A Jesuit missionary to Myanmar, Father Girish Santiago reflects on the ministry to the Persons with Disabilities (PwD).
We often come across two important questions from the Bible: Am I my brother’s keeper? (Genesis 4:1-13) and Who is my neighbour? (Luke 10:25-37). These questions continue to be relevant even in our times.
These were the questions that churned me ever since I was ordained on October 18, 1997, St. Luke’s Feast Day, in Gujarat, a western state in India. From that day, I felt that I was ordained to keep my brother and accept all as my neighbours. So, who are my brothers and my neighbours today as I have entered the twenty-five years of my priestly service?
From the Great Jubilee Year 2000, my special brothers, sisters and neighbours are none other than Persons with Disabilities (PwDs). I have personalized Christ’s mission manifesto (Luke 4: 14-30) as my own.
Jesus himself proclaims – “He has anointed me to proclaim the Good News to the poor and recover sight to the blind.”
Truly, I have drawn inspiration from Jesus’ approach of accompanying, advocating and serving the PwDs and walking according to their phase. With such an approach, my life’s motto emerged to ENABLE THE DISABLED of all kinds and all categories – be it physical, mental, social, economic, political, or spiritual.
Having encountered such PwDs as my brothers, sisters, and neighbours in India and later, as a sent Jesuit missionary to Myanmar from September 2016, I come across various persons with similar disabilities. Rightly, after discernment, from 2020, the Myanmar Jesuit Mission has stated clearly in their apostolic plan 2020 – 2030 that we need to enable and accompany all the PwDs.
Dawning with this confirmed approval from the General of the Society of Jesus, while today serving at Myitkyina based St. Luke’s College – a socio-pastoral formation center of Catechists for the three upper Myanmar’s Kachin dioceses, namely, Banmaw, Lashio and Myitkyina, I pay special attention to “keep such brothers and sisters, and accompany such neighbours.” along with our staff and students.
The latest socio pastoral encyclical Fratelli Tutti of Pope Francis is not taught merely in the classroom. Still, it has become a living reality amid our 3ds – ‘disadvantaged, displaced and disabled’ brothers and sisters of our one common humanity who belong to one common home.
Today, despite our common experience of multiple crises in Myanmar, namely, the COVID19 (from March 2020), military coup (from February 1, 2021) and collapse of the economy due to these crises, we still have not lost our human solidarity to stand with the neediest humans.
All these months, we have been serving such persons without counting the cost and without seeking rest and reward with our local staff and campus caring students due to the lockdown situation of the college. The crises have become an opportunity and a challenge amidst such physically and mentally challenged persons. With the generous support of the local and foreign individuals and agencies, we are able to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters, who are our real neighbours indeed.
This year on December 3, when the world was celebrating the World Day of the Disabled and the Feast day of St. Francis Xavier, drawing inspiration from our Jesuit saint’s street ministry, we too were on the streets and camps with the suffering PwDs and the internally displaced persons by sharing the Christmas Joy, and promoting and proclaiming the Good News – Emmanuel is ever with us! Fear not. Courage. Stand up and walk!
Father Girish Santiago, SJ, is an associate director at St. Luke’s Catechetical College in Myitkyina. The Jesuit missionary is actively engaged in the socio-pastoral formation center of Catechists for the three upper Myanmar’s Kachin dioceses, Banmaw, Lashio and Myitkyina.