By Robin Gomes
The requiem Mass for Fr. Stan was streamed live from St. Peter's Church, Bandra, with only 20 people in attendance in keeping with Covid-19 protocols. However, thousands across the nation, including many abroad watched it online.
Fr. Stan, who championed the cause of indigenous and marginalized people in eastern India’s Jharkhand state, died in Mumbai’s Holy Family Hospital, Monday, July 5. He was being treated there for Covid-19, which he contracted behind bars in Taloja Central Jail, near Mumbai.
The ailing 84-year-old priest, affected by Parkinson’s disease and hearing impairment, was arrested on October 8 from Bagaicha, a Jesuit social action centre on the outskirts of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, on charges for alleged links with Maoist insurgents who were said to have been behind the violence in Bhima Koregaon village in Maharashtra state in January 2018. He was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that is tasked with fighting terrorism and sedition under the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The following day, he was lodged in Taloja Central Jail.
Father Swamy has denied all charges against him saying Bhima Koregaon is “a place that I have never been to in all my life.” He became India’s oldest prisoner charged with terrorism to die in custody, bail denied.
Tuesday’s requiem Mass for Fr. Stan, that was streamed live, was presided over by Bombay Jesuit provincial, Fr. Arun De Souza. Joining him at the altar were Fr. Joe Xavier, who had helped in arranging the legal issues after the arrest of Fr. Stan, and Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas, whom the Bombay High Court had appointed as Fr. Stan’s attendant in hospital. Fr. Jerry Cutinha, provincial of Jamshedpur Jesuit Province, to which Fr. Stan belonged, and Fr. Stany D’ Souza, president of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia, were unable to be present at the funeral Mass, but were linked virtually and delivered their messages via video links.
Heeding the cries of the poor
Fr. Arun evoked the image of Christ welcoming Fr. Stan saying, “Just like me, you have listened to the cries of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, what the Bible calls the ‘anawim’.” “And like me, you would have to pay the price and be crucified by the power that be.” The reading was from John’s Gospel where Jesus, after being scourged, was handed over by Pilate to be crucified, a parallel in the life of Fr. Stan. However, Fr. Arun said, Fr. Stan’s work is not in vain, as the “power of love will continue to work in our world today”. “The world will be a better place for what Fr. Stan has done.”
Mission of justice and reconciliation
In his message, Fr. Jerry Cutinha said that Fr. Stan walked the path of the Good Shepherd, being with the poor and trying to give them the fullness of life, with dignity and honour. But the 84-year old Jesuit was audacious and stood up against those who were against the poor and the voiceless, whether Church, political or corporate powers.
Fr. Stan was a Jesuit for 64 years and a priest for 51 years. He was branded as an “urban naxalite”, a member of a violent militant insurgent group that began as a movement fighting for the rights of landless farmers, labourers and the land rights of indigenous communities. On the contrary, Fr. Jerry said Fr. Stan was a true son of Ignatius of Loyola, giving without counting the cost, giving without heeding the wounds, toiling without seeking rest, and labouring without seeking a reward. “May the martyrdom of Fr. Stan inspire and challenge us and the entire nation to recommit ourselves to take forward the legacy of Fr. Stan in the mission of justice and reconciliation,” Fr. Jerry urged.
The Good Shepherd
Speaking at the Mass via a video link, Fr. Stany D’ Souza, president of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia, saw in Fr. Stan a true follower of the Good Shepherd, who knows each sheep by name and their pains, sorrows and aspirations. Fr. Stan stood in front, protecting his sheep against robbers and thieves. He provided them green pastures and running waters, and in this, he had a special preference for the weakest and the marginalized. “He completely identified himself with the poor and the marginalized and bore the smell of the sheep as Pope Francis would say.”
Because of his staunch support for the basic human rights of the Adivasis [indigenous] and Dalits [downtrodden], Fr. Stany said, he was charged with crimes he never dreamt of.
Fr. Stany said they have lost a courageous, committed and compassionate elder brother who worked selflessly for the mission of reconciliation and justice of the Jesuits. He said, "Fr. Stan cannot die." "He will rise in the lives of the poor, in the struggle for justice and peace, and he will raise a generation of people with conscience and commitment to take up his work."
At the funeral Mass, Frs. Joe and Frazer also shared their personal experiences with Fr. Stan, remembering him as a courageous priest.