Candles In The Dark

Candles In The Dark

No Such Thing as a Bad Boy

Jan 06

If you just read a few paragraphs of the ‘Conclusions’ in  a particular report, you’ll readily agree with what the Guardian said in an editorial. It said what the report revealed was “the stuff of nightmares.” I am talking of the official report submitted in 2009 by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, appointed by the Irish government. The report, relying on the testimony of nearly 2,000 men and women who attended more than 200 Catholic schools in Ireland from the 1930s until the 1990s, established that thousands of children were subjected to severe physical, emotional and sexual abuse and deliberate neglect.

As a result, the Catholic Church in Ireland has lost thousands of members, and the respect and moral authority it once enjoyed.

This is why you are struck by the fact that there was a priest who discovered years ago that such abuse existed in Irish Catholic institutions and had the courage to publicly condemn it. He called these institutions a “national disgrace.” He blasted Ireland’s ‘reform schools’ as “a scandal, un-Christlike, and wrong.” If only the Church authorities had listened to this prophet, repented and acted to stop the abuse, how many innocent children could have been saved!

Today this prophet is a ‘Servant of God’ who is well on his way to being declared a saint by the Catholic Church. Fr Edward Joseph Flanagan was born in 1886 in Ireland in a hard-working farm family that was deeply religious. At the age of eighteen he emigrated to the U.S., along with his sister. He stayed with his mother’s relatives and studied at Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and then joined the seminary for the Archdiocese of New York. Unable to recover fully from pneumonia, he had to leave the seminary. He stayed with his brother, Patrick, who was a priest in Omaha, Nebraska, and his sister nursed him back to health.

When he recovered, he left for Rome and studied at the Gregorian University. But the Roman winter made him sick again and he had to return to Omaha to rest. When he regained his health he went to Innsbruck, Austria, to complete his seminary studies and was ordained a priest there in 1912.  When he returned, he was made an assistant pastor in Omaha and he worked in a few parishes. Struck by the sufferings of various vulnerable groups, he assisted the elderly and homeless orphans and found them places to stay. The plight of homeless, delinquent boys distressed him and in 1917 Flanagan established a home for them near Omaha. He called it the Boys Town.

What attracted the nation’s and soon the world’s attention was the approach Flanagan introduced in dealing with the boys. He realized that almost all of them came from poor, broken families where they suffered abuse or neglect at that tender, critical age. He said, “There’s no such thing as a bad boy.” Realizing the irreparable harm done to boys by the severe punishment and abuse of the reform school model, he insisted on giving the boys care, concern and help and a good education. Soon the Boys Town had its own schools, post office, gymnasium and cottages and chapel. It had no fences to stop the boys from leaving. When asked why, he said, “I am not building a prison. This is a home. You do not wall in members of your own family.”

He prayed the Rosary every day and was the first to go the chapel every morning. Encouraging his wards to pray, he said, “Every boy should pray; how he prays is up to him.”

A film called Boys Town, based on the life of Fr Flanagan, starring Spencer Tracy, released in 1938, made Flanagan and his unique achievement known throughout the world and brought him many awards.  Invited to assess policies and programmes for children, he travelled to several countries, including Ireland.  Stung by his forthright and courageous criticism of what went on in Ireland’s reform schools, government authorities and religious leaders ostracized him and indirectly forced him to leave. But programmes and centres for children, based on his convictions, came up throughout the world.
In May 1948, while he was on a visit to Germany, Flanagan died of a heart attack. His body was brought to the U.S. and buried in Boys Town, Nebraska.  Today, Boys Town provides direct and indirect care to 1.4 million youth and families every year.

Fr. M A Joe Antony SJ, former editor of the New Leader and Jivan, is now a writer and retreat guide. He stays at St Joseph’s College, Trichy, Tamil Nadu, and can be contacted at majoeantony@gmail.com


M A Joe Antony SJ

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Candles In The Dark

“Fall in love with God”

DEC 10

I am writing this piece while directing a retreat at the Pedro Arrupe Institute, Raja, Goa. Ever since I arrived here, I saw people peering  at a black statue right in front of the chapel. The statue was of a man dressed apparently in traditional Japanese dress, who was praying in a squatting posture.

The Sisters who had come for the retreat asked me  whose statue it was, and I was very happy to tell them: “Pedro Arrupe!”

