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A birthday wish for His Eminence, Oswald Cardinal Gracias

Dec. 17, 2015

An annual feature on the school calendar for the 151 schools affiliated to the Archdiocesan Board of Education (ABE), the Thanksgiving Eucharist to felicitate His Eminence, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, was held this year on December 17, 2015 at the Cathedral of the Holy Name.  Each year, one school is given the privilege of animating the liturgy and this year, it was the turn of Don Bosco High School Matunga, whose boys filled the Cathedral with lilting harmony during the Mass.

Before the commencement of the Eucharist, the schoolchildren (three from each school, accompanied by a teacher) were shown a short film, ‘Laudato Si’ (courtesy the Catholic Communication Centre, AOB) and a PowerPoint presentation on Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, courtesy Fr. Cleophas Braganza, AVEC. Laudato Si, which is also the title of the Holy Father’s encyclical on caring for our common home and all its people, addressed the ‘young people who demand change for the better’ and spoke a heartfelt message to the children showing them how a common plan and practical advice involving the human family could help them care for creation; it demonstrated the joy and freedom found in living simple lives.

Swachh Bharat, started out as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan in 1999 and the main focus was rural sanitation. The incentive was to improve the quality of life by providing private toilets in each village home. This was one of the 8 Millennium Development Goals to improve the standard of living in India across the country. Relaunched as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan on Gandhi Jayanti, October 2, 2014 the mandate now covered elimination of open defecation, discontinuance of manual scavenging, solid waste disposal management, healthy sanitation practices and Private Sector participation. 9 brand ambassadors were personally appointed by our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, for this project; each was to recruit 9 more, who in turn had to recruit a further 9 each thus creating  a chain reaction.  Children have proved to be the best ambassadors who can take the message forward out of the classrooms with their pledge to commit 100 hours a year (2 hours a week) to this project. It is their participation that encourages others to get involved.

But is change really happening? Our surroundings are still filthy, there is intolerance, corruption, discrimination, child abuse, human trafficking, gender violence against women, exploitation of tribals and reduction of our green cover.  Perhaps we first need to have clean minds and for this we need to return to the ideals promoted by Mahatma Gandhi who was emphatic that we cannot have wealth without work, business without ethics, religion without service, patriotism without principles.  Once we have a clear understanding of what is needed, the rest will follow so that children become the conscientious and committed citizens, influencing their family, their neighbourhood and their country.

The Eucharist commenced with the procession led by 19 concelebrants – Principals, ex-Principals and Managers of the Archdiocesan schools – and His Eminence, the main celebrant, to the heartfelt strains of ‘We are here to praise you…’. The Cardinal then lit the candle and received the gift of a sapling which signified his nurturing approach that lights up our lives.

His Eminence, at the commencement and in his homily welcomed everyone present with gratitude and joy for this opportunity to celebrate the Thanksgiving Eucharist to remember his birthday (which actually falls next week on the 24th). Cardinal Oswald reminded us that today – the 17th December – is actually Pope Francis’ birthday and he invited all to pray for our Holy Father. We also await another, most important birthday, that of Jesus on 25th December who was born 2000 years ago and came among us to change our way of life, to answer questions, to give us a purpose and to help us to be happy as one family in peace, love and joy. All four Gospels speak of the life of Jesus telling us the values we learn in school – to speak the truth, to practice justice, honesty and sincerity. Pope Francis also calls us to practice these values to protect and restore our common home and ensure that its resources are shared equally with all.  His Eminence dwelt briefly on the Conference held recently in Paris in which 195 countries, including India, participated. He remembered a time when Mumbai too was very clean, more so than now and asked the children present to try and help even in small ways.

His Eminence concluded by wishing all present  the love, joy and peace of Christmas and asked the children to share these blessings with their grandparents, parents, siblings and extended family. He had a special thank you for the choir too.

After the conclusion of the Eucharist, Ms. Beatrice Pinto of Don Bosco High School offered greetings and thanked God for the gift of Cardinal Oswald – in verse - on behalf of all the ABE schools. A very enthusiastic rendition of the Happy Birthday song followed! Fr. George then thanked all those involved in the organisation of the day, and all those present who had made the occasion special.

Representatives from each school came forward to wish His Eminence. Some presented miniature statues of baby Jesus (for their school cribs) to be blessed by Cardinal Gracias.

The liturgy called for watchfulness in prayer and exultation in praise. This exultation was echoed in the final hymn which reminded all to ‘go out with joy’, and our children shining like bright torches will lead the way.


:December 17, 2015

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