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Rt. Rev. Valerian D'Souza, Bishop of Pune

                  "Prayer is the only way"

As I walked into the office of the Bishop of Pune, a warm and gentle figure greeted me at the door. He had a vibrant and effervescent look on his face. Humble, thoughtful and a person with a strong social commitment, the spark on his face belies his age.

Almost thirty years as the Bishop of Pune, he still feels that there is a long way to go. Holding out the message of peace, love and harmony to the world, he believes that prayer is the only way in which the world can be saved from self-destruction.

Here are his thoughts on life, religion and the controversy surrounding the Da Vinci Code:

Why are people fighting in the name of religion all over the world?

Religion can lead us to God and it can also lead us to think that we can do anything because we have the authority of God. Worst atrocities have been and are being committed in the name of religion. It’s a false understanding which has only contributed to human suffering. God does not sanction such atrocities.

Has religion failed to make us tolerant and open to new ideas?

Well religion should teach us to be open to others. One must respect the other without compromising one’s own beliefs. Only when we see the others in the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood can we be more tolerant. This is where religion can impart a sense of oneness amongst its people.

It is important for us to put aside our prejudices and stop putting people in pigeon-holes. Keep your conditioning aside and accept the people the way they are.

Is true spirituality only inward-looking?

True spirituality is both going inward and outward. God is in each one of us but that does not mean that once you have discovered him, you keep him to yourself. Instead, go out and share that love with others, especially with the poor and needy. Jesus taught us about loving each other.

Like Mother Teresa who saw God in everyone she served, even the outcaste. Our relationship to God must be such that in the background he’s there as a guiding light. You are always aware of his presence no matter what you are doing.

The world will become a better place when….

  1. One has a close relationship with God
  2. This relationship sends you to serve your brothers and sisters
  3. You do not only serve them but accept them the way they are

    Jesus gave the commandant of love- love one another. Religion cannot be concerned with itself. I cannot love God and not love you.                

How did the DaVinci Code hurt the sentiments of the Christian community when it was only a work of fiction?

The author Dan Brown of Da Vinci Code said that it’s a work of fiction but he has also talked about historical realities. Reality is not fiction. The danger lies in treating fiction as reality and vice versa which is what he has done.

He has distorted historical realities. For e.g. in the painting of the last supper (painted by Leonardo Da Vinci), the author claims that the person sitting next to Jesus Christ is Mary Magdalene and not John. He also claims that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. Firstly, the painting was done around 1500 years after the incident. So there is a possibility that the painter had put his own thoughts and ideas into it. Secondly, even if Jesus was married, why are there no accounts of it in the books and scriptures? His claims are not backed by factual proof.

What is the threat to the Christian community if the people read the book or see the movie, the Da Vinci Code?

The threat is- firstly he has attacked Jesus, the founder of Christian faith and hence the entire Christian community.
Secondly, written word is very powerful and so people will start picking up things from the book. Artistic license is alright; you can discuss religion but you shouldn’t insult any community like this.

The author has distorted historical facts- settings, sitting on chair in a long line, not reclining in a circle. Take the same example of the painting (Last supper), we don’t even know whether it was the original  painting as it was now and then partly and fully  restored.

What is the real challenge for you if the movie is screened?

The real challenge is not to ban the film but to educate the people about the errors and factual distortion in the movie. In a way the author has helped us to deepen the faith of our people.

Thirty years as the Bishop of Pune. What have been your main achievements?

In all these years, I have concentrated on our own formation of Roman Catholic plus education and social service.  We have opened a school for the handicapped in Wagholi. Then there is Asha Kiran- home for those affected by HIV. We run an orphanage in Pune for 150 girls and boys.

The focus has also been on strengthening the faith of Catholics and inducing them to introspect whether they are practicing their faith and going out to the world as apostles of peace, unity and harmony.

Reflecting on all this work, I feel that the journey has been both inward and outward looking all these years.