I am writing this column on him on his 111st birthday and the day he, as the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, founded the JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service) that works now in 52 countries, serving about -640,000 refugees from across the world.

Pedro Arrupe was born on 14 November 1907 in Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain. He studied medicine, butbefore he could complete his studies and become a doctor, he was called to become a Jesuit. He joined the Jesuits in 1927. Five years later, the Spanish government expelled all the Jesuits, and Arrupe had to complete his Jesuit formation in Belgium, Holland and the U.S. He was ordained a priest on 30 July 1936.

In 1938 he was sent to Japan. He hoped he would be allowed to serve in Japan till the end of his life. But the Second World War broke out. On 07 December 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. In Japan it was already 08 December, the feast day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While Father Arrupe was celebrating the Eucharist, he was arrested by the Japanese Security forces on suspicion of espionage and placed in solitary confinement.

He was released after thirty-three days. He moved to Nagatsuka, outside Hiroshima, to resume his duties as the Master of Novices. On 06 August 1945, he heard the wailing sirens as an American B 29 bomber flew over Hiroshima. Very soon he heard a deafening explosion and felt the deadly impact of the atomic bomb. He was one of the eight Jesuits who were within the blast zone, but all of them miraculously survived.

Arrupe opened the Jesuit Novitiate and welcomed about 150 shocked, suffering victims and treated them using his medical training. He and his Jesuit companions managed to save all of them – except a boy.

In 1958 he was appointed the Provincial of the Japanese Jesuit province and seven years later he was elected the 28th Superior General of the Jesuits. He had to guide the Jesuits through the momentous changes that Vatican II brought.

Eager to get the Jesuits committed to addressing the needs of the poor, he convened a General Congregation that defined the Jesuits’ mission as “service of the faith and the promotion of justice.”

As his heart was always with the poor,  he emphasized that we need to strive constantly to win justice for them. One of the most quoted statements of this modern day prophet was about the objective of Jesuit education. It must be to form ‘men and women for others,’ he said.

In 1981 he suffered a stroke. In a move that annoyed some Jesuits and saddened many, Pope John Paul II appointed an elderly Italian Jesuit to administer the Society. In 1983, Father Arrupe was asked to resign. A General Congregation was called to elect his successor. He was brought to the opening session in a wheelchair and his statement was read out. The delegates were moved to tears when they heard his words: “More than ever I find myself in the hands of God…It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to feel myself so totally in God’s hands.” Later he slipped into a coma from which he never recovered. In 1987, when I visited Rome, Fr Michael Amaladoss SJ, who was then a General Assistant, took me to the room where Father Arrupe lay unconscious. Fighting back tears, I bent down and touched his feet and sought his blessings. He died on 05 February 1991 at the age of 83.

As I was writing this column, I chanced to see a letter from the present Jesuit General, informing the Jesuits that the cause of Fr Pedro Arrupe’s beatification has begun and so, technically from now on he is a ‘Servant of God.’ A servant of God who fell in love with his Master. Revealing the secret of living a life of commitment, Arrupe said, “Fall in love (with God) and stay in love and it will decide everything.”


M A Joe Antony SJ

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‘Where God guides, God provides’

NOV 02

Thousands of poor people – of all creeds and castes – in three districts of Tamil Nadu, India and hundreds of men and women in U.K. and U.S. consider him a true hero, and a saint.

Brother James Kimpton was born in a presbytery! Poverty forced his parents to take shelter in the parish presbytery in Conway, in Northern Wales, England, where he was born on 23 May 1925. When their fortunes improved, the family shifted to a rented house. Then, in 1937, his father, Charles Kimpton, bought a small house for his family. James had to walk to his school four miles away.

He felt close to his mother, Doris Kimpton, and imbibed her qualities of simplicity, frugality, punctuality and a spirit of generous service. When he was fourteen, he decided to become a De La Salle Brother and made his first profession in 1945 and five years later his final profession. In 1952 he was sent to work in a college at Wattala, Sri Lanka. Apart from teaching art and coaching the students in sports, Brother Kimpton started a printing press and a school for visually challenged children.

In 1964 the Sri Lankan government ordered all foreigners to leave and that turned out to be a blessing for India, especially the southern State of Tamil Nadu. He established a 120-acre ‘Boys’ Town’ near Nagamalai, Madurai, where boys from very poor families learnt farming and other trades, like carpentry and welding. In 1966, hearing the sad news of his mother’s serious illness, he rushed to England and managed to see her in her last moments and say, “Mother, I am here!”

