Cover Story

Cover Story


Jan 13

In a short span of over a decade, social media has changed the way we communicate today. Facebook was launched in 2004, then came YouTube, Twitter, Orkut, Instagram and other social media platforms. Today, social media plays a significant role and is being used in ways that shape politics, business, education, social issues, world culture, careers and many more.

As per Digital Economic Value Index, 25% Of the world’s economy will be digital by 2020 and the estimated worldwide digital advertising expenditure will be around $335.5 billion.
Internet users spend more time on social media sites than ever before. The more time we spend on something, the greater influence it has on us. As of now, almost one fourth of world population are on facebook and many millions are on whatsapp, twitter, linkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram etc.


Influence of Social Media

Digital revolution has changed how people gather and consume information. Social media has the potential to shape public conversations and perceptions, opinions, brand awareness,  and to attract customers and potential partners. Gone are the days when people had to rely on companies to tell them what to buy and Church to tell what faith habits they have to wear. Faith related discussions not only happens in the church and  families but also among reliable friends and digital resources. This is where the relevance of social media plays an important role – in making available relevant content to re-evangelize the nominal Catholics.

 Catholic Church and  Social Media

When the reach of social media is among billions of people from various cultures, how can the church ignore its potential to influence the cultures and people.  It is our responsibility as Catholics to bring church’s teachings to this vast population and fulfil the great commission that Jesus had given to each one of us. The Vatican has taken a serious study of this impact and it has a significant presence and influence across major social platforms.

Pope Francis is one of the most followed world leaders on Twitter with almost 18 million followers.  When Pope opened Instagram account, he set a record by gaining more than a million Instagram followers in under 24 hours. Some of the dioceses in the US and Europe have followed the trend and have a digital marketing team to concentrate on social media platforms to bring the communities closer to Jesus. However, the digital marketing initiatives are currently at infancy, in many of the Indian dioceses.

Digital addiction and social media overuse are a cause of worry especially among today’s youth. Though Pope Francis has been making the people aware about the dangers of social media overuse, he himself encourages Catholics to embrace digital media platforms to start a dialogue of faith and promote a culture of respect. “It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal,” the Pope said. Pope Benedict XVI  also advocated the use of social media to communicate the Gospel message to the tech-savvy younger audience.

Some of the  catholic channels and groups have been making good efforts to keep the audience involved through some relevant and creative content.

Evangelizing young people

If we look at the great evangelizers, we observe that they were in a place where people were and communicated to them in their own language. Today’s younger generation spend a lot of their time on their computers and mobile phones. They are in their own digital space. We need to be there where they are, speak to them in their language about the topics that engage them and provoke them and challenge them.

Opening a social media account/page and posting some pictures and posts is not enough to fulfill the purpose of reaching out to your prospective audience. To be an effective evangelizer on social media, we need to take care of at least the following 10 points.

  1. Vision/Direction: Knowing the target audience, their behaviours, where do we wish to lead them.
  2. Profiling : A social profiling of the target audience will help to decide on the tone and theme of a channel or a page and its content. For example, if our target audience is only women, the banner, colour of the page, branding of the page, timing of the post etc will change accordingly.
  3. Consistency: There should be a consistency in terms of the branding and identity, theme, tone and colour of designs, frequency of each posts etc. In order for an audience to rely on a page or channel, people expect some kind of regularity in terms of the post/content.
  4. Content: Without the right content, you won’t be able to communicate the message. A thought provoking, interesting, spiritual and actionable content is necessary for evangelizing through social media. Without quality content, social media has little appeal. It’s important that one understand the type of content they should provide to their audience to achieve the engagement and reach they’re looking for. Type of contents include blog posts, e-books, case studies, templates, infographics, videos, illustrations, podcasts, GIFFs, animated videos etc.
  5. Quality : In this digital age there are millions of materials available. People are very choosy about the things they listen to, watch and read. Amongst these, the quality and creativity of the content in terms of design, video and audio quality matters. The attention to these details helps to build one’s audience.
  6. Listening and Engagement: Interactivity is the one feature that differentiates social media from traditional media. Answering the comments, queries of the audience on a regular basis are necessary to engage with them. One has to be a good listener to build meaningful connections on social media. Listening helps you succeed in cultivating deeper digital connections. There are several tactics one can employ to bring your relationships with your audience to the next level – asking for reviews and comments, polls, responding to comments in real time, tagging, reference to others’ content, creating facebook or LinkedIn groups etc.
  7. Research and Analysis: A regular research on the expected audience and analysis of audience behaviour data will help one to improve on the content and the campaign. Google analytics and channel insights helps in getting those needed data to improve their experience.
  8. Creative Social Media Advertising: A regular campaign with very attractive and creative design helps one to reach out to those people whom we never imagine to reach through church, institutions or any social gatherings. Organic reach on social media has significantly decreased. For example, organic reach on Facebook for an average business has decreased dramatically from 26% in 2011 to less than 1 percent in 2017. Unlike traditional advertisements that tend to be interruptive, digital advertisements can be highly engaging, useful, and targeted, while bringing value to the intended audience. Properly implemented digital advertisements can help deliver the right content to the preferred audience according their behaviour and age, making spending on advertising much more effective.
  9. Not go after numbers: Numbers excites you and give you the needed boost but we shouldn’t lose the purpose and vision of the campaign by concentrating only on improving the number of followers and likes.
  10. Prayer: Whatever forum or platform we use, if our purpose is to evangelize through social media, we need to be attuned to Him.  We can give only what we have and realize the fact that we are in a spiritual warfare.

The world of social media offers great potential for those planning to spread the Gospel message. Social media, through its vast potential and interactive nature has to become a tool for modern discipleship. The church has to encourage and motivate for more digital disciples to reach to the unreached; encourage the discouraged; motivate the disillusioned and give hope for the hopeless.

Antony A J

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Cover Story

Social Media: The Thrills and the Ills

Jan 08

If you have not yet boarded the Social Media Super Fast Express, you have not yet entered the 21st century! With three billion people connected online through the Internet, Social Media has emerged as a powerful network with earth-shaking impact and influence. It is therefore necessary to know the ‘modus operandi’ of Social Media operations and functioning and also its advantages and disadvantages, its thrills and the ills.

The reach of the Social Media platforms is enormous. FACEBOOK has 1.1 billion members globally, TWITTER has 500 million and the YouTube Video Sharing website has over 1 billion users with millions of hours of content being watched.

The impact and power of the Social Media extends beyond the internet. So what are the powers and potentials of the Social Media?

Power and Potential

The power to create or influence opinions; the power to spread wide publicity; the power to create awareness on a wide variety of topics; the potential to create or change political and social opinions; the potential to create or change public opinion; platform for political campaigns; platform for digital marketing campaigns; a commercial tool, including evolution of marketing strategies; a recruitment tool; a tool to highlight human rights abuse in all its forms, to project sexual abuse and harassment, to highlight corruption in all its forms. On a personal level, Social Media can help you to find new ideas, new trends, opportunities, connect with audiences in deeper ways, bring attention to your work; help create, craft and enhance your brands.

There are examples of success in each of the above points, using the Social Media.


Social Media can create an isolated environment for a person that keeps him/her aloof from family or community. Such isolation can attract people, especially youth, to racism, fundamentalism, terrorism, pornography or paedophiles. The ISIS effectively used Social Media for recruitment to their cause.

Social Media can also expose people to wrong or false propaganda and of course ‘FAKE’ news that can be used during elections to damage and defeat a candidate. They have a storage of personal information on people that can be diverted to influence elections or promote commercial brands or propagate falsehoods. For example, Cambridge Analytica of UK obtained information of 40-50 million Facebook users without their consent.

According to Sree Srinivasan, a Mentoring Guru, “It is not who follows you on Social Media that matters; it is who follows who follows you that matters.” His advice: “Focus on connecting and engaging with influencers, while having more meaningful connections overall.”

Finally, Social Media can lead to ‘addiction,’ where people, especially youth, spend enormous amount of time scouting and surfing often unnecessary or dangerous websites and platforms. It is therefore essential that parents have the rapport and cordial relationship with their children to monitor their Social Media contacts and platforms and guide them.

There is no doubt that Social Media is a wonderful tool with a host of advantages and opportunities. All of us should embark on the Social Media Super Fast Express and benefit from the various options available. You meet fascinating people on Social Media platforms and one can learn a lot from them!

However, it is also important to be aware of the disadvantages and ills of the Social Media and protect ourselves and our children from being victims of the ills.

What is fake news?

Lots of things you read online especially in your social media feeds may appear to be true, but often are not. Fake news is news, stories or hoaxes created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers. Usually, these stories are created to influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion and can often be a profitable business for online publishers. Fake news stories can deceive people by looking like trusted websites or using similar names and web addresses.

According to Martina Chapman (Media Literacy Expert), there are three elements to fake news; ‘Mistrust, misinformation and manipulation.’

The Rise of Fake News

Fake news is not new. However, it has become a hot topic since 2017. Traditionally we got our news from trusted sources, journalists and media outlets that are required to follow strict codes of practice. However, the internet has enabled a whole new way to publish, share and consume information and news with very little regulation or editorial standards.

