Our most loving and gracious heavenly father. You know that I come to you when I am in distress. And that is what my parents and teachers had taught me. You are our last refuge. You know that when I pray, I pray for the country as well. My prayer is never complete without praying for the children of Deepalaya. I pray for my neighbours and for the society in which I live and, finally, for the country.
As you know, I seldom pray for my personal needs, because you always take care of them. I leave all my worries to you. I always seek your guidance, whenever I do anything of importance or take a new decision. My prayer is always modelled after the prayer that you taught me. I am yet to come across a greater prayer than the one you taught mankind.
I was recently thrilled to hear the children of our school reciting so beautifully the prayer, which is considered the Perfect Prayer because you yourself had taught us this prayer. One of my friends, Renuka Narayanan, who is a Hindu and who brought out a book of prayers, included the Lord’s prayer very prominently in her book.
I remember having a little discussion with her. She was so vocal and eloquent when she described it as the ultimate prayer. There is another prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi which I am fond of reciting.
No, I do not claim that I am worthy enough to pray like the Saint who alone could have prayed:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy”.
The prayer so influenced my friend Prof Omchery NN Pillai to suggest that I visit Assisi when he heard that I was planning to attend Mother Teresa’s canonisation at the Vatican. It was on his suggestion that I made a visit to Assisi. I bought a souvenir for Prof Pillai and that was St. Francis’ prayer, inscribed on a brass plate.
Long before I learnt about St. Francis’ prayer, I learnt Rabindranath Tagore’s prayer: “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high/ Where knowledge is free/ Where the world has not been broken up into fragments/ By narrow domestic walls/ Where words come out from the depth of truth/
“Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection/ Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way/ Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit/ Where the mind is led forward by thee/ Into ever-widening thought and action/ Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake”.
Tagore wrote this poem when the nation was under foreign yoke. He would not have imagined even in his wildest dream that seven decades after Independence, Indians will have to make such prayer. In fact, I often remember Tagore’s lines when people in power “build narrow domestic walls” to gather votes and spread falsehood and promote superstition.
Father, this time I thought of praying only for the nation. As you know, I pray for the nation, especially the President, the Council of Ministers, the judiciary and all those who hold high offices in the country every Sunday when I attend the church service. This is because you had taught us in your heavenly wisdom to respect and obey those in authority.
I always remember your teaching, "So give back to Caesar what is Caesar's , and to God what is God’s”. There is no better saying to describe the need to separate religion from state. In fact, it was to respect the state’s order that every Roman citizen should take part in a census that your earthly parents went to Bethlehem where you were born. I am very proud to say that Christians in India are one of the most peaceful, law-abiding communities in the country.
As you are omniscient, you know why I have decided to pray only for the country this time. Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi is known to me for many years. I may not call him a friend but we remain on friendly terms. I respect him, not merely because he is an Archbishop but because he is a prayerful person.
I had an occasion to hear him and to know how concerned he was about the goings-on in the country. It was out of his concern for the nation that he wrote a letter on May 8 to the members of the Archdiocese urging them to pray for the nation. I read the letter. I could not find anything wrong in it.
Of course, he mentioned “turbulent political atmosphere”.
I do not know why so much importance was given to his letter. Is everything hunky-dory in this country? If so, why were innocent people killed in Tamil Nadu? Why are we getting only news of killings and counter-killings from Kashmir? Why are farmers in thousands forced to march barefoot to Mumbai? Why are they shot when they protest in Madhya Pradesh?
Why are there reports of Muslims being lynched to death because they are suspected to be slaughterers of cow? Why are tribals killed when they protest against injustices done to them? Why are ministers leaving their jobs in Srinagar to travel to Kathua to defend those who brutally gang-raped and killed an innocent girl, just because she belonged to a community the majority community did not like? If these are not signs of “turbulent political atmosphere”, what else are they? Signs of peace and progress?
They certainly create fears in the mind of the people whether "the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution” are being followed in both letter and spirit. The Archbishop is among those who are concerned about the deterioration in public life.
Yet, the Archbishop was pilloried. Of course, it was done with a purpose. The petrol price had crossed the Rs 80-mark, the highest-ever. It was with a promise to reduce the petroleum prices that those in power had gathered votes. Their saviours in the media, who think that the Republic belongs to them and none else, picked up the fortnight-old letter to create a controversy where none existed.