In 1974, he started ‘Boys’ Village’ near Batlagundu and soon started working in surrounding villages. In 1976, his parish priest, a good friend, brought him four orphaned children. But Brother Kimpton told him that, as a matter of policy, the Boys’ Village did not admit girls or boys under seven. But a persistent inner voice kept reminding him of the orphaned children. He brought the children and asked the widow who was working as a gardener to be a mother to the children. When more and more destitute children came, he came up with a unique way of caring for them. He trained ‘mothers’ to care for seven or eight children in a homely, loving atmosphere, as if they were their own children.

A registered society called ‘Reaching the Unreached (RTU)’ was started in 1978. Its office in a village called G. Kallupatti in Theni district of Tamil Nadu became his home. The services RTU offered to the poor in a number of villages were so many and so well-planned that those who came to know about them were awe-struck. Four Children’s Villages, schools, bore-wells, day-care centres for working women, drinking water projects, balwadis, hostels for girl students, nutritious food schemes, low-cost houses, clinics, home for HIV-affected children, mobile tailoring unit, mobile science labs…. His friends who admired his amazing achievements formed RTU-UK and RTU-USA to raise funds for his projects.

Kimpton woke up at 4.30 am to pray. He prayed the Rosary every evening. He deeply believed that ‘where God guides, God provides.’ When lack of rain caused problems, he filled a bottle with water and placed it before a statue of St Joseph and prayed. Soon, there was a heavy downpour! When a ten-year old girl’s condition became critical, after a sudden attack of fits, he stuck her photo on a picture of Mother Teresa and asked everyone to pray. The girl miraculously recovered! One who never believed in religious conversions, Kimpton advised all those who worked for him to remain true to their faith. He joined the festival celebrations in local temples and attended Muslims’ iftar ceremonies. Festivals of all religions were celebrated joyfully in all Children’s Villages.

Apart from his inspiring and practical love for the poor, Brother James was a gifted artist and architect. His drawings of village children are works of art. He designed and constructed hundreds of houses for the poor.

Bro James Kimpton died peacefully on October 5, 2017, at the age of 92. The Englishman who left his mother and motherland to work here continues to live in the grateful hearts of the thousands of poor Indian children and adults he reached out to.

 

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Fr M A Joe Antony SJ

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Candles In The Dark

A FEARLESS CRUSADER

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When I heard the sad news of his passing away, I recalled the happy memories of meeting him, when he came to be the Chief Guest at the New Leader National Awards function many years ago. He must have been in his 70’s then, but nobody could guess his age, as he was so active and agile. What struck me was the utter simplicity and humility of the eminent journalist, writer, editor, High Commissioner to the U.K. and a member of the Rajya Sabha.

Kuldip Nayar, 95, who died on 23 August 2018, was a stalwart of the Indian press, who stood up and spoke up for freedom and democracy, for human rights and secularism, till the end.

He was born in 1923 in Sialkot, Punjab, now in Pakistan. He studied English literature, journalism and law in Lahore, then a part of British India. Beginning his career as an Urdu reporter, he became the editor of the Delhi edition of The Statesman and later the head of the news agency called United News of India (UNI). Soon he became a much-admired writer, thanks to his commitment to human rights, democracy and peace. As an uncompromising, principled crusader for these values, he was widely respected and read. For a number of years his syndicated column, called Between the Lines, was published in about 80 newspapers in 14 languages.

Although the present situation in India is not very different from that period, the time of Emergency continues to be called the darkest hour for Indian journalism. Soon after Indira Gandhi declared Emergency in 1975, Kuldip Nayar was one of the few fearless journalists who reported and condemned the widespread violations of human rights and the attacks on freedom of expression. So, inevitably, he was one of the first journalists to be jailed and tortured.

The book he wrote after the Emergency was withdrawn and he was released from prison became a bestseller. It was called The Judgement. He wrote other books: Distant Neighbours: A Tale of the Subcontinent, India after Nehru, Wall at Wagah, India-Pakistan Relationship, The Martyr, etc. His autobiography, Beyond the Lines, reveals not merely his convictions and commitment, but also the vision he had for our country and South Asia. He could never digest the fact that India and Pakistan continue to see each other as enemies. He kept on urging the leaders of both countries to initiate talks to find solutions to the problems they faced. He did something symbolic to highlight this vision. From 2000, every year on 14 and 15 August, when Pakistan and India celebrate their Independence, Nayar led a group of peace activists to light candles at the India-Pakistan border at Attari-Wagah near Amritsar.

