.- Fr. Theodore Mascarenhas, who was appointed Wednesday to be an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Ranchi in India's eastern state of Jharkhand, has voiced his enthusiasm for the task.
“I would like to be what Pope Francis asks us to be: a pastor who feels the smell of the sheep, who has the sheep close to him,” Fr. Mascarenhas told CNA July 10, the day following his appointment, expressing his desire to follow in the Pope’s pastoral footsteps.
“I will try my best, in spite of my human limitations and shortcomings, to be good to the clergy, to be good to the priests, to be close to the laity, and above all to try and show them the love and mercy of God. And I hope they too show the love and mercy of God to me. That’s my hope.”
Recalling the moment earlier this month when he was informed of his appointment, Fr. Mascarenhas, who is an official of the Pontifical Council for Culture, noted that there were just two others from the council present, as well as a crucifix on the wall.
Sensing that there was something the others wanted to say, the priest recalled that when they finally gave him the letter from the Pope asking if he would accept the appointment, he looked to the crucifix on the wall, saying to himself in silence,“okay, but this is in your hands!”
Ranchi is a city of 1.1 million, and the capital of a state seen as the heart of India's indigenous tribes. While he has never been to the archdiocese, Fr. Mascarenhas said he has heard it is “a great place with very, very warm people.”
“The people are open, simple, friendly and with great faith in God,” he noted, explaining that he has been told it is a place “where the word of God has made a lot of advances and where evangelization has very good prospects.”
In 2010, 4.4 percent of the more than 3 million people in the Ranchi archdiocese were Catholic; most of the population of Jharkhand are Hindu, while 14 percent are Muslim and 13 percent adhere to indigenous religions known as Sarna.
Fr. Mascarenhas expressed that “honestly it feels strange” to have been appointed a bishop, “because ever since the appointment has been made people look at you differently.”
“You within your own heart feel a sort of weight, a responsibility. And at the same time looking forward to a new task entrusted to you.”
Born in Camurlim, in west India's Goa state, in 1960, Fr. Mascarenhas was professed as a member of the Society of the Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier in 1979, and was ordained a priest of the society in 1988.
He holds a masters in political science, as well as a licentiate and doctorate in sacred scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute.
He is currently procurator general of the Society of the Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier in Europe, and a member of the Pontifical Committee for the International Eucharistic Congresses.
In addition to these, and his position on the Pontifical Council for Culture, he is a lecturer in scripture at the Pontifical Gregorian University and at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Speaking of the great need for evangelization in India, the bishop-elect explained that it “is a very complex thing, because on one side we have rising extremist forces of all sorts that impede the evangelization efforts.”
These extremists come not only from fundamentalist Hindu or Muslim forces, but also from radicals in other Christian communities, he observed, affirming that there is a great need to bring these extremist voices “under control for good evangelization.”
“Evangelization simply means spreading the word of God, and the word of God is all about love, about mercy, and in that there can be no violence, there can be no fundamentalism.”
Describing how fundamentalism in India is different from that of the rest of the world, Fr. Mascarenhas stated that this is because “it goes against their own interests.”
“See, evangelization goes against the caste system, it breaks down the social order, and obviously people who have been in control are finding evangelization a threat,” he explained, noting that in general India is a very tolerant country, but this “small slice” is growing and “posing a threat not only to the Christians, but to the unity, integrity, and secularism of India.”
Referring to how Christianity is “a religion of dialogue,” the bishop-elect explained that one of his key strategies in combating fundamentalism will be in “keeping channels open, talking to everybody.”
“We talk to everybody, we see their viewpoints and we expect that they will respect us. I think if we can live in love and respect a lot of unnecessary problems will be avoided in the world.”
Fr. Mascarenhas also revealed that although the date is not yet set in stone, his consecration to the episcopate will most likely take place Aug. 30 at St. Mary's Cathedral in Ranchi, along with Fr. Telesphore Bilung, who was himself appointed an auxiliary for the Archdiocese of Ranchi on May 6.
The Ranchi archdiocese is led by Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, who will celebrate his 75th birthday in October.
Fr. Mascarenhas said that posed with the decision to have his episcopal consecration either in Rome or in Ranchi, since h has never been to the local Church before, he chose to have it there as a way for the archdiocese to get to know him, and as sign that he wants to be close to his new flock.
“I have chosen my motto for my episcopate as ‘Your word, oh Lord, is a lamp unto my feet,’ and I hope it will be the word that will guide me in my ministry.”