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Archdiocesan Inter-Religious Christmas Celebration, December 15, 2019

This year the theme - Born to Love - set the tone for the Inter-Religious Christmas Celebration, hosted by His Eminence, Oswald Cardinal Gracias at the Holy Name High School, on Sunday, December 15, 2019. It was an evening infused with enthusiasm, joy, heartfelt dialogue and a general spirit of solidarity, so much so that everyone present was enriched by the sharing. The guests and invitees included Mar Thomas Elavanal, Bishop of Kalyan, delegates from religious communities, members of the Diplomatic Corps and several dignitaries from different fields. The emcee for the evening - Jacqueline Fernandes – guided the program and ensured a smooth transition between performances.

His Eminence inaugurated the function by lighting a lamp at the Nativity Scene, and the evening was then flagged off by the St Joseph’s Choral Society, Our Lady of Salvation Church, Dadar. Ably conducted by Dylan D’Souza, and accompanied by Melanie Nazareth, they rendered in four-part harmony the evocative music of the season: O come, O come Emmanuel, Calypso Noel, Glad Tidings and Anand Manao Yeshu Aaya Hai (Joy to the world), conveying the message, ‘Joyously sing of the news we have to tell!’ This was followed by a tableau – Krist Jayanti - beautifully rendered through commentary, and Indian song and dance, by the children of the Holy Name High School, which told the story of Jesus’ birth from the Annunciation to the Visitation.

Then, all attention was focused on the central part of the evening’s program: the inter-religious panel discussion on the evening’s theme, chaired by Fr K T Emmanuel, Judicial Vicar, Archdiocese of Bombay. Fr K T introduced the topic and the panellists who, in turn, represented Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Jainism: Fr Gilbert de Lima, Professor, St Pius College; Swami Prabhu Keshav Chandra, ISKCON; Dr Madhavi Raghav Narsalay, Former Head of Dept. of Sanskrit, Mumbai University; Mufti Manzur Ziyaee, Chief Mufti of Maharashtra; Tejraj Singh, Financial Consultant and Business Coach; Bhante Rahul Bodhi, Vipassana Master & Doctor of Buddhist Literature; Roshani Shenazz Nadirshah, Social Entrepreneur & Wellness Mentor; Shilpa Chheda, Heras Institute, St Xavier’s College.

Tasked with providing a response to how all faiths teach us that we are born to love, the panellists returned thought provoking responses: the audience first heard a parable on how a seeker of the ‘language of God’ learned that this was simply the ‘language of love’ and when this language was spoken, it spread and once shared, it brought harmony and respect for all. In Jainism, the focus is on friendship with the entire universe and seeking detachment, since the opposite – attachment – makes us selfish. Islam reminds us that God made everything for us and us for Himself, to love and be happy together – we are born to love. Hinduism understands that each one of us is created for a particular purpose – to attain moksha - and in working towards this we have to perform certain duties which includes love for all things, animate and inanimate, creating unity in diversity. Two thoughtful incidents from the lives of St Namdev and St Eknath were used as illustration. Love is inherent in the Zoroastrian maxim of ‘good thoughts, good words and good deeds’ for without love there is no goodness. The Sanathan dharma indicates that God is the supreme Father of all which makes us all brothers and sisters of each other, and when we are not loving toward each other, we are disconnected from God. Love for each other is the connection. Sikhism, has a slightly different take on ‘born to love’, though love is a natural outcome when one believes that the Creator is present in everything and it is only when we give love that we will meet the Creator inside each other.

Fr KT then asked the question which must have been on everyone’s lips: If we are born to love, why is there so much violence and hatred? Again the panellists responded with sterling insights: because we fail to dialogue and exist in water-tight compartments; because we have not understood the true meaning of selfless love, and working on communitarian projects would help us to join hands with others for the benefit of all; because we are disconnected from the source of all love, moving away from true faith to becoming more involved with rites and rituals – there is a need to re-connect; because we love things and use people instead of loving people and using things; because we need to distinguish between the different kinds of love – desire and compassion – and choose the right one; because we need to remove the seeds of conflict and one of them is one-upmanship – all are equal and no one is better than the other; because we need to first conquer internal ‘enemies’ - greed, lust, deceit.

The final question was really a call to action: Fr KT asked for brief but concrete suggestions to reinforce the message of ‘born to love’. The answers included: interfaith dialogue at school and college levels; treat all faiths as different and not ‘oppositions’; developing a spirit of repentance as we understand our mistakes; a more sincere practice of each one’s own faith as all faiths speak love; sharing the happiness and celebration of the festivals of all faiths by everyone; frequent interfaith dialogue and training minds in the concept of love and peace; developing creative minds – using the arts for expression. And finally, the overriding maxim: ‘I’ must change to change the world – everything starts at ground zero.

After the panellists were thanked and felicitated with gifts, the St Joseph’s Choral Society once again regaled the audience, inviting them to sing along and the venue resounded to: A Christmas Prayer, Oh What a Wonderful Baby, the evergreen Silent Night and O Come All Ye Faithful. A short skit, skilfully enacted by the students of the Convent of Jesus & Mary, Fort, sent home the lesson that ‘whatsoever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do it for God.’

His Eminence, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, addressed the audience, expressing his gratitude to all present for coming and also the panellists for the thought provoking session. He re-capped the message that we are one family and must love as Jesus taught us to love. It is our responsibility, having received the message, to build a better environment, and make this love felt in our communities, in our city, in our country and in the world. His Eminence wished everyone a Happy Christmas and peace, joy and unity for all.

The Vote of Thanks was given by Fr S.M. Michael SVD, Secretary, Archdiocesan Commission for Inter Religious Dialogue, who expressed his gratitude to His Eminence for hosting the event, the organisers, the participants, and the guests for making this an evening to remember.


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