Introducing the Introducer – Our Editor in Chief, James Kottoor

   (In the picture: Dr James Kottoor addressing the 1st All India Ex-priests and Nuns conference held at Kochi on 28-2-2015) 

If james became a journalist all through his life, he owes it solely and totally to  Archbishop Louis Mathias who dreamt of it, planned it and executed it systematically. His motto was “Dare and Hope” based on  Psalm: Entrust your honest plans to the Lord, trust in Him and then jump, He will see you through. He did it for him always, says james.                     

By Our Staff Writer         

290250_235977559773812_6983603_o“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) even after eight decades  young. Can there be a more glaring example of  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 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, Sanjay Gandhi, 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 Sanyasa  years as their top leaders.

james kottoor  loves to sign himself, all in the lower case, because that is the levelling 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-blare (his good friend, though never met), who wants to be called just Alex only. It is also his way of protest against Churchmen who flaunt bombastic titles like “Beatitude” etc. “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,” also His Holiness saying:”I am a sinner.”

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 Almaya 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 Padanamakal a very knowledgeable and forceful writer thanks possibly to his 30 years of work in NY library and  of him kottoor had only little information then through friends. That was his first contact with Almayasabdam, run by George Moolechalil, Jose Mattappally, Zach Nedunkanal, Jose Antony  etc, who were the backbones.

kottoor stayed  with the newly found friends, but didn’t formally join the Almaya as he found it to be too provincial, like a frog in the well, Kerala, totally entangled  with Syromalabar 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 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  Jose Mattappally. But when work load increased and division of labour became necessary, one who came in as a sweeper was asked to become the superintend till a 30 year young 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 NL? 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 on Friday to see me.” 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, by mistake, 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 penname: 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.” His another favourite author was Hillarie Belloc.  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 penname 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: “Spleandour 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 get ready, 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. Only after that Journalism. For that I will send you to study and work with “La Croix”  the French Catholic daily, the Archbishop said.

The Abrahimic 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 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 curse 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 studies  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

Kaleidoscopic Happenings

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 Tamilndu. So I would rather study Assamise 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. DiFiore 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 Editor and publisher was 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 d’Land” (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 Narayanam being arrested during Emergency. So he came back to an emergency declared India.

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 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. So all honour and glory to him alone.

Leaving Priesthood

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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 for dispensation to Rome 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 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 De Mello, 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 end said: “You servant at this end!”

(in the picture: james kottoor with Mrs. Monica Thomas Arakkal (Kanjirappally), working in the forefront of Church Citizens' Movemet in Kerala).

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 that a Mgr. would speak so edifyingly to 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 – Santhi, Sobha & Subha — all settled as BSc nurses, one also a BIT(Bachelor of information Technology) and a son – Santhosh — who is a doctor (MBBS) still to be settled and lives at: Santhibhavan, Thammanam, Cochin-682032, Mob: +91 9446219203.

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2 Responses

  1. almayasabdam says:
    Jose kallidikil. It appears that all our efforts to get a positive response from the Bishops are deliberately ignored.  The arguments put forth by Dr. James Kottoor on the issue of ending the unchristian approach towards the non-endogamous Knanites by the diocese of Kottayam with the blessings of the Major Archbishop and a handful of other Bishops are so convincing.  In fact they have no grounds to justify their stand.  So they choose to remain silent.  We need a system to recall the Bishops when they misuse their position or fail to act as expected of them.  Since we have no say in either appointing a Bishop or remove him from such positions, we are helpless and destined to suffer.  That has to change.  A joint and concerted effort by all reform minded Catholics and other fellow Christians can only effect the desired change.  And the only way we can achieve this goal is by getting the Church Act enacted.  I am confident that our efforts will succeed one day.  But we cannot be complacent and suffer in silence for ever.  So let us all join hands and give a big push to Dr. Kottoor and his dedicated team in their valiant efforts to bring a positive change in the Catholic Church
  2. almayasabdam says:

    Zacharias Nedunkanal wrote: That Dr. James Kottor and me happen to be in the editorial team of Church Citizens' Voice is a happy coincidence. Some two and a half decades ago we had a mutual friend in the person of the late P.V. Abraham, an extraordinary editor of a magazine called Thaliyola, which had a good readership as it had always picked up very controversial issues confronting the society. We three and the good old Fr. Joseph Valiamangalam used to meet now and then at the residence of P.V. Abraham, at Pala. While the rest of us spoke in Malayalam, James mostly used English. After a few meetings, we parted company. It is at the auspices of Almayasabdam that we met each other again. Our co-editor Shree Joseph Mattappally and me don't hesitate to affirm that but for James Kottor the website CCV could never have grown to its present proud stature and it could never have come to grips with the bishops in India. If we have become a force that the Church leadership can't ignore any longer and if the bishops are flabbergasted at the questions we throw at them, it is solely because of the stamina and the unchallenging moral stand of our chief editor, that guide and give us undiminishing strength to fight for the right of the Citizens of the Church irrespective of rite and locality. Hats off to you, Chief!

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