Many people now get news from social media sites and networks and often it can be difficult to tell whether stories are credible or not. Information overload and a general lack of understanding about how the internet works have also contributed to an increase in fake news or hoax stories. Social media sites can play a big part in increasing the reach of this type of stories.

Types of Fake News

There are differing opinions when it comes to identifying types of fake news. However, when it comes to evaluating content online, there are various types of fake or misleading news we need to be aware of. These include:

  1. Clickbait

These are stories that are deliberately fabricated to gain more website visitors and increase advertising revenue for websites. Clickbait stories use sensationalist headlines to grab attention and drive click-throughs to the publisher website, normally at the expense of truth or accuracy.

  1. Propaganda

Stories that are created to deliberately mislead audiences, promote a biased point of view or particular political cause or agenda.

There are five categories collectively referred to as fake news. Some of which are actually fake (disinformation), others due to human error or biases (misinformation). Either way they all have a very loose connection with the truth and basically sit on a continuum of intent to deceive.

  1. Satire or Parody: Sites such as the Onion or Daily Mash publish fake news stories as humorous attempts to satirize the media, but have the potential to fool when shared out of context.
  2. Misleading news that’s mostly true but used in the wrong context – selectively chosen real facts that are reported to gain headlines, but tend to be a misinterpretation of scientific research.
  3. Sloppy reporting that fits an agenda: News that contains some grains of truth that are not fully verified, which are used to support a certain position or view.
  4. Misleading News that’s not based on facts, but supports an on-going narrative – news where there is no established baseline for truth, often where ideologies or opinions clash and unconscious biases come into play. Conspiracy theories tend to fall here!
  5. Intentionally deceptive news that has been fabricated deliberately to either make money through a number of clicks, or to cause confusion or discontent or as sensationalist propaganda. These stories tend to be distributed through imposter news sites designed to look like ‘real’ news brands, or through fake news sites. They often employ videos and graphic images that have been manipulated in some way.

It is important that you are able to identify, differentiate and manage real and fake news.

Dr Derek Lobo- Retired Regional Adviser for Leprosy, WHO South-East Asia Region

Dr Derek Lobo

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Cover Story


Jan 11

The following tips are taken from Symantec Corporation website:

Communicate with the Children

Talk with your children and students about the Social Media safety tips. It will be good that you also take the following steps:

  1. Know the social media your children want to use. Read reviews of these sites.
  2. Have an account on the sites your children use.
  3. Teach your children the good and bad aspects of this site, e.g., giving too much personal information.
  4. Check the age requirement of each social media.
  5. Check the privacy settings of each.
  6. Learn the special words children tend to use on social media. The meanings can be quite different from what you may think!

Some Popular Sites:

  1. Facebook: Minimum age: 13years. Users can share pictures, videos and comments.
  2. WhatsApp: Minimum age: 16. Users can send texts, audio messages, videos and photos to one or more persons
  3. Instagram: Minimum age: 13. Users can take pictures, edit and share photos or short videos.
  4. Snapchat: Minimum age: 13. A photo-sharing app. Content will self-destruct after a fixed amount of time. (But remember: The viewer can take screenshots and save them.)
  5. Twitter: Minimum age: 13. A microblogging site. Each message may have 140 or fewer characters.


Users need to be cautious about the following points:

  1. Know the network you are using: Do not approve friend requests from people you do not know. So, too, minors in particular must be warned not to meet in real life persons they have met only on the Net.
  2. Beware of imposters: There are people posing as someone else or even as a child, to gain the user’s confidence. Careful if they ask for money or intimate photos.
  3. Avoid questionnaires: Do not give away personal information.
  4. Do not reveal your location, especially if you are vulnerable (a minor, a woman living alone, etc.)

Ground Rules for Children

  1. Keep the computers in common, open spaces of the home or institute.
  2. Allow minors to use the Internet only for a limited amount of time.
  3. Know the Social Media your children want to join. Read reviews.
  4. Check, and follow, the age limitations of each website.

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Cover Story


Jan 07

The internet is down! And I can’t update my Instagram account!!!” exclaims Sonia, exasperated with the lack of internet connectivity. Like Sonia, many youngsters and some adults consider social media apps like Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat or Hike to be an essential dimension of their lives.  Social Media has become a part of our world and is here to stay.

Rapid progress in communication technology in recent decades has enabled people to connect with many persons, cutting across geographical boundaries. It has helped businesses, services and institutions to expand their reach beyond local neighbourhoods and acquire a global clientele. Academicians and researchers are delighted with the extent of information available in a few keystrokes, while parents are content knowing that their children are just a mobile call or message away.

Parents and educators appreciate the benefits of the Internet, but they are alarmed at the flip side of social media…  cyber-bullying, hacking, porn or online challenges like the Blue Whale game. Modern communication technology is a double-edged sword, and we need to be informed about its impact on the different dimensions of our lives, and how to judiciously handle it.

Personal life:   Like a puppet on a string…

Today, many youngsters enjoy connecting with their peers and other persons through social media. They like the quasi-anonymous social interaction that it provides, and they feel it’s good for building up their confidence and self-esteem. Some of them, however, go to the extent where their moods and feelings depend on the likes, comments or reactions they receive. Instead of enjoying their unique daily experiences, they compulsively take photos and videos of mundane activities and post them for public consumption. Such over-dependence on social media can even cause personality and brain disorders (like self-centredness, narcissism, anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc.).

 Personal Data: Look at me!

Some people love to flaunt their status, their friendships, their achievements and their latest gadgets… together with their full name, address and contact numbers. They forget that they can fall prey to identity theft, misappropriation of personal data, access to their private images / videos and subsequent blackmail.  Besides, many popular apps keep track of personal information and store details of individuals without the user’s realising it. There is also no sure way of verifying if an attractive friendship request comes from a real person or a scammer operating a fake identity.

 Use of Time: Social media doesn’t obey the clock…

People like the fact that the Internet and social media help them communicate rapidly and get jobs done efficiently. Students justify prolonged use of social media saying it helps them in their studies (by facilitating group discussion/work, sharing resources). While it’s true that the Internet helps people save time and effort, it could also become a distraction, leading to decreased performance in school or at work. You say you’ll check your messages for just five minutes, but then you get carried away for 15, 30 or 50 minutes… and before you know it, you’ve lost time meant for study, work or an assignment. Tragic accidents have also happened because a person was busy on his mobile while walking on the street or crossing the road.

 Access to knowledge:  You get what you look for…

The Internet and social apps have facilitated access to knowledge and information. You don’t need to go to a library or borrow an encyclopaedia when you can find what you wish through an online search. Youngsters love media sharing apps through which they exchange videos, music and other content. But getting information so easily can have a detrimental effect on learning, thinking critically and creative expression. At the same time, if you aren’t careful, the ‘knowledge’ you acquire online may well be misleading, tendentious or fake altogether. People often furiously forward social media messages without verifying them, thus leading to the proliferation of fake news, rumours or vicious propaganda.

 Ethics: Living life my way…

Interaction with peer or support groups can often have a strong influence on the attitudes and behavioural choices of persons, for better or for worse. The Internet and social apps also facilitate easy and unbounded access to morally questionable content (violence, porn, depraved ideologies) and practices (sharing pirated software/media, revenge posts, sexting). For many youngsters, social media offers a place where they have no boundaries, and where they can ‘do things their way.’  This behaviour is ethically and practically harmful, because institutions and employers increasingly conduct social media profile checks on potential students and employees.

 Professional and Personal Relationships:  Friends galore, risks too…

Social apps can help people connect with others having similar interests, as well as join professional networks and find better jobs. At the same time, unbounded use of social media can become a distraction from work, or lead to breach of confidentiality and professional boundaries. Undiscriminating social media users can be at risk of getting involved with persons having ulterior motives, who use fake identities to engage in emotional manipulation, cyber bullying (online abuse, harassment, blackmail) or setting up a violent/exploitative physical encounter.

 Parent-Child relationships:  Near and yet so far…

Today many parents give their children mobiles and smartphones so that they can easily contact them or keep tabs on them. VoIP calling apps (Skype, WhatsApp, Hike) have become extremely popular with families whose members live far away for reasons of study or work.  However, the same devices which keep family members in touch with one another, can also be the cause of straining of relationships. It isn’t uncommon for family members to be together at home, with each person busy on his/her electronic device to the detriment of family bonding.

 Commerce: Making it work for you…

The Internet has facilitated low-cost communication and speedy financial transactions, which are a boon for business. Free and open-source software (like Android, Mozilla, Open Office, Google) bring the power of computing and the internet to the masses. Many start-ups and established enterprises use social media interactions, feedback and ratings to garner funds and boost their sales. However tech-savvy criminals can also use technology to hack into computers, steal bank card details or siphon business data. Unscrupulous persons and businesses use pirated software in a bid to cut costs, but ultimately end up being victims of malware, viruses and trojans.

Socio-Political issues:  Building or breaking society…

Social media has the power to reach out to the masses, to dispel prejudices, educate people about social issues, demand transparency and efficiency in governance, and influence important state decisions. Unfortunately, it is also being used to spread prejudice, hatred, discrimination and violence against particular individuals and groups. Social apps are employed to promote worthy causes, but can also be misused to gather support for anti-social, communal or extremist agenda.

