The Loyola GIAN workshop is my first formal contact with the Network initiative, other than reading about it in the newsletters or listening to some talk or other. Beginning with the presentations of Julian, the presentations and much more the group work in the core group have given me a new understanding of the challenge of the new frontier mission: Advocating on behalf and with the poor.
As I sat through the sessions and the group work, my memories went back to the 1980s. I was then a theology student. It was then that the well known ‘Fisherfolk’s struggle of the 1980s’ emerged. That was a unique movement in support of the artisanal fisherfolk numbering about a million, on the coast of the state of Kerala, South India, most of whom were Catholics, who were impoverished and made poorer by the trawlers and mechanised boats that encroached upon the fish resource they had. Hundreds and thousands of fisherfolk, women, children and men , came out on the street emboldened by a leadership which combined priestly, religious and lay leadership. Fast unto death by priests and nuns, particularly one nun made history. The Church, while it stood by the struggle, dragged its feet when it came to fast unto death. Ordinary men and women, not just the fisherfolk, but other marginalized groups as well thronged the streets demanding ‘ban on trawlers’, ‘ protect waters, protect life’. They were exciting times. The fisherfolk tasted the success of campaigning and advocacy. The state agreed to ban trawlers at least during the spawning season. The struggles of the people were supported by a deep spirituality, inspired by the Liberation theologians and a host of ordinary seekers.
Unfortunately, today the same movement stands divided and the people remain like a sheep without a shepherd.
As I conclude the workshop, there is a spark, a fire that inspires me to kindle other fires. The call of the poor is loud and sharp. The Jesuits are beckoned. May we have the courage to respond.
George Mutholil SJ from Kerala Province is the director of the Indian Social Institute in Bangalore, India.