Varanasi (Story By: Ajesh Biju – Matters India): Father Iswar Prasad, a doyen of inculturation in India, died of old age illness on Friday. He was 88.
Fr Prasad’s “life, thoughts and actions and pioneering works in inculturation have made lasting impression on the life of the Church in India,” said Bishop Eugene Joseph of Varanasi mourning the death of the Indian Missionary Society priest.
“We remember him with respect for his contribution to Varanasi diocese,” the prelate told Matters India on January 29.
He also said Fr Prasad had a “remarkable zeal for presenting the Church in a way that can be meaningful to the followers of any religion and more significantly to the masses in the heartland of Hinduism.”
Fr Prasad’s efforts have yielded manifold fruits for the Church, particularly in Varanasi and in northern India, Bishop Joseph added,
Fr Prasad was born on October 25, 1927, in a farming family at Arpukara in Changanacherry archdiocese. After completing seventh grade from a government school he joined St Ephrem’s English medium high school at Mannanam where his elder brother M.K. Joseph (Fr. Atul) studied.
After completing his studies in 1946, he first joined the Mission Home in Palai, and the Patna Jesuits. But his spiritual director, a Belgian Jesuit, encouraged him to join IMS as he wanted to join the Society where his had already joined.
He reached Varanasi in March 1947. He appreciated the pioneering spirit of Fr Gasper Pinto, the founder of the IMS. Recognizing his talents Mgr. Joe A. E. Fernandez, the first Superior General, sent him to St Anselm in Rome to do his theological studies. He was ordained on September 13, 1959, in the Abbey of St Ottilien of the Missions Benedictioner in the Diocese of Augsburg.
He took up many missionary activities immediately after his ordination. He served several years in Varanasi diocese, and established missions stations which later became parishes and ashrams. He made friends from all religions and strata of society. He was also familiar with the intelligentsia of Varanasi.
He was in charge of the diocesan catechetics and liturgy for several years, and was the founder editor of ‘Ujiyala’, which was later named ‘Satya Sakshi’, the monthly magazine of Varanasi diocese.
Along with late Bishop Patrick Paul D’ Souza of Varanasi he launched several innovative ministries in Varanasi city and joined initially R.C. Das, a Bengali Anglican priest in his Khrist Panthi Ashram (monastery for Christ way), and lived in Deshwashmeth Ghat from January 1971 for about two years.
Later along with Fr Iswaranand of Varanasi diocese, who had come from Kurisumala Ashram, he founded the Khrist Panthi Ashram, first in Sigra and later in Nagwa that attracted lots of devotees and visitors, both local and foreign.
In 1972 along with Fr. Dheeranand Bhatt of Allahabad diocese, he was co-responsible for the running of the Masihi Gurukul (minor seminary of Varanasi diocese) to train two batches of missionary priests. This was done in the Khrist Panthi Ashram and was named ‘Pilot Seminary’, a dream project of Bishop Patrick, which took a new avatar in the form of Agra seminary.
“Fr. Iswar Prasad, was first and foremost a missionary, a missionary who dared to be different and innovative in his approach. He was a true pioneer in realizing the charism of the Society and was in the forefront to take initiatives for inculturation and dialogue and promoting Indian Spirituality not only in the Society but even at the national and international level. He took many steps to make the church truly incarnate the Gospel of Jesus to the people of our country,” said Fr. Mahendra Paul, head of the congregation.
He was very much moved and enthused by the spirit of the second Vatican Council and the All India Seminar for the Renewal of Church in India held in Bangalore in 1968, which he attended as a delegate and contributed much through his active participation especially to the renewal of liturgy. After the seminar he was appointed one of the Members of Commissio Technica for the follow up of the seminar for the renewal of the Church in India. In 1969 he was appointed Secretary of the CBCI Church Extension Commission.
Fr Satyanand, one of his novices and former superior general of the congregation narrates the contributions of Fr Iswar Prasad in the area of Priestly Formation.
“He was one of the pioneers in introducing exposure program during formation as early as in 1960s. He felt a missionary must be one with the people sharing in their life struggles and daily concerns of survival. Keeping this in mind he asked for volunteers to live with him in one of the villages in Varanasi. He used to live among the seminarians in the villages of Varanasi. Life in the villages was so challenging. Everything was to be done in the open as the people in the village were doing. He was most of the evenings in meeting people and discussing with them various issues and their concerns. He also ran a free dispensary as he had some knowledge of medicines for ordinary ailments. The villagers were very fond of him. In all it was the best of our formation days. ”
Already in the early seventies when he was at the Khrist Panthi Ashram, Nagwa, he inspired a local artist to paint the picture of Jesus the Guru, very popular in north India.
In 1983 he was appointed the Acharya of Matridham Ashram, which is well known for the Khristbhakta movement today. In 1995 he moved to the historic Kurukshetra and built up another beautiful Ashram in Indian style and continued his services there till he breathed last.
At all times he was involved with religious leaders and intellectuals in the ministry of dialogue. He went around national centers, seminaries and institutions to teach and inspire missionaries, sisters and seminarians in Indian Spirituality and Popular Hinduism. For almost 35 years he used to go abroad offering courses in Yoga and Indian Spirituality. He inspired many to become ‘people of good will’ to undertake social causes.
“IMS in those days was very much known in India and abroad mostly through the person and the work of Fr Iswar. The IMS is proud of him and his great work for the Lord and his contributions to the IMS and the Church at large” said a member of the congregation.
The funeral of Fr Iswar Prasad will take place 1 pm on January 30 at Sardhana, in western Uttar Pradesh State. Prelates of Varanasi, Simla-Chandigarh and Meerut along with many priests, nuns and people from various walks of life will attend the funeral.
The Indian missionary Society is an indigenous congregation founded in 1941 in the holy city, Varanasi.