He had a friend in Pakistan who, in spite of being a politician, was a peace activist too – Jaleel Ahmed Khan. As one who migrated to Pakistan in 1947 and was a witness to the mass murders caused by communal hatred, Khan understood the value of peace and joined Nayar in several peace initiatives in both countries. Recognition of his merits and values led to his being made the High Commissioner to the United Kingdom in 1990, a member of India’s delegation to the United Nations in 1996 and a member of Rajya Sabha in 1997.

We observe this year the 10th anniversary of the well-planned anti-Christian Kandhamal riots that killed hundreds of poor, tribal Catholics in Kandhamal district in Orissa. Anto Akkara, the courageous Catholic journalist from Kerala, who has risked a lot to unearth and publicize the shocking truths behind those massacres, has described, in a recent article, the inspiration and support he received from Nayar. In spite of his age and illness and many commitments, Kuldip Nayar was present for the release of his book, Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?, and later wrote a foreword to its Hindi translation.

At a time when fake news and false propaganda are used to ignite hatred and win votes, Kuldip Nayar’s legacy as a journalist of integrity and a crusader of peace and harmony will always remain a benchmark for all who work in media.


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“She was Good News for the Poor”

Sep 12

The Salesian officials at their theologate at Kavarapettai near Chennai had invited me to be the Chief Guest at their Pope’s Day celebrations on 29 June this year, the feast day of Sts Peter and Paul. The main event was a seminar on the latest apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, Gaudete at Exultate (Rejoice and be glad). Apart from about 60 Salesian students of theology from three Indian States, and their professors, there were Sisters and some lay men and women.

After four of the students presented this papal document with the help of slides, I had to speak. In order to highlight a point made by Pope Francis in his exhortation, I asked them to think of someone whom they had lived or worked with, who would qualify to be called a saint – in the light of what Pope Francis says of ‘saints next door.’ Ms. Margaret Rosair, a retired English teacher who was there, came up to talk of a PBVM Sister who had died ten days earlier. She explained why she thought Sr Isabel, who loved and served the poor till the end, was a saint. I said I’d agree wholeheartedly.

Sr Isabel Dias PBVM was born at Chandor, Goa, in 1929 as the sixth child of Mr. Diogo Santano Dias and Mrs. Terezinha Gomes. After her studies, she worked as a teacher in Mumbai for two years and then joined the Presentation Sisters (PBVM) in 1953. Starting her religious formation in Church Park, Chennai, she made her first profession in 1955 and her final profession in 1960.

After teaching in the schools run by PBVM Sisters in Chennai, she served as an administrator in their novitiate in Bangalore and then as the community animator in Bombay from 1974 till 1982. After retiring from active teaching, she worked in Perambur, Chennai for five years and then she moved to the George Town community, where she spent a total of 35 years working with the poor.

During the 20 years when I edited the New Leader, I met her many a time. She would be the first one to welcome you and make you feel at home by taking care of you. She sat in the front row in the church, participating in the Eucharist attentively and devoutly. The hours she spent before the Blessed Sacrament gave her the energy she needed for her work with the poor. A kind, compassionate, and caring person, Sr Isabel had always a gracious smile on her face.

Sr Isabel sought to empower the poor by training them in various skills. She used her entrepreneurial skills to start a successful business venture which helped many poor women to eke out a living and support their families. Her delicious cakes, cookies and wine were in great demand during festive occasions. The decorations she came up with for weddings or feasts testified to her artistic, creative skills.

Ms Arlene Correya is an ‘associate’ of Nano Nagle, the courageous and compassionate Irish woman who founded the PBVM Sisters. She says, “I was privileged to work closely with Sr Isabel during the last ten years. She inspired us to reach out to the poor. She took us to homes for the aged and cancer hospitals and encouraged us to share our time and love with the inmates. She knocked at the doors of schools and colleges to obtain admission for the poor children. She was never ashamed to beg from the rich in order to meet the educational and medical expenses of the poor. She loved to narrate Bible stories to children and took a great interest in preparing them to receive the sacraments of Communion and Confirmation. She stressed the importance of family prayer and encouraged them to serve at the altar. Sr Isabel was the voice for the voiceless. She was the good news for the poor.”

