Monday Morning Greetings #4 – My Friend, Archbishop John

January 25th, 2016

I was surprised when Archbishop John decided to stay this week in Isopanthi, their Catholic retreat center in Puri, especially as we had rented it out as we do every year for our Bhakti Immersion there. After-all, Archbishop John is the head of all Catholics in Orissa. That means one million Christians and 40 churches are under his care. He told me he was staying to recover from a heart operation. He seemed sincere, but in the back of my mind naturally rested some suspicion.
Any apprehension I had of him being with us was soon abated. He took Jagannath prasad one day and even attended our kirtan led by Jahnavi. He smiled and clapped through the whole thing. He mixed with the devotees and effusively glorified our music and devotion to them and also to his visitors, although our daily amplified three or six hour kirtans in the courtyard blared into his room.
My room was next to his. We thus had opportunity for many exchanges and talks and I met many of the people visiting him. He never seemed to put himself above anyone and was not pretentious in the least, as were the brothers who managed the center. I could see that John, however, commanded respect, by humility. Unlike too many adherents of faith, his personal culture and that of his brothers reflected the true values of his lineage, in his case the compassion and kindness taught by Christ.
I remember when I first met John, I asked him his name. He sheepishly said, that his title is His Grace, but people should just call him John.
I admired how he embraced the essence of religion. From the heart he told me:
“This is not our center. It is your center. Its belongs to God and we are all brothers.”
Meeting John, now my friend, confirmed and reinforced my own understanding of dharma – that dharma, or religion, is not a faith but the nature of the soul. We are not devotees by the label we have, but by the sincere expression of devotion in our heart to God and others. Archbishop John is a genuine devotee. I don’t need to convert him, but need to convert my own heart to humility and dedication.

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