Our theme has a beautiful word in it. It is the word 'horizon.' Horizon comes out in a perfect circle joining the earth with the vault of heaven. It is the meeting place of the earth with the sky. But it is an imaginary meeting place. We know that in fact there is no meeting between the heavens and the earth. Horizon is simply the limit of our vision. The Greek word denotes a condition of limitation and boundaries. Horizon reseeds when we try to approach it. That is to say, it opens up infinitely. So it is the symbol of infinite freedom and new space. The word thus conveys to us at the same time our limitation and our freedom.
The 20th century produced the myths of progress, of infinite scientific advances, of unending growth of national economies and myth of the socialist paradise. Some of these myths like the socialist dream of classless society exploded before our eyes. Some like the myth of unhampered scientific advance as well as economic growth are faced up with deep ecological and moral dilemmas. Recent advances in biotechnology like cloning and human genome project are raising fundamental issues for the nature of humanity. The new awareness of our physical universe in the ecological movement and of gender sensitivity in the feminist movement is altering human consciousness to a point of no return.
As you remember last year at this time the world was under the millennium frenzy. Many people, especially in the civilized west, were really terrified that the world would have a cataclysmic end as the year approached its end. Even in the world of technology and business the Y2K problem loomed large as a catastrophic possibility. Prophets of doom abounded. A crazy American prophet even booked hotels in Jerusalem offering his followers front seats when Jesus would appear in Jerusalem at the dawn of the new millennium.
In 1998 I had the privilege of attending the Asian Bishop's Synod at the Vatican with three other 'fraternal delegates.' One evening Pope John Paul II customarily invited the four of us for dinner with him in his private apartment. He spoke to us informally like an affectionate father at table with the family. As we sat eating a simple supper in the rather small personal dinning room of the Pope, I gathered courage to ask him about the widespread millennium fear of people, regarding the end of the world. I wanted to know what the Pope thought about it and also requested him to give the people some pastoral guidance. He was silent for a minute or so. I thought my request was ill-advised. Then he slowly came out with a response. He said "If you think about all the terrible things that happened to humanity in the 20th century, nothing worse will probably happen in the new century".
I thought this was the strength and common sense of a man who had witnessed the hell of concentration camps like Auschwitz and Brikinau in his native Poland where 5 million Jews were systematically poisoned and burn to ashes by a dictator from one of the most civilized, rich and scientifically advanced nations in the world.
We left the papal apartment at about 8 PM. In about an hour, the commander of the famous Swiss Guards was shot dead in his apartment just below the Papal residence. Next morning some Italian papers came out with sensational headlines like 'murder in the Cathedral; Blood bath in the Vatican' and so on. Dooms day prophets took it up. But that morning, the Pope totally unperturbed, appeared punctually as usual to preside at the Synod session.
We have now crossed the terrible transition point. The fear of the apocalypse seems to have receded. Many people may be inclined to engage in a more relaxed reflection about future.
Let me point out some limitations as well as possibilities suggested by the word horizon in our theme.
First of all, it seems the world is entering an age of new slavery. Globalization is simply a euphemism for this neo-slavery. It is a highly sophisticated contemporary counterpart of the old imperial order.
There is all round economic growth in many parts of the world according to the advocates of globalization. The G-7 countries are certainly gaining. While nations often measure their growth in economic terms, the subtle and surreptitious eroding of the cultural roots of their peoples will have very serious consequences. Unknowingly we are all subscribing to a fatal standardization or ironing out of our particular cultures according to the norms set by the west. From physical posture and gestures to dress codes and eating habits of the world is undergoing a tremendous transformation. Even the taste buds of the younger generation arte certainly in mutation. It seems they can now relish only a few flavors popularized by western fast food enterprises." We live, move and have our being." in this new culture which happens dimensions from peoples lives, religions returns with power, in some places with violence and fanaticism. Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington's clash of civilizations postulates that the future world conflicts will not primarily be economic and political but civilizational. He writes, “In the post cold war world the most important distinctions among people are not ideological, political or economic- they are cultural". But he places religion as the most important constituent of culture. According to this the social conflict within India and between India and other nations will have religion as a decisive factor.
Thirdly, we should not assume that the tremendous scientific and technological progress we have achieved in information and biotechnologies is a guarantee that our civilization will survive and survive well. In fact our scientific progress needs a cultural support system to function. Peter Berger, the American sociologist, speaks about “plausibility structures for maintaining religions faith in the sea of secularization systems of the support that keeps the faith of isolated groups or individuals alive in a rather unfriendly or indifferent environment. I think this is true of scientific and technological progress as well.
Fourthly, we need to keep institution and charisma in proper balance. A friend of mine in government service in the northern part of Kerala asked me why many Hindus and Muslims in Malabar consider Christians in general as Crooks and greedy self-seekers in spite of all the significant contribution of Christians in education, health care and numerous other service sectors. It is difficult to answer this question. It could be a prejudiced generalization created in certain particular circles. It is true however the Christian compassion, charity and generosity have been often overshadowed by the institutional power of the Church. This can happen to any well-meaning philanthropic initiatives. The power of institution can mask and distort the grace of self giving and many other charismas.
Finally, we need to shape a new time and a new space for the new millennium. The 20th century has witnessed the liberation of almost all nations from colonial domination stretching over five centuries. The time and space which we presently experience are the creations of the colonial master. For us in India real and efficient time was English time. Indian time was mentioned disparagingly as a symbol of our inferiority. Time and space have been conditioned by oppressive cultures to the point of dehumanizing the subject nations. Our space has been desecrated by racial arrogance, economic exploitation and political domination. In the new millennium, can we look for a new configuration of our world in a new space for our communities and nations, a new psychic awareness of time and environment, a new equation for respectful mutual relations instead of the subject-object dichotomy with which we usually operate?
We need to have some fresh reconsideration of what we as Churches and institutions can do for our country. A lot of imagination and some bold initiatives are required. What we should recognize is that human awareness and human nature are now undergoing some sweeping changes. Our sensitivity to the emerging humanity will be the test for our commitment and the quality of our service.
[This is the text version of the speech delivered by Rev. Fr. Dr. K. M. George at YMCA national Conference
Reported by: Thomas Thomas]
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