The Significance of the Seventh of April! — Father Cedric Prakash

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Though April 7 reminds us of pain and suffering, the culture of violence and of death – it also provides us with newer opportunities and of hope.

Fr Cedric Prakash SJ

APRIL 7 is a significant day! This day is pregnant with meaning: it brings to mind the hate, violence and suffering that have enveloped our world. At the same time, it reminds us that all is not lost, the human spirit, despite all the setbacks, can never be broken. There is still hope, resilience and love. These need to retain their pre-eminence in our world today. These should not only remain as indicators, but should be internalised and mainstreamed to help make our world a more loving, peaceful, inclusive and healthy one for all!

World Health Day: universally accepted and recognised as acknowledgement that one’s good health does matter. The theme of this year is ‘Our Planet, Our Health’. That says it all! We are gripped today by the current pandemic (we have not yet seen the last of it), a terribly polluted planet and the ever-increasing incidence of diseases. The theme invites us all to pledge and work towards a healthier planet. It is also a call to look into endemic issues and to have the courage to address them.

Band-aid or cosmetic responses to the destruction of the environment which makes our planet unhealthy won’t help in the long run. In fact, tokenism aggravates the situation. Recently at a public meeting in Goa, it was demonstrated with incontrovertible evidence, of how Goa will soon be covered in a cloud of coal- dust if matters are not addressed head long in the here and now.

The ruling regime in India with its crony capitalist friends is systematically destroying the environment. There will be disastrous consequences on the health of millions – particularly on the poor and the marginalised. Air pollution, contaminated water, inadequate sanitation including solid waste management, risks related to certain hazardous chemicals, the unmitigated use of fossil fuels and negative impacts of climate change are the most pressing environmental public health threats in India.

The WHO estimates that more than thirteen million deaths around the world each year are due to environmental causes which are avoidable. This includes the climate crisis which is the single biggest health threat facing humanity. These threats to public health (as we see in India) are compounded by corrupt, weak governance practices and potential inequities in health as well as by limited leadership, expertise, and resources in the health sector.

Rwandan Genocide: It began on 7 April 1994 and lasted for hundred days till 15 July that year, will forever be an unforgettable blot on world history. It was a crime against humanity. It was estimated that more than 8,00,000 from the Tutsi minority ethnic group (besides some others like moderate Hutus and Twa) were killed by armed militia, police and military. The anniversary of this genocide is observed annually as the ‘International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.’ The genocide had lasting and profound effects not only on Rwanda but in neighbouring countries like Congo too.

Rwanda, however, has come a long way. Today the ‘genocidal ideology’ and ‘divisionism’ are regarded as criminal offences. A programme ‘Ndi Umunyarwanda’ (meaning, ‘I am Rwandan’) has been officially launched. It is a programme initiated to build a national identity based on trust and dignity. Its major aim is to strengthen unity and reconciliation among Rwandans by providing a forum for people to talk about causes and consequences of the genocide as well as what it means to be Rwandan. The world has much to learn from this initiative.

We witness what is happening in Ukraine, Palestine, Myanmar and in several other countries today. India too has much to learn – given the fact that hate, divisiveness and violence are institutionalised. The ruling regime has learnt nothing from the Gujarat Genocide of 2002; in fact, the architects of those bloody days today rule the country. The prestigious and highly objective ‘Genocide Watch’ (www.genocidewatch.com) in its December 2021, regards the situation in India as a ‘genocidal emergency’. They give far-reaching recommendations which need to be acted upon to prevent large-scale genocide in India.

Fr. Frans Van der Lugt, the Dutch Jesuit, was killed in Homs Syria on 7 April 2014. ‘Abouna Frans’ as he was lovingly called by all those who knew him, was special. He was a complete human being. He was warm and compassionate; to the youth, he was an inspirer and motivator, who never tired of long walks and hikes; to the elderly, he was a friend and mentor; the little children loved to cling to his long legs; for Muslims, Christians and non-believers, he was a bridge-builder, a person who could draw the best out of them; for the spiritually weak and lost, he was a source of strength and a patient listener. He was a true shepherd, always in the midst of his sheep and who smelled of them. He had the courage of his convictions and he communicated this unequivocally. He was a healer who loved nature. He ensured that everyone, Muslim and Christian; old and young were welcome at the Jesuit Centre where he lived in Boustan-Diwan (the inner city) Homs. He lived among his people; took a visible and vocal stand for them and ultimately, he had to pay the price!

Abouna Frans was gunned down just three days before what would have been his 76th birthday. Today both Muslims and Christians revere Abouna Frans as a Saint. They will never forget his words “the Syrian people have given me so much, so much kindness, inspiration and everything they have. If the Syrian people are suffering now, I want to share their pain and their difficulties”. This he did in full measure: he lived with them, he died for them. He once said, “I don’t see Muslims or Christians; I see above all, human beings”. An apt summary of his humaneness

St Francis Xavier, originally from Navarre Spain, was born on 7 April 1506. Coming from the noble family of Xavier which was fairly well-to-do, he had the world at his feet. Besides, he was a brilliant student who distinguished himself academically and won laurels on the sports field. He, however, gave up everything to join Ignatius of Loyola in founding the Society of Jesus. As a Jesuit, he travelled to India where among other things he brought education to those who did not have access to it. His mortal remains still remain fairly uncorrupted, in the Bom Jesu Church in Goa. Millions of Indians and others pray to him.

The word ‘Xavier’ today is synonymous with ‘excellence in education’. Xavier institutions run by the Jesuits in India (and in other parts of the world) cater to the wholistic development of the students, grooming them in every possible way to become men and women for others – and internalising the values enshrined in the Gospel of Jesus and in the Constitution of India!

Though April 7 reminds us of pain and suffering, the culture of violence and of death – it also provides us with newer opportunities and of hope. In his encyclical, ‘Fratelli Tutti’ Pope Francis says, “I invite everyone to renewed hope, for hope “speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances and historical conditioning. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfilment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love… Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile”. Let us continue, then, to advance along the paths of hope”.

Yes, 7 April is about health and Rwanda, about Frans and Xavier and much more. The significance and the hope of the day however, is not just for a day but for a lifetime! We need the courage to make our hope for love, peace and good health a reality!

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Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer. He can be contacted at:  [email protected]

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