Tall, erect and erudite, His Eminence Cardinal Oswald Gracias took time out from a busy pre-Christmas schedule at the conference room at the Eucharistic Congress building next to Holy Name Cathedral (Cardinal has shifted his office here, away from his table laden with piles of papers, files and books as the entire building of his office is getting repaired). Philip Varghese spoke to Oswald Cardinal Gracias about his hopes and concerns for his community this Christmas
Today evening (December 24), His Eminence Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay will officiate at his ninth midnight mass as head of the Archdiocese of Bombay whose centre is the Cathedral of the Holy Name, locally known as Wodehouse Church in Colaba. It is also the Cardinal’s 69th birthday, so both the day and night are special.
Back in 1997, journalist Jonathan Kwitny published a biography of Pope John Paul II called “Man of the Century.” The idea was that the biography of John Paul II cut across all the great dramas of the 20th century, from Nazism and Communism to the upheaval in the Catholic Church caused by the Second Vatican Council.
By the same logic, one could say that Cardinal Gracias is churchman of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, because there’s almost no story in which he isn’t a lead actor. Cardinal Gracias is playing a key role in pushing through a reform of Catholic worship in the English language, adopting translations closer and more reverent to the traditional style.
Essentially a Mumbaikar, Cardinal Gracias grew up in Mahim and finished his seminary studies in Goregaon. But for brief stints in Jamshedpur, Agra and Rome he has served most of his time in churches in Mumbai and was ordained as a Bishop at St Michael’s Church in Mahim in 1990.
In 2006 he took over from Cardinal Ivan Dias as Archbishop of Bombay.
Asked what this year’s midnight mass sermon will focus on, he replies, it will be about family values.
“This Christmas I want that Christ should be born in every Christian house. This year particularly is dedicated to all the families and their thoughts.
Christmas is a season for rejoicing and welcoming with love the Christ-Child. But there are tears in our eyes when we think of children who are deprived of their childhood and forcibly thrust into a ruthless world which has neither the time nor space for the innocence of children. I pray that Christ the son of God is born in our hearts,” Cardinal says.
Cardinal Gracias serves as the Second Vice-Chairman of Vox Clara, the group appointed by the Vatican to oversee the recent English translation of the liturgy. Why was the need felt to alter the translation of the liturgy, we asked. “Pope noticed about the misinterpretation of the liturgy and so a group was formed to discuss and make suggestions to alter the liturgy as there was a worry about a bad translation leading to misunderstanding and dogmatic error 50, 100 years from now. So there has to be a balance. Now, we have made the changes and priests are also satisfied with it.”
Cardinal Gracias, is also the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and elected FABC Secretary General by the Presidents of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences. “The FABC is an apex body representing 19 Bishop’s Conferences comprising 28 of their Asian member countries like the other Bishops’ Conferences of South America, Europe, Africa and Oceania. The Federation coordinates the work of the Church in these countries and represents Asia before the Vatican and Government authorities. The Central Secretariat is located in Hong Kong and is the principal service agency of FABC, and an instrument of co-ordination both within FABC and with outside offices and agencies in countries all through Asia,” Cardinal said.
Mumbai city has a very vibrant Christian community, so does the country for that matter, and he talks about how happy he is that the churches are not dormant, but contributing to society. Especially in the field of education and health facilities, he says. “We are focussed mainly on rural India, and social awareness where the concentration is not just on charity but empowering people to use their basic rights, shifting from a needs base to a rights base and so bringing dignity into many underprivileged lives,” Cardinal said.
Also concerned with ecology, the Cardinal points out that as good householders we should not exhaust the earth’s resources given to us as gifts but preserve our environment for our children and grandchildren. “That is our responsibility for future generations,” he emphasizes.
But the pressing challenge at this time, is for more Christians to “enter civil society in larger numbers; the bureaucracy, in the political field and in positions of leadership in public service,” the Cardinal affirmed.
At 69, Gracias had a scare with cancer five years ago, and is visibly thinner than he was before the illness. Today, however, he is said to be cancer-free, and maintains a challenging work and travel schedule. “It was just prayer that worked for me during my time of being affected with cancer. Even the Pope prayed for me. That’s why God heard their prayers and extended my life here so that I can serve him more in this earth,” Cardinal Gracias concluded and with his Christmas blessings, we left this charming, most approachable man of God with an affability that puts you at ease in his presence, eminent that is and will be in the future.