Encountering India: Bishop Zinkula sees Polio Eradication Program in action


By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Hindus, Muslims and Christians greet Bishop Thomas Zinkula outside the open-air entrance to their modest community center, the size of an American two-car garage, in the dusty rural village of Saharanpur. He has arrived for their mid-morning meeting to discuss the polio eradication program that involves a partnership among Catholic Relief Services, government frontline workers, the World Health Organization and other Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs).

His visit here was one of many encounters on the peripheries that Bishop Zinkula made during a 10-day whirlwind tour of India seven weeks ago. Among the highlights: his presentation of the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award to the Dalai Lama.

“Visiting a CRS program in India wasn’t on my radar screen until Kent Ferris, the diocesan director of social action, encouraged me to do so. He said a site visit by a U.S. bishop would lift the spirits of the CRS staff and provide an opportunity for me to advocate on behalf of international poverty-reducing humanitarian and development assistance when I returned home. I have been a huge supporter of CRS for years; seeing them in action made me an even more ardent fan. I was very impressed by their efforts in India.”

Polio has been eradicated in India, the second-most populous country in the world. Full immunization coverage in the state of Uttar Pradesh in north India is 53 percent, but in most of the districts where the CORE Group Polio Project (CGPP) is working, the coverage is lower than the state average, according to a CRS fact sheet.

The initiative to educate families of newborns to 5-year-olds about the importance of vaccinations is critical to preventing the disease from returning. The polio eradication program takes a grassroots approach, utilizing children and adults, to deliver the message to 320,000 households in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Bishop Zinkula received a presentation by Abhishek Gupta, project officer with Catholic Relief Services, on the USAID-funded polio project during a meeting earlier in the morning. Also present were collaborators such as Father J.M. Demasis, the Diocese of Meerut’s director of social work. Kushal Neogy, sub-regional director — Part­ner­ships (South Asia) for CRS, organized the visit.
Bring­ing community together

At the community center, the bishop listens in on the “community influencers” meeting. It precedes the “Pulse Polio Round,” which will be held the following week at a public place where community members are encouraged to go to get the oral polio drops administered to children ages 0-5.

Dr. Anand Kishore of the World Health Organization speaks to the village leaders in Hindi. He’s explaining the cases of polio in other countries and the seriousness of it, the bishop is told. Muslims, a minority religion in Uttar Pradesh, had earlier been hesitant to support the vaccination effort. They thought it might cause sterility in children receiving the polio vaccination, but were assured that it does not. So it is important that Muslim leaders are here for the meeting, the CRS representatives say.

The discussion point revolves around refreshing the village leaders about the importance of polio vaccinations and sharing the list of newborns (72) since the last round of vaccinations in August 2018. These leaders and influencers will reach out to the communities and motivate them to bring children (460 of them between the ages of 0-5) for the oral polio drop administration.

Some of the men at the meeting, dressed in white, sit up front in what looks like lawn chairs. The women, wearing colorful dresses and head scarves, sit on benches in the back of the room. Someone asks: Can polio be cured after it is diagnosed? Are medicines available to cure it? No, says Dr. Kishore, but the vaccine will help reduce the effects of the disease. He explains the importance of routine inoculations to protect children. “This is bringing the community together,” Fr. Demasis tells the bishop and other visitors.

Bishop Zinkula is asked to speak. “What you are doing here is very important and you are to be commended,” he tells the gathering. “You’re drawing people together in this community. That’s a wonderful thing. We need that everywhere.” The village leaders applaud.

“I admire your hard work,” said Father Francis Bashyam, a friend who is accompanying Bishop Zinkula on his travels in India. “All of us are interested in the well-being of our families and children. When the children are healthy, we keep the next generation healthy,” adds Fr. Bashyam, who serves in the Diocese of Bellary in southern India.

The bishop and his group accept an invitation from the head of the village to tea and cookies in his home. Soon, the whole group is in the living room, smiling warmly at their guests. The next stop is lunch before a visit to a school in an urban slum.