Social Media popularity is not a passing fad; it is part of the new normal in our world. As such, instead of ignoring, vilifying or rejecting it, parents and young adults would do well to grow in awareness about its modalities, its benefits and undesirable consequences. Parents and educators also have the responsibility to educate the younger generation to the balanced use of social media, as well as verifying and monitoring its actual use by children. We need to learn to harness its capabilities to establish meaningful relationships, instil knowledge with values, encourage ethical business sense, and promote harmony in society.

Cleo Braganza is a Salesian priest engaged in parish ministry in Mumbai. He likes using modern technology for pastoral work.

Fr Cleophas Braganza SDB

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Cover Story

Ways of helping

Dec 06

Christmas is a time for giving, a time for thinking of others, of finding happiness by reaching out to others. Here are true stories of people who reached out and made a difference—mostly in small, almost unnoticed ways. They show us that, instead of drowning in sweet words and generalities, or spreading bad news (as much of media seems to do), we can spread some love and joy around us, if we choose to.

  1. Come for My Wedding

Years ago, while discussing with the managers of Pallavan Transport Company in Chennai on ways of helping drivers and conductors, I heard this touching story. Many of the conductors, a manager told me, were educated, but did this job for want of better opportunities. They feel people do not see them as human beings, but simply as someone selling them a ticket. In this connection, he told me that most of the 8000 drivers and conductors had gone to see a Tamil movie called Aval Oru Thodarkathai. Why? The reason was heart-warming. In it, a young woman comes to invite the driver and conductor of a particular bus for her wedding. They ask her why. They do not know her. She tells them, “You may not know me. But I know you. I have been taking this bus every day, and seeing both of you every day. So, I want you to come for my wedding.” The drivers and conductors felt: “Here is someone who thinks of us as human beings, not just as drivers and conductors.”

Whatever a person’s job or status, income or education, all are human beings like ourselves, with the same feelings and the same desire to be recognized and treated as human beings. Is this the way I treat people?

  1. An Angel for Patients Left Alone

I wrote about him years ago in The New Leader. Mr Devassy, a poor man with a very limited resources, would cycle fifty kilometres every day to go three times a day to the  government hospital in Alleppey with food for those who did not have. Seeing what he was doing, others, especially those from his parish, started giving him food for the patients. He would care for patients who had no one with them, especially those from other states. He would take them to the right doctor, dress their wounds, help with their toilet, look for blood, and take them to his small house if they had nowhere to go after they were discharged. Among such patients was Perumal from Tamilnadu, paralyzed after a fall; Ranjit Kumar from Bihar whose wounds he would dress; Latif from Karnataka who had his leg amputated; 69-year-old Narayananan with head injuries and fractured legs whose relatives did not want him back; Navaneen, 68, abandoned by his sons.

Asked how got into this, Devassy replied, “I was once hospitalized. I noticed that an old man next to me had no one to look after him. I started with him. Later,  I thought: Why not help more people?” His outlook: “to see others’ bodies as our own body.”

May such GOOD people prod us, lethargic and often self-centred “followers of Christ” to move from a worldly Christmas of cards, cakes, paper stars and special meals to welcoming Jesus. Do we take Him in? How? How often?

  1. A Top Surgeon’s Humanity

Dr T. J. Cherian MD was certainly a legend in his life time. I heard from other doctors that he was perhaps the most admired medical professional in Chennai—extremely competent, a wizard at diagnosis and very caring towards his patients. He could have minted money if he wanted. But that was not what he was after. One day, a Class IV railway employee from North India was brought for heart surgery to Railway Hospital, Perambur, Chennai. After the surgery, Dr Cherian asked him how he was. The man told him that he was alone and scared. He had no one with him, since he was from North India. Can you guess what this great doctor (who was then director of this famous hospital) did? After supper, he took a mat and slept near the patient!

I have heard many stories about this doctor’s unusual skills and competence. This story and others about his human side are part of what made him a legend.

  1. “I want to be the first to help!”

A parish priest told me this story. He was working in a poor part of Tamilnadu, where most of the parishioners were landless Dalits. The church was old and small. A decision was made to build a new church. How would they find the funds for it? Most of the people were poor. Struggling for money, the priest had this touching experience. A poor woman selling groundnuts on the roadside came to him. She said, “Father, I heard that we are going to have a new church, and that you are looking for help. I want to be the first to help.” She gave him one hundred Rupees—a huge sum for her.

That brings me to the next story.

  1. “What struck you most in India?”

I asked a young American called John Stasio who came to India some years ago, travelled around, did some voluntary work and went back, “John, what struck you most in India?” His answer was as unexpected as it was beautiful. He said, “The generosity of the poor. I had never seen such poverty before that. But I also saw how generous the poor are. They have so little in their hut; they are ready to share that with you. I had never seen such generosity before.”

  1. “They need help. They have no money.”

A Sister Lawyer I know did so much to help a rape victim. The victim was poor, and the rapist was rich and well-connected. There is hardly any chance for a poor woman to win such a case and get justice. So, this Sister used her legal skills to help the woman get justice. (Name withheld for reasons of privacy.) There are a number of Sisters, Priests and other good people who are lawyers, and take up the cases of poor people who cannot afford to pay legal fees. In most countries, jails are crowded with poor people. The rich can use money and influence to stay out of prison, and win cases. The poor cannot.

  1. A Child’s Savings for Flood Victims

Many of us will have read this story.

Anupriya, an eight-year-old girl from Villupuram in Tamilnadu, saw the plight of flood victims in Kerala. She had collected Rs 9000 over four years to buy a cycle. She donated the whole amount to help those affected by the flood.

As in Jesus’ words about the widow’s mite, a poor girl’s gift of 9000 will mean more to God than 9000 crores from a rich business or government.

  1. Fasting Instead of Finding Fault

This touching story was told to me last week in Pune. A young Catholic woman told me how good her in-laws are. As an example, she said: On hearing people criticizing priests and religious, her father-in-law decided that it is better to pray for someone than to talk ill of them. So, now, he fasts one day a week, and offers it for priests and religious. Is this out attitude when we hear of someone’s failures? Do we do something about it or simply spread the bad news?

  1. Their First Christmas as a Couple

Bernard and Angela (names changed) were a newly married couple. This is how they spent their first Christmas as a couple. They decided, instead of going out for a grand meal or buying presents for each other, to spend Christmas helping the Missionaries of Charity to serve meals to the poor. They prayed with them, helped the Sisters to serve the poor, and shared the meal the poor had.

Isn’t this a much more beautiful Christmas meal than an expensive dinner in a swanky place? Or exchanging beautifully wrapped gifts that people really do not need?

  1. A Christmas Tree with Names of People

A parish priest I know put up a lovely Christmas tree near the Church. On that tree he hung (or stapled) names of poor families in the parish. He then invited the better off people in the parish to pick up a name from the tree, and invite that family to share a Christmas meal. A number of parishioners did.

  1. “We Feel Honoured to be Here”

Sr Celine Vas, our associate editor, shared with me something beautiful she and her colleagues at St. Aloysius College in Mangalore did once. There were many drivers idling away near the college. Sr Celine suggested to the principal to invite them to the college and conduct a half-day programme for them. This was done—with a talk and items by the students. The principal presided, and gave away prizes to the drivers. As snacks were being served to them, one elderly drive went to the mike and said, “I was outside this college for forty years. I had no chance to get in. Today is a great day in my life. I feel these students and the Sister recognized us as human beings.” Another driver said, “Countless students and parents have travelled in my taxi, but I never felt I was part of this college. Today I feel great to sit here where so many students have sat and made a name. My poverty prevented me from getting an education, but today I feel I am part of this great institute. Thank you for treating us like your family.”

  1. A Proud Father, a Great Son

A good lay Catholic, whom I have long admired for his integrity and compassion, told me of an experience that thrilled him. While travelling in a crowded train, his teenage son had packed his sleeping bag—a gift from someone overseas—carefully in its case so it would not get dirty. At night, when his father went to the toilet, he noticed that a young couple who had no berth, were lying on the floor on a sleeping bag. He recognized the sleeping bag as his son’s. His son had got up at night, and, without telling anyone, unpacked his brand new sleeping bag and told the couple sleeping on the bare floor, “You can use this.” The man told me, moved: “I feel so happy that my son has a character like this.”

  • * *             *

There are many, many good people around us. There is much good being done. Unfortunately, evil is more sensational and gets more publicity. We can either simply repeat the scandalous stories we hear, or look around, see the good, learn from it, and tell others about it.

Jesus’ birth was not a huge public event noticed by any media. It was simply the birth of an ordinary woman’s child. But that birth changed history.

We too can do our part to make the world better if we spread a bit of goodness around us when we can. The opportunities are endless, the good examples are many, and our own possibilities are more than we think.

What are you doing with the gifts you have?

Fr Joe Mannath SDB

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Cover Story


NOV 08

Freedom from Poverty and Solidarity with the Poor

In this article, an expert explains the crucial issues involved in poverty—what it is, what causes it, who and how many are affected, the many forms of poverty around us and ways of tackling this central human problem.

