by Dominique George Kamau
SAVEDI-AHMEDNAGAR, APRIL 16, 2015: "Are you a missionary or a mission-land?" This short but thought-provoking question was put to the participants at the outset of Mission Camp 2015. We were 15 young campers, including three priests: Frs. Glenn, McEnroe and Cleo, who went on a mission to Ahmednagar from 9 to 12 April. We were welcomed by Br. Ramesh sdb, the director of Bosco Gramin Vikas Kendra (BGVK), a Salesian rural development centre that has been instrumental in transforming the situation and lives of many villagers in the districts of Ahmednagar and Beed.
Pope Francis has been challenging the Church to move to the peripheries. Going from Mumbai to Ahmednagar, we faced the challenge of leaving our comfortable homes and experiencing life on the margins. We were inspired by the work done at BGVK, which reaches out to villages where there is scarce rain, vegetation and cultivation. Through the works promoted, notably the watershed development project, its staff patiently educate the people to be part of the solution, take charge of their destiny and thus change the course of their history and leave behind a sustainable environment for their children and hope for the future.
Being a missionary means loving the people in the mission and sharing their life. The campers had a glimpse of that when they spent a night with the people in the village. These people are not well off financially, but they are indeed generous and welcoming. The tenacity, joy and generosity of the people are indeed a witness that God is alive.
We visited two remarkable villages in the area. Ralegan Siddhi is home to Kisan Baburao "Anna" Hazare, who as Sarpanch faced a situation of acute poverty, deprivation, a fragile ecosystem, neglect and hopelessness. By propagating a ban on alcohol, implementing a grain bank, the watershed development programme, education for both boys and girls, removal of untouchability and strengthening the scope of the Gram Sabha, he brought peace, hope and prosperity to his village. Hivre Bazar too was changed when Popatrao Pawar was elected as the village Sarpanch. Holder of a Master's Degree in Commerce and a former competitive sportsperson, he motivated the villagers to put their differences aside to proactively reorganize themselves, undertaking various projects like watershed water conservation, afforestation, putting an end to socially harmful habits and the adoption of an Ideal Village Scheme. We were awestruck by the tremendous transformation that these personalities brought about by harnessing the power of collaboration and good will.
Visiting historic monuments like the Chand Bibi Mahal, Ellora Caves and Daulatabad Fort took me and my fellow campers back into the glorious past. Climbing up the stairs of Chand Bibi Mahal near Ahmednagar and watching the city from a height was exhilarating. At the Ellora caves, walking along the corridors of the temples and the halls hewn out of rock more than 1300 years ago made me wonder how the Buddhist monks might have lived their lives back then. As we climbed the ramparts of Daulatabad fort, I kept imagining how the Maharaja might have lived so many years ago in the same place where I now was. He must have seen the beautiful world before him, his kingdom below, in the valley and maybe during some exciting days, he would have commanded his armies to drive his enemies away from his fortress. At the Cavalry Tank Museum in the Ahmednagar Cantonment, we saw an amazing collection of military tanks on display. The sight of the tanks and the pictures of the soldiers who fought in them filled one with a sombre mood and respectful memories. I mused on the fact that while India today enjoys the peace that these men fought and gave their life for, the best possible homage to them would be to have all Indians working actively to maintain and promote the hard-fought freedom.
Great men and women are not born. They are made by the choices they make, the perseverance by which they live those choices and the hearts they touch as their world view is transformed by the love and presence of God. This thought came to me as we visited Pumpkin House, a home for children in difficult circumstances. Stella Manuel and her family who opened their hearts and house to more than 100 children in need made us realise that even today there are saints in the world. She has allowed God to embrace those lovely children with her arms and to enlighten their days with her smile.
Chicago's Cardinal Francis George once told the donors in his diocese that the poor need them to pull them out of poverty and they need the poor to save them from hell. Jesus still suffers in the young who are poor and abandoned, in families that suffer and in people who have been neglected by society. Becoming a missionary is touching Jesus in the least of His brothers and sisters and a sure way of entering God's kingdom. Thanks BGVK. Thanks Ahmednagar. Let's go mission!