A tribute to Fr Ambrose Pinto SJ (KAR)
who left this world on 3 January 2018
By Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
Early this morning, when I received a WhatsApp message from my Provincial Fr. Francis Parmar saying that you were no more, I was too stunned for words. I knew you were sick, very sick – but I really did not expect you to go so soon. There was much more that you still had to do here on earth. But then the Lord knows best and calling you home so quickly is, I guess, His way of saying “Well done good and faithful Ambrose…!” It is also a message to those of us left behind, that we must carry on with the valuable legacy you have left us.
There are innumerable messages on social media and several emails too, with rich and emotional tributes to you: all of them unanimously saying how much you have contributed to this world and how you will be greatly missed. Many have written about the profound and positive impact you have had on their lives. I have been reading and re-reading many of these eulogies the whole of today and I cannot but agree with all of the content.
Tributes to you have come in from every walk of life: for your singular contribution to social justice in the country; for your unequivocal stand for the rights of the poor and the marginalized, the Dalits and the Tribals, the minorities and all excluded. You spoke and wrote passionately against communalism, against nuclearisation, against the fascism that was permeating several sections of our society. Your intellectual acumen was your forte: factual, analytical and incisive. You never minced your words; but you were never loud – your quality to be soft-spoken made others want to hear you and to follow your directions.
Been also looking into our email correspondence and the groups we belong too. My last email to you was in August last year; I was in Delhi for a meeting convened by POSA Fr. George Pattery and I was enquiring as to why you had not come for it. Only then, I was told that you were sick. My immediate message to you then was very cryptic saying that I am praying for your speedy and completely recovery. I never received your reply but tonight I wonder if you ever had the opportunity to read it.
Strangely enough, your last personal email to me was in May 2016 after I had come to the Middle East to work with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS); you wrote many nice things in that email but you also mentioned that you were contemplating spending some time with the JRS. I immediately wrote back asking you to contact Fr Stan Fernandes the Director of JRS South Asia or the JRS International Office in Rome. Not had a personal mail from you since then.
These past years we have met and interacted (by email) several times. However, the last time we actually spent value time together, as far as I can remember, was during the ‘National Consultation on Education and Secularism’ organised by Action Aid in Delhi early in March 2014. We shared the same room and I cannot help but recollect the animated discussions we had long hours into the night: on the state of the country, Church and even our own Society. I still remember that what you lamented most was the lack of visionary and committed leadership at every sphere of society; of how we all need to work together and be very clear about whom we identify with. Important lessons indeed, which, as I look back, we are sadly, still far away from mainstreaming.
It is significant that you said “goodbye” to us today on the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, which is also the titular feast of the Society of Jesus. You entered the Society in 1968, so you would have celebrated your Golden Jubilee in a few months from now. For me, you were an exemplary Jesuit and Priest fully committed to the ‘faith-justice mandate’ and the vision of Vatican II. It is not easy to live against the stream. You have shown that it should and can be done. You are in that privileged place now, truly a companion of Jesus for all eternity.
This evening whilst going through the emails from you, I found one written to our AICUF group on 30 May 2012 after the demise of our dear companion, friend, mentor and guide Fr. Pierre Ceyrac. You wrote, “I really do not know why we are sad at the passing away of Ceyrac. His was a beautiful life. The little Prince says, “It is only with your heart you can love". His heart was in the right place and he loved what ought to be loved, those whom society discarded or excluded. It was an inspiring life. He has left behind a legacy as a man of the heart. It is an occasion to rejoice at the great life and a moment to be grateful and to make that inspiration our own. "For your faithful O Lord, life is not ended but changed". That was his faith and he is where he belonged and destined. Thanks Ceyrac”
You were always prophetic dear Ambrose. The words you wrote about Ceyrac more than five years ago ring true for you today too! “Thanks Ambrose!”
*(Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy & communications. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)