Its roots in the past
"From the beginning of the Mission there has been a Mission Office (Missieprokuur) in Belgium which helped in the development of the 'Belgian Mission': in India at first the Bengal Mission 1859, and then the ChotaNagpur Mission 1869, and in Africa the Congo Mission. For many years these Mission territories were in many ways dependent on the Mission Office through which all kinds of services were channeled. This Mission office in Belgium has been of great help to these two missions primarily, but also to other missions.
When these Missions became independent provinces in their own right, relationship and needs shifted. Congo, because of the political and other circumstances, still depended for many things on the Mission office in Brussels: finances, materials, medical service, going and coming of missionaries, etc... The Indian situation was different. There was much more independence, contact with family members of the dwindling number of Belgian missionaries had diminished, everything is available in India! The Mission office still helps for financial transactions like through HUBEJE, the RAINBOW Project, individual gifts, sponsorship of certain projects, and various contacts within a relationship of mutuality.
When Father Jan Roex sj, an ex-Congo missionary, who was in charge of the India Desk for the last 10 years from Brussels (Belgium), died in July 2009 the question which had been lingering came to the fore: "Is there still need for an India Desk? From the Indian side the answer was 'yes'. Work started on re-thinking and re-structuring the 'India Desk'. The answer to this question also had a bearing on the choice of the person to take charge of the Desk.>
Some elements being considered were the following:
Much expansion is presently going on in both Ranchi and MAP Province. There is inward expansion (education, social advocacy, adult education, lay formation). There is outward expansion (Assam, Andamans, Guyana, Raipur, Vast areas of Madhya Pradesh). For much of these the financing of bigger projects is needed. The creation of the respective Province/Region Development Director channelizes this needs (Fr. Amritlal Toppo SJ for MAP, Fr. George Kerketta SJ for Ranchi, Fr.Xavier Lakra SJ for Assam. The Desk plays a helpful coordinating role in this. Besides this however, the Desk may gather, present and find sponsors for 'small-scale people-oriented projects' (skill formation, leadership training, community building, faith-based integrated lay formation, ect...): this is in a way from person to person or from small group to small group.
Another element to take into account is how the means and frequency of contacting has changed with many people coming and going. Live-in journeys become more frequent, in both directions. Twinning of schools, institutions, organizations, parishes has become a distinct and fruitful possibility and some have started already. Networking and mutual communication is a vast area. Coming to know each other and learning from each other is opening up e.g. knowledge about the history of the Adibasis and of the Mission. In Facebook there is a group "Inleefreis India" that gives regular information to those students who have come to India on Live-in Journeys.
On account of the above the area of exchange between both India and Belgium has developed. The area and possibilities are vast. Students from the Law Department from the University from Antwerp are every year the guests of XISS where for one month they do fieldwork for their thesis which often takes relevant topics. There is much mutual learning and interaction. Students from the High School in Roeselare where Fr Lievens studied have been on a Live-in journey in Ranchi since 2006: the impact on the life of these students has been considerable. Some time ago a group of Lay people from USA sat down with a group of Lay people from Ranchi for 'Faith-sharing' under the auspices of the India Desk. It was for both groups deeply enriching. Exposure to the interdependence of faith and culture which we live 'naturally' helps people from the 'secularising' West to find new ways to respond to their challenges. And mutually we will learn from our exposure to the way Christians in the West are responding to the postmodern challenges.
Important in the area of exchange is 'Cultural exchange'
It is a vast area that is to be explored: e.g. at a time when the ecological awareness is growing and young people of Europe are seeking ways to live this, their exposure to the cosmo-theandric worldview of the Adibasis-abiding interrelatedness and intercommunion among the Divine, human and cosmic spheres (John Mundu)- can be a great help to them. To do this sharing with them our art, cultural identity, rituals, social structures will be a very fruitful and life-giving exchange. The India Desk plays an enabling role in these different possibilities of exchange.
One pertinent and relatively new question has arisen: "What can we, the 'Indian Mission', give back to our friends and benefactors in Belgium (and other places) in return for what we have received from them and for the way they have helped us to come where we are now? How can we share with them the visible fruit of their generosity over these many years? Next to the question of what we can receive from them which is still valid, there is the equally important question of what we can give to them. In all this the Desk plays a positive and enabling role.
'Mutuality' is indeed central in the renewed approach of the Desk. For that reason, though it is usually referred to as India Desk, the full name is: "Indo-European Desk". The search is on for a person from India who knows both Belgium and India well. He will be a creative liaison person between both. The Mission office and the India desk has always been in Brussels, with an occasional visit to India. The India-Belgium Desk will be in Ranchi with regular and if need be prolonged visits to Belgium (read Europe and wherever 'contacts' are living). This change of place is in the light of the changed circumstances a meaningful decision.
Aurel Brys sj
Manresa House, PB 2,
Camil Bulcke Path, 834001 Ranchi.