Continuing poverty is one of the most pressing problems faced by humanity today. The magnitude of human deprivation is still alarming. As per global poverty update from the World Bank, almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 80 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening.

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (IDEP) is dedicated to focus our attention on the issue of poverty and the dignity of the poor. Every year, October 17th is observed as IDEP. The 2018 theme is “Coming together with those furthest behind to build an inclusive world of universal respect for human rights and dignity.”

Since 1992, United Nation has observed October 17th  as the World Day for Overcoming Extreme Poverty. The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty promotes dialogue and understanding between people living in poverty and their communities, and society at large. “It represents an opportunity to acknowledge the efforts and struggles of people living in poverty, a chance for them to make their concerns heard and a moment to recognise that poor people are in the forefront in the fight against poverty.” (UNSG 2015)

Sustainable Developmental Goals

Poverty eradication is the central theme for many of UN deliberations. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in its 70th session on October 2015. Of these seventeen goals,  Goal 1 is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere, and Goal 2 is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. All other goals are collectively to contribute to ending poverty.

The global community has agreed to eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 (roughly Rs 90) a day by 2030.  According to their agreement, ‘by 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions’.

To reach the goals of poverty eradication, the global community has agreed to implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all poor and the vulnerable. So, too, to ensure that all men and women, in particular, the poor and the vulnerable, have equitable rights to resources, as well as access to essential social and health services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services.

UN policies and Plans

The UN member states have promised to build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters.

The UN member states also have promised to ensure significant mobilisation of resources from a variety of sources, including through enhanced development cooperation, to provide adequate and predictable means for developing countries, especially the least developed countries, to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions.

Further, the global community has agreed to create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions.

Pope Francis: World Day of the Poor

In addition to the UN system, other state actors, such as the Holy See,  observe the Day of the Poor. The Holy see declared 18 November 2018 as the day of the poor and ‘called all to make a serious examination of conscience, to see if we are truly capable of hearing the cry of the poor.’ According to Pope Francis, ‘We are so trapped in a culture that induces us to look in the mirror and pamper ourselves, that we think that an altruistic gesture is enough, without the need to get directly involved.’

The persistence of poverty, including extreme poverty, is a significant concern for the global community, reflected through the deliberations of the United Nations. In its 72nd session, the General Assembly launched the Third United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2018–2027), under the theme “Accelerating global actions for a world without poverty.”

Involvement of people living in poverty is essential for the eradication of poverty. The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty aims to ensure that the active participation of people living in extreme poverty and those who are left behind is a critical force in all efforts made to overcome poverty, including in the design and implementation of programmes and policies which affect them.

Creating and nurturing a genuine partnership, based on human rights, and respect for the  dignity people living in poverty are essential to building an inclusive world where all people can enjoy their full human rights and lead lives with self-respect—a necessary step towards poverty eradication.

How do we understand “poverty”?

The World Development Report (1982) defined poverty as “a condition of life so characterised by malnutrition, illiteracy and disease as to be beneath any reasonable definition of human decency.” Being poor is more than just material deprivation. Poverty is a multi-layered issue that concerns a person’s range of survival issues such as access to health care, the ability to influence the determinants of health, available educational opportunities and quality of life.

Poverty is a complex concept which may include social, economic, and political elements. Absolute poverty, extreme poverty, or destitution refers to the complete lack of the means necessary to meet essential personal needs such as food, clothing and shelter.

The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI)  has created a Global Multidimensional Poverty Index, which enables us a better understanding of the causes of poverty, an essential step in addressing the issue. The index offers a more in-depth measure of poverty through a checklist of “deprivations.”

The OPHI classifies poverty at an individual level.  The ten indicators of poverty are subdivided into three dimensions, Health, Education and Living Standard.  ‘For the health dimension, the measures are nutrition and child mortality, while, for education, the indicators are the years of schooling and school attendance. The standard living dimension includes access to cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, living space and assets.’ 

According to the OPHI report, more than a fifth (22 per cent)—or 1.6 billion people!—are considered to be poor, and 40 per cent of them live in India.

About 85 per cent of the poor are from the rural areas, where development progress remains elusive. More than half are deprived of health, education and standard of living. They are the ones living in households where educational attainment is less than five years, at least one member of the family is undernourished, and at least one child has died. Access to adequate sanitation presents challenges to 81 per cent of the poor.

Though poverty has been reducing in many countries, through the improvement in sanitation, education and health, the challenges remain for the global community in tackling poverty. It is evident that higher income does not always translate to a reduction in multidimensional poverty.

Connection between Poverty and Human Rights

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In this context, it is essential to acknowledge the connection between extreme poverty and human rights. People living in poverty are disproportionately subjected to many human rights violations.

 “Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, and human rights are violated, to come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty.”

Facilitating social inclusion is fundamental in assisting those left behind and enable them to overcome poverty in all its dimensions.

The commemoration of October 17 each year is an opportunity for people living in poverty to take the floor, share their experiences and expertise on how we can achieve greater social inclusion and poverty reduction, to respect the human rights and dignity of people living in poverty.

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty underscores the importance of reaching out to people living in poverty and building an alliance around their priorities and concerns to end extreme poverty. It recognises the critical mutual roles and relationships we have with each other based on our collective and equal dignity and shared rights.

Poverty remains as one of the most pressing problems faced by India. The World Bank, in 2011 based on the 2005 Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) International Comparison Program, estimated that 23.6% of the Indian population, or about 276 million people, lived in poverty, that is, spending below $1.25 (Rs 90) per day, based on purchasing power parity.

We cannot simply blame a high population for poverty. When living standards and literary rates go up, people tend to plan their families. This has happened in the more educated parts of the country. To ask a couple to limit their number of children when they are not even sure of the next meal, is a cruel thing. We need to provide a basic minimum before people can feel they have control over their health and their future.

Caste-based social segregation and stigma, and unequal distribution of income and resources is another reason for persistent poverty in India.

Groups Most Affected in India

Older destitute women, women and children from marginalised communities,  indigenous population, members of certain traditional occupations, the urban poor, migrant workers in the informal sector—these groups do experience severe poverty in India. Traditionally oppressed classes, those who belong to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who continue to be subject to pervasive discrimination, e.g., Dalits and Adivasis, are disproportionally affected by poverty. With 104 million people, 47% of the rural tribal population lives below the national poverty line, compared to the national average for rural areas of 28 %. The level of poverty and malnutrition of the tribal people continues to be a significant issue. Though there are multiple programs for poverty reduction, they are seldom consulted on what is right for them, and their voice is hardly heard in any forums.

Poverty, including its extreme forms, is all around us every day, but receives little attention.  The desensitisation of society to poverty is a real scandal in India.  The destitute older widow on the road begging for survival, the orphan children who do odd jobs on the street, the pregnant mother who lost her child for lack of access to health care, the rickshaw puller whose only asset is his labour power and who is beaten up by the passenger because he insisted on the ten-rupee minimum charge for the trip he just completed—such pathetic human tragedies are all around us everyday.

The face of a traditional fisherman who laboured all night and returns home empty-handed and faces his hungry children, the face of the women waiting for their daily wages after they worked under the guaranteed employment scheme of the government, the face of the ‘Adivasi’ child waiting eagerly for the mid-day meal at the school,  the face of the  girl child who is struggling to cook a meal for her siblings with the fire from the twigs and leaves she collected,  the non-smiling flower girl at the traffic signals of major intersections in the city,  the face of the street sleeper—all these of part of our daily experiences. They are the human face of poverty.

 The poor in India disproportionally experience the violation of their citizenship rights, the impact of environmental change, urban pollution, lack of safe housing, violence, depletion of clean water, lack of access to sanitation and life-saving medicines and health care. Poverty in India particularly impacts children in a variety of different ways:  high infant and neonatal mortality, severe malnutrition, child labour, lack of education and child marriage.

The Way Out

Mass poverty and associated degradation of human dignity is not a product of fate, nor a justifiable social phenomenon. It is a product of specific structural-social arrangements, fuelled by inequitable distribution of opportunities. What is needed is the political will to introduce and execute policies and programs that will increase economic security and expand equitable opportunities for the poor and marginalised. A range of policy options is available to address acute poverty.  Creating jobs and reducing unemployment, raising the minimum wages, supporting equity in pay and benefits, providing paid leave and paid sick days, reforming work schedules that accommodate specific needs of women and vulnerable populations, increasing investment  in affordable, high-quality child care and early and primary education, ensuring and expanding  Universal Access to Health Care, ensuring that  economic growth is equitable, supporting agricultural growth and farm employment, increasing  investment in the development of infrastructure, accelerating overall human resource development, promoting decentralised non-farm employment, increasing social support benefits to the poor, promoting access to assets and credit, strengthening and expanding access to the Public Distribution System (PDS) and promoting increasing involvement of  local governments in poverty reduction and supporting the organizations of the poor and marginalised.

Poverty will remain a question of the political morality of the ruling class and of society in general. The demand for poverty eradication is not a call for charity; it is a fundamental human right. The legitimacy of any ruler should be assessed against his or her willingness and their sense of urgency to address poverty and developing poverty eradication programmes.