The only purpose of his letter was to urge the faithful to pray for the nation, forsaking a meal on Friday. The day was chosen with a purpose. We believe that you were crucified on Friday. It is a day of penance for us Christians. There is no better day for a Christian to fast and pray than Friday. Again, it was you who taught us to fast and pray by your own fasting for 40 days at a stretch.
The Catholics to whom he addressed the letter are so few in number in Delhi that no political party would even consider them as a vote bank. They are an educated lot and they exercise their franchise in the manner they like, and not on the dictates of anyone. Of course, those who created the hullabaloo know this very clearly.
In Germany the Jews were a small community but they were portrayed as the villain of the piece to unite the Germans and that is what some have been doing in the country. His innocuous letter was twisted to portray him as a villain. The method of raising the controversy is the same being tried in various contexts by some political groups – that of false allegations and fake news. In this case, the Archbishop is accused, in some media reports, of encouraging people to “defeat Hindu forces” – a figment of a dishonest mind, as nowhere did he say anything like this.
I have been regularly attending church service since my childhood. During every election, we pray together. I have never in my life come across a Christian pastor or priest praying for a political party or candidate. There was one priest, Fr Vadakkan, who formed a political party called Karshaka Thozhilali Party (KTP). It had a minister B Wellington in the second EMS Namboodiripad Ministry.
His party did not get any support from the Church. As a rule, Christians are guided by two books. They are, therefore, known as the people of the book. For their religious inspiration, they turn to the Bible and for political guidance, they turn to the Constitution, whose basic structure, as the Supreme Court had decreed, cannot be altered.
Secularism is one of the fundamental features of the Constitution. It means that the state will respect everyone as equal, irrespective of his or her religion. So, there is nothing wrong in praying for a strong, secular government to emerge from the 2019 elections. The bishop did not mention any party at all.
If I understand clearly, the BJP, whose president Amit Shah also criticised the Archbishop, has at least publicly never forsaken secularism. On the contrary, the party claims that it is the only secular party, all else are pseudo-secular. Given this claim, it could have even claimed that the Archbishop was praying for the party.
Generally speaking, Christians want a government that does not discriminate between man and man on the basis of religion and caste. More than anything else, they want peace to prevail in the country. Not the peace that one encounters in the graveyard. But the peace that one sees when children happily play in the public with no fear that they would be picked up and sexually abused and men and women play their distinct roles in nation-building.
They want a government that upholds the rule of law under all circumstances. No, it is not their demand alone. An overwhelming majority of the people who want India to become the most peaceful nation with the happiest people in the world would want such a government.
In short, Christians want the Kingdom of God on this earth. We have been praying for 2000 years and we will continue to pray for it, if you so like, for 2000 more years. The Archbishop’s letter for prayer should have been seen in this larger context.
For those who do not see beyond the TRP ratings, such prayers are meaningless. They are only interested in getting the few thousands of rupees they get from their owners every time their channel gets the highest rating.
For Christians, a good government is an eternal quest. It may be difficult for many to appreciate their concern. In fact, all religious pursuits are incomprehensible to the other. For instance, how many can appreciate the fact that there are people in the upper reaches of the Himalayas who spend all their time praying? Each behaves according to his likes and beliefs. You have in your abundant wisdom given us the freedom to choose between the right and the wrong.
A Christian is not a Christian if he thinks only of himself. He must think of the community to which he belongs. In the larger perspective, that community includes every Indian.
Archbishop Anil Couto wants a government that treats everyone equally. A government that does not allow anyone to take the law into his own hands in the name of religion. We may be despised, we may be harassed, we may be deprived of our rights, we may be persecuted but we will not ask anyone to take the lathi in his hands or wield the Trishul. This is because we believe in you.
At times, we may not be able to understand your scheme of things but we believe that ultimately truth alone will triumph and the prophets of falsehood will be consigned to the dustbins of history.
It is your intervention that we seek so that we have leaders who think about the interests of the poorest of the poor and the weakest of the weak. Gandhiji called it Ram Rajya, we Christians call it the Kingdom of God. No force on earth can stop us from praying for the country. You are our ultimate protector.
Everything we ask in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
May I now conclude my prayer with the one that you taught us, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. Amen
(Published on 04th June 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 22)