Sr Isabel died on 20 June 2018 at the age of 89. Sr Leela Kallarackal PBVM, who knew her well, says, “Sr Isabel can be called the Nano Nagle of Chennai.” One of the things that showed this was true was the way the poor, needy women gave vent to their sorrow at her funeral at St Mary’s Co-cathedral, Chennai on 21 June. They cried, they sobbed, they wailed without any inhibition.

 

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Martyrs for Justice

JULY 02

The Vatican announced recently that Bl. Archbishop Oscar Romero will be canonized during the Synod of Bishops in October this year. Soon after he was beatified on 23 May 2015, this is what I wrote in the New Leader:

“You would have surely heard about the man– Archbishop Oscar Romero. He was born in a poor family on 15 August 1917 in a small town, about 100 miles away from San Salvador, the capital city of EI Salvador. There were no job opportunities in his town for people with academic qualifications. So he had to become a carpenter. But sensing the call to become a priest, he joined the seminary. Before his ordination, he was sent to the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome for his theology. In 1942, while still in Rome, he was ordained a priest, but none of his family could attend the ceremony.

Returning to EI Salvador soon after his ordination, he ministered in parishes for over 20 years. Since alcoholism was rampant in the area, he started an Alcoholics Anonymous group. After serving as the rector of the inter-diocesan seminary in San Salvador, he became the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Salvador in 1970. In 1974 he was appointed the Bishop of a poor, rural diocese called Santiago de Maria. In 1977 he was appointed the Archbishop of San Salvador.

In EI Salvador a handful of wealthy families owned more than 90% of the land. When the poor peasants raised their voice to obtain their rights for a decent, dignified life, their leaders were abducted, exiled or killed. In order to justify such atrocities the ruling military junta branded anyone who stood up for the poor as communists. Fr Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest who worked with the poor and a close friend of Romero, was assassinated by a death squad. “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead,” Archbishop Romero later wrote, “I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’ Romero, who was more of a timid conservative, from then on, reached out to help and console the poor and their leaders who faced these terrible sufferings. He was moved by the plight of a growing number of widows, orphans and those who had to flee the country. He emerged as a champion of the poor and became the voice of the voiceless.

 

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Courage Born of Compassion

AUGUST 10

This Indian, who, I am sure, must be very close to God, is not a Christian. When Kailash Satyarthi was born, he was named Kailash Sharma. Sharma is a common surname among Brahmins in India and Nepal. How did Kailash Sharma become Kailash Satyarthi? ‘Satyarthi,’ by the way, means ‘seeker of truth.’

What made him change his name?

Barred from his own kitchen and dining room

Not merely his admiration for Mahatma Gandhi but also something that happened when he, as a young man, organized a dinner for ‘high caste’ people. He let it be known that the food that would be served would be cooked by Dalits. None of the leaders turned up. But it didn’t stop with that. They went on to threaten that he and his family would be excommunicated. If they wanted to save themselves from excommunication, he should take a holy dip in the Ganges, and organize a feast for 101 Hindu priests, wash their feet and drink that water. Kailash refused and so was barred from entering the kitchen and the dining hall in his own house and was forced to use his own utensils. Kailash Sharma chose to renounce his caste and the entire caste system and changed his name to Kailash Satyarthi…

 


Fr M.A. Joe Antony SJ

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A TV Celebrity, a Best-Selling Author and a Man of God

JUNE 12

Meet a bishop whose radio broadcasts had four million listeners, who received 6000 letters a week from listeners, was watched by thirty million viewers on TV, wrote 73 books—and learnt most on his knees.

When I was in the novitiate I remember scouring the library for his books. Their appeal had to do with his vast learning, fresh insights and the way he communicated them. Therefore I wasn’t surprised when I learnt, years later, that his radio broadcasts had a weekly listening audience of four million people and received 3,000–6,000 letters from his listeners every week.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen later moved to television and, from 1951 till 1957, presented a programme called ‘Life Is Worth Living,’ which drew more than thirty million people every week!  Later he hosted ‘The Fulton Sheen Program’ for seven years from 1961. One of his best-remembered presentations was telecast in February 1953, when he forcefully denounced the repressive regime of the Communist dictator, Joseph Stalin. He concluded by saying, “Stalin must one day meet his judgment.” A few days later the Soviet dictator suffered a stroke and died within a week.

