(In the picture: Dr James Kottoor addressing the 1st All India Ex-priests and Nuns conferance held at Kochi on 28-2-2015)
By Our Staff Writer
“What a tragic comedy james,” asked this writer, “the one who has been shouting himself hoarse and making hell of a noise saying Leadership is not for the aged is now sitting tight as Editor in Chief in Church Citizens’ Voice (CCV), young and enthusiastic even after eight decades. Can there be a more glaring example of a contradiction between preaching and practice?”
dr. kottoor always said, the ideal age for leadership ought to be 30 because he is madly and blindly in love – all love is blind – with the crazy Christ who started his public life at 30 and quit or got eliminated at 33 – so aren’t we supposed to follow his example, he asks. Just three years are enough and more to make an impact on history especially for those who claim to be followers of Jesus, he asserts.
Just think of Alexander the great, Ramanuja, Sankara, Vivekananda who died at 39 etc. Also no honest leader can survive, he thinks, more than 3 years in public life. Jesus the most honest person could not, then how can anyone else, he asks, although his church props up those in their ‘vanaprastha’ years as their top leaders.
james kottoor loves to sign himself, all in the lower case, because that is the leveling ground of all inequalities and the rock bottom one can go. Even in the use of credentials, decorations like, mr. dr. rev. excellency when necessary, he is for the lower case and points to Bishop Alex Dias of Port Blair (his good friend, though never met), who only wants to be called just Alex. “That is why I prefer to call myself as cheap editor, than Chief. So this is also an Ad for those in the thirties to apply for the Chief’s post in the CCV” he says. Also recall St. Augustine: “I am a Christian with you, but a Bishop for you.”
So what is this reluctant cheap editor is all about and how did he sneak into this chair? It all started happening some three years ago by sheer accident and accidents were his staple food all through his kaleidoscopic life. But he sees them as “Providential Happenings” as he wrote in his book. So he welcomes accidents, often painful but tries to find His hand working inside to draw good out of evil.
It all started when 3 years ago a good Samaritan in New York, prompted by the Spirit, (what else to say) translated one of his articles for its spiritual content, published it in Almayadabdam blog and sent a copy to him. This came after several websites published an article about organ transplant and his own body donation to Amritha medical college. That heaven sent God’s angel was Joseph Padannamackal, a very knowledgeable and forceful writer thanks possibly to his 30 years of work in NY library and of him kottoor had only a little information then through friends. That was his first contact with Almayasabdam, run by George Moolechalil, Joseph Mattappally, Zacharias Nedunkanal, Jose Antony etc, who were its backbones.
kottoor stayed with the newly found friends, but didn’t formally join the Almayasabdam as he found it to be too provincial, like a frog in the well, Kerala, totally entangled with Syro-Malabar Church and Kerala politics. How could he? He wanted first to be an Indian citizen, than a Keralite, then a global citizen than an Indian. How could he be comfortable with frogs in the Kerala well of church politics? That is how the idea of a global portal began to evolve and its Masthead of the Risen Jesus was taken from kottoor’s book. It was further developed with the expert touches of Joseph Mattappally. But when workload increased and division of labour became necessary, one who came in as a sweeper was asked to become the superintendent, till a 30 year youth was found. That is how kottoor is perching as the Chief or Cheap Editor for the time being.
Became what He never dreamt of
kottoor became almost everything he never wanted to become – never thought of becoming a journalist, never wanted to go abroad positively, never wanted to come back to Kerala after leaving his home state to become a missionary in the North, never wanted to take up the pen again after writing his longest editorial ever, his resignation from New Leader (NL) on one fine July 3rd the feast of the doubting, questioning Thomas. He was forced to do it all either due to the trap of circumstances, or because it was the mark of a wise man to change decisions or because “man proposes, God disposes”.
“Idiot becomes Editor!” That was the heading he gave to the first chapter in an Autobiographical Scribbling he started long ago, to be published only after he is gone. How then did he become the Editor of New Leader? Who planned it? This is a fascinating long story, he says. So only a skeleton sketch can be given here.
Suddenly like a bolt from the blue he got a letter from Archbishop Louis Mathias, who ordained him and appointed him in the Minor Seminary, Mylapore to teach with Fr. S Arulappa, who later became Archbishop of Hyderabad and now gone to his heavenly abode. The letter simply said. “You have to go to Rome for higher studies, speak to Fr. Thomas Joseph to arrange your visa and come to see me on Friday.” That sent cold shivers up his spine, says james, and shattered all his plans to study idiomatic Tamil for which he had subscribed to several Tamil magazines.
