Sunday, November 7, 2010

My brief experience of L.K.Nagar - Sch. Simon Thomas SJ

My brief experience of L.K.Nagar
Sch. Simon Thomas SJ
The vision statement of Gujarat Vidya Deep (GVD) is, “It envisages theologizing in the local languages as far as possible, and in the context of the cultures of Gujarat. This is necessary in order to enable the students to express the word of God and our Christian tradition more meaningfully to the people of Gujarat and to enrich the life of the local churches in all its dimensions.” There is another striking notion which was expressed to us by Fr. Isudas Cueli in our Jesuit novitiate, and I enjoy constantly reiterating it, “If you want to preach Christ in Gujarat, you have to make Christ Gujarati.”
Staying out of GVD campus in a Gujarati locality is a small initiative from the part of two of us, second year students, to become more familiar with the Gujarati language and culture which I am sure, will be helpful in our future ministry. Secondly, we wanted to stay out in order to know and experience the living situations of the lower middle class and poor families. Thanks to the Sneh Jyoti community, Sevasi, my companion Harry and I got an opportunity to stay out and explore our possibilities!
I decided to stay in Luharkuinagar (L.K. Nagar), a chawli that is situated near the Vadodara Railway station. L.K. Nagar is a predominantly Catholic locality with almost forty families, and I stay in Mr. Maheshbhai’s house. Initially the neighbors were astonished to see a brother coming and staying there. I remember the first day of my stay; while I was going with my luggage towards my room, a man from the neighborhood asked Maheshbhai’s mother, “Somebody on rent?” The old lady replied, “Not somebody, he is a brother.” Immediately that person’s approach changed, and a sense of respect towards me became evident, and he welcomed me with a broad smile.
People in L.K. Nagar presently are of reasonably modest economic means. The first generation who settled down there had migrated some 60-70 years ago from Chasi-Charotar area in search of work and settled there in miserable huts. However, today majority of them have come up economically through hard work. Their lives changed not only in economic terms but also culturally. They have become cosmopolitan in their religiosity, fashion, morality and education. This change seemed to have been necessary for their survival in the new situation.
L.K. Nagar is a congested area with houses built in a disorderly way. On its right are the apartments, mainly occupied by the upper class populace and on its left is the Food Corporation of India godown. The city bus stand and railway station are just 1 km away. Since it is in the heart of the city, there is around the clock high-quality electricity. However, water comes for only an hour in the morning. As more than one family stay in a house, a lot of adjustment is done by the families in order to avail water to every family. The average income of the families is around Rs. 6000-7000 per month, and therefore their meals are also very simple with khichdi/chappati and one vegetable.
Concerning the faith practices of the community, they have thrice a week popular devotions like rosary in common, which is mainly attended by the elderly women. School going children are busy with assignments from school as well as from tuitions that they hardly have time to take part in them. The older generation in L.K. Nagar is slowly disappearing, and together with them the traces of their traditional culture. The new generation finds the emerging cosmopolitan culture more appealing. Their worldview is being shaped by the ‘high class’, people of other linguistic communities, as well as television channels.
A serious question arises about whether Christianity, as a religion, will continue to be of significance like before (not only in L.K. Nagar, but in many of our parishes). Given the new context in which these small Christian communities live, will they give sufficient importance to their faith, or will it become just a mere ritual of attending weekend masses and other celebrations? Will being Christian remain just part of their social identity only? Here, I believe, pastoral care plays a significant role. Pastoral care takes concrete shape in the context. Contextualization begins primarily with having respect and love for the people with whom I am working. It also means sharing in their joys and sorrows, and trying to form them in the values of Jesus Christ in their context. My theology studies at GVD helps me in this endeavour by enabling me to elucidate the kingdom values of Christ in a given context.
People in L.K. Nagar have great regard for religious people. I have spent two months here. Though I have not been able to visit all the families due to lack of time and personal shyness, I have experienced the immense deference people have for the religious people. They see a religious as an envoy of God, and want to give the finest treatment to him/her. I am deeply touched by the way Mr. Maheshbhai and his family take care of me. They have accepted me as a privileged member of their family. In all their daily events I am given a position of priority. Every member in the house takes care to make me feel at home in his/her presence. I sometimes wonder whether any other stranger would have been given so much of care, love and concern as I am given. I realize that I am so much taken care of not because of any personal merit but because of the fact that I am perceived as a man of God and they feel happy and blessed to take care of such a person.
The wonderful experience that I am having here is more than Contextual Theology Program and weekend ministry. It is an intense experience of the simple lives of people, or I should say, the Gospel people. Seeing them finding their happiness in the midst of their everyday real struggles, beginning from household chores, welfare of children, coping with serious economic difficulties, and so on, the Sermon the Mount becomes alive to me.

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