Sheen was born on May 8th, 1895, in El Paso, Illinois, U.S. Later his family moved to nearby Peoria, Illinois, where he was educated. After his school and college studies, Sheen joined the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1919. He was sent to study philosophy at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and later he earned a doctorate in philosophy at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. He went to Angelicum in Rome and earned another doctorate. This time it was in theology.

He returned to the Catholic University of America, where he taught theology and philosophy for twenty-three years and honed his skills as a scholar, educator and orator. In 1951 he was appointed the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of New York. In 1958, he became the national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, serving for eight years. In 1966 he was made the Bishop of Rochester. He resigned after three years and was made the Archbishop of the titular see of Newport, Wales. While this ceremonial position promoted him to the rank of Archbishop, it freed him to focus on writing. Archbishop Sheen wrote seventy-three books and numerous articles and columns.

Time magazine featured him on its cover in 1946 and referred to him as “the golden-voiced Monsignor.” He won an Emmy Award twice for ‘Most Outstanding Television Personality.’ While he was at the height of his popularity he had to stop hosting his TV show, reportedly because of a Cardinal who had a grudge against Sheen and swore revenge. But Sheen never said anything in public about the Cardinal and even went on to praise him in his autobiography, Treasure in Clay. Sheen brought a number of notable figures in the U.S. to the Catholic faith, including agnostic writer Heywood Broun, politician Clare Boothe Luce, automaker Henry Ford II, the famous violinist and composer Freitz Kreisler and actress Virginia Mayo.

Beginning in 1977 Sheen had to undergo a series of surgeries that sapped his strength and made even preaching difficult. On October 2nd, 1979, about two months before Sheen’s death, Pope John Paul II visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and embraced Sheen, saying, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are a loyal son of the Church.” Soon after an open-heart surgery, Sheen died on December 9th, 1979 in his private chapel, while he was praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Every single day all through his priestly life he spent an hour in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. “The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white host,” he said.

The cause for his canonization as a saint was officially opened in 2002. In June 2012, Pope Benedict XVI declared him a ‘Venerable Servant of God.’ We may not be an intellectual giant or a popular communicator as he was, but we can all pray. He said, “It is impossible to lose your footing when you are on your knees.”


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The fearless fighter who fought till the end

MAY 4

When she was leading the agitation, she was not aware that the police had been strictly ordered to disrobe her and have her photographed. The ruthless dictator and the extremists thought that kind of humiliation would silence her. The unscrupulous policemen standing behind her did try to tear her dress off and managed to bare her back. But her supporters fought and succeeded in protecting her from further humiliation. But the outrage and the shock did not silence her. Asma Jahangir, described as the “gutsiest woman of Pakistan,” fought courageously against dictatorship and religious extremism till the end that came on 11 February this year.

Born on 27 January 1952  into an affluent family in Lahore, Pakistan, Asma Jilani Jahangir studied at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Lahore. In 1978 she received her law degree from Punjab University, Lahore. Right from her childhood Asma was exposed to activism and political struggle. Her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, though a civil servant, was a fearless activist who was frequently jailed for opposing military dictators. In fact, the first time Asma appeared in court was to plead the case of her jailed father.

In 1983, Safia Bibi, a blind 13-year-old girl, was raped by her employers, and as a result became pregnant. But what happened to her can enlighten you about what really goes on in Pakistan. Her rapists accused her of ‘fornication’ and the court fined her and sentenced her to flogging and three years of imprisonment. Asma and a group of supporters staged a protest and later she defended Safia in the court. Widespread protests and pressure finally made the appeals court overturn the infamous verdict that sought to punish the victim of the crime.

Asma advocated peace with India, and so the extremist elements often accused her of being an Indian agent or a traitor.

She worked initially at the Lahore High Court, and later at the Supreme Court. In the 1980s, when she became active in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, the regime of Zia-ul-Haq put her in jail. In 1986, she moved to Geneva, and became the vice-chair of the Defence for Children International. In 1988 she returned to Pakistan. She co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and was its Secretary General for a few years. Asma became Pakistan’s first woman to serve as the President of Supreme Court Bar Association. She served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion for six years from 2004 and on the U.N. panel for inquiry into human rights violations in Sri Lanka, Israel and Iran.