Along the road, the visitors see cages of chicken for sale in open-air markets. A vendor prepares tandoor tea in a flimsy kiosk. Kids dump garbage off of their carts into the streets. Auto rickshaws and motorcycles packed with riders and commodities careen through the streets.
Students get the message

Bishop Zinkula walks into a small classroom where primary school students sit on a rug and interact with their teacher in an activity called “Masti ki Kaksha (Fun Class). They are being encouraged to understand the disease of polio by participating in games, slogans and memorizing facts about the disease.

Each student stands up to identify themselves and their class level. After they finish, the bishop says, teasingly, “My name is Thomas, Class 100.” The teacher, a community mobilizing coordinator for the polio project, asks two girls to explain how polio happens, how it spreads, the location of the next polio round and how the polio vaccine is administered (two drops by mouth).

After answering questions, and impressing the bishop with their knowledge, the students huddle around a game board that looks like “Chutes and Ladders” and become totally absorbed in play. The game is structured to help them learn how to encourage families to get the little ones vaccinated.

Then the students prepare to take their rally into the streets of their neighborhoods. Each has been tasked with bringing 20 children to the polio round site. Their incentive: a lunch box. Bishop Zinkula inaugurates and flags the rally, as the children line up outside their classroom with their banners.

He distributes packages of cookies to each of the rally participants. They march out into the street, shouting “Two drops of life! Two drops of life!”

Polio project facts

The CORE Group Polio Project (CGPP) is a multi-country USAID-funded project in Kenya, Ethiopia and India. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is a sub-grantee to World Vision Inc. supporting implementation in all three countries where CGPP operates. In India, CRS has supported polio eradication efforts since 2003, and most recently as a sub-grantee in its fourth five-year cycle (2017-2022).

“CRS is the outreach of the U.S. Bishops and the American church in more than 100 countries,” says Kent Ferris, director of Social Action for the Diocese of Davenport. “For our bishop to see that outreach firsthand attests to the integrity of the CRS collections (in parishes) and the ways that CRS asks us to be good stewards when we pray, when we learn, when we act and when we give.”

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Local celebration honors the Dalai Lama

Anne Marie Amacher
Bishop Thomas Zinkula talks about presenting the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award to the Dalai Lama. A local celebration was held April 9 at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

Bishop Zinkula makes peace leader’s presence felt

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — The Dalai Lama wasn’t present for a local celebration in his honor April 9, but Bishop Thomas Zinkula sought to make the peacemaker’s presence felt through a vivid description of their 10-minute encounter in India.

Bishop Zinkula traveled last month to the Buddhist temple in northern India where the Dalai Lama lives to present him with the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award. The 83-year-old Nobel Laureate has curtailed his travels because of age. In fact, he was in the hospital in India being treated for a chest infection the night of the award ceremony at St. Ambrose University’s Rogalski Center in Davenport.

During a slide show of photos from the trip to India, the bishop described his audience with the Dalai Lama, who is renowned for his commitment to inner and world peace. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet Buddhists; TIME magazine called him the “Face of Buddhism” in its March 18, 2019, cover story.

The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in the Himalayan foothills for 60 years, forced to flee from Tibet in 1959 “following the brutal suppression of the Tibetan national uprising in Lhasa by Chinese troops,” according to his website.

In 1987, amidst protests in Lhasa against a large-scale relocation of Han Chinese to Tibet, the Dalai Lama called for a five-point plan for Tibet to be a zone of peace. He never moved from his stance of peaceful resistance and in 1989 received the Nobel Peace Prize, said Joyce Singh and Judith Lee, who gave his biography during the local award ceremony.

Now he is an elderly man, a fact that struck Bishop Zinkula when he caught a glimpse of the Dalai Lama in a hallway prior to their audience. When they actually met more than an hour later, the bishop discovered that the Dalai Lama is mentally sharp, an attentive listener and engaging in conversation. “There was a sense of vigor and vitality about him,” the bishop said. “When we entered the room where the audience was held, he was gracious and he recognized and received each of us individually.” (Father Francis Bashyam, a friend of the bishop, and I also attended the audience.)