  • Do I try to understand why so many people are poor, although the world is rich in resources?
  • Am I truly interested in making a difference?
  • What do I do in concrete for at least a few poor persons?
  • If I am an employer, do I treat my employees justly?
  • Have I become indifferent to the poor I see around me everyday—or do I do something about it?
  • How shall we—as a family, religious community, parish or institution—observe the Day of the Poor (Sunday, November 18th) in a meaningful way?


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Dr Joe Thomas is the executive director of an intergovernmental organisation of 26 governments-partners in Population and Development. He has hosted high profile bilateral meetings in Kampala, Geneva, New York, Beijing, Dhaka, Jakarta and Senegal. He has been active for 25 years in the field of global health, population and development. He is a technical advisor to WHO in Geneva. He was the Secretary General of the 12th International Congress of AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP). As the Director of UNAIDS-Technical Support Facility (TSF) for South Asia, he coordinated the work of nearly 250 consultants in ten countries. Twitter @joethomasIN   web

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What do today’s young people expect from the Church?

How can we reach out to youth, help them in areas where they need help, and welcome the huge contribution they are able to make?

A Synod (a special international meeting of Catholic bishops) meets this month in Rome. Theme: Youth, Faith and Discernment.

The preparations have been afoot for over a year.

In March, the church representatives met with hundreds of youth—and listened.

This itself is a change—to listen to youth, rather than just preach to them or advise them. Young people are not children. They not simply the future, as we used to say. They are—and should be—a significant part of our present, both in the Church and in secular society.

The Church prepared a detailed questionnaire on the situation and questions of youth, and received many thousands of replies.

The Synod will include a representative sample of young people—a first for a Synod.

We—church personnel, parents, teachers, so-called experts, etc.—should not forget that what we call progress in any field was usually the fruit of young people challenging the status quo and the established wisdom—whether it was a young Rabbi called Jesus, or a young deacon called Stephen, or a rebellious young son later called Francis of Assisi, a young sister called Teresa in Kolkata, or young inventors like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg—who changed the world around us. Without the questioning and the so-called rebellion of the young, nothing new would have happened—in any field.

Is the Church aware of the enormous potential of this group, and serious about tapping its extraordinary energy, ideas, ideals and passion? Or do “Church people” (bishops, priests, religious and senior lay persons) see the young only as beneficiaries of our ministry, to be told what to do, but to whom we need not listen? Some may even see the young, unfortunately, as problems rather than as a huge reservoir of potential.

When we speak of the “Church,” do we mean both the old and the young, or mostly those who hold special roles and power—Pope, bishops, clergy, religious and  a few lay leaders?

In this short article, I shall try to summarize what I see as the expressed and often silent pleas and demands of today’s young people. My line of thinking is based on decades of being involved with the young, including young religious and seminarians,  and with helping others in youth ministry.

This is what, in my view, the youngsters want to tell us:


  1. Listen to us: Pope Francis seems to have understood this cry of youth very well. That is why he wanted those involved in preparing the Synod to send out questionnaires and really listen to what the young want to tell the Church. Far too often, it is a one-way street: Those in authority speak, and expect the young to shut up and listen—as if they had nothing worthwhile to contribute, as if everything will be fine, provided “you just do what we tell you.” This can easily happen in family, or parish youth group, or school or in a religious formation house—to talk without listening, to advise without understanding the other, to think that we know lots (or everything) and the young have nothing of value to contribute. St. Benedict used to say: “Listen to the young; God often speaks to us through them.”
  2. Include us: The young are as much a part of society or the church or of the religious order as the older members are. Do we include them in the decision-making process? Do we share responsibilities with them? For instance, there are excellent youth teams that organize and conduct prayer services and retreats. There are young graduates who do campus ministry. Peer ministry is a very effective way to reach out to more and young people. The style and tone of Pope Francis and of this Synod seem to be in this direction—not a top-down approach, but really involving everyone.
  3. Empower us: The young, while being gifted, creative and apparently strong, are generally insecure. They often hide their insecurity through noise, laughter, expertise with gadgets, etc. They need encouragement; they need empowerment. A kind word from a parent or teacher or parish priest or principal goes a long way to build up a young person (“Mary, you really read well,” “Anand, your help in preparing the parish feast made a huge difference,” “Sheela, you have a wonderful way with children,” “Prakash, I am edified to see the way you care for your grandfather.”) Empowering is not only in words, but in giving them opportunities to do things, to shine, to succeed, and thus discover their gifts even more clearly.
  4. Respect us: We (authority figures or older persons) have no right to humiliate or insult young people, especially in public, or to speak about them in a disparaging manner. Every human being has to be treated with respect. Respect breeds respect, just as crudeness leads to crudeness. In our culture, “respect” is often (and sadly) understood as a special way of behaving towards persons who hold a particular post, not as the basic right of everyone. Just as I expect respect from my students or employees, I need to treat each of them with respect.
  5. Challenge us: An easy life does not bring out the best in people. A family upbringing or formation setting which is easy-going, undemanding or too comfortable, without sacrifices, duties, insistence on doing one’s work well, being clean, punctual and reliable, will turn us into useless or parasitic adults who cannot hold responsibility, face life, or be dependable. Adults need to set an example of joyful and responsible commitments, and openness to be challenged. From such adults, the young will accept challenges, corrections and even hard demands.
  6. Show us the way: Each human being is living this journey for the first time. We did not have a trial run! Hence it is only natural that we feel confused, unsure of ourselves and the need for a guiding hand. Even when teenagers and young adults seem to revolt and reject what parents and others in parental roles are telling them, later, especially after they marry, they will quote their parents, favourite teachers and the priests and religious who inspired them. They need loving adults who show the way.
  7. Tell us why, not only what: When a boy or girl asks, “Why should I go to confession?” or “Why go for Mass?” they are not denying the Catholic faith. They are looking for the meaning of Confession or the Mass. It is wrong to shout at them for that, or to say, “That is your duty as a Catholic!” Today, with a more educated laity, we, clergy and religious, will face more questions: Why get married in church? Why can’t I marry a non-Catholic? Why send my child for Catechism? What about birth control? Questions show interest, not rebellion. It is an opportunity for dialogue, not a provocation for a fight.
  8. Make serious matters meaningful: The way we celebrate the Eucharist, or hear confession, or have community prayers (for us religious) should show their meaningfulness. They should not come across as dull and meaningless routine, simply imposed by law. If a young religious asks her superiors why to have so many hours of structured prayers, or finds the daily office meaningless, the right response is not that she lacks faith or is proud, or that she is young now and will understand later. Such answers just show that older members have no good reasons for doing what they are doing.
  9. Make important things interesting: One thing I learnt when I came to the Salesian house was that prayer should be made interesting for boys. There is no reason for imposing on a youth group a type of music that appeals mostly to older people, or to preach or write in a way that puts people to sleep! Just as a good maths teacher makes mathematics interesting, and a good music teacher makes the students fall in love with music, we must do the same with spiritual matters and the more serious pursuits of life, like study, service, community life, common prayer, conferences.
  10. We want to see you happy: When we were young religious, we used to watch the older members of our community to see whether they looked happy. We felt: If they look happy, it is worth staying in. If they are not happy, why waste our life here? It matters to children to see their parents and grandparents happy. It is very hard growing up in a home where the older members look miserable. The same with religious communities or the tone of a diocese. The tone is set by the superiors and older members, not by the younger ones. It matters for the faithful to see their priests and religious happy. Look at photos of Pope Francis. Doesn’t he come across as a loving and happy man?


Here are a few don’ts, too. What are the things the young do not want to see in us. These are the things that would put them off, of make them stop coming to church.

