Saturday, June 24, 2006

MUMBAI: Tribute to Cardinal Ivan Dias

A Tribute to Cardinal Ivan Dias by Bishop Bosco


By Bishop Bosco Penha

Simplicity, humility and a keen sense of the "other" characterise the man who is going to the Vatican.

Cardinal Ivan Dias has recently been appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. This is a very responsible, challenging and wide ranging assignment in the Universal Church and indicates the great regard the Holy Father has for the knowledge, skills and person of Cardinal Ivan.

In calling him to this task, the Pope has made Indian Church History because no Indian has thus far held this position. What are the attitudes, characteristics, inner traits of Cardinal Ivan that have made him such an outstanding Prelate of the Catholic Church? Having worked very closely with him over the past nine years I have been privileged to have glimpses into the "inner man".

The first point that strikes me about Cardinal Ivan is that he is a man of God, a man of prayer, a man who places spirituality in the first place and rightly so. One who is close to Christ cannot escape from His Cross which is a sine qua non of following Jesus Who said: "If any man will come after me let him take up his cross daily and follow me". (Mt. 16:24). Cardinal Ivan is not a stranger to the Cross. He has carried crosses of various types. One cross that I have seen at close quarters and which has baffled me is the cross of illness which he has borne patiently for several years! When I see his capacity to be fully alive and active and to go through his heavy schedules, including many international engagements, despite his constant ill health, I am amazed.

From his prayer life also flows a profound obedience for which Cardinal Ivan is very well-known. "I want obedience not sacrifice. Behold I come to do your will O God" (Ps. 40:6-8). Right from the age of twenty-four, when in answer to the decision of Cardinal Valerian Gracias that he join the diplomatic service, he left home, family, the local church and his country to go into a strange land (Gen. 12:1) in obedience to God's will, he has moved from one corner of the world to the other without any hesitation. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy Word" (Lk. 1:38). The Lord calls and Ivan answers with alacrity: "Here I am, Lord, for you called me" (1 Sam. 3:5).

Cardinal Ivan seems to have a will of iron. He studies a question in all its aspects and then makes a decision. Once he has made the decision, he holds on to it with firmness and strength. The strength comes from conviction. He will not compromise. I have noticed that he is not in the least concerned with popularity. In fact, a number of his decisions have run the risk of making him unpopular but he is not worried about this. Neither is he eager for reports and write-ups in the newspapers. In fact he seems to shun publicity.

I have been inspired by his simple lifestyle, his detachment from honours and positions, and his matter-of-fact acceptance of them when they do come, his warm humanness and his concern both for priests and people. There have been times when the bishops' team, as a whole, has experienced difficulties with one or other priest and were tempted to take the hard line. On some such occasions, Cardinal Ivan has intervened to suggest the compassionate approach: "Do not forget", he would say, "that he is sick or disturbed, or struggling, etc." We were happy to be reminded of this and consequently to take the more patient and understanding way. Whilst he could be firm and unyielding with the stubbornly wayward, he would fall over backward to welcome the repentant. In such cases, he played the part of the prodigal father to perfection (Lk. 15:22-23). He would go out of his way to express affection, forgiveness and to reinstate such persons. He has a special love, as is well-known, for the workers in our institutions and during his tenure their allowances were repeatedly raised. He unfailingly attended the meetings of the Justice and Peace Commission which works in favour of the underprivileged.

He had an especially soft corner for the retired clergy and for the sick priests of any age whatever. He would leave his work in order to visit them as soon as he could. There was no question of stinting on the treatment that was required.

Once, a priest told me that he had to have a delicate operation near the ear. One type of operation, more risky, cost Rs. 90,000 and the other, more safe, would cost Rs. 2,00,000. The priest wondered whether he could at all suggest the second alternative. I encouraged him to place both the alternatives before Cardinal Ivan. When he did so, Cardinal Ivan immediately insisted on the more expensive one. He did not want to take any risk, money being of no consequence in this context.

