At this time of year, I would have liked to have written about some joyful Christmas music, or music to bring in the New Year. But there seems little to be joyful about. The biggest cloud over Goa is the ghastly murder of Fr. Bismarque Dias and the conspiracy to shield his killers, the unnecessary use of police force to disrupt a peaceful protest in the wake of his murder, and more recently the attempts to try to intimidate fearless environmental activist Claude Alvares and the Goa Foundation.
It is part of a larger cloud over the rest of the country, with breakdown of law and order, and erosion of freedom of expression, and even freedom of choice over what one may eat, or have in one’s refrigerator. Those invested with power seem to think they can do what they wish with impunity.
Pope Francis’ message to the world was also downbeat this Christmas. During mass at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Vatican City last month, he said, “We are close to Christmas. There will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out –while the world continues to wage war”, a clear reference to the escalating war in Syria and the wider Middle East.
“It is all a charade”, he continued. “The world has not understood the way of peace. The whole world is at war… A war can be justified, so to speak, with many, many reasons, but when all the world as it is today, at war, piecemeal though that war may be—a little here, a little there—there is no justification.”
Pope Francis further asked “What shall remain in the wake of this war, in the midst of which we are living now? What shall remain? Ruins, thousands of children without education, so many innocent victims, and lots of money in the pockets of arms dealers.”
Strong language even from a Pope who doesn’t mince his words. His outrage at the ‘blood money’ of the arms industry is readily apparent, something he has spoken out against time and again.
And this month, he called for a “tenderness revolution” in the world, including within the Catholic Church itself, in a world marked by cruelty and atrocities. The world needs a revolution of tenderness, he said, because “from here, justice and all the rest derives”.
Pope Francis has announced a Holy Year of Mercy, commencing 8 December 2015 and running through to 20 November 2016. Cardinal Walter Kasper elaborates on the theological and perspectives behind the Pope’s decision in his book “Pope Francis’ Revolution of Tenderness and Love”. The call for this Tenderness Revolution and the Holy Year of Mercy is based on the Pope’s understanding of God as Mercy itself.
Pope Francis offers guidance as well: “Look, read the Beatitudes, that will do you good. If you then want to know what you have to do specifically, read Matthew chapter 25. This is the pattern in which we will be judged. With these two things, you have the plan of action: the Beatitudes and Matthew 25. You don’t need to read anything else. And I ask you with all my heart.”
The eight Beatitudes and chapter 25 of the gospel of Matthew are open to personal interpretation, of course, but in light of the Pope’s recent outburst against war and the suffering of its innocent victims, especially children, one would perhaps do well to dwell on the seventh Beatitude (“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God”) and the conclusion of Matthew 25: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” War then is clearly a crime against God, while the peacemakers will be considered blessed.
The Pope’s call for a Tenderness Revolution and a Holy Year of Mercy would have so gladdened the heart of Fr. Bismarque Dias, just as much as the Pope’s revolutionary second encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ (‘Praise Be To You’ in Medieval Central Italian) had excited Fr. Bismarque earlier this year. In Fr. Dominic Alvares’ poignant tribute song video “A tribute to a great son of Goa (Niz Goykar) Fr. Bismarque Dias”, it is heartbreaking to watch footage of Fr. Bismarque in pouring rain, waving a copy of ‘Laudato Si’, exhorting anyone who would listen, of its urgent message to people all over the world to take “swift and unified global action” against environmental degradation, irresponsible development and global warming.
In so many ways, Pope Francis and Fr. Bismarque Dias are kindred spirits. Fr. Bismarque’s Kindness Manifesto predates Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, but both share a concern for “our beautiful home Earth” in Fr. Bismarque’s words (2012), and “care for our common home” (Pope Francis’ ‘Laudato Si’ 2015). Both pledge and call for action to safeguard the environment and the planet against irresponsible development.
And although one might read the central thrust of Pope Francis’ Tenderness Revolution to be anti-war (and one would be right in so doing), there are broader parallels in it and the Holy Year of Mercy with Fr. Bismarque Dias’ Kindness Manifesto. In both, the ideas of mercy, contrition and forgiveness are paramount.
Pope Francis calls for an emphasis on tenderness to counter a world full of injustice, cruelty and atrocities. If you exchange the words “tenderness” and “kindness”, you find a similar message in Fr. Bismarque Dias’ Kindness Manifesto. In it, he asks us to “Be Kind, Live Kind. Be Kindness, Live Kindness. Be kind to yourself and you will be kind to others. Be kind to yourself, and you will be kind to a tree. Together, we can make a difference.”
It brings us back to the message in Matthew 25: Whatsoever you do to the least of My brethren (and here we could include all living beings and life-giving earth, air and water as well, all God’s creation too), that you do unto Me.
Powerful words to think about and live by this Christmas season. And as we continue to grieve the irreparable loss of Fr. Bismarque from our lives, we can derive solace from the Second Beatitude: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
(An edited version of this article was published on 13 December 2015 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)