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Italian Mag names Ghy Archbishop who led the peace initiative during Hmar-Dimasa conflict for Nobel Peace Prize

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

/ Published by Simon L Infimate
Chennai, May. 31. A popular Italian magazine has published a four page lead story in its June 2011 issue entitled: ``A Bishop for Nobel Prize`` naming Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati for the prestigious peace prize.

``Il Bollettino Salesiano`` established in 1877 has wide circulation all over Italy. Archbishop of Guwahati for almost 20 years, Menamparampil was  earlier 11 years bishop of Dibrugarh.

Church people negotiating peace in a conflict situation may not be considered a ``politically correct act,`` especially when a Catholic archbishop takes the initiative. But when the Church leaders and eminent citizens from the warring factions join him in the conflict resolution process ``it is making the Word of God come alive in the lives of people,`` says Salesian Archbishop Menamparampil.

Last 15 years, the archbishop who will be 75 years old next October, has successfully led seven major peace initiatives. The Joint Peace Team (JPT) of Northeast India under his leadership intervened in the following conflicts: Bodo-Adivasi (1996), Kuki-Paite (1998), Dimasa-Hmar (2003) and Karbi-Kuki (2003), Dimasa-Karbi (2004), Bodo-Muslim at Udalguri (2010) and Rabha-Garo (2011).

It all started with a missionary Sister visiting relief camps where over 250,000 took shelter following conflict between Bodos and Adivasis-Santals in 1996.

``Most of the children are sick and all of them will die,`` she reported.

``These words hit me hard and roused me from my sense of helplessness before a massive problem,`` the soft spoken archbishop recalls.

Over 500 people died, hundreds of houses torched, and people rotted in 42 camps.

``I began by bringing into the field persons with little competence for offering relief, but a lot of good will: seminarians, candidates, novices. I kept informing the public what we were trying to do. Learning of our work, people came: nurses, doctors, university students and volunteers from all over India. We joined hands with the other Churches and sought help of non-governmental agencies.``

Over 400 volunteers worked in turn for half a year bringing relief to people in the camps.

Even the Chief Minister of Assam visited the camps and praised the work. That is how JPT came into existence bringing together sober, moderate, far-sighted local people. When they make an appeal for peace, everyone listens.

The 75 year old archbishop is not discouraged by heartbreaking moments in peace making in spite of much fatigue and enormous effort, sometimes ending in total failure.

He recalls a flicker of hope when a Muslim group said, ``we came only because Archbishop Thomas invited us to this peace meeting,`` or when some Presbyterian or Baptist friends quote from his writings on peace saying, ``as `our` Archbishop suggests.``

In recent years, JPT ventured beyond peace initiatives making a drive for a `corruption-free society`. Archbishop Menamparampil`s 78-page booklet entitled Probity in Public Life was used as a reference when ecumenical Church leaders in Mizoram passed norms for a corruption-free election recently.

The dramatic change of guard in that northeastern state owes much to this call for probity in public life. Archbishop adds, ``youth groups like Bodo Students` Union ask me to give talks on Peace and ``Ethical Awakening.`` They read my articles and booklets. Possibly Assam Students` Union will be next.``

Besides being a special invitee to the Synod of Bishops for Asia and on the Word of God, Menamparampil is currently president of northeast India bishops` conference; national chairman of Bishops commission for Education & Culture; and chairman of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference commission for Evangelization.

A member of several Vatican Commissions archbishop Menamparampil is a recipient of the prestigious Mumbai based Maschio Humanitarian Award 1998.


Fr C.M. Paul, sdb is pursuing his PhD from the Dept. of Journalism and Communication, UPS-Rome
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