“What is the Dalai Lama like? He is like what you’d expect him to be — he is the Dalai Lama after all,” the bishop said. You’d expect him to exude peace, love, joy, warmth, and he did.”

The bishop had hoped that he, too, would be at peace during their audience. “But I was not feeling inner peace or world peace, to be honest with you. I was feeling some inner anxiety and disquiet,” he confessed. “Angst is the word for it.”

Then he explained why. A couple of days before the audience, the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir disrupted air travel in India. The day of the audience, the bishop and his group experienced hassles dealing with a security officer that almost prevented them from being able to take photos at the event. Audiences before the bishop’s got backed up, leaving him worried about not being able to make the last flight out of town that day. That would have forced cancellation of his appointment to observe a Catholic Relief Services polio eradication project. And while waiting for the audience, he saw two security guards with guns in the inner courtyard.

“It was kind of ironic that while I was waiting to present the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award to the Dalai Lama, I wasn’t feeling the inner peace and world peace that is exemplified in the award and in the Dalai Lama. We’ve got a lot of work to do on this peace thing,” the bishop said.

The angst dissipated as Bishop Zinkula presented the award to the Dalai Lama. “He reacted visibly as I read the names of the members of the coalition. He turned to an aid with a pleased expression on his face. He clearly appreciated the diversity of the group.”

Speaking in English, the Dalai Lama “described the award as a great honor. He said that despite different views among the religions of the world, all convey the same message of love. All human beings are children of God, the Father. There are 7 billion children of one father. We are truly brothers and sisters. All human beings are of the same nature so we should all love one another and respect one another.”

The Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award is named for the encyclical written by Pope St. John XXIII in 1963. “There are now 48 who have received the award,” said Kent Ferris, the diocesan Social Action director who leads the coalition. “Many have also been honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. One has even been officially recognized by the Catholic Church as a saint (St. Teresa of Kolkata). There are many great stories and many threads that connect the award winners with each other and with world events and leaders over these past 50 plus years.”

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Bishop Zinkula gets an education in India

Barb Arland-Fye
Students of Holy Cross School in southern India perform a dance in honor of Bishop Thomas Zinkula’s visit to their school during his trip to India six weeks ago. Bishop Zinkula visited many places in India and presented a peace award to the Dalai Lama.

Bishop Zinkula visits two Catholic schools that teach students of all faiths

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Thirty-two students dressed in their Catholic school uniforms filed into Father Francis Bashyam’s office at Vianney School in southern India to meet Bishop Thomas Zinkula from Dav­enport, Iowa. The bishop would not have guessed that the students live with their families in a leper colony that Fr. Bashyam visits.

The children, whose families exist on the margins of society, appeared solemn and curious at first. But they quickly warmed up to the bishop who wore a short-sleeved shirt and khaki slacks and sat on the edge of a desk as he told them a little bit about himself. Then in a teasing way, he asked them: “Which of you is the smartest?” All raised their hands. “The most handsome … the most beautiful,” he continued enthusiastically. “Study hard and be the best person you can be,” he advised them. He shook each one’s hand as they left the office, with smiles on their faces, to return to their classrooms.

Fr. Bashyam and Bishop Zinkula are good friends. The Indian priest served for a year in the Archdiocese of Dubuque when the bishop was a priest of the archdiocese. Seven years ago, the bishop spent two months of his sabbatical in India, as the guest of Fr. Bashyam and of Father Lazar (Nathan) Arokianathan.

When an opportunity developed to return to India to present a peace award to the Dalai Lama, Bishop Zinkula made arrangements to visit his two priest friends and the schools they oversee. Fr. Bashyam manages Vianney School and Fr. Nathan manages Holy Cross School in Sirwar, also in the Bellary Diocese.

