Relentless Modi critic, Fr Cedric moves to Beirut
Fr. Cedric Prakash founded PRASHANT, the Jesuit centre for human rights in Ahmedabad in 2001.
Ahmedabad: Wednesday will be the last day for human rights and peace activist Fr Cedric Prakash (65) as director of PRASHANT-the Jesuit centre for human rights – which he founded in Ahmedabad in 2001. Fr Cedric, after a 42-year stint in Gujarat, is leaving for Beirut, the largest city in Lebanon, where the middle-east crisis is an unfolding tragedy . He will work among the thousands of internally displaced people.
Since the 2002 Gujarat riots, this Jesuit activist has been a relentless critic of the then chief minister Narendra Modi, over his alleged role in the riots. Even Modi believed that the denial of the US diplomatic visa to him in March 2005 was because of Fr Cedric’s testimony in June 2002 before the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in Washington. He had spearheaded the campaign against Gujarat’s new anticonversion law The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act 2003, which he later challenged in 2009 in the high court.
In his new mission, Fr Cedric will be coordinating the `universal mission’ of the Jesuit Refugee Fr Cedric Pr Service (JRS) for Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Sudan and Chad. His work involves ensuring that refugees are accorded the rights guaranteed by the 1951 Geneva Convention.
“Our fight here in Gujarat is not over. We will fight for the values enshrined in our Constitution and will carry on the struggle for the marginalized and victims of violence,” sa id Fr Cedric whose institu tion Prashant has been a crucible for activism.
Fr Prakash has been the re cipient of se veral natio nal and in ternational awards which in clude the Kabir Puraskar by the President of India in 1995 for harmony , Chevalier de la Legion Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) by the French President in 2006 for human rights causes as well as the central government’s Minority Rights Award.
It was during his visit to Lebanon in July 2015 that he had finally made up his mind about Beirut.
“In 1974, I was inspired by Pedro Arrupe, a Jesuit who worked among Vietnamese boat refugees. Arrupe founded the JRS.”
On his new mission to JRS Fr Prakash says, “The refugee crisis in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), especially in the light of ISIS today cannot be seen in isolation of powerful lobbies and other vested interests.There is very little political will. The arms and ammunition industry plays a crucial role in MENA and so do mer cenaries of every hue.”
SAYING “GOOD-BYE!” FOR NOW!!!
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
Today, January 17th 2016 – is being observed as the ‘World Day of Migrants and Refugees’ – it’s an appropriate day, I feel, to share with you a NEW CHAPTER in my life!
I am really not sure where to begin! What I want to share – has many different dimensions; it’s like a multi-coloured tapestry – delicately but exquisitely inter-woven into a unique design! The creativity and the dexterity involved can be appreciated and understood – only by those who can watch it’s unfolding from a distance! Somehow, I feel myself in that situation: looking into, about to leap into something I did not even think was possible – some months ago!
Fr. Pedro Arrupe is for me and for several of my brother Jesuits and others one of the great Saints of the post-Vatican II period. He was the Superior General of the Society of Jesus from 1965, a time when the Church and the world at large was going through a historical transformation. I joined the novitiate in Ahmedabad, Gujarat in 1974. About a year later, in December 1975, Fr. Pedro Arrupe presided over the 32nd General Congregation which left a deep impression on the universal Society of Jesus which mandated every Jesuit to the service of faith and the promotion of justice. This thrust became the defining direction for Jesuits all over the world.
In keeping with the vision he had for a world which is inclusive and all-embracing which had faith-justice as its cornerstone, Fr. Arrupe launched in November 1980 the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) (www.jrs.net) ‘with the mission to accompany, serve and advocateon behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons’. Ever since the JRS has been responding to the cries of millions of people all over the world!
Jesuit Refugee Service is an international NGO which serves, accompanies and advocates on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.
One of the first Jesuits to work with the JRS from India was Fr. Pierre Ceyrac, someone who has been a great inspiration in my life. He worked in Bangkok, Cambodia and other parts of South-East Asia; Fr. Jose Changanacherry (on demitting office as the Provincial of Gujarat) also went to work with JRS in Africa. Fr. Varkey Parekkatt (who was also the Provincial of South Asia) also had a stint with JRS in Nepal; listening to their moving testimonies and the fact that Fr. Arrupe has always been my hero, I always dreamt that I would one day at least “spend a little time with JRS”.
It came rather suddenly and spontaneously, in November 2014. In a conversation with Fr. Stanny Fernandes, the Director of JRS, South Asia expressed this desire. A young Jesuit Priest Fr. Prem Kumar had been abducted by some Taliban outfit in Afghanistan and all efforts were being made to secure his release. My thoughts at that time was to serve for a couple of weeks or a month in Afghanistan, Nepal or elsewhere. Little did I realise that in a skype conversation later that evening with my friend Fr. Peter Balleis (the Director of JRS International) that Fr. Stanny would tell him of this desire. There were immediate communications from Fr. Peter literally asking as to when I would be ready to join the JRS; well, my response at that time was “it’s only for a short time and we will see”.
Early in April, I made my annual Spiritual Exercises (retreat) in the Jesuit residence of Gandhinagar. It was a troubling retreat with my thoughts constantly going back to the JRS. On Good Friday, there was this urge as never before to say “yes” and on Holy Saturday, I wrote to Fr. Peter Balleis that I think I hear the Lord calling me to serve in JRS. Peter’s immediate response was “come immediately. We are waiting for you”.
In May 2015, I had to go to Rome to speak at the Caritas Internationalis Assembly. I had some prolonged meetings with Fr. Peter and some others concerned there. They were certainly keen on me joining JRS as soon as possible and offered me some possibilities; the topmost, one being to work in the Middle East. I agreed to going to Beirut for a few days in July to see things for myself. My visit there was extremely positive but after the stay, I still felt that I needed more time to reflect and pray over things.
On my return to India I went through a long but difficult process of Ignatian discernment. During this process of discernment, I must have put down at least a hundred reasons why I should continue to be where I am and particularly in Gujarat. On the other side, there seemed to be just one voice saying to me to “let go” and to “let God”.
In the early hours of August 22nd, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary I finally said “yes” totally, willingly and cheerfully to go and to work in the Lebanon. It was certainly an important decision in my life, a very difficult one in every sense of the word.
I have been assigned the responsibility of doing Advocacy work with JRS in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). I will be based in Beirut, Lebanon and while this responsibility is for the next two or three years, it is in fact open ended. My responsibilities sounded to me are challenging indeed!
I enjoyed being here in Gujarat and particularly for the last fourteen years working on issues related to human rights, justice and peace. Ever since friends and colleagues heart of my imminent departure, there has been no end of visits, phone calls, emails and messages. I truly value and feel good with all the appreciative things being said. Many have expressed feelings that I will be missed. I too will miss each one of you….!
Many also say how ‘shocked and surprised’ they are about my going wondering whether it was an overnight decision. Well it was not! It was kept under-wraps: very few knowing about it till very recently. Above all, no one is forcing me to go away…!
I humbly request your prayers for me, for my new responsibility and very particularly for those whom I have been called to serve.
I promise to be in touch and till we meet again, its “aavjo” (see you again) as we say in Gujarati!
With my love and prayers,
Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
20th January, 2016