Without even the haziest idea of what he could be studying in Rome he appeared before the bearded Archbishop, always beaming with a smile. He asked: Do you know what you are going to study in Rome? To james’ lost and bewildered look he said: “You are going to study Journalism, I read your articles in New Leader. You would make a good editor.” james began protesting, because it all had happened by chance, accidently so to say. The Seminary Rector had asked james to prepare the Annual issue of Mens Nostra (Our Mind) a seminary monthly, since he knew james used to write in it under the pen name: Mandasiromany (pearl among idiots).
Illiterate in English
That opens the door to another story, story within a story. His life is full of stories within story. When he joined the seminary he did not know to utter even one correct sentence in English. On reaching the seminary his first encounter was with the saintly spiritual director Fr. Valloggia who bent down (james was small) and asked him gently: “Did you eat?” He couldn’t make head or tail of what he asked and the Father had to bend down thrice and ask him very slowly and patiently to make him understand.
Finally “Yes” came the loud answer from james who felt relieved like a hen which has managed to lay an egg. That was the first English word he uttered in the Seminary. That shook james to the quick, turned him upside down and woke him up suddenly to the enormity of his ignorance in matters English. Added to that his friends in the Seminary told him: “You have to talk in English, write in English, preach in English, think in English, dream in English.” He wondered how he was going to manage. He had to swim or sink and he was not ready yet to sink.
There started his self-study in all earnest without wasting a single moment to read, check dictionary, make notes etc. That habit started with a strict military discipline has not stopped even now as he gets up at 4 am, go on reading and taking notes from website papers and magazines till 7.30 when there are 3 TV channels reporting top news in dailies till 8 am and then world news etc. none of which he would possibly miss.
To come back to the struggle to improve his English in the Seminary, it took an awful lot of sweating, but slowly he began to understand even Chesterton, who fascinated him most, especially with his paradoxical, thought provoking and unsettling sayings: “It is in giving that you receive, in dying that you are born to life eternal…etc.” Hillarie Belloc was another of his favourite authors. So, he thought he too should write something while working in a country parish to inspire generations to come, as Chesterton even after his death was unsettling and provoking him to think critically and act constructively.
Why not make a trial attempt in Mens Nostra, imitating Chesterton’s paradoxical thinking, he wondered. The title he thought of was: “Splendor of Darkness”. Of course, paradoxical it was. But he had to give a pen name of the writer, and he had to make absolutely sure, he would not be found out as he was very cowardly and terribly ashamed of his English. At the same time he was very particular that the pen name should really say the truth about himself and never project more than what he was at that point in history. That is how he landed on the name “Mandasiromany”. So his article came published: “Splendor of Darkness” by Mandasiromany. Only the Rector knew who Mandasiromany was and it became a great hit more for the howler in the penname than for the paradox or content in the article.
Getting an Annual Ready
Now back to Seminary Magazine, Mens Nostra. There was no way to wriggle out of the heavy burden of getting ready the Annual his Rector wanted him to take up, though he literally cursed himself for writing in the Magazine and giving an undue impression about himself to the Rector. Since there was no way out, he worked out a plan to bring out the Annual just on one subject: Lay Apostolate, in particular the Teaching Mission of the laity in the Church. He simply divided it into many sub-titles on which different people were asked to write articles.
Since it turned out to be a good symposium, before sending it to print the Rector told james: “We will send it first to the then Editor of NL, Msgr. Eric D’Souza, to make sure there were no English mistakes. It was to be sent to many benefactors abroad. That delighted james since he was never too sure of his own English. When the Rector brought it back corrected, he told james: “The Editor has a request, he wants your permission to serialize, two of your articles: “Theological Basis of Lay Apostolate,” and “Sacramental Basis of Lay Apostolate” in NL.” Since no one was ready to take up those two topics james had to write it himself and they attracted the attention of the Editor.
james was immensely happy to get his annual corrected and asked the Rector to thank the Editor profusely and to do whatever he wanted with the two articles, not thinking about the consequences, especially the unexpected consequence of getting noticed by the Archbishop and putting him on a thinking trail to send him for journalism studies. james blurted out all these like an innocent child trying to get himself freed from the punishment of studying Journalism in Rome.
