Greetings of Fr Martin Sirju, Vicar General, on the occasion of the opening of the new location of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Cultural Cooperation in Mt Hope, December 11, 2020.
Your Excellency, Arun Kumar Sahu – High Commissioner of India, other dignitaries, specially invited guests, ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon.
I am honoured to say a few words on the occasion of the opening of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Cultural Cooperation.
I begin with a few words of Mahatma Gandhi on the cow. “The cow is a poem of pity. One reads pity in the gentle animal. She is the mother to millions of Indian mankind. Protection of the cow means protection of the whole dumb creation of God. The ancient seer, whoever he was, began with the cow. The appeal of the lower order of creation is all the more forceful because it is speechless” (A Golden Treasury of Wisdom).
I do not use this quotation to support the sanctity of the cow per se in Indian culture or to propose a ban on beef eating. I am using the cow as a metaphor for all non-human creation. In the evolution of western civilisation since the dawn of the industrial revolution, humanity has placed its concern on the development and advancement of peoples. This has come at a great cost to the environment and indeed the very future of the planet.
Cultural cooperation involves dialogue of different kinds—on art, music, song, dance, cuisine, festivals but also history, movements, and rich exchange of philosophical and religious ideas.
It has long been taught in Hinduism that the world is the body of Brahma. In Catholic faith, we profess the Creed that begins: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth.”
Christians have almost forgotten that God is not only the creator of human beings but creator of Heaven and Earth as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to think of our neighbour, our obligations towards him/her and to appreciate the people behind the scenes of everyday life who are suddenly regarded as immensely important—nurses, sanitation workers, those who work in the supermarket, mortuary workers and others.
But the pandemic has also caused us to see the beauty of the wider world—the Himalayas are seen more clearly once again, there is much less smog in many cities, rivers are teeming with life once again, animals are coming out of hiding and claiming their space in the world.
We are gradually gaining a deeper appreciation for all peoples and the earth who is our Mother and to whom we are eternally indebted.
Gandhi’s plea for the “speechless”, “the dumb creation”, must also be the overarching concern over which all other concerns are seen, no matter how pressing.
Going hand in hand with this concern is Gandhi’s emphasis on ahimsa or non-violence. Pope Francis in his encyclical on the care for creation, Laudato Si’, the first one of its kind in the history of the Catholic Church focusing on the planet, says of this violence we have grown so accustomed to:
“The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she groans in travail. We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth, our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air, and we receive life and refreshment from her waters” ( #2).
There are many forms of violence our two countries, India and Trinidad and Tobago, have to contend with. We both suffer from high levels of violence against women and children. Our cultural cooperation must include concerns about women and children and what is being done to alleviate their suffering.
The promotion of non-violence must no longer be seen as a Gandhi thing but a human thing, the normative pattern of human discourse, a central tenet of human civilisation. This non-violent philosophy also applies to planet earth.
When Archbishop [Joseph] Harris and I visited India with the intention of obtaining Indian missionaries in 2016, we were warmly welcomed by all groups. We were each given a scarf and a bouquet of flowers.
In our West Indian culture, men are not presented with bouquets; that is for women. It’s a ‘girlish’ thing. I saw in it a pedagogical moment: that as I visited another’s shore, nature greeted us, not only people. Nature was saying: “We are happy to receive you.”
May this small but noble institute promote dialogue of different types, encourage a new social humanism based on non-violence, and teach us to love and care for the earth who in turn will love and care for us.
I thank you and congratulate you on the establishment of this Gandhian institute of cultural cooperation and dialogue.