Kolkata’s Retired Prelate
Great Archbishop, Friend of New
Leader Promoter gone to Heaven
dr. james kottoor
Thanks to Matters India, Delhi, I came to know that Archbishop Henry D’Souza, a friend of Mother Teresa for more than 35 years and a founding member of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), died of age-related illness on June 27 in Kolkata.
He was equally a friend and promoter of the over hundred and twenty five years old New Leader(NL) of Chennai, in the 1970s when dr. james kottoor was its editor and publisher. Aarchbishop Henry was 90 years old and his funeral will be held on June 30th according to report in Matters. Precious and manifold were his contributions to the Church in India as the Secretary General of the CBCI and President of the CCBI (Conference of Catholic Bishops of India—Latin rite).
He headed the Archdiocese of Calcutta during 1986-2002, played a crucial role in fast-tracking Blessed Mother Teresa’s canonization process. Archbishop D’Souza often hailed Mother Teresa as “the face of Christ in the world” for spending her life time helping people understand the nature of the divine.
He was first appointed bishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar in 1974. In 1985, he was transferred to Calcutta as Coadjutor Archbishop. He succeeded Cardinal Lawrence Picachy as the Archbishop of Calcutta on April 5, 1986 according to Matters India. It was when Henry was the Vicar General to Cardinal Picachy that he had a lot of close contacts and interaction with the Editor of NL. He started Life Assending, a newsletter for senior citizen, and edited it until the end. This shows his interest in editing and spreading the Good Word through press.
Here I describe just one incident, among many, to show the interest he took in promoting Catholic publications, especially NL from Chennai.
It was during the time of Cardinal Picachi who took a special interest in NL of Chennai, even when he had his own Archdiocesan weekly The Herald. NL was at its peak of popularity then since it was the most outspoken frankly speaking paper publishing controversial issues like Birth Conrol, in the wake Humanae Vitae of Pope Paul VI. NL was the daily recipient of bouquets and brickbats from readers – Right, Left and Centre.
Just think of even Bishops joining in this fray. Cardinal Picachy sent 25 gift subscriptions as a token of his appreciation for the “High standard of Catholic Journalism” of the then New Leader. He wrote several letters in support, so did also Cardinal Gracias of Bombay. Once he even gave an unsolicited advice to other publications, may be he had also Examiner in mind, asking them to “take a cue from the short and crisp editorial notes attached to most piercing letters to make them blunt,” or break their sharp edge. Sharp letters for and against Pope’s encyclical on birth control used to come fast at that time.
At that time CBCI meeting was to be held in Kolkata and New Leader was in the forefront giving publicity to the main theme of the meeting. Unlike what is happening today at that time the theme of such meetings used to be announced months in advance and discussed in public in the Catholic press specially.
As editor I did just that and before going to Kolkata to report the CBCI deliberations, I prepared a special issue on the theme of the meet containing so many letters from all over India responding to our request to readers: “Speak to your pastors through your paper” It brought more than two full pages of Tabloid size of NL at that time.
The cartoon on the front page of NL was a Kite Balloon with the inscription “Oh Kolkata” (name of a sexy movie I think), up in the Sky with all bishops dancing around and a string from the floating balloon held by an urchin (lay people) on the ground shouting “Please Come Down. It was a message to bishops not to make their CBCI discussions too airy and up in the clouds but make them all down-to-earth.
The editor of the NL used to be a regular invitee to all CBCI meets then. Only now it has become all closed door secret meets only for bishops. In Kolkata Cardinal Picachy, in the midst of a crowd of participants, was speaking to me thanking for the publicity NL gave and he said: “New Leader is the best Family Paper which should be promoted. This is not just my personal view but of my Vicar General Henry D’Souza who is a very perceptive person.”
That was a personal boost, bordering on flattery. But I didn’t know what more shocking things were to come. Before official start of the Meet there was the Mass and a sermon focussed on the meet. Msgr. Henry happened to be the celebrant and speaker. When he came to the podium for the sermon he didn’t have a bible in hand. Instead he opened one of the copies of the New Leader and read aloud the two-page sprawling banner head line: SPEAK TO YOUR PASTORS THROUGH YOUR PAPER, and showed the letters to the congregation.
I had brought some hundred copies of that Issue so that all bishops could get a copy and read all the letters from the laity. If there is a better way to get laity participation in CBCI meets, please write to our portal CCV (www.almayasbdam.com). Later I had to resign from the editorship, left priesthood, got dispensation, got married etc but none of these things made any change in our relationship and communication. Even last year I got a personal letter from the Retired Archbishop Henry. This was also the case with Archbishop Eugene Desouza of Bhopal, who invited me to stay with him when I announced my decision to leave priesthood. And I did stay with him for few days.
A lot of changes in the Church is happening due to exemplary leaderships given by great visionaries like Henry, Cardinals Picachy, Gracias and Parfekattil. May their race increase and multiply. May the Lord give eternal rest to the soul of Archbishop Henry and we pray that he guides us from his heavenly abode.
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