  1. Don’t bluff: Don’t preach one thing and do something else. Be honest. If you make a mistake, admit it, and apologize. If we do not know the answer to a student’s question, don’t pretend to know. Tell them honestly that you do not know, and that you can look for the answer. Then they will trust you. If you try to hide behind clever words, and pretend, they will lose their confidence in you.
  2. Don’t abuse: Behind all abuse—physical, emotional, sexual or financial—lies the abuse of authority. That is, someone who has more power—because of being a parent, or teacher, or parish priest or lay professional or older—makes use of that power to do harm, not to help. Power is given for doing good. Thus, a parent can use his or her physical strength to carry a sick child; a parish priest can counsel an alcoholic; an adult can help a child to cross the street or to learn music; a policeman can protect a citizen from physical harm or theft. Power puts special responsibility on the one having it. It is a terrible betrayal if we misuse power to do harm to a weaker human being. Thus, we should not tolerate wife-beating, or cruelty towards children, or sexual abuse of minors or employees, or police brutality, or government employees asking for bribes.
  3. Don’t imitate us: The young want adults as guides, not simply as friends. To chat and have fun and play with, they have their companions. They will tease a class mate with a different hair cut or type of clothes. Hence teenagers tend to conform to the group’s language, dress code, etc. If we, grown-ups, under the mistaken notion of being popular, tried to dress or act or talk like teenagers, they would find that rather silly. A sixty-year-old mother should not try to dress like her twenty-year-old daughter. A priest or religious should not use vulgar language or crack smutty jokes, even when some young people do it. They need us as their models; they will find it ridiculous if we take them as our models. We can, and should, discuss music and sports with them, of course. But they need to see that we have standards we will not lower. Thus, it is fine for a priest or teacher to play basketball with the students; he would be foolish to start smoking in order to be close to them.
  4. Don’t expect us to be perfect: No one is perfect. No one. Neither the young, nor the old. As one of the great Salesian formators used to tell other formators “The young have a right to be immature. It is we, older people, who should be exemplary.” The young—e.g., our sons and daughters, our students, junior religious, young parishioners—have a right to see greater maturity in us. We have no right to expect them to be mature. It is our “job”—through example, guidance, listening and encouragement—to help them mature. This journey of growth never gets done.
  5. Don’t bore us: Jesus was not boring. The crowds followed him, even for days, even when they had not eaten. Children liked his company, and came to him. Why do some of us make the Good News so boring! Why are some Sunday sermons so badly prepared and a source of patient suffering than an experience the congregation longs for? Today, with the exposure the young (even more than older people) have to social media, they will switch off if the speaker or writer is not interesting. Gone are the days when the temple festival or the village parish feast was a big social function and a big break in the monotony of ordinary life. Today, there are so many, many competing attractions. Just as we can easily flip TV channels or change what we are watching on the smart phone, our listeners will “switch off” if they are bored.
  6. Don’t give up on us: There are times when even the best of us gets fed up, discouraged, utterly alone. There are times when we may see nothing worthwhile in our life. We may feel like giving up. How many couples and parents feel discouraged! How many priests and religious feel unappreciated or disillusioned! This is part of human life. This happens to youngsters, too. In fact, behind the noise and the apparent glamour which they at times hide behind, many young people are lonely, insecure, even fed up with life. Some may attempt suicide. Others run away from home, or escape into addictions—alcohol, drugs, pornography, compulsive use of social media. Behind these erratic behaviours is a search for genuine relationships and a meaningful life. When young people feel like giving up, or are afraid of facing life, they need a strong and caring adult hand (and heart) that does not give up on them. Left to themselves, the young can often feel rudderless, lost and utterly alone. They need us—even though they may not say it.

Can, we, who are supposed to bring Jesus’ loving and compassionate message to all, especially the weak and the lost, be the caring and wise adults the young need in their life? Can we be healing balm for their unhealed wounds? Can we help to steady their boat when the sea is rough and they feel rudderless and terrified? Do we take them seriously, learn from them, listen to them, offer them opportunities to use their enormous potential and boundless energy to make a positive difference? We need their enthusiasm, risk-taking courage, spontaneity, freshness of outlook, creative restlessness and endless questioning, just as they need our serenity, wisdom and witness (if we are serene, wise and inspiring adults). May we find each other’s company stimulating, the mutual challenges rewarding and the mutual support a perennial source of strength. Through it all, may the mutual love deepen and widen! That, coupled with and sustained by a deep God-awareness, is what makes us Church.


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Human Formation: Becoming the Best Human Being We Can Be

Sep 08

The key element in family upbringing or religious formation—what makes it a success or a failure—is human formation. It is, unfortunately and frequently, the weakest part of the formation experience. What can we do about it?

Moved by the way people from different religions and castes helped each other during the recent floods in Kerala, a man wrote on WhatsApp: “You were not saved by someone of your religion. You were not saved by someone from your political party. When you grow up, and people ask you what you want to become, do not say, ‘I want to become a doctor, engineer, etc.’ Say, ‘I want to become a human being.’”

What a lovely thing to say!

Has your joining religious life helped you to become a mature and inspiring human being?

This may or may not happen—depending on those who guided your formation process, and your own personal search.

Of the different aspects of religious and priestly formation—intellectual, spiritual, pastoral and human—the weak link is often human formation. Why?

Because it is easier to make sure the formees know the dates of the founder’s life or pass exams in religious subjects, or keep the time table, than help them mature as human beings.

What is Human Formation?

To begin with, what does human formation mean? Which areas of my life should I cultivate, to become a mature adult?

There are six areas:

Physical fitness and capacity for work; emotional balance; relationships; psycho-sexual integration; responsible use of freedom and contact with reality.

Let me explain each of them briefly.

  1. Physical Fitness and Capacity for Work

Religious and priests need not be body builders or champion athletes, but we need to have enough health to do our work and adjust to the ordinary difficulties of life.

We, religious, do not, by any means, spend the whole day in prayer. Most of the day is devoted to work. To work well, we need to keep physically fit. This means eating right—neither depriving oneself of sufficient food, nor overeating—exercising, such as, playing with the students, taking care of one’s personal hygiene, getting enough sleep and using medicine when needed. We should neither neglect our health and become a burden to ourselves and others, nor become hypochondriacs seeking medication and attention for the slightest illness or discomfort.

Manual work should be a part of our formation. This has great formative value. It reaches us the dignity of all types of work, and the hardships of those whose whole life is spent in manual labour. No work should be seen as beneath us, or too hard to try. One of the reasons why Catholic institutions are generally clean, from the chapel and class rooms right down to the compound and the toilets, is that we were trained to keep the premises clean through our own work.

So, too, we learn not to be fussy about food. We have to eat whatever is set before us without complaining or making a face.

If a candidate is overly fussy about food, or seeks too many exceptions from the normal duties that members of the religious congregation do, he/she may not be suitable for this way of life.

So, too, there is a spiritual vision behind this. All of us need to do penance, which is a “must” in our Christian life. The best and most meaningful penance is to be make the sacrifices that my state of life and my duties require. Thus, for a married man or woman, the main form of penance is the daily adjustment to each other, getting up each time a child cries, cooking for a guest without complaining, or helping to clean the house when one would rather watch TV. Similarly, for me, as a Salesian, my best penance is to be with the young for recreation or manual work when I may find it easier to read or watch TV—and to do this cheerfully.  

  1. Emotional Balance

A more important aspect of human formation is emotional balance.

Whether we work in a school or hospital or social services, what matters to the people more than the life of the founder or our particular religious practices is what kind of persons we are. It does matter to them whether I am calm or angry, cheerful or gloomy, generous or jealous. Whatever post I may hold, whatever my academic qualifications, my emotional balance matters much more than my degrees

Emotional balance supposes that I have a positive self-image—positive, not boastful or arrogant—and can handle the ups and downs of life with a certain equanimity. We will not be gloomy for days if something unpleasant happens, nor unduly elated if someone praises us.

Emotional balance does not mean becoming unfeeling, like pieces of furniture. No! It means that we cultivate the so-called positive emotions—optimism, joy, courage, sense of humour—and learn to handle the so-called “negative” emotions—especially anger, fear, jealousy, depression and sexual attraction.

Such emotions are called “negative,” not because they are bad in themselves, but because, when handled badly or neglected, they lead to unhappiness and broken relationships.

Thus, both I and my community members will suffer if I am often moody. Younger people in my care will get hurt and or be afraid to approach me if I flare up easily. If I am a jealous person who cannot accept someone else’s success or popularity, I may do stupid things, like speaking ill of that person or ill-treating him/her, and thus win the contempt of people.

You may have heard the expression, “EQ matters more than IQ.” There is much wisdom in this statement. It means this: Suppose you want to choose a new superior, it is better to choose a person of average intelligence who is pleasant and emotionally balanced, rather than a brilliant person who is hot-tempered, gloomy or given to jealousy.


You have also have heard of a concept called “emotional intelligence.” It means four things:

  • Being aware of what I am feeling, e.g., when the provincial praised another person rather than me, I felt jealous and hurt.
  • Understanding why I feel this way: In our example, I may realize that I expect to be praised when I do something good; or else I will be disappointed.
  • Learning how to handle this: Can I learn to be happy, whether the provincial praises me or not?
  • Understand how others feel, and why: E.g., the way I teased So-and-so hurt him. When I, as superior, do not affirm people for good they do, they tend to feel discouraged.

Some studies (e.g., that of Fr Paul Parathazham on formees), show that seminarians and young religious show less maturity than their age group outside. Why?

The reasons vary.

One reason is the sheltered life they lead, without having to take responsibility or earn a living.

Another reason is that the superiors training the formees may act more like professors than like formators—that is, they may be teaching a subject in which they have a degree, but not helping the formees in their emotional development. They may not know how to do it. When I am struggling with anger or depression, jealousy or sexual confusion, what I need is not a theology class nor a conference on the life of the founder, but individual listening and counselling. Formators do not always provide this. When this happens, a person may acquire an advanced degree, or make the final vows, or get ordained, but be emotionally immature. Degrees and theoretical knowledge do not, by themselves, heal our emotional wounds, nor make us emotionally stable.

  1. Good Human Relations

Most of what we call ministry consists of relationships.

Most of our happy memories are tied to the people in our lives.

Most of our difficult experiences stem from relationships going wrong.

The well-known seventy-year-long longitudinal study by Harvard University on what makes people happy as they grow older gave this clear result: The main element in our happiness—as well as in our physical health—as we grow older is having close relationships. When the study started with Harvard undergraduates and young people of their age from poorer families, the youngsters said they wanted three things: money, fame and achievement. They believed these three things would make them happy. Did that work? No! As the research group followed this group of men from age eighteen to their 80s and 90s, they found that it is not their blood count and cholesterol levels at forty years that indicated how healthy they would be in their 70s and 80s. Their close relationships were what mattered most—for their happiness and their physical health.

