1. Matthew 4:1-3a: Jesus spent 40 days in the dessert: What have been some of your greatest trials in 40 years?
Two main trials:
First, I am always in favour of life. Following Deuteronomy 30, 19-20, I had to make a choice between blessing or curse, life or death. God challenges us to choose life.
In life we find hope; the ability to live in wonder, nurture in love, and not despair. Hence when members show a spirit of defeatism and negativity- without making efforts to create life- it is challenging. Nothing is achieved by being chronically negative. “Rather, the one who loves Christ is full of joy and radiates joy,” as Pope Francis reminds us.
Second, when members become instruments of disunity rather than unity; allowing themselves to be guided by worldliness instead of the Spirit. This is the antithesis of Jesus Christ, who tells us that His Kingdom is not of this world. Following anything other than the Spirit will lead to confusion and destruction; a problem which then takes root in the afflicted person’s heart. Thus, internal problems become external situations, which are very difficult to handle.
2. Joshua 5:6 The Israelites walked 40 years in the desert: What has been your greatest moment of trusting the Lord?
“Abandon yourself to God,” St. Vincent tells us, “with perfect confidence and do not fear.” In breathing these words, we are graced with the bravery God willingly gives to go forth and proclaim the Gospel to all creation. We can also use such words to explain two of our missions, Peru and Vietnam. If we lived in the world, we would say such ambitions were impossible, as they were taken up by entities with very few members. Yet instead they are flourishing; for in our steadfast courage and faith, the Lord blessed us in a hundredfold.
The moral of the story is this: trust the Gospel. Take no purse, no haversack. He is with you.
Another element of surprise was my election as Rector General. It’s not easy to break the frontiers and boundaries set by International Congregations, but when the fresh air of the Spirit blows through the windows, thy will be done.
3. Jesus remained on earth 40 days after his Resurrection: What is your hope and mission, father, for the remainder of your term as Rector General, as well as the remainder of your time as Jesus' anointed one on his earthly pilgrimage?
First goal: Make our holy founder known and loved by as many as possible; to offer his charism of the Union of the Catholic Apostolate in service of the Church’s mission.
Second goal: Give the compass to God, listen to the cries of His people, and “be led forth with peace” (Isaiah 55:12) to the peripheries. May we be the soul that God brings to their feet, so that they may have the life in abundance He has promised.
In all my journeys, what my eyes have seen cannot leave me unaffected. But in each, the open wound of my heart remains the same: for the innocent children who are deprived of love, laughter, family, medicine, education… human dignities that no person on this earth should be denied. We all have equal rights for the blessings given to us by the Creator. To live in luxury disregarding the poor around us- like the parable of the rich man and Lazarus- would be the greatest sin of a Christian.
We are all poor before God.
4. 40 is seen as a generation in the Bible. What has changed in the Society and Missions? What has been made better/worse?
Everything changes. We try to discern and respond to the signs of the times. Yes, the Society has grown. We have reached out to as many as 56 countries around the world. There are about 2400 members in the Society, and then, of course, the entire Pallottine Family.
The scenario in the Church and all the religious Congregations is changing; and it’s moving south.
Though this makes no difference; I believe it matters little where we are growing or diminishing in any part of the world. The Church is one body of Christ. Through the consecration we make, we become members of the Society. As so often said by me on visitations, we may be Italians, Germans, Polish, Brazilians, Indians etc., but we are all Pallottines, and one family.
I do not believe in lamenting over the decline in one part of the world or rejoicing too much about the growth elsewhere. Such things happened in the past and continue to happen today. Tomorrow has not yet come. The Spirit moves where it wills! Success or failure – let history judge us.
5. As this generation ends, God makes another anew, just as the papacy of Francis is evermore on target with the teachings of Pallotti in Gaudete. How will you lead us in following his papal mission?
The greatness of any Christian must be measured by his or her fidelity to the life of Jesus as we encounter him in the Gospel. For me, Pope Francis is someone who lives the Gospel in its radicality. The will of God is our sanctification.
There are 3 similarities between our holy founder and Francis:
1. The life of Jesus as the fundamental rule of life and apostolate;
2. A poor Church for the poor;
3. Go forth to the peripheries of human life.
These three steps are only possible when the first is achieved: Encounter the person of Jesus in the Gospel on a daily basis.
6. India: You are the first non-European Rector General. What have been the changes over 40 years you have seen in your country?
While India as a country is slowly coming of age, what strikes me is the tremendous contribution that the minority Church- 2% of the Catholic population- is making to the Universal Church. In our Society- and the Pallottine Family as a whole- the growth in India is tremendous. No doubt, we are not talking about a perfect situation in all areas, just as in any other part of the world.
The unique contributions of the Indian Pallottines are most fruitful where we are able to be faithful to our rich, spiritual traditions and work zealously to be instruments of peace and communal harmony. The 58 schools run by the Pallottines, with thousands of teachers and students from all religions, could serve as the best instrument to promote unity and peace in a world divided by religious disharmony.
The One Almighty and Loving God is the Creator of every human person created in His own image and likeness. The ability to respect and love every human being, regardless of his nationality, culture or creed, and be able to see the face of God on each person, will make us universal human beings. The future of the Society, the Church, and the world itself will depend much on this ability to go to the most profound ontological and existential level and be universal persons.
Building walls is a sign of innate fear and insecurity. Having grown up in a multi-religious context in India, where we played and grew up with Hindu, Muslim and Sikh youngsters, it does not frighten me to deal with one of a different faith. Experiences mould us. Let’s open up as a Society and work for the common good. But firstly, let’s open up our hearts. That is exactly the work of the Holy Spirit; who opened up the newly founded Church on the day of Pentecost.