Diocese funds building projects

The vast majority of students at both Vianney School (1,400 students) and Holy Cross School (600 students) are Hindu or Muslim. Just a small percentage is Catholic, reflecting the religious composition of India. Many of the students’ families live in poverty. The two schools are among 20 diocesan primary and higher primary schools and 15 diocesan high schools in the Diocese of Bellary.

Tuition covers most of the salaries at Vianney and Holy Cross schools, Fr. Bashyam said, but funds for infrastructure and facilities come from donations. The Diocese of Davenport is among the recent donors through its Diocesan Propa­gation of Faith, which contributed $5,000. The donation recognizes the “hospitality Bishop Zinkula experienced during his first trip to India and his great admiration for the work that his India priest friends undertake,” said Kent Ferris, who oversees the Diocesan Propa­gation of Faith.

Fr. Bashyam said $3,000 of the donation will pay for the roof of Holy Cross School’s new high school classrooms and the rest has been applied to the new toilet facility for the staff at Vianney School.

School visits

Exposed rebar poked out from the roofless third-floor classrooms at Holy Cross when Bishop Zinkula visited the school Feb. 28. Fr. Nathan said the school will expand to ninth grade in 2019-20 and add 10th grade in 2020-21. Vianney School already serves students up to 10th grade. During 10th grade, students take a statewide exam to determine whether they will go on to college.

On the day Bishop Zinkula visited Holy Cross School, banners featuring his smiling portrait hung outside the parish church and on the back of the stage in the school’s enclosed pavilion. “A hearty welcome to Bishop Thomas Zinkula,” the banner read. “God bless the bishop. God bless the faithful of the Davenport Diocese.”

Inside the pavilion, students took turns by grade to sing, dance or read for the bishop as the sun baked the dry earth outside. A group of the littlest students bounced up to the stage wearing posters around their necks illustrated with cheese burgers, pie, movie theater popcorn and other less-than-healthy foods. They danced and sang to a song about making healthier food choices.

“When I was here seven years ago, I was very welcomed,” the bishop told the gathering of more than 600 students, teachers and other staff. “I enjoy the people of India. I enjoy the food,” he said. Fr. Nathan interpreted for the gathering. Although students are learning English, the native language of the state they live in, Karnataka, is Kannada.

Bishop Zinkula told the students: “You are children of God. I want you to know that God loves you very much. You are very special to God. He gave us life, our families who love us. He gave us food and schools like this one to learn new things.”Fr. Nathan asked the bishop to bless the school’s new kindergarten block, which was nearing completion. A plaque in the building expressed appreciation to Bishop Zinkula “In remembrance of his memorable visit to Holy Cross School, 28th February 2019.”

The bishop, in turn, expressed appreciation to the teachers who had gathered in their staff room during a break. “Thank you for what you do here,” the bishop said. “Your work is very important – teaching children.” The teachers asked for a blessing and posed for photos with the bishop.

The children, playing outside or eating their lunches, wanted a handshake from the bishop, as he left the school for another engagement. “They love it,” said Father Thomas Michael. “They’ll remember it for a lifetime.”

Meeting students’ basic needs

Fr. Nathan, who previously served as diocesan superintendent of schools, said his primary goal is to meet the basic needs of the children. The curriculum has been designed so that students compete in a healthy way to develop teamwork and leadership skills. Hindus represent the largest percentage of the student body (60 percent); Muslims represent around 30 percent and Catholics about 5 to 8 percent. “The goal is to educate all children.”

At Vianney, “the poor and needy always find a welcome spirit in this campus,” Fr. Bashyam said. “Several-hundred students could pay close to nothing. Their parents are treated with dignity for choosing to educate their children here at Vianney in spite of various hardships at home and outside. Most express difficulty due to illness, single parent, unemployment, orphaned and destitute, among many other reasons.”