Journalism in Rome?
But the Archbishop would not relent. Then James started imitating Abraham begging God not to destroy Sodom. He made bold to ask the great Archbishop: “I have never heard anyone going to Rome to study Journalism”. To this the Archbishop who was a French man with a lot of wit and wisdom said: “I am sending you to Rome first to take a doctorate in Theology so that you won’t write heresies editing New Leader and only after that you study Journalism. And for that, I will send you to study and work with “La Croix”, the French Catholic daily.
The Abrahamic streak in james could not be doused easily. So he said again trying to wriggle out: “But I am not going to edit New Leader in French, what is the use of my spending time on French?” Don’t worry, came the answer from the Archbishop, “By the time you finish your doctorate, I will find some schools of Journalism in US where you can take a degree in it as well.” That simply closed the loud mouth of james and put an end to any possible escape from another eight-year minimum study mission abroad. He simply had to grin and swallow everything the Archbishop ordered.
So in nutshell, so far as studies are concerned james did his SSLC in Kerala, ten year of priestly studies in military style and discipline in Chennai, which he enjoyed most and benefited “immensely” from, then four years of Doctorate in Theology in Rome, simultaneously one year of Diploma in Pastoral Sociology (study of man and his problems since theology had to be related to human issues) which included studies of Marxism, Communism, Dialectical Materialism, trade unions, factory workers etc under Russian professors and a week of study-tour of Eastern Europe and East Berlin (it was before the Berlin wall fell) and visit of various factories, then a three month summer course in French (since he had to consult French books to finish his doctorate in theology) at the Institute Catholic of Paris during summer.
Another summer he was assistant Parish Priest in Lockweiler, Germany, another summer assistant PP in London near Silver Palace, not far from Hyde Park Corner and finally four years of study at Marquette University in US, noted for Journalism and dentistry. After completing, he worked three months each in various Catholic weeklies as an editorial staff of Michigan Catholic, Detroit, Universe Bulleting, Cleveland, and Catholic Register Denver and returned to Chennai with the sole intent of taking up the Editorship of NL to instantly change the whole world for the better and never to return to US or anywhere abroad.
There were any number of Kaleidoscopic happenings during these tempestuous years which he says can’t be gone into in detail. But he narrated one: Fr. Di Fiore, a very jovial and insightful Italian was his philosophy professor. He called him one day and said: “You are doing fine in Philosophy, so you can take up study of Greek and Hebrew. After Ordination you may get a chance to go to Rome for higher studies. Then you will have to study them for sure.” Only those above average in studies were allowed to take up these extra languages in the Seminary.
What was james’ reaction? “I didn’t come here to go to Rome but to Gharro hills as a missionary or work in Tamilnadu. So I would rather study Assamese or Tamil, not waste my time on Greek.” Poor Fr. Di Fiore was simply stunned since he expected james to jump at his golden offer. The professor was just trying to help a student who was always busy with study or work. Several of his companions, who opted to study Greek, poked fun at james with barbs like: “When we will return from Rome as Cardinals, you will be working in some Pattikadu (wild jungles).”
But when after five years, the news of james’ going to Rome was announced unexpectedly, Fr. Di Fiore was Rector of St. Bede’s School Mylapore. He walked up to the Minor Seminary across the road and called up james on the first Floor from the ground and asked: “You didn’t listen to me when I asked you to study Greek five years ago. Now you have to, but Congratulation”. james thanked him for his touching thoughtful remembrance of him and said: “Those who studied Greek did not make it to the ordination. But I am still here thanks to the Lord.”
Tempestuous NL Times
His days in the NL as the Editor and publisher were tempestuous. He was regular invitee to report all CBCI meets, national Seminars, Biblical seminars in Bangalore Biblical Centre under Fr. Amalore and in Ecumenical Centre under M.A. Thomas. He wrote an editorial why Pope Paul VI should resign when he completed 75, for which some French papers called him “L’infante terrible de l’inde” (Terrible child of India). He wrote why Catholic Press must Die (meaning go secular) and the longest resigning editorial which some called “kottoor’s Swan Song”. At least it helped him add a new phrase: ”Swan Song”, to his vocabulary.
While the Editorial “Cathoic Press must Die” was being published, he was invited for the 9th world congress of the Catholic press in Luxemburg for his role to create a healthy public opinion in the Church in India and to the Conference of the Developing Countries in Aachen.
