Transformed by Christ
By JANINA GOMES
In a subcontinent with millennia-old religious traditions, where preaching the uniqueness of Christianity and insisting on baptism in the church can be stumbling blocks to many who otherwise accept the person of Christ, a spiritual movement in Nepal and India pioneers being Christian without baptism.
The movement, called the Messengers of the Good News, is founded on the belief that all those who have been touched by the person of Christ and the gospels are evangelized and share the faith in varying degrees.
We are talking of a new way of being Christian, said Salesian Fr. George Alakulam, who founded the movement in Nepal in 1993. A member can be a baptized person, or one who is delaying baptism, or following any deity, or adhering to no religion at all.
While the baptized community is the fullest expression of the faith community, he said, it also includes all those who have accepted the person of Christ and gospel values.
Alakulam, 71, quoted Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the founder of the Brahmo Samaj, a reformist Hindu movement of the early 20th century, who said: It is better to be a Hindu with the spirit of Christ, than to be a Christian without the Christian spirit.
What began in Nepal with a Nepali-speaking group has now spread to English-, Hindi- and Bengali-speaking groups in the Indian state of West Bengal. There are more than 130 members, both Christians and Hindus, organized into 10 units. The units are coordinated by Rajesh Jairroo, a Hindu member from Nepal. The movement is financially independent, since every member contributes at least 1 percent of his or her salary.
Movement members are called to follow 10 rules based on the Letter of St. Paul to Titus. Every member is an apostle of the humanness of Christ, Alakulam said, and is therefore called to imitate the human qualities of Christ. Members are encouraged to meditate on the gospels daily and to reflect the humanness of Christ through their lives by acts of love, kindness, humility, service, forgiveness of enemies, compassion for sinners and the needy.
Members seek to live an exemplary family life modeled on the Holy Family of Nazareth. They are encouraged to pray for an hour daily with the family and to do penance once a week. Jesus the carpenter serves as their model at work. Every day they set aside some time for proclamation of Jesus Good News through word and example.
Preaching the Good News does not need to be restricted to Jesus words, however. Members are encouraged to share the Good News of any great person who has lived for the service of God and humanity.
Keya Chakraborty, a Hindu dentist and a member of a unit in Calcutta, said, Being a messenger of Good News in ones immediate surroundings is something that all can do. Only if you have a strong faith in Christ, you will not falter. She said that her faith in Christ has made her a better person.
This movement -- which initially ran into difficulties with the church authorities and later found some acceptance, Alakulam said -- seems to be one way of attracting people to the person of Jesus without alienating them with exclusivist claims.
Alakulam thus finds much inspiration from Salesian Fr. Paul Puthannangady, secretary of the Indian churchs 2000 Jubilee Year of Christ, who said: Christ will not be brought to the Asian people by the way we think, that is, conversion to the external Catholic church, but by transforming people of other religions internally.
Rajan Banerjee, a Hindu member of Messengers of the Good News from Darjeeling in West Bengal, said that, after three years of participation, he finds that the movement is a generous gesture of love and hope for those who have been less fortunate in life, social invalids and those who have gone through great hardships and persecutions.
He gave the example of Anand Tigga, a railway employee, an alcoholic who became a teetotaler and whose entire family is influenced by this movement. His home has become a center point for Messengers assemblies in Siliguri, in West Bengal.
Orphans, educated unemployed youth, widows, widowers, victims of marital discord, children from broken homes, victims of poverty and social loners have all found a bond of togetherness in the movement through prayer and service of humanity, Banerjee said.
Other Messengers of the Good News described how their lives were transformed by the life of Christ. Philomen Mishra, whose wife passed away recently, said he is happy to have found a family with the Messengers of the Good News. Madan Pandey, a Hindu contractor, said he feels at ease and peaceful at prayer meetings. Kishore Chetri, a driver and cook at a parish center in Dharan, Nepal, attributed all the happiness he derives in life to the movement.
The work of Messengers of the Good News is along the lines of what Jesuit Fr. Francis DSa, a leading Indian theologian, teaches about the message of Jesus and how it should be preached. He believes the story of Jesus is not only a linguistic story but an existential story, a story that is told in and through the life of the community, a story that is the life of the community, a story that is alive in the community, a story that is written with the ink of faith and read with the eyes of hope and lived in a life of love. It is a story that has been understood by the community, because of which the community has become the Jesus Community, where Jesus is alive again.
Jesus transforms our lives and, as DSa says, the transformation is personal, communitarian, societal and cosmic. He believes that our mission therefore consists in appropriating the story of Jesus so that it is incarnated in our lives.
This is just what the Messengers of the Good News movement is doing for its members. Who are we to exclude people of good will from other faiths from appropriating the message?
Janina Gomes is communications manager at the Indo-Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mumbai, India. She contributes regularly to the Speaking Tree column of the Times of India, a column devoted to philosophy and religion. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
National Catholic Reporter, December 8, 2000