On March 1, the morning Bishop Zinkula visited Vianney School, he stood outside with Fr. Bashyam on school grounds to greet arriving students. “What happened to your teeth?” the bishop asked one little girl whose smile revealed a missing tooth. When an older girl wearing a crossing guard vest approached, he asked, “How many lives did you save today?”

Students and their teachers formed rows outside the school to begin the morning’s assembly. Bishop Zinkula told them: “It’s really good to be here with you. I find the people of India to be very special – very special culture, very special place. I’ve experienced people who are very warm, welcoming and hospitable, joyful and spiritual. I want to be more like you, in that respect.”

Fr. Bashyam took the bishop on a tour of the classrooms, stopping in at each one so that students could greet the bishop in a smaller setting. “Where I live in America it is very cold and there’s lots of snow,” the bishop told a second-grade class. “Snow and ice, everywhere there is white,” Fr. Bashyam added.

The bishop said just a quick hello to the 10th-graders, taking a statewide exam that would determine whether they go on to college, Fr. Bashyam said. “This is important for their future.”

Finally, the bishop ended his tour with a restroom stop, at Fr. Bashyam’s request, to see the new kindergarten toilet block. He is proud of the school’s ability to teach and to provide children with proper sanitation, an invaluable component to their well-being in a country where the poor don’t have access to such basic health resources.

(Next week: Bishop Zinkula witnesses Catholic Relief Services in action in an Indian slum.)

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Bishop Zinkula encounters India

Bishop Thomas Zinkula places dirt in the ground where a tree has been planted in honor of his visit to the Hindu temple led by the Swamiji in the District of Koppal in the state of Karnataka, India. Leaning forward to the right of Bishop Zinkula are Father Francis Bashyam and Swamiji (wearing orange robes). The bishop visited India six weeks ago on an interfaith mission.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Bishop Thomas Zinkula walked into a quiet, tidy dormitory where children, some with crippled limbs, rested in their beds. One boy wriggled in his bed, bright-eyed and smiling. Here, at the Missionaries of Charity home in Bellary, Karnataka, India, eight nuns and 14 staff care for 110 children and adults with physical and/or mental challenges and who have no other place to call home.

Everyone who could walk or sit up wanted a blessing from their special visitor as he passed through the home’s corridors. His visit here was one of many encounters on the peripheries that Bishop Zinkula made during a 10-day whirlwind tour of India six weeks ago.

His encounters in schools, churches, Hindu and Buddhist temples, community centers and family homes covered many miles and many interfaith experiences that reaffirmed his love for the people of India.

Reflecting back on his trip, the bishop said, “My first experience of interfaith encounter and dialogue occurred while I was a seminarian studying at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. I participated in a program which brought together seminarians from Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical and African-American Protestant seminaries, along with Jewish rabbinical schools. I found this to be a tremendously fruitful experience. In a sense, it ‘set up’ the interfaith encounters I had in India. My experiences have parallels to Share the Journey, an initiative of Pope Francis. Such encounters open our eyes, minds and hearts to those who walk different paths than us.”

Seven years ago, Bishop Zinkula spent two months in India, the world’s second-most populous country, while on sabbatical as a priest of the Dubuque Archdiocese. As happened during his first trip, his hosts placed garlands around his neck and shawls on his shoulders as an expression of welcome and hospitality.

At the schools he visited, the children, many of whom are Hindus or Muslims living in poverty, reached for a handshake with Bishop Zinkula. They knew of his friendship with priests who lead the schools that provide an opportunity for a brighter future. They know that the bishop’s people back in America provided some of the funding that enhanced their schools.

A homecoming

Bishop Zinkula didn’t protest what he jokingly referred to as “over-the-top hospitality” during his visit. At one school he looked sheepish wearing a too-small turban on his head, a shawl wrapped around his shoulders and a garland around his neck while watching children singing and dancing on stage. But he understood that Indians of different faiths desired to show appreciation for a church leader who traveled halfway around the world to spend time with them.

