Welcome Speech of Most Rev. Filipe Neri Ferrão
at the Annual Civic Reception on the occasion of Christmas
(Archbishop’s House, 29.12.2010)
Our Dear and Honoured Guests:
Your Excellency, Shri Shivinder Singh Sidhu, Governor of
Honourable Chief Minister of Goa, Shri Digambar Kamat,
Honourable Ministers and Members of the Legislative Assembly,
Honourable Members of the Parliament,
Honourable Members of the Judiciary,
Respected Members of the Central and State Administration,
Honourable Defence Personnel,
Respected Consular Authorities,
Esteemed Members of the print and electronic media,
Reverend Colleagues in Church leadership and esteemed Lay collaborators,
Major Superiors of Religious Congregations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to welcome you all, together with His Grace, Archbishop Raul Gonsalves, my respected Predecessor, to this evening of friendship here at Archbishop’s House, in the festive season of Christmas, a season that calls for the sharing of goodwill, of mutual concern, of peace. Your presence greatly honours us as you took time off your busy schedule to respond positively to our invitation. Thank you very much!
Christmas is indeed a time of great joy, particularly to the followers of Christ, as we celebrate the unique event of God taking on a human face in the Holy Babe born in
Bethlehem two thousand years ago and who was named Jesus. With the passage of time and particularly with the galloping globalization, Christmas has been increasingly taking on a cultural and social dimension that surpasses even religious barriers, as we find people of various social and religious affiliations taking part in Christmas shopping and, as it happens in our villages, in the various events related to Christmas, such as carol singing festivals, fancy dress parades, community sports, and even midnight Masses and visits to the homes for the aged and orphanages.
Christmas, however, can never be a purely cultural or social event. It is fundamentally a Christ-related event, as its very name suggests: an event which has marked profoundly the course of our human history and has brought about a growing realization of the need to promote the oneness of humankind. Indeed, the genuine development of peoples depends on this important recognition: that the human race is a single family working together in true communion for its common good. The Maha Upanishad states in chapter 6, verse 72, that the entire world is but one big family: Vasudhaiva kutumbakam. And the Church has consistently proclaimed and defended this universal value of unity of humankind throughout her history.
Actually, this has also been one of the main concerns of her Founder, Jesus Christ. In the passage of the Bible that has been read this evening, we find Jesus praying to his Father, the God of creation, “that they may all be one.” The time had come for him to be delivered by a traitor into the hands of his enemies, who then would scourge him and nail him to a cross, until he bled to death. At this solemn moment, he has only one prayer on his lips: “Father, I pray that they may all be one.” Unity of humankind is the one gift that he asks from his Father in heaven.
Throughout history, humanity has been searching for unity, the same unity that Christ made his one cherished desire and that the Maha Upanishad teaches about: this search led humanity, throughout the centuries, to create structures so as to bring peoples and nations at a common table, to reflect on issues which divide them and to positively find ways to bring all men and women together, in order to work for the common good of the human race. Right from the United Nations Organization to the various Parliaments, Legislative Assemblies, municipal corporations and village councils like our Panchayats, there are vast opportunities for people to sit at a common table and discuss matters of common interest, which work for the common welfare of the human community. All this is nothing but a profound expression of the deep-seated human longing for unity, a longing that was placed in the heart of man by God himself, a longing that, as I said before, was made his own by Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, these very structures of participation run the risk of being seen as and effectively becoming tools in the hands of a few to wield their power over the community of nations and of national and state communities, instead of being genuine community empowering instruments. They then become institutions that ignore and silence the minorities, and invest power and legitimacy on a few who dictate terms of governance, sometimes to the point of unsettling the very process of participation. We have had such cases even in our country, which prides to be the largest democracy in the world. The growing number of communal riots and pogroms, mostly politically motivated, is only one aspect of this sad deterioration of cherished human and democratic values.
And this brings me to another highly esteemed value that the Constitution of India has included in its Charter of Fundamental Rights: and that is, religious freedom. The Church teaches that the right to religious freedom is rooted in the very dignity of the human person. However, in spite of its high ideals, hailed also by the great religions of our land, religious freedom has become very brittle nowadays. This is the reason why the present Pope Benedict XVI has chosen it as a topic for his Message for the next World Day of Peace, which is observed throughout the world on January 1, but in our country, on January 30, in commemoration of the martyrdom of Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace. The Pope’s Message provides us with various principles to be reflected upon and observed in our day-to-day life. I will, therefore, give the word to Benedict XVI, to express what I would have liked to convey to you on this occasion of Christmas, when we gather to celebrate unity and peace. As I read from the Pope’s Message for the World Day of Peace, I am deeply aware that, both in our country and in our own state, so famous for its communal harmony, meetings and even large conventions take place sometimes with the sole aim of disturbing the inter-religious peace and harmony existing amidst our citizens. It is as if some people will not be at peace until peace is disturbed. Can we, responsible citizens, and particularly those entrusted with governance, allow that such programmes are executed, in blatant defiance to the spirit of our Constitution?
Without more ado, I proceed to quote from the Pope’s Message, which I think is so relevant to the situation in
“Despite the lessons of history and the efforts of states, international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations and the many men and women of good will, who daily work to protect fundamental rights and freedoms, today’s world also witnesses cases of persecution, discrimination, acts of violence and intolerance based on religion ….. The leaders of the great world religions and the leaders of nations should therefore renew their commitment to promoting and protecting religious freedom, and in particular to defending religious minorities; for we must bear in mind that minorities do not represent a threat to the identity of the majority, but rather an opportunity for dialogue and mutual cultural enrichment. Defending minorities is the ideal way to consolidate the spirit of good will, openness and reciprocity which can ensure the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in all areas and regions of the world” (Unquote). Late Pope John Paul II, while addressing the participants in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe, in October 2003, said that the defence of the right of religious freedom is the litmus test for the respect of all the other human rights.
I shall end with the assurance that we have given you consistently on this meaningful occasion in these last few years, namely, that the Church in Goa will be only too glad to offer her collaboration in the building of a society that sincerely and genuinely promotes the dignity of the human person, religious freedom and cultural harmony as well as peace and justice for everyone. We have already told you before that, whenever Catholics gather for their Sunday Mass, they pray specifically for those who govern our land and state as well as for all those who, in some way or the other, share in that responsibility, in a greater or lesser degree. I pledge the continued support of our prayer for each one of you.
Once again, I wholeheartedly thank His Excellency Shri Shivinder Singh Sidhu, Governor of Goa, the Hon. Chief Minister of
Goa, Mr. Digambar Kamat, all the authorities in the Government and our distinguished guests for accepting our invitation and making time to be with us this evening. We wish and pray that God Almighty may give you and your families a New Year filled with His choicest blessings and inspire us all to serve our people with greater dedication and good will, so that we can promote an environment that is truly conducive to abiding peace and justice. A very Happy New Year of 2011 to you all!
+ Filipe Neri Ferrão
Archbishop of Goa and Daman