In today's Church there is much talk of team work and Cardinal Ivan has proved himself to have a fine team spirit. Although he was very busy with many activities, he made it a point to be present at all key meetings - the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, the Priests' Council, the Archdiocesan Board of Education, the College of Deans, the College of Consultors, the Bombay Archdiocesan Synod Implementation Committee and the Archdiocesan Consultation to Implement Values in Education.

At all these meetings he did not speak much but listened to all that was being said and so got a fair idea of what people were thinking and feeling on an issue. Although these bodies are consultative bodies, leaving the archbishop free to make his own decisions, I have hardly known him to go against the thinking of the group. If there is any matter connected with finance, he would make it a point to consult the Financial Administrator. If there was something connected with Small Christian Communities he would always check with the director of SCCs; and if there was some education problem he would talk to the Secretary of the Archdiocesan Board of Education and so on and so forth. He participated enthusiastically in the Archdiocesan Synod 2001 and in the Mid-Term Synodal Assembly 2006 and in both these he accepted "in toto" whatever the House had proposed.

He has contributed three major documents to the life of the Church in Mumbai which, I believe, will have far reaching effects on this archdiocese in the years to come. The Post Synodal Document, the Mid-Term Synod Assembly Document and the "Vade Mecum" for priests which describes, in detail, the life of the priest and his various privileges, duties and responsibilities.

In preparing all these documents, he checked the draft with many significant and competent persons and allowed the material to go through several redactions before the documents were finalised. When he wrote the Post Synodal Document, I was astounded at how he so successfully integrated into the text all the important associations, cells and programmes of the archdiocese, some of which even I, with so many years of experience in the archdiocese, would have missed out. He seemed to have an eagle eye and a phenomenal memory to keep track of all that was going on.

We had bishops' team meetings every week unless, for some reasons, it was not possible and these sessions were most enjoyable. There was a lot of serious work but also fun and camaraderie. On occasions when we had tea together in the afternoons and the fare was "bhelpuri", he would set aside all work and mix, with gusto, the various components of this delectable concoction which he then demolished with obvious relish. That gave us permission to do likewise. He always listened to his auxiliaries and there was no difficulty in communicating any disagreement with him. Most of the time our decisions were consensus decisions. Only on two or three occasions did he make decisions which contradicted ours because he felt very strongly on those issues. In such a situation he excused himself to us and said he would take full responsibility. That was fine with us because he was, after all, the archbishop!

He was very generous with us auxiliaries. Each time he went to Rome, we had only to tell him what episcopal wear we needed - caps, sashes, mitres - and they were all bought without any charge. He insisted on footing the bill. When we went to visit the Pope in 2003, he took all three of us to Lourdes at his expense. It was a memorable team experience. Often when I reached some function at which he was already present, he would sooner or later weave his way through the crowd in order to shake my hand and tell me how happy he was to see me. It took me time to get used to such warmth and friendliness that was also consistent. Always simple and homely, if sometimes I called him Cardinal Ivan, he would insist "call me Ivan".

Arrivederci: See You Again Soon

And so, dear Ivan, I shall miss you very much when you leave us but I hope to remember the many lessons you taught me. Through the glimpses I got of your inner life, I got glimpses of God as well. Thank you for so much warmth, friendliness and generosity. "Ad multos annos".

And please remember:
"Midst Vatican Palaces though you may roam,
Be it ever so humble - still Bombay's your home".

Hence we won't say "goodbye" but "arrivederci" which means "till we meet again".

Bishop Bosco Penha is the Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay.

This tribute appeared in "The Examiner" of June 24, 2006. You can subscribe to the magazine
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Gashwin said...

Hey, for your readers, I was present at the farewell Mass and have put up pictures and a report from my blog.

Konkani Catholics said...

Thanks a lot Gashwin!

Gashwin's photos can be found at his blog, Maior autem his est caritas here, here and here.