The bishop packed in many encounters during his brief visit, the pinnacle of which was an audience in northern India with the Dalai Lama, the Nobel Prize laureate and leader of Tibetan Buddhists lauded for his efforts on behalf of world peace. Bishop Zinkula presented the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award to the Dalai Lama at his temple in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Father Francis Bashyam, who leads a school in the Bellary Diocese and became friends with Bishop Zinkula during his first stay in India, coordinated travel arrangements and overnight stays. The ambitious itinerary had the bishop hopscotching from southern to northern India — by planes, train and automobiles — a total of 40 hours on the road and in the air — not including the flights from Chicago to India and back.

The bishop’s interest in and support of Catholic Relief Services resulted in a visit to a CRS polio eradication project in a slum on the last day of the India tour. He also asked to see Kopoal Swamiji, a Hindu religious leader whom the bishop became friends with through Fr. Bashyam.
At the chancery in the Diocese of Bellary, diocesan Bishop Henry D’Souza, his staff and sisters of the Missionaries of Charity greeted their guest with hugs, a garland and a shawl. Bishop D’Souza, who met Bishop Zinkula during his first visit to India seven years ago, gave a short speech punctuated with humor. Bishop Zinkula told the gathering that his first visit “was one of the highlights of my life, actually.” This second visit “is like coming home for me.”

Taking in culture and faith

Getting from one place to another required travel on sometimes bumpy dirt roads through villages with open-air markets on either side, animals and people crossing the roads , oblivious to the teeming traffic of auto rickshaws, motorbikes and animal-drawn carts. Women washed clothes in a canal, what Fr. Bashyam called “the largest washing machine in the world.”

On his visit to Hampi, a World Heritage Area in the state of Karnataka, the bishop explored the ruins where the “Monkey Kingdom” existed. Monkeys skittered throughout the site; one grabbed a water bottle that the bishop held in his hands behind his back. Some of the architectural gems he viewed: the Narasimha Shrine, featuring a sculpture of a deity formed from a massive boulder in 1528 A.D.; Lotus Mahal, described as a very good example of Indo-Islamic style of architecture; and the Elephants Stable.

Bishop Zinkula celebrated Mass – barefoot — at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, designed by Cedric (Sunny) Suraj, the son of a family who befriended the bishop during his first visit to India. In some areas of India, people remove their shoes before entering a holy space. Introducing his friend, the bishop, to the congregation, Fr. Bashyam spoke in Kannada (the state’s native language) and then translated to English: “This is a homecoming. We welcome Bishop Zinkula and we thank him for coming to us.”

“Like the prodigal son coming back home,” the bishop quipped. “What a beautiful church you have here. It’s great to be back.” Among the design elements is a depiction of the Holy Spirit as a dove, crafted in steel and backlit on the wall behind the altar. A bell tower with an illuminated cross is visible for miles.

The congregation celebrated after Mass with a communal meal on church grounds. Sabina Mary and her husband, Rabel Sagayenraj, remembered the bishop’s visit to their home seven years ago. “We’re very happy he has become a bishop,” Sabina Mary said. Mini John, meeting the bishop for the first time, described him as “down to earth.”

(Next week: A visit to two Catholic schools in India that the Diocese of Davenport helped support.)

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Persons, places and things: On the road to India

Barb Arland-Fye
The Dalai Lama expresses appreciation at his home in northern India as Bishop Thomas Zinkula prepares to give the peacemaker the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award.

By Barb Arland-Fye

The Dalai Lama’s name had been on the approved list to receive the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award in Davenport for many years. But how would we get him here? The Nobel Peace Prize recipient lives in northern India where he serves in exile as spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists.

The interfaith coalition that nominates candidates and organizes the award ceremony is relatively small and has modest resources. We had a sliver of an opportunity in 2010, when we learned that the Dalai Lama had a speaking engagement at the University of Northern Iowa.
Could we invite him to take a side trip to Davenport, a mere 150 miles from the University of Northern Iowa? We sent an invitation and waited, hopefully. “We came as close as Cedar Falls, but because of his schedule we just weren’t able to make it happen,” recalled Kent Ferris, who leads our coalition and serves as the Davenport Diocese’s Social Action director.

