St. John Britto

വി. ജോണ്‍ ബ്രിട്ടോ

പോര്‍ച്ചുഗലില്‍ സമ്പന്നമായ ഒരു കുടുംബത്തില്‍ ജോണ്‍ ദേ ബ്രിട്ടോ ജനിച്ചു. ഡോണ്‍ പെഡ്രോ ദ്വിതീയന്റെ കൊട്ടാരത്തിലാണ് ബാല്യത്തില്‍ കുറെകാലം ജോണ്‍ ജോണ്‍ ചിലവഴിച്ചത്. ജോണിന്റെ ഭക്തജീവിതം കൂട്ടുകാര്‍ക്ക് രസിക്കാത്തതിനാല്‍ ബാല്യത്തില്‍ കുറെ സഹിക്കേണ്ടി വന്നു. അക്കാലത്ത് ജോണിന് ഗുരുതരമായ സുഖക്കേട് വരികയും വിശുദ്ധ ഫ്രാന്‍സിസ് സേവ്യറിന്റെ മാധ്യസ്ഥത്താല്‍ സുഖം പ്രാപിക്കുകയും ചെയ്‌തു. അന്ന് മുതല്‍ ജോണിന്റെ ആഗ്രഹം വി.സേവ്യറെ അനുകരിക്കുകയായിരിന്നു. അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ അഭിലാഷം യഥാവസരം പൂവണിഞ്ഞു.

1962 ഡിസംബര്‍ പതിനേഴാം തിയതി ലിസ്ബണിലെ ഈശോ സഭ നവസന്യാസ മന്ദിരത്തില്‍ ജോണ്‍ പ്രവേശിച്ചു. 11 കൊല്ലങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് ശേഷം മാതാപിതാക്കന്മാരുടെയും കൊട്ടാരത്തിന്റെയും എതിര്‍പ്പുകള്‍ അവഗണിച്ചു മിഷന്‍ പ്രവര്‍ത്തനങ്ങള്‍ക്കായി ഇന്ത്യയിലേക്ക് പുറപ്പെടാന്‍ തന്നെ അദ്ദേഹം നിശ്ചയിച്ചു. അമ്മ അത് കേട്ടപ്പോള്‍ ദുഖാര്‍ത്തയായി. ജോണ്‍ പോര്‍ച്ചുഗല്‍ വിടാതിരിക്കാന്‍ വേണ്ടത് ചെയ്യണമെന്നു പേപ്പല്‍ നുണ്‍ഷിയോട് അവള്‍ അഭ്യര്‍ത്ഥിച്ചു. “ലോകത്തില്‍ നിന്നും സന്യാസത്തിലേക്ക് എന്നെ വിളിച്ച ദൈവം ഇന്ത്യയിലേക് എന്നെ വിളിക്കുന്നു” എന്നായിരിന്നു അദ്ധേഹത്തിന്റെ മറുപടി. ” ദൈവവിളിക്ക് യഥാവിധം ഞാന്‍ ഉത്തരം നല്‍കാതിരിന്നാല്‍ ദൈവനീതിയെ എതിര്‍ക്കുകയായിരിക്കും ഞാന്‍ ചെയ്യുക. ജീവിച്ചിരിക്കുംകാലം ഇന്ത്യയിലേക്ക് പോകാന്‍ ഞാന്‍ ശ്രമിച്ചുകൊണ്ടിരിക്കും” ജോണ്‍ കൂട്ടിച്ചേര്‍ത്തു.

14 കൊല്ലം അദ്ദേഹം തഞ്ചാവൂര്‍, മധുര, രാമേശ്വരം മുതലായ സ്ഥലങ്ങളില്‍ സുവിശേഷം പ്രസംഗിച്ചു. ബ്രാഹ്മണനെപോലെയാണ് അദ്ദേഹം ജീവിച്ചിരിന്നത്. സവര്‍ണ്ണ ഹിന്ദുക്കളെ നേടിയെടുക്കാന്‍ പാവയ്‌ക്കായും മറ്റുമാണ് പലപ്പോഴും ഭക്ഷിച്ചിരിന്നത്. അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ വിജയകരമായ മിഷന്‍ പ്രവര്‍ത്തനങ്ങളാല്‍ രോഷാകുലനായ രാജാവ് അദ്ധേഹത്തെ നാടുകടത്തി. പോര്‍ച്ചുഗലിലേക്ക് മടങ്ങിപോകാന്‍ നിര്‍ബന്ധിതനായ ഫാദര്‍ ജോണ്‍ താമസിയാതെ തന്നെ തന്റെ പ്രിയപ്പെട്ട പ്രവര്‍ത്തനരംഗത്തേക്ക് മടങ്ങി. സ്നാപക യോഹന്നാനെപോലെ ഒരു സ്ത്രീയുടെ കോപത്തിന് അദ്ദേഹം പാത്രമായി. മാനസാന്തരപെട്ട ഒരു ഹിന്ദു രാജാവ് അവളെ ബഹിഷ്കരിച്ചതായിരിന്നു. വേദനാസമ്പൂര്‍ണ്ണമായ ജയില്‍ വാസത്തിനിടക്ക് അദ്ധേഹത്തിന്റെ തല വെട്ടപ്പെട്ടു. 1947 ജൂണ്‍ 22നു അദ്ധേഹത്തെ വിശുദ്ധനായി നാമകരണം ചെയ്‌തു.

Blurb 1: John de Britto’s responed to the call with an extraordinary, unwavering belief in God’s power and promises.

Blurb2: John de Britto became the grain of wheat that Jesus mentions in the Gospel. Indeed he sacrificed his life to produce ‘much fruit’ (John 12: 24-26).