Asma spent her life defending the human and women’s rights, rights of religious minorities and children in Pakistan. She was a staunch critic of the Hudood Ordinance that decreed that victims of rape had to prove their innocence or else face punishment themselves. She also fought against efforts to bring in Proposed Law of Evidence, which reduced the value of a woman’s testimony to half of the value of a man’s testimony. In a letter to The New York Times, Asma said that “Women are arrested, raped and sexually assaulted every day in the presence of female constables, who find themselves helpless in such situations.” She had to pay dearly for criticizing Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws that were used against the minorities.

She won a number of awards, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award and the French government’s ‘Officier de la Légion d’honneur’ award. But the international recognition of her courage and struggles did not prevent the Pakistani government and army from harassing her. If she was not jailed, she was put under house arrest. In 2012, she came to know that an assassination plot against her had been hatched at the highest level of the security establishment. But she refused to leave the country. She said, “I will not leave. My ancestors are buried here, and my life is here.”

That life ended on 11 February 2018, when she suffered a brain hemorrhage. Writing about her funeral on 13 February, Rabia Mehmood, a Pakistani woman journalist, said, “it turned into a poignant display of women’s resistance in Pakistan… Her funeral was a staggering manifestation of her legacy, a radical send-off befitting a feminist icon. It was subversive not only because thousands of men and women stood next to each other praying, but also because those men and women were Christians, Sikhs, Shia, Sunni and Ahmadi.”


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“Thou art the folly of love divine, Cross of our Saviour King!”

April 08

Do you know someone who is not carrying a cross? We all are. What makes our crosses different is their weight. But our crosses are metaphorical, referring to the sufferings we have to endure. Can you believe that there is a man who literally carries a cross—an actual cross?  He walks around, meets people, prays for them, and even travels abroad carrying a twelve-foot, wooden cross that weighs forty-one kilograms!

One night in 1982, Keith Wheeler was on a beach in Florida, watching the ocean and thinking about life. It is at that moment, he says, he understood the value of the death of Jesus on a cross. Three years later, in 1985, while he was praying at night, he felt that God spoke to him: “I want you to make a cross and begin carrying it through the streets of Tulsa on Good Friday.” He obeyed, made a cross and on Good Friday carried it along the streets of Tulsa, a town in Oklahoma, U.S.A. He believed that God wanted him to be a pilgrim of peace who carries the cross, the symbol of reconciliation, to every nation.

Now Keith Wheeler has walked with that 12-foot, wooden cross over 24,000 miles, through more than 175 countries on all seven continents! Keith has carried the cross through places such as Tibet, Iran, Iraq, China and even, Antarctica. He has carried the cross through many nations at war such as Libya, Bosnia, Rwanda, the Chechen region and Palestine. And yes, he has come to India, carrying his cross. This is what he has to say about his visit to our country: “We began carrying the cross in Kanyakumari (formerly known as Cape Comorin). It is the southernmost tip of India where the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea come together. From there, we walked north up into the state of Kerala. So many people wanted prayer … people would just stand there staring at the cross and then burst into tears, as we would share with them about God’s love and how He wants to forgive us and have a relationship with us and give us eternal life. It was awesome! People were constantly offering me food and drink. They kept hanging garlands of cloth and of flowers around my neck. Oh, the love of the precious Indian people! These weren’t just Christians, there were also Hindus and Muslims!”

Well, can you travel to 176 countries carrying a 12-foot wooden cross without facing any problems? Keith has been arrested about forty times. Once he says he was beaten and left for dead. People who did not like what he was doing have tried to run him over. One of his legs has been broken in twenty-one places! The weight of the cross has caused welts to develop on his collar bone.

Keith Wheeler, 57, an American and ecumenical Christian, is happily married. Nicole, his wife, often accompanies him on his cross-carrying trips. They have five children. You may wonder if he has other ‘crosses’—apart from the wooden cross he carries around. His twenty-four-year old daughter, Hannah, is on dialysis, and she “has to stick a needle in her body twice a day, five days a week,” he says. His son is autistic. “I believe that God’s heart breaks for the lost and hurting of this world. I know that one day He’ll wipe away every tear from our eyes.”

Keith says, “I’m not an evangelist or missionary; I’m simply a pilgrim. I am a pilgrim follower of Jesus. I go with Jesus, the cross, and the simple message of God’s love for all people…”

Let Keith Wheeler keep reminding us of the Love that died on the cross for our sake and on the third day rose victoriously to be with us till the end of time.


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