Fast-forward seven years. Bishop Thomas Zinkula, newly ordained Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport, saw a display of names of Pacem in Terris award recipients at diocesan headquarters. “You have a name missing from this list,” Ferris recalled the bishop saying. That name was the Dalai Lama.

Efforts began, once again, to honor the Dalai Lama with the award named for Pope John XXIII’s encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” (Peace on Earth), released in 1963 during a tense time in the Cold War era. However, the now-83-year-old practitioner of inner peace and world peace has curtailed his travels. Kent asked Bishop Zinkula, “Would you be willing to travel to India?”

The bishop, who spent two months in India on sabbatical in 2011 and developed deep friendships there, said he would be open to making the journey. He sent a letter to the Dalai Lama dated Sept. 4, 2018, that included names of some previous Pacem in Terris award recipients – Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu and Dorothy Day among them.

On Oct. 9, 2018, Bishop Zinkula received a response. The Dalai Lama would be open to a meeting with the bishop if he were able to come to India. Coalition members were excited. Taking the award to a recipient is unusual but not unprecedented. Bishop Martin Amos, who led our diocese before his retirement (2017), traveled to France in 2013 to present the award to L’Arche founder Jean Vanier, who was unable to travel to Davenport.

I accompanied the bishop on that trip to report on the presentation. It was a blessing to journey to the place where Jean Vanier began his work to build caring relationships which foster the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities so they have a sense of belonging in the world.

Three years later, Bishop Amos presented the award to the community of Thich Nhat Hanh in California. Katie Kiley, another coalition member, accompanied the bishop for that presentation to honor the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master, teacher, author and peace activist. He was ill and unable to travel.

Earlier this year, Bishop Zinkula learned that he would have a 10-minute audience with the Dalai Lama on March 4. “We needed to decide who should accompany him,” Kent said. My previous experience in France and journalism background gave me the green light. I was blessed once again to journey with our diocese’s bishop to cover a historic moment: our Catholic bishop presenting a peace award to a Buddhist monk renowned for his efforts to foster peace among peoples and religions.

Join us April 9 at 7 p.m. at the Rogalski Center on the campus of St. Ambrose University in Davenport for a local celebration of the award to the Dalai Lama. Bishop Zinkula will share his reflections on the presentation in India.

Now, more than ever, we need to honor and to emulate our peacemakers.

(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org. Watch for future stories about Bishop Zinkula’s India experiences.)

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We need a ‘conversion of heart’


Vandals worked under cover of darkness to spray paint racist messages on an Iowa City church that serves a multicultural congregation, including African refugees and immigrants from other countries. Two-hundred people of diverse faiths, backgrounds and ages responded with light — during a vigil at the church on March 12. Just three days later, a gunman described as a “white nationalist” was taken into custody for a mass shooting that killed 50 people worshipping in two mosques in New Zealand.

While these two crimes — vandalism and murder — are not equal in gravity, they have been cultivated in the same environment: hatred that has spread like weeds across the globe. That hatred demands our attention, and what better time than this Lent when we are focused on conversion of our hearts?

The vandalism at Greater Iowa City Church of the Nazarene targeted African refugees and immigrants from other countries with malicious statements, vengeful verses taken out of context from the Bible and swastikas scrawled on the church building. Police have not yet located the vandals. Senior Pastor Teresa Stecker suspects the vandals were involved with an organized hate group. A key part of the church’s ministry has become its work with refugees, immigration and teaching English as a second-language.

When the Diocese of the Davenport was resettling refugees in the Iowa City metro area, the Church of the Nazarene and its nonprofit, Iowa City Compassion, were among the most valuable community resources, said diocesan Social Action Director Kent Ferris. Their efforts included providing English classes, food supplies and other formal ministry offerings as well as friendly, personal support. The hateful graffiti targeting their efforts to support immