Full transcript of the interview with Fr. Anthony Cyril, rector of the Shrine of St. John de Brito, in Oriyur, India. News feature, with video, here.
Transcrição integral da entrevista ao Pe. Anthony Cyril, reitor do Santuário de São João de Brito, em Oriyur, Índio. Reportagem, com vídeo, aqui.
Tell us a little about the shrine of Oriyur…
In Tamilnadu the São João de Britto Shrine is the oldest shrine, but since it is situated in a remote area, the attention is not given properly, so far. For the past three to four years we have been giving some attention, there is a lot of improvement, in terms of the pilgrimages and the restoration and renovation of the churches. Now the pilgrims come and say Father, the shrine is good now, it is clean now, there is a spiritual atmosphere. They donate what they have, these contributions are also increasing, sharing their resources.
Three hundred years ago St. John de Brito was beheaded here. People started coming and venerating him. Not only Catholics, but other religious groups, particularly Hindus and Muslims. Among the Christians there are also other sects, people come because they want to pay respects to the man who introduced Christ, they say they want to see their forefather and get blessings from him.
People have started coming, I am struggling to get the government to increase the facilities. The road is good now, a bank has come, some infrastructures have improved. The Tamilnadu government has given money for dormitories for the pilgrims, toilet facilities, water purification machine and the fourth is solar energy. Because of our tireless effort things are progressing and the spiritual atmosphere is improving.
The shrine is run by the Jesuits?
Yes, but it is under the diocese of Sivangagai, but we cooperate in the development.
How well known is Saint John in India?
It’s a pity, but many Indian Christians do not know John de Brito, but their forefathers, those who know, tell their grand-children about them. But I make an effort, I go to different parishes every week and I speak about him, and people then get to know him and come to the shrine. There are three very important saints in the Indian Catholic Church. One is St. Thomas, the other is St. Francis Xavier, and then there is St. John de Brito. Everybody knows the first two, but not so many know the third. But the consciousness is increasing.
This year, one of the purposes of my visit is that we are making a short film about John de Brito. It will start in Lisbon, his birth place, his baptism place, his house, where he studied in Coimbra, then his landing in Goa and his history in India. The CD will be distributed in Portugal as well. It will be a short film, later we might make a bigger one. We have an Indian cast, in Tamilnadu many villages already have plays about St. John de Brito, and they are ready to participate.
What would you highlight from St. John’s legacy in India?
He didn’t live a long time. He died at the age of 46. By then he had spent 20 years in India and had made a great impact on the Indian Catholic Church. In 20 years he converted 30 thousand people. At that time there were no facilities, no roads, buses, he went on foot. He went around all of Tamilnadu on foot, he crossed forests, rivers, he had a very tough time.
But he was so happy to serve the people, such an enthusiastic personality.
When you look at his life, at the beginning he was very sick, physically. His mother prayed to St. Francis Xavier, and he was saved. He travelled in the see for 11 months, many people died but he survived. Then in India he had bad facilities, but he had strong willpower, and, especially, he had a very strong faith in Christ.
During the last period of his life the king tortured him. He went to jail, then he was hung upside down in a well, then he was beaten up. All this he bore with happiness and joy. He almost reflected Christ. Even at the last moment, he blessed the man who came to behead him, telling him to do his duty with a smile on his face.
So that is a lesson we hope to learn, when we have suffering, we accept it with a joyful note. That is the message Christ has given, John de Brito followed. That is why he is alive in the shrine, with happiness, with Joy. That is why in Tamil he is called Arul Anandar, which means Grace with Joy.
People come to the shrine with problems, but they meet him and their problems are solved, because he was pouring abundant grace on the people who are suffering.
Are there many documented cases of miracles?
Yes, many, and they will be shown in the film as well.
What plans do you have for the future of the shrine?
We are establishing a missionary park, to mark the year of faith. In that park we have already finished one structure, a meditation hall, where 700 people can sit and meditate. Around it we are building a structure, where we are bringing many missionary figures. It is because of missionaries that the church has grown. For example, we have biblical missionaries. Moses, Abraham, the prophets. From the New Testament, John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene, Saint Peter, Saint Thomas, Saint Paul, all missionaries. IN the early Christian time Saint Ambrose. Then in the medieval time, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Ignatius, Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Anthony. Later St. Pio, Sister Theresa, St. John Paul II. They will all be in our missionary park. It is going to be faith formation for children and youth, a unique project of our shrine. I feel that when it is finished people will come to see our particular area; we are planning a 30 minute sound and light programme for the evening. People are really taken up by it.
The Cologne Archdiocese was supporting it and I think they will continue to support it.
I am going to introduce the shrine to the church in Goa, maybe after preparing more facilities for lodging. Soon it will be an international shrine, but it takes time, we have to struggle and suffer, as St. John de Brito struggled and suffered.
We have heard some troubling news from India in terms of religious freedom… what is the situation for Christians at the moment in general, and also in the area you live in?
In my place there is no problem. For example South India is safer than North India. It is a question of political gain, the politicians make use of religion to divide the people and make them fight. But among the people there is a peaceful coexistence, but they instigate. Now there are going to be elections and the Hindu fundamentalists are instigating the people. But in my place there is no violence, the number of Hindu fundamentalists is much smaller.
But the John de Brito shrine is a shrine of reconciliation; it is a shrine of interreligious atmosphere, a shrine of peace. For example during the festival all the people come and cooperate and work for the feast.
Some of the accusations against the Christians are that they try to convert people from lower castes…
They come on their own, they join on their own, it is growing, but they love Christ, they love the Church, they love the church activities, education, health care, social work. Christianity is growing in India, it’s not dying, its growing, stronger and stronger. The number of people participating in the church is high. In my parish in Chennai, there are 12 masses on Sunday and the church is always packed!
Were you born into a Christian family?
Yes. Maybe three or four generations. My forefathers were converted by John de Brito, then they went to Myanmar. My grandfather went there, my father was there and I was born in Myanmar and was there until the age of 10. Then I came back to India, then I joined the Jesuit order, and now I have a great chance to develop the John de Brito shrine, it’s a blessing for me. Nobody got this opportunity, but I did. It’s a blessing!