After leaving NL he was Editorial Secretary at the ecumenical Centre, Bangalore from where he was invited as a Speaker to International meet in Hong Kong on “Printed Word in Asia” where he witnessed Jayaprakash Narayanan being arrested during Emergency. So he came back to an emergency declared India.
(In the picture: Dr James Kottoor with Mrs. Monica Thomas, Arakkal, Kanjirappally)
To Dublin Conference
In 2001 again he was invited for the first World Conference of Women’s Ordination in Dublin. After returning he wrote a book on it at the suggestion of Fr. Xavier Vadakkekara, whose Associate Editor of Indian Currents, he was at that Time and he gave it the name: Woman Why are you Weeping? suggested by Xavier
For one year he was working with his friend and mentor, the great Fr Balaguer, Vicar General of Cardinal Gracias, at Amruthavani doing research on Dharma Vijayam, its project to promote Dharma in Andhra Society, with Professor Ramachandran of Tata Institute of Social Sciences Bombay and another year with Hosanna because it had invited james as editor of a planned English edition. But he ended up editing On the Road to Damascus of Fr. Hegger, a friend and benefactor of Hosanna.
His final editorial assignment was with Vaidiakamitram. Its publisher, Fr. Chathaparambil, the founder of Pattanakad Public School, came personally to kottoor’s home to meet him for the first time with an SOS, because his editor Fr.Christi Daniel, also a friend of james had gone to US and waned james’ help to prevent it from untimely death. Fr. Christi had already approached him earlier with the same request and james had already rejected saying: “How do you expect a renegade from the priesthood to run a priests’ Magazine?
Unknown Editor of Vaidikamitram
But james could not reject the pleadings of the elderly, exemplary Fr.Chathaparampil for various humanitarian reasons. So james agreed to run it just for three months in-cognito and ended up running it for three years. During those days Hosanna used to translate into Malayalam editorials of Vaidikamitram saying: Vaikeekamitram run by erudite priests says thus, without knowing james was that erudite person. One of the editorials thus published was: Anatomay of a Jubilee Celebration, when Cardinal Parecattil was forced to celebrate his silver Jubilee.
All these were made possible, he says, just because the Good Lord gave him rather good health and readiness to push on as workaholic and so all honour and glory to him alone.
But tell us something about your leaving the priesthood and settling down in Family life?
All that happened, he says, during the one year he was working as editorial secretary of the Ecumenical Christian Centre. During that time he had already applied to Rome for dispensation while searching for the possibility of settling down to a family life. He wrote about it to all his Bishop friends. And lo and behold, Archbishop Eugene D’Souza of Bhopal alone invited him to stay with him for a few days as his guest, and he did go. He was a very paternal guide and told him: “Life in the Ecclesiastical structures is difficult, but be careful, life in the world would be much harder for a priest who left.” He was right, says james.
But kottoor had good Samaritans to help him out everywhere. Imagine dispensation from priesthood came in three months, unheard of those days. james was in Bangalore at that time. Msgr DeMello, the then Vicar General was most gracious to help him and Agnes his fiancée, to get married properly with a few visits to his office. Whenever james rang up to him the voice at the other end said: “Your servant at this end!”
james was simply floored and struck by the rock-bottom humility and spirituality of Mgr. DeMello. He could not believe it and you would not believe it either that a Mgr. would speak in so edifying manner to the one leaving priesthood. No other person in the whole world answered james’ phone with such unbelievably humble words, james recalls. He later became Bishop and has gone to his heavenly abode which shows that there are such heavenly souls among bishops and priests much maligned these days, says james.
Mgr. DeMello was also very human and humorous. When talking to him on the Phone about the marriage which was going to be conducted quietly in a convent chapel he told james: “I had yesterday an intercourse with my bishop about fixing your marriage arrangements etc…” On another occasion he told james on the Phone: “Please don’t call me between 2 and 4 pm because I will be having my Lay-apostolate (taking siesta). May his tribe grow and flourish.” The last thing james wishes to say to you readers of CCV is: “Your servant at this end!” as long as he is.
james was born on Aug.18, 1934, has three daughters, all settled as BSc nurses, one also a BIT (Bachelor of information Technology) and a son who is a doctor (MBBS) still to be settled and lives at: Santhibhavan, Thammanam, Cochin-682032, Mob: +91 9446219203.
Know our associate editors: Joseph Mattappally , Zacharias Nedunkanal