Thursday, 11 September 2008

Magnificat and Majhi

8 September is the feast of the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. However until a few days ago I was quite unaware of its full significance. The tendency of the Catholic church on this day has been to emphasize Mary's role as the mother of Jesus, but rarely her own humanity.

On the late evening of 8 September I happened on my dear landlady Mrs Sharma in Delhi. I mentioned I had been to the Masigarh church, Our Lady of Health, in Okhla parish for the feast Mass at 6.30 pm. She asked me the significance of the feast and I told her it was to celebrate Mary's divinity as being chosen to be the mother of God. When she pointed out that it was printed on the leaftlet that it was the birthday of Mary, I almost rubbished it.

This led me to head for the 1 pm (daily) Mass the next day - 9 September - at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Goldakhana, New Delhi. After Mass I picked up a copy of Francis Fernandez's In Conversation With God (Vol. 7) which I knew would be available at the little table outside the Church. Volume 7 contains notes on the feast of the Church for the period July through December. The easy-to-read little book published by Sceptre book (the publishing wing of Opus Dei) helped me to understand a dimension of Mary I (and perhaps many others) had taken for granted, viz. from the obscurity of her birth and the silence of the Gospels about her - except as the 'handmaid of the Lord'.
This misconception was sought to be corrected with a little help from Italian painter Pietro Lorenzetti (c1280-1348) through his wood panel 'The Nativity of the Virgin' (1342). The sumptuous triptych depicts the birth of the infant Mary to St Anne. The painting adorns the cover of the September 2008 issue of The Voice of Delhi published by the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese.

Fr Edward SJ in his homily at Masigarh church spoke of the courage of Mary and her willing acceptance of her destiny. Just back from Bihar and Orissa he led us in prayer for the Christians who were victims of communal violence in Kandamahal, Orissa. His namesake Fr Edward Sequeira who has devoted 25 years of his life helping the rural poor in Orissa is now recuperating in Mumbai after being savagely attacked by a mob of fundamentalists on 25 August 2008. Rajni Majhi a young girl he was caring for in his orphanage was torched to death (See

Rajni is a poor Indian girl. So her death is not worth the attention given to a Staines. Her surname 'Majhi', means boatman. Boatsongs from Assam ring in my ears 'O Majhi Re . . .'

As Fr Edward Sequeira succintly puts it: 'In rural India human rights and religious freedom are non-existent. India has a dual identity, one of emerging economic power - an industrial India - and a parallel India, the rural poor, the exploited and dispossessed, poverty-stricken Indians without rights, without religious freedom, who are not even considered by the political powers except as an election vote bank.'

We are quite content to sing the 'Magnificat' - as I did, being on the Church choir - during the feast Mass to praise Mary. How many have the courage to go out there and make a real difference?

Painting courtesy:'Opera_del_duomo.jpg In the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy

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