Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam: Former President of India
  Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam    
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19-12-2006 : Ernakulam
Religion transforms into spirituality

I am delighted to participate in the Inauguration of the Centenary celebrations of the Immanuel CSI Church at Ernakulam. My respects to Rt Rev Dr JW Gladstone Bishop of the Church and my greetings to all the believers and distinguished guests. I understand that the Church was built by the great visionary Rev J H Bishop BA missionary of CMS in the memory of two eminent missionaries Rev. Edward Bacheller Russell and Rev Alfred Forbes Sealy. It is an important institution in imparting spiritual teachings and promoting education in the beginning of 20th century in Kerala.


Contribution of CSI Church to Society

The Immanuel CSI Church, apart from conducting services and providing spiritual guidance to believers, is taking care of the needy in the city of Cochin for the last one hundred years. Breakfast is being served for the needy people in the city on every Friday. Members of the Church also provide educational assistance, medical care, and support for HIV affected children and also run special homes for tribal children where they are provided quality education. This CSI Church promotes harmonious relationship between different churches and different religious institutions in Kerala.


Build respect for all religions

When I am in this beautiful atmosphere, I want to share with you one of my childhood experiences at the Island town of Rameswaram. My father had two friends. Father Bodel and Shri Pakshi Lakshmana Sasthirigal. This was when I was at the age of 10, these three great human beings discussing together the Bible Quoran and Gita. Interesting part of these three - my father was a custodian and the head of the Mosque. Pakshi Lakshmana Shastrigal was the Vedic scholar of Rameswaram Temple and Father Bodel was the founder of Church at Thangachimadam. I got the best learning from them. How in an island, where there was no school, these three enlightened souls could sit and discuss about the love and compassion of religions. For me they are the most important learned role models who taught me how a religion could be transformed into spirituality. These three great minds belonging to three religions working together in the village environment had provided the foundation for promoting unity of minds for generations to come.

Rameswaram is also famous for a Siva temple where Rama had prayed, renowned Abul Kabul Darga and first famous Church in the island.


Schwartz High School - Iyadurai Solomon

I studied in a Christian missionary Schwartz High school founded by a Rev. Schwartz. There, my teacher Iyadurai Solomon, was an ideal guide for an eager young mind that was yet uncertain of the possibilities and alternatives that lay before it. He made his students feel very comfortable in class with his warm and open minded attitude. He used to say that a good student could learn more from a bad teacher than a poor student from even a skilled teacher. During my stay at Ramanathapuram, my relationship with him grew beyond that of teacher and pupil. In his company, I learnt that one could exercise enormous influence over the events of one's own life. Iyadurai Solomon used to say, "To succeed in life and achieve results, you must understand and master three mighty forces- desire, belief and expectation." Iyadurai Solomon, who later became a Reverend, taught me that before anything I wanted could happen, I had to desire it intensely and be absolutely certain it would happen. I have seen him giving coaching free to many students who were not doing well in the class. They used to make up and subsequently perform better. This message, I am sure is applicable to all the students and youth of today.


My experience in St. Joseph's College

The next thought which comes to my mind is my college days during the period 1950 - 1954 in St. Joseph's College, Trichy. This is a very important period, not only because I had the fortune of belonging to this great university and the great Jesuit College, but also I had extraordinary teachers who shaped my life. I recall the way Prof Thothathri Iyengar taught complex numbers and number theory, Prof. Suryanarayana Sastry taught advance mathematics including astronomy and Calculas Srinivasan taught calculas.

I remember Rev Father TN Sequiera teaching Shakespeare. People used to say even Shakespeare will be moved if he hears his lecture. It was true. He was also our new Hostel Warden. Every day Father Sequiera used to make a night visit to the hostels. It was called Father's visit. One day, I recall. my room mate M Sachithanandam was not well. When Father Sequiera met him he asked him what was the problem. He told him that he was having headache. For immediate relief, Father took aspirin from his robe and gave him the tablet. With concern, he immediately sent him to the doctor and gave one inland letter and asked him to write to his parents, because Father Sequiera came to know that he was not writing to his parents. This is a beautiful experience and learning for me. In St. Joseph's College Library, Father Sequiera used to take special English class between 6 to 7 PM in the evenings for students who came from Tamil medium schools. He also initiated us to read novels and biographies in simple English. Another great teacher, who is a living legend now is Prof. Chinnadurai. He taught me physics, particularly nuclear physics and light. The way the Professor taught, many students started loving physics, particularly nuclear physics. Now Rev Father Chinnadurai in his 90's is staying in Dindugal. I recently met him and paid my respects during my visit to Tamil Nadu in September this year.

Now, let me share with you another experience in St Joseph's College, where I had an opportunity to attend the lectures given by Rev Father Rector Kalathil.


Elevating the young minds

Every week on Monday Rev Father Kalathil, will take class for an hour. He used to talk about good human beings, present and past, and what makes a good human being. In this class he used to give lectures on personalities such as Buddha, Confucius, St. Augustine, Califa Omar, Mahatma Gandhi, Einstein, Abraham Lincoln including some scientific personalities and moral stories linked to our civilizational heritage. He also used to talk about great personalities living in the father's lodge and who had made contribution with values in the service of the people. I am suggesting that in secondary schools and colleges, it is essential to arrange a lecture by a great teacher of the institution once in a week for one hour on India's civilizational heritage. This class can be called as a Moral Science Class. That will elevate the young minds to love the country, to love the other human beings and elevate the young to higher planes.


Confluence of multi-faceted development

Kerala is a confluence of multi-faceted developments in all societal phenomena including religion. It has an enviable record of peaceful co-existence with tolerance as the key word in all realms of human activity. Communal harmony and peace have all along been the sheet anchor of Kerala's social life and, without exaggeration, let me say this has been looked up to with envy by many. When I am in this Church, I am reminded of an important event which took place in the year 1962, which I would like to share with you.


Self respect and mutual respect

During my long stay in Kerala, one thing had always struck me as unique - in the unending, continuous line of habitations that is the hallmark of the State unlike many others in India, schools and other institutions exist that cater not to any specific community or religion but for all those who reside nearby, irrespective of the caste or religion that they belong to or the creed that they profess. This is in sharp contrast to what obtains in some other places where for specific denominations, exclusive schools and other institutions do exist. This is a glorious lesson that the State of Kerala has given to the rest of the country. I am sure the enlightened people of Kerala will sustain and reinforce this great tradition, built assiduously on these values from time immemorial and continue to be a beacon for the rest of the country to follow.



While concluding, I would like to share my experience when I visited a Christian Monastery in RILA located in the hills of Bulgaria. It is the biggest Bulgarian revival, spiritual and cultural centre with a 16,000 volume library including 134 manuscripts from 15th to 19th century. This holy site played an important role in the spiritual and social life of medieval Bulgaria. Destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 19th century, the complex was rebuilt later and is now surrounded by a big fort. While being in that divine environment amidst the Reverent Fathers aged between 80 and 90, I felt like praying. I went to the altar and asked permission of the Reverent Bishop to recite the part of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. The prayer was repeated by all the people present in the Monastery.

The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred let me sow love;

And where there is injury, pardon;

And where there is doubt, faith;

And where there is despair, hope;

And where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.

For it is in giving that we receive;

....it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

.... and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

The silent message in this prayer was felt by the Reverent Bishop, who blessed me by saying "You work for world peace".

Friends may this beautiful divine message of love, enlighten our life to work for universal peace.

With these words I inaugurate the Centenary celebrations of the CSI Immanuel Church and my best wishes to all believers in their mission of promoting peace and prosperity among all believers.

May God bless you all.




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