Ascension: Command to communicate a culture of liberation

In fact, life is all about communication. If we observe closely enough we would find communication in everything. It could be a branch of tree with leaves and flowers, or the blue pristine river that flows by, or the snow-capped mountain that overlooks the villages, or that tiny little bird that chirps around – everything is trying to communicate something to someone. It is hard to imagine a world that is not communicating. But what do we communicate?

Do we communicate what the Lord commands us to do (Mark 16: 15)? Or do we carry our own agenda and become the false communicators that the Lord warns us about in Matthew 7:15? The Holy Bible presents our God as a communicating God who brings everything into being with His act of communication (Genesis 1: 3). The Word through whom everything was made asks His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching people to obey everything Hecommanded them and assures them of His constant communication to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).

Communication for Liberation: On this World Communication Day, we turn our focus on how the disciples went to the ends of the earth carrying the gospel of liberation from Jesus. It was the beginning of liberation for all the oppressed and exploited people and because of the gospel and the life of Jesus Christianity gave voice to the voiceless in various ways. The missionary mandate and the confidence in the Lord’s assurance made His disciples to travel to the length and breadth of the world, not worrying about what is in store for them on the way or while going about what the Lord commanded them.

North East India is blessed to have the footprints of two Servants of God Krick and Bourry, French Missionaries belonging to the Scoiete des Missions Etrangeres de Paris (MEP) or the society of the Paris Foreign Missions. While travelling through the unfriendly terrains of Arunachal Pradesh, Father Krick often recounts in his letters to the superiors back in Paris how the assurance of the Lord gave him and his companion the courage to march on.

In the absence of the proper ‘church’ on the way, Fr. Krick writes in his letter dated 21 December 1851 how ‘wearing the cassock, surplice and a stole I knelt down to perform my devotions.  A granite block did duty as an altar on which I placed my crucifix and the Bible and the breviary. I implored the help of him who said: Go forth and teach all nations’. This allows us to have a look into the mind of the missionaries in the past and how ardently and arduously they communicated the gospel of liberation.

Communication for Liberation in the North East India: Even though the North East India, of late, has seen substantial improvement in the communication facility, it is still a challenge in most part of the region. There are villages that cannot be reached on road. Missionaries working in the region walk for miles, climbing up mountains, crossing rivulets and trudging down valleys to reach mission stations.

Upon arrival at the village, the warm reception and hospitality of the people makes one forget the travails of the tedious journey. One is made to feel part of the community all at once. There would be different groups going about pre-assigned job role. A few would gather around the kitchen to get the food ready and few others would prepare the place for the night rest. Much is communicated without even saying a word. The people in the villages communicate in dialects that do not have script. In this context communicating the message of the Lord is a challenge. Most missionaries learn to communicate in the language of the people and in some cases the catechists or someone with English language translates the communication.

With the improvement of network connectivity, social media is used as a powerful medium to reach out to the youth with the message of the Lord. During the pandemic of Corona virus, when the churches were closed, social media served as important tool reach out to all especially the youth, the major internet consuming group. Regular online prayer meeting brought the people together to pray and to share their experience, concerns, fear and anxiety.

Communication is not always about owning big electronic gadgets or producing episodes of television programmes. Most beautiful communication often takes place without words. Preaching the Gospel at all times and using words only when necessary rings true for the time we live in. What is needed today is a relook at the ways we have been communicating the message of the Gospel to the people we serve. How have we been able to liberate them from all the bondages through our works of communication?

In the context of a large number of youth addicted to drugs and alcohol, our role as communicators should lead these youngsters to find meaning in their life and should transform them and liberate them. How many youths have been brought back to freedom from the bondage of addiction because of our communication?

Liberation from poverty: Liberation from poverty is also part of the mission entrusted to us by Jesus. In a region that is gripped under the claws of poverty, how has our communication led people to a decent living? In the North East region poverty strikes you s obvious factor.  Some of our people may not even have money to buy candle to light while they make their evening family prayers. Our communication should empower them and lead them to liberation from economic deprivation.

Liberation from bloodshed and violence: In this region the Gospel has played a marvellous role in liberating people from violence and bloodshed. Culturally the region was reeling under head-heading system. Every head ‘hunted’ would be considered a feather in the cap of the brave. Each house would be decorated with heads hunted from other villages and bravery was measured on the number of skull one had at home. Thanks to the Gospel of love preached by the missionaries, the headhunting days are over for good.

Liberation from superstition: The Gospel communicated by the Catholic missionaries did succeed in liberating people to a great extent from superstitions. Superstition and vision and prophecy culture is rampant among the people and it is in full display during these Covid times. During the pandemic, a ‘prophet’ saw a vision and advised the people to look for strands of hair in the Bible and boil it in the water and drink it for immunity and immediate cure from the global disease. Such outlandish claims were flying thick and fast and it spread all over the region. We need an effective communication system to liberate people from such blind bondages and superstitions.

Another bad custom the missionaries were able to stop among the people is leaving the dead bodies in the open near the water sources. This led to serious illness among the people as they used to drink from the contaminated water. Many would even die due lack of medical attention available in the neighbourhood. With constant communication proper awareness has been created among the people and this custom of keeping dead body near water sources was stopped eventually.

Liberation from internet addiction: Internet and media addiction is a new form of reality that is enslaving the youth of today. While it causes a serious mental, physical and psychological harm to them, this also is used by the spammers as an effective means to entice and cheat the naïve and gullible in the remote corners of the north-east region. Apart from people losing their hard-earned money, this also has become a tool for human trafficking. Due to lack of proper neo media awareness, the region has become a hotspot for human traffickers. Our communication system should spread awareness among all age group to liberate them from this serious bondage.

Liberation from insurgency: In the same way, Church has a duty to liberate the region from insurgency as well. Due to lack of job opportunities and misconceptions regarding the civil government, large numbers of youngsters are recruited for insurgent militant organizations. Once they join these insurgent groups, they have no way of returning to normal life. They are also used as pawns by the government and insurgent organizations. This is ineed an enslaving bondage and communication should work as a tool to dissuade the youth from joining these violent militant groups and also bring to liberation all those youth who live by gun and grenades.

Mary our role model for communication: In his World Communication Day message in 2020, Holy Father Pope Francis highlighted communication is not ‘simply telling stories as such, or of advertising ourselves, but rather of remembering who and what we are in God’s eyes, bearing witness to what the Spirit writes in our hearts and revealing to everyone that his or story contains marvellous things’. We may not find a better expression and interpretation of what we mean by communication in our modern day context.

Our Blessed Mother conceived in her womb the Word that created the world. Having received the message of liberation, she hurries to meet her cousin Elizabeth to communicate the same (Lk1: 39). She then treasured the mysteries of God’s love and all that was communicated to her and pondered them in her heart (Lk2:9). May she be role model and may the Spirit of the Lord be upon us to go to the end of the world to communicate the culture of liberation (Lk4: 18).