priest served the Indian Church as an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
Father Kanjamala also provided “commendable leadership” to his congregation, the cardinal noted.
“He gave exemplary witness to the Christian faith wherever he lived; He was a prayerful man with a kind heart, courteous and gentlemanly in his dealings with people. All through the forty seven years of his priesthood, he lived a life of integrity, simplicity and commitment fitting the life of a missionary. He was a visionary and a true missionary to the core. May his leadership and zeal be a source of inspiration to all the missionaries,” the cardinal’s message said.
The mourners included priests, nuns and family members of Father Kanjamala.
The priest’s body was brought to the Institute of Indian Culture around 7:30 for the staff to offer their homage. He had directed the institute for several years. The Mass began at 11 am.
Father Kanjamala was born in the southern Indian state of Kerala in 1939. He entered the Divine Word seminary when he was 17 and was ordained a priest in 1970.
He worked among the tribal Catholics of the eastern Indian state of Odisha (then Orissa) in eastern India for three years after ordination. He taught mission theology in major Indian seminaries. He wrote Religion and Modernization of India in 1981 as well as numerous articles. His book “The Future of the Christian Mission in India” was the result of 40 years of research, teaching, and publications. The book noted that the Catholic Church’s missionary efforts in India generally had failed to reach the upper classes.
Father Kanjamala had a doctorate in Sociology from the University of Lancaster. His research had convinced him that the traditional concept of Christian mission was no longer relevant in Asia. He used to say the Christian message appealed more to Dalits and tribals because it preached the principle of equality and human dignity.
Father Kanjamala supported Pope Francis’ call for the “Church of the Poor” since he had worked three years among the tribal Catholics of Odisha. During his tenure as the provincial, Father Kanjamala advocated of ‘tough love.” He dismissed two priests from the congregation after nearly three years of dialogue and deliberations “to uphold the dignity of the priesthood and the dignity of the Society.”
As the Bombay provincial, he opened a center in the western metropolitan city for migrant and domestic workers. This was to stress the congregation’s preferential option for migrant and domestic workers in Mumbai and other places. In 2001, he opened Maitri Sangatan- a care center for these people. He taught these works about their rights, duties, dignity and freedom.