I would encourage all to watch Robert Waldinger’s twelve-minute TED talk on this study.

How we relate to others matters very much—both in marriage and in celibate life. (I believe, in fact, that only a woman who would have made a good wife and mother would be a good nun, and only a man who would have been a good husband and father will make a good priest or religious. The same qualities are needed in both walks of life—especially the ability to relate lovingly and pleasantly.)


How can we cultivate good relationships? How do we make friends?

Simple. Do the first four things listed below and avoid the last three. You will have friends wherever you go.

  • Help: Whether it is reaching out to flood victims physically, or helping a stranger with a heavy suitcase, or paying a poor student’s fees, there are many opportunities for helping others. When we help, our own joy increases—and we make friends. Reach out. Give a helping hand. During formation, see who is ready to help, and who is reluctant. Celibacy is not simply a choice to give up marriage and parenthood; that would be a meaningless decision. What makes it celibacy is making a life-decision in response to God’s love, and the eagerness to share that Love with others.
  • Listen: Many [i]people look for someone who will listen to them. Am I willing to listen? When someone speaks, do give them my full attention, or do I interrupt much of the time, wanting to talk about myself and my interests? If you are a good listener, you will have friends.
  • Speak well: Speak lovingly to people and speak well of them in their absence. Your friends will multiply.
  • Enlarge your circle of friends: We all start life as a frog in a well—knowing only our family, our village or town, and the ethnic group we are born into. This is a small world. Our lives can be incredibly richer and more beautiful if we overcome our mental and cultural narrowness and build bridges across linguistic, ethnic and other barriers. This is especially important for those who choose celibacy, since it involves the readiness to accept any one from anywhere as my sister or brother and form community with them.
  • Do not gossip: This is an evil we cannot go back and erase. (For a fuller discussion, see MAGNET, October 2016, cover story.) Not only does it do enormous harm to the other; it poisons the speaker’s mind and life. Gossips end up lonely, since people who know them do not trust them.
  • Do not betray confidences: When people confide in us and share personal secrets, they must feel certain that we will not betray their confidence.
  • Do not tell lies: If I tell one lie, I need to tell ten lies to cover it, and a hundred lies to cover the ten. No one will trust my word.

A note to formators: If a young man or woman is a problem in communities repeatedly, and does not improve, but just keeps blaming others, that formee should be asked to leave. Someone who is incorrigible at twenty-two, will be much harder to handle at forty-two or fifty. Religious life or the priesthood is not for those who cannot live with others. The ability to relate to people with warmth, respect and dignity is essential to anyone choosing these special paths.

  1. Psycho-sexual Integration

This big word simply means this: As an adult, do I function well as a woman or as a woman? Do I relate in appropriate ways with men and women? Am I ready for gender-specific roles (e.g., marriage, motherhood, fatherhood)? If I choose celibacy, am I a happy and loving man or woman, who has “integrated” (brought in harmoniously) into the choice I made the kind of warmth, generosity and dedication that I have seen in my parents and married siblings and friends?

Whether married or celibate, we are not angels; we are human. We have all the potential and all the weakness of normal men and women.

Hence the need to learn from others, the need to get help, the need to go to God in humble prayer.

Sexuality—the mutual attraction between men and women, the power of maternal and paternal instinct, the tenderness we have seen and experienced in close relationships, the million variations on this theme that we have seen in novels and movies—is a very central and powerful force. Integrated well, it makes us warm, energetic, caring, creative and tender-hearted human beings. When misused, it can be extremely destructive, as when women and children are trafficked for sex, or minors are abused, or hapless victims are raped and killed.

This power should not be denied or avoided. It needs to be accepted gratefully as one of God’s most beautiful gifts. After all, without our sexual nature, I would not have a mother or father; I would not belong to a family. There would be no parents or grandparents swooning over little children or children running to their parents with smiles or tears. The most touching experiences of human life would be missing.

So, we neither despise nor worship sexuality. We accept our sexual nature gratefully, and seek to integrate it with the rest of life honestly, humbly and under wise guidance.

If, after reflection and wise discernment, a young person finds that celibacy is not what his/her heart is made for, we must help such young people to opt out—gracefully and with our loving support. We should never say that someone “lost his/her vocation.” We should treat those who leave as lovingly as before, and make it plain to them that the religious house which was once their home will always welcome their visits. If we stop loving a person when they make a different choice, it means we never loved them in the first place.

  1. Responsible Use of Freedom

Formators have had almost endless discussions on the question: How do we train our formees to personal responsibility?

There is no one answer to this question. Even a husband and wife will differ on how far to be strict and how far to be lenient with their children.

If we control the formees (or children in a family) too much, they will long to come out of this “jail.” As soon as they are free, they will tend to do all the things we forbade them to do.

If we are too lenient, they may become lazy and easy-going, do poorly in studies and professional life.

The question is harder to answer in the case of diocesan seminaries. A seminarian is not going to live in a structured community after his ordination. Once he is ordained, there will be no bells and no community making sure he prays regularly, or does his work, or lives his priestly life well.

For religious, there is more continuity between the formation house and the so-called regular or normal house. But even in this case, a religious after final vows enjoys much more freedom than during the initial formation.

So, how do we train people to use their freedom responsibly?

How do we avoid the two extremes of excessive control and inappropriate freedom?

After twenty-one years of formation ministry, I am convinced that a loving setting marked by joy and mutual openness yields far better results than a fear-filled and overly controlling setting. When people feel loved, and can see the genuineness of the formators, they open their hearts, accept corrections, admit mistakes, and tend to do the right things even later, when they are on their own.

In a formation house, a young person needs to see formators who are loving and happy, and learn that a genuine and loving life is a happy one.

We need to tell them, and give opportunities for formees to learn, that each of them must take responsibility for the following key areas, which others cannot take charge of:

  • Happiness: Others can do things for me; they can help or hurt me; they cannot give me happiness. I am responsible for my happiness.
  • Goodness: My religious order or seminary gives me opportunities. It cannot make me good. I can remain in religious life or the priesthood and become a saint or a crook.
  • Key decisions: The main decisions of my life are for me to take. Others cannot take them for me.
  • Use of time, money and opportunities: How I use these three gifts shows much about my maturity.
  1. Contact with Reality

A Hindu doctor who had studied in a Catholic school and had also sent his son to the same school, told me: “There are many good things in your church. But one thing is not good: To take young people and provide them everything free. This will make them irresponsible. They will not grow up well.”

What do you say to this?

Since, as the good doctor said, everything is provided to me free,  I can lose touch with the hardships of people and become irresponsible and unreasonably demanding. I may not know how to spend money when it is entrusted to me. I may not know the struggles of lay persons and hence not show them compassion.

Here comes the need of adequate exposure to “real life” during formation. These weeks, for instance, many young religious and seminarians are helping out in the refugee camps in Kerala. I remember the same thing happening in refugee camps in West Bengal during the Bangladesh War in 1971 or during droughts or after the Tsunami. Such experiences not only help us to help others; they deepen our awareness and our compassion. Some of the best memories for any young person are memories of helping others, especially if it involves sacrifice.

Contact with reality also means relating to persons different from us in background—whether by religion, mother tongue, place, caste or tribe. When young people grow up among and with others who differ from them, they tend to develop a more open mind, and be less bigoted and afraid of others when they grow up.

How to Promote Human Formation

How do we help formees in these six areas?

Both the formators and the formee need to do their part. Here are their roles, in a nutshell:

  1. The Formator’s Role

The formator’s main role is to create a healthy atmosphere marked by love and joy. Only in happy and loving settings will young people be themselves, learn with inner freedom and internalize what is being taught. In fear-filled settings, people are busy hiding and pretending. They are waiting to get out of the “spiritual jail” and be themselves. Whether in a family or in a religious formation house, the young have the right to make mistakes, be treated with love and respect and have role models to look up to.

