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The Rediff Special/ Father Pravin Fernandes

'Bharat ko ashirwad aur shanti'

E-Mail this feature to a friend asked Father Pravin Fernandes, co-ordinator, Catholic Communications Centre, Bombay, to provide information about the Pope's mass in Delhi on Sunday for the benefit of non-Catholics and the laity. Readers can watch the webcast and read Father Fernandes's commentary for illumination.

It is significant that this mass celebrated by the Holy Father should take place on the occasion of the festival of Diwali. With the Holy Father and all Christians in our great country, I send warm greetings to our Hindu sisters and brothers.

This feast symbolises the victory of truth over untruth, light over darkness, life over death, good over evil and peace over conflict. Let us pray with the Holy Father that the darkness of sin may be overcome and brightened with the light of spiritual, human and ethical values.

Archbishop Allan de Lastic, the archbishop of Delhi, and president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, is welcoming the Holy Father to this mass.

He is expressing his gratitude to government officials and other concerned persons who have given the Holy Father a very warm welcome in India. He is emphasising the freedom to preach, practise and propagate religion enshrined in our Constitution.

The archbishop is saying the Holy Father is one of the most outstanding personalities of the 20th century. He is now referring to the cyclone-affected areas of Orissa and the generous donation from the Holy Father to the victims of this tragedy.

This part of the mass is called the Penitential Rite, when we ask God for forgiveness for our wrongdoings. Both sins of commission and omission.

Singing, like many traditions in India, is an important part of Christian worship. The congregation now asks God for pardon in song.

At this point in the service, the assembly praises and thanks God for the wonderful things he does on our behalf.

There is a note of festivity in the songs of prayer, so much in keeping with the joy of Diwali.

The Holy Father starts with an opening prayer, asking God to enlighten all men

At this stage in the service, we have readings from the sacred scriptures. This reading in Hindi calls upon all people to fulfill their vocation to be the light of the world.

Dialogue is a very essential part of the holy sacrifice of the mass. After God has spoken through his holy word, the people respond in song, The present one being sung refers to God as a shepherd who looks after his sheep and provides for all their needs.

The second reading calls upon all of us to shun darkness and to embrace light. To move from untruth to truth. From death to life.

The gospel to be read says that Jesus is the light of the world. The holy book is incensed with sweet fragrances before the reading begins.

The reading is saying that all creation was made through the word of God. This word is the light of all men and dispels every form of darkness.

Christians believe this light came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ.

The festival of Christmas which we shall be celebrating soon is a celebration of that presence among men.

The Holy Father will now proclaim a message that is based on the three readings of the service.

The Holy Father refers to the festival of lights and points out to Jesus as being the light of the world. He says he is very happy to be here to conclude the Synod of Bishops. He is explaining the meaning of a synod.

He offers the church in Asia a spiritual guide for the millennium.

It is being released in India, which is the home of many cultures and which has left an indelible mark on the history of the human race.

The Holy Father hopes that the next century will be a century of fruitful dialogue, understanding and solidarity. He thanks the archbishop of Delhi for extending him a warm welcome.

He welcomes the Latin Church, the Syro-Malabar Church and the Syro-Malankara Church.

He greets all the cardinals, bishops, priests and religious men and women and offers them words of encouragement.

He invites all to preach the gospel with respect to the conditions we find ourselves in. The many contrasts and economic differences that exist between people. The image of God in human beings must be treasured. Darkness will never overcome the light.

The Holy Father is saying that Jesus was born on Asian soil.

From Asia, the church spread all over the world.

The Holy Father hopes the new millennium will bring an increase of faith in the Asian continent.

In an appeal for an appropriate celebration of the great jubilee year, the Holy Father called for an equitable distribution of human resources, specially in favour of the poor and marginalised.

The Holy Father pointed out that many wise teachers of the Asian continent have said that the love of God and of human beings involves great suffering.

The world will be transformed only if men and women accept the path of peace, mutual respect, understanding and love, he said.

The message of this Asian Synod is love and hope for all peoples. The Holy Father wished that everybody heed this message and thereby have life and have it in abundance.

The next stage in the celebration is the recitation of the Catholic creed which states in brief statements the essence of our faith.

It is significant that in the presence of the Holy Father, who is a symbol of unity and solidarity, that the many needs of the people of Asia be made to God in the languages of Asia.

This part is called the Prayers of the Faithful.

At the mass, believers bring forth many gifts as offerings to God and to his people. At this celebration, the gifts are being accompanied by a dance typical from the places from which they come.

Indian music is being played at this time, with Indian instruments and the hymn is being sung in Hindi, which is the national language of India. Young men and women in colourful costumes and meaningful Indian gestures express this sentiment of giving.

The Holy Father then blesses these gifts and offers them to God.

The main gift offered at this time is the offering of bread and wine. In the old Covenant, bread and wine were the first fruits of the earth offered as a sign of grateful acknowledgement to the Creator. We read of unleavened bread that was eaten before the Passover from Egypt into the Promised Land. Manna was the bread eaten by the pilgrim people while they were travelling and, in Biblical times, wine was always a sign of festivity.

This bread and wine, when blessed by the Holy Father and at all masses, changes into the body and blood of Christ. This is Catholic belief.

The Pope, on receiving each gift, presents each person with a rosary.

The dance that we had referred to earlier was performed in the Bharatanatyam style. It used to be a common form of Indian dance in the temples of South India.

So far, we have talked about the penitential part of the mass, followed by the reading of the scriptures, which is also called the liturgy of the word. This was followed by the explanation of the readings in a homily. Then came the presentation of the gifts to the Holy Father. Now the Holy Father will offer the gifts to God and consecrate them into the body and blood of Christ.

An important part of the mass is a prolonged prayer recited by the celebrant, which in this case is the Holy Father, which gives praise and thanksgiving to God and consecrates the bread and wine. After the consecration, Catholics believe that Christ is truly, really and substantially present under the species of bread and wine.

A solemn moment when he raises the host and the wine is called the elevation. The faithful bow in reverence at this point.

After the consecration, the assembled congregation, either in word or song, express their belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is a high point of this act of worship.

Another symbolic gesture of worship to Jesus Christ present in the form of bread and wine is the Indian aarti. We have a tray decorated with flowers, incense sticks and lamps raised in a circular motion in praise.

The final section in this service is the distribution of holy communion to the faithful. This is reminiscent of the multiplication of loaves by which Jesus fed the multitudes. The breaking and distribution of bread was also a Jewish custom usually performed by the head of the family.

During communion, Catholics believe they share in the very body and blood of Christ.

We must remember that before Jesus returned to his Father, he had a meal with his disciples and this meal was a memorial of his death and resurrection and a sign of love and unity.

The Holy Father will personally distribute communion to 30 specially chosen people.

These privileged people are the physically challenged ones.

For example, there is a blind person among them who has the special light of faith shining within her.

A subject very close to the heart of the Pope is promoting harmony between various religions, dialogue between members of different religions, mutual respect which paves the way for relationships that are crucial to solving the many problems and sufferings of humanity.

This is a special moment for these very special people to receive communion from the Holy Father himself.

This gesture indicates that the church has special affection for the deprived.

The song after communion appeals to everyone to return to Christ as he is calling us himself.

Once again, a choir composed of men and women from India sing this song in Hindi, the national language.

Now a meaningful hymn sung during communion assures people that God can overcome all obstacles as he carries the weight of the world upon his shoulders.

He will carry you and me too.

In the final prayer, the Pope prayed to God, Our Father, that light may shine in all of us and so give glory to Him.

The Pope entrusted the deliberations of the Asian synod to Mary, the mother of Jesus, for whom he has a special affection. He asked her to renew and sustain them in the spirit of Jesus...

He prayed in a special way for the poor, the needy and the suffering, to help us to serve them as our brothers and sisters.

He prayed for the youth of Asia and prayed that they would use their enthusiasm as peacemakers in a fragmented world.

He said in Hindi, Bharat ko ashirwad aur shanti which means may India be blessed with peace.

He reminded all present of the outstanding witness of Mother Teresa whose mortal remains remain in this country, a witness of her love specially for the poorest of the poor.

After his concluding message, the Holy Father prayed the very ancient and traditional Angelus. This prayer focuses on the part Mary played in the mystery of salvation.

At this point, the Holy Father will hand over the post-synodal document to 32 representatives from the local churches. It is called ECCLESIA IN ASIA. This is a summation of the reflections of the Asian bishops with a concluding vision of the Holy Father himself...

The ceremony concludes with a final blessing after which the Holy Father made a final round of the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in New Delhi where the mass was held.

If there is one sentiment that stands out in this papal mass, it's the Holy Father's invitation that we accompany one and other towards the transcendent goal which is God Himself. On this great festival of lights, may we all work together harmoniously for peace and unity among all peoples and for the spiritual and material progress of our beloved motherland, India.

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