Blurb 3: John de Britto proved that Christian faith will survive as long as Jesus has people who are ready to pay the cost of discipleship.

When Gonsalo Garcia boarded the ship from Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1572, the native of Bassein (Vasai) had little inkling that he would be crucified on Nagasaki Hills in Japan and become a saint. All he did was to respond in faith to an irresistible call from God.

One hundred years later, John de Britto, a member of an aristocratic family in Lisbon, Portugal, responded to a similar irresistible call. He landed in the southern parts of India, a faraway unknown land, where he became a martyr for his faith.

John de Britto responed to his call like Abraham, Moses, Amos and Matthew of the Bible: Obey God’s invitation with anextraordinary, unwavering belief in His power and promises. Born on March 1, 1647, as the son of the viceroy of the Portuguese colony of Brazil, he left everything –wealth and pomp of the aristocracy — to join the Jesuits in 1662. Eleven years later, he left for Madurai with 27 other Jesuits.

When his mother learned about his going to India, she used all her influence to keep him in Portugal. But the future martyr declared firmly: “God, who called me from the world into religious life, now calls me from Portugal to India. Not to respond to my vocation as I ought, would be to provoke the justice of God. As long as I live, I shall never cease to desire passage to India.”

In the Madurai Mission, he became all to all, as Saint Paul said, by adopting the lifestyle of a sanyasi. He wore saffron cloak and turban and ate only vegetarian food. He also gave up wine — a great sacrifice for an aristocrat from Europe. He learned Tamil and took a local name –Arulanandar (which literally means “filled with grace”) and endeared himself to the local people. He became the grain of wheat that Jesus mentions in Gospel. Indeed he fell to the ground and died to produce ‘much fruit’ (John 12: 24-26).

The “pandara swami” in saffron cloak moved among ordinary people and preached the Gospel of Christ. He followed the example of Robert de Nobili, an Italian Jesuit who started Indianization or inculturation of the Catholic Church in India. De Nobili was convinced that the best way to communicate Christ in the Indian context was present him in the local culture, symbols and language. That is what Indian theologian George M Soares- Prabhu says: “Inculturation is seen as an on-going dialogue between Christianity and culture.”

John de Britto did succeed in his unique method of evangelization. More than ten thousand people embraced Catholicism through his life and preaching. Since Portuguese were a world political power, he was respected by top class in society. This gave him access even to royals and nobles. He converted a prince Thadiyathevan.

But the prince’s conversion led to a confrontation between the royalty and John de Britto. One of the several wives of the polygamous prince became extremely angry since Arulanandar had told him to choose one wife and send away the rest. The upset wife was from a royal family in a neighbouring kingdom.

Besides, the Christian values of human dignity, forgiveness, agape-love, equality and freedom did not go well with the parochial values of purity-pollution and hierarchical order that enforced subjugation and submission of low caste people. John de Britto, who worked mostly among low caste people, became a sign of contradiction.

The local Brahmins could not tolerate Britto’s efforts to convert the outcastes to the Catholic fold. The high caste people also considered as impure anyone coming from across the seas. Britto, on the other hand, believed that all human beings were the children of God and, therefore, brothers and sisters. Such a world-vision had no takers in a society based on the hierarchical purity-pollution system that existed five hundred years ago. Such a view is not widely accepted even now.

So Britto faced abuses, insults and even torture. The Brahmins boycotted him, but his loving service and down-to-earth approach attracted many common people to him. He knew his life was in danger but did not bother because he was convinced the cost of being a disciple of Jesus could also mean death. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in his famous work “The Cost of Discipleship” that “Christianity without discipleship is Christianity without Christ.”

As a true Jesuit, Britto had come to fight under the flag of Christ. He had decided in the core of his being that he would be a disciple of Christ till his last breath whatever the cost. Finally, court conspiracies spearheaded by the Brahmins and their minions along with the estranged wife of Thadiyathevan pressured the king to sign the royal order to execute John de Britto for sedition.

The soldiers led the saffron-cloaked swami to Oriyur for execution. The king’s first order was banishment from the kingdom but Britto refused to go. So, the king ordered for the execution. Common people, who had embraced Christianity, opposed the order, but they had no voice.

At the execution site Arulanandar knelt down and prayed. The day was February 4, 1693. Seeing him in prayer, the executioner hesitated, but Britto told him: “My friend, I have prayed to God. On my part, I have done what I should do. Now do your part.”

Thus came to an end a courageous discipleship that began with an irresistible faith-call. But the executioner’s axe could not end everything. John de Britto became a living history of evangelization. Every year thousands of people from all castes and religions throng his tomb at Oriyur where a church in his name now stands. The pilgrims take the red soil from his tomb and apply it on their bodies to heal various ailments.

Britto’s memory is kept alive by Arulanandar College in Karumathur near Madurai and several othe institutions. The vibrant Catholic community in Madurai and surrounding areas continue to witness the undeniable force of Britto’s evangelization that combined Christ’s message of love with local milieu. He is the Good Samaritan who went to help the forsaken on the wayside when the high and the mighty looked the other way. He was the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep because he could recognize them as his own.

In a commemoration Mass for John de Britto at Madras (now Chennai) on February 5, 1986, Pope John Paul II succinctly summed up Britto’ life: “Saint John de Britto’s life faithfully reflected the life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, for it was a life of service unto death. His patient labours, selfless zeal and genuine love for the poor won for him their confidence. Like Jesus he was a sign of contradiction.”

Like Paul the Apostle, John de Britto proved that Christian faith cannot be fettered as long as Jesus has disciples with courage to answer an irresistible call of faith — people who are ready to pay the cost of discipleship, however strong the storm rages around them.

Source : www.syromalabarperth.org.au

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