Parents and formators can promote human formation in the following seven ways;

  • Be genuine: Genuineness breeds genuineness, just as hypocrisy will breed hypocrisy and anger. Part of being genuine is to admit our mistakes and apologize when we blunder or hurt someone.
  • Love those in your care: Fr Paul Albera SDB, who had been a boy in Don Bosco’s care, said this about his experience: “We were caught up in a current of love. We felt loved in a way we had never been loved before.” The young can easily make out whether we love them or not. Whether they stay or leave, their memories of a formation house (as of a good family) should be joyful memories of a loving home.
  • Accept criticism: The young will accept our corrections if they see that we are open to suggestions and criticism. If we are touchy, how can we expect younger people to be more mature? Fr Andrew, rector of a major seminary, once told me, “The students pointed out to me some of my limitations. I need to change.” This honesty made him a good formator.
  • Affirm and encourage: A word of appreciation from you will mean much to a young person, whether the achievement is something small (e.g., reading well in public) or big (e.g., looking after sick members).
  • Kindness in small things touches hearts: In a large seminary where I worked for years, the deacons would meet with the staff at the end of the course to thank us. One year, a deacon said, “My best memory is this: When I came to the seminary eight years ago, Fr Rector carried my suitcase to the dormitory.”
  • Give opportunities and demand: We must give the young opportunities for learning, and demand that they perform well. Not to make that demand, or to let them do shabby work, is damaging.
  • Provide counselling and spiritual direction: Most people have personal issues to be sorted out. Many carry unhealed wounds. Individual, confidential help is a must. Once the person speaks, he/she must be absolutely certain that what was shared will be kept confidential.
  1. The Formee’s Role
    You have a right to be imperfect and immature when you start. If you want to mature into a good human being, here is what you need to do:
  • Be honest: Do not pretend or hide. Talk things over with someone in confidence. Even in normal community settings, admit your mistakes and accept correction. Speak up.
  • Tackle your fears: You can become free of your fears. A shy young person can become a confident leader. One help is to talk over your fears and worries with someone in confidence. Another way is to try doing things you were scared of doing, e.g., public speaking.
  • Get healed: You may have unhealed inner wounds going back to your childhood or adolescence. Many do. No need to feel ashamed of it. If your father was a drunkard or if you were sexually abused, or you have been deeply hurt in relationships, get help, get healed and move on! Otherwise, you will waste much of your adult life on licking your wounds in silence.
  • Live meaningfully, not mechanically: Ask questions. Find out the reasons for community practices (e.g., regular prayer or silence). There is a great difference between doing something mechanically and doing it meaningfully.
  • Take responsibility for your life, especially for your happiness and for the person you become: Others can help you or hurt you; they cannot give you happiness, nor make you a good person. That responsibility is yours.
  • Face your sexuality: Becoming a mature man or woman is not a day’s work. It takes years. It means learning from inspiring women and men, learning to relate in healthy ways, channelling our sexual feelings in the proper way, moving from a world of fantasy (e.g., as in pornography) to a world of real human beings.
  • Be fully known to someone: This is very freeing. Most people do not know us, nor understand us, nor care deeply about us. But we need to have at least one person whose love we are sure of, whose judgements we trust, to whom we feel free to share everything within us. This is one of the best helps for growth.

*              *             *

As I conclude this article, I remember with tremendous admiration a Catholic layman I knew very well, who was a model of integrity and concern for others. A brilliant defense officer who never took a bribe nor indulged in anything dishonest, who reached out to others with deep care and compassion, who would spend hours coaching poorer students free of charge, he was much esteemed by close friends. One of them, a Sikh customs officer in New Delhi, who had seen people of all kinds, told this Catholic officer: “Whenever I praised you highly for something, you usually gave the credit to someone else. What if I tell you that you are the finest human being I have ever come across?”

Any of us will feel blessed if we can say that about our parents or superiors or formators. Our real task as parents or formators is precisely this: To be persons about whom, at the end of their formation journey, they can look back and say, “You are the finest human being (or one of the finest human beings) I have ever met.” If that is true, real human formation takes place—every day, everywhere.

Are our formators persons of this calibre? Some are, some are not. May we at least try.

Let me point to someone in whom the young saw this type of quality. She was a Sister in her 30s. She accompanied a group of Japanese college students (hardly any of them Christian) for two weeks during their travels. At the end, a good number of them wrote to her saying, “When I grow up, I want to be a woman like you.”

Good human formation—whether in a family or a seminary or a novitiate—takes place when there are such persons in charge.

For we cannot “produce” a good human being, nor create maturity through some short cuts. God can, of course (as Jesus said), create human beings out of the very stones. But, normally speaking, we become mature and more fully human when we are blessed to live with, and under the care of, other human beings whose very humanity shines forth and captures us. May we provide the young in our formation houses that kind of a healing and energizing presence.


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Learning from My Students: My Best Memories as a Teacher


In this honest and moving account of his life as a college teacher, the author looks at what teaching has meant to him, what it has taught him, and the main things he and his students learnt from one another.

How did I ever become what I did not want to become? This is a question I have often asked myself.

In my college days, teaching was certainly not a career option I considered. In fact, I changed track twice, first shifting from science to literature and then taking up a job in banking and again giving it up for good and joining college as a lecturer.

Even after joining, I kept wondering if I should be doing this. Many things conspired to keep me there. Initially it was a very comfortable job in my own hometown. There was a neat salary, other conveniences and a respectability which I think only the teaching community enjoys in Indian society. Teachers are more respected and trusted than anyone else.

But to think of it in such terms was not very satisfying; something was missing. At least, that is how I used to feel. What was I looking for? A deeper satisfaction which I think is more important than anything else. Call it spiritual, if you like.  It’s not success, but a feeling of inner satisfaction which one can get only by ‘walking the extra mile,’ so to speak. (This lesson I learned only later when I reflected on it more deeply.) Engaging with literature in the classrooms was indeed enjoyable, but also tedious. Reason: Many kids come to college, not really of out of a personal choice or keenness in studying a subject but for more prosaic reasons. Learning literature and languages is something that most would like to do without, as some have openly confessed to me. (“What’s the use of learning Milton or Shakespeare? Or reading O Henry and Virginia Woolf?”)

Experiences that Opened My Eyes

I was attending a retreat session for the faculty when I met a famous retreat master who was an excellent counsellor. I told him of this crisis of dissatisfaction that I experienced at that moment. He asked me how I went to work every day, with a sad face or a happy face. That set me thinking. I had to experience joyfulness in my work. I had to work ‘at it.’ I remember that in one of the sessions the preacher quoted St. Therese of Lisieux: “Bloom where you are planted.” That was a great thought. Happiness did not lie elsewhere but ‘here and now.’ Perhaps this was what St. Paul meant when he spoke somewhere of the kairos moment…


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Cover Story



For our cover story, we interviewed Fr Jerry Rosario SJ, who has donated blood a whopping 194 times—possibly the highest number in India! He has also been active in promoting blood and organ donation.  Anyone who knows Fr Jerry will know his enthusiasm, simple life, commitment to helping people and spreading awareness about urgent human issues.—Editor

01       How did you get into blood donation and, eventually, also into promoting blood and organ donation?

Way back in 1972, when I had just completed my Jesuit Novitiate, I was called upon to donate blood to a poor rural youth by name Murugan who had lost a huge quantity of blood from continuous vomiting.  A few days later, I learnt that my timely blood-gift had saved his life. Though this experience did make a deep personal impact on me, the turning point came with a missed opportunity.

Once, because of some urgent work, I could not go to the hospital to donate blood to Fr Coyle, an Irish Jesuit priest, who needed immediately a post-surgery transfusion. A professional donor took my place, but Fr Coyle died from transfusion-related complications. There and then, I vowed to seek chances to donate blood rather than wait to be asked.

By the way, science has advanced immensely so as to manufacture substitutes or alternatives practically for everything—but not for blood. That means when somebody dies due to non-availability of blood, the potential donors, in a way, have unconsciously and indirectly caused it.

What is the situation in our country? India stands in need of at least 12 million units of blood a year—at the time of medical surgery, delivery, emergency and calamity. Alas, it receives only 78 lakhs. We say, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of our Faith.” Now we could add: Our faith that has grown “works only when we supply blood to others-in-need” (James 2:14-17).

You may remember that the year 2005 was declared as a Special Year of the Eucharist by Pope St. John Paul II. That year saw me releasing a book ‘This is My Body, This is My Blood,’ highlighting not only the Eucharistic life of Christ Jesus but also the Eucharistic human organ donations that we could possibly make, both before and after death.

In 2007, the Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry Catholic Bishops’ Conference, after a session of mine on this noble focus, issued a special Pastoral Letter to be read in all parishes of its region, exhorting human donations. In 2009, as a Creative Jesuit Ministry, the Dhanam Movement was registered to propagate and promote human donations. Dhanam is the Tamil rendition of daan (donation) in Sanskrit. The motto is that ‘all may have life and that, too, in fullness’ (Jn.10.10).

Over the years, the Dhanam movement has organized 450 camps and 630 conferences, big and small, both in urban and rural areas and institutions, to promote blood and organ donations. The awareness is picking up at an encouraging pace. But still, there are miles to go.

02       How many times have you donated blood? For whom?

If you had asked me this question some years back, I would‘ve by-passed it. Till I crossed 100 or so, I did hesitate to talk about my blood donation count. Then I was advised to speak about it so that others can also come forward. Up to May-2018, I have donated blood 194 times. Quite possibly I stand first in our country, having donated that number of FULL UNITS OF BLOOD (not just parts of blood, like platelets).

God has blessed me with one of the rarest blood groups, O-Rh Negative. Accordingly, out of all the donations I have made, sixty-seven were done at the time of delivery for the new-born babies, particularly when they were found affected by the incompatibility of blood groups of their parents. If so, they all are “blood of my blood,” my beloved children, so to say!

Another group was poor cancer patients. I donated my blood for them fifty-five times. It is always advisable to donate blood preferably to the patients at Government General Hospitals and to Red Cross Society and to the terminally-ill. Simple reason: Our blood can also be a “Good News to the poor,” who generally flock to the general hospitals. Moreover, the Government meets the expenses that are incurred for blood-tests before transfusion. That too benefits the last and the least (Mt.25.40)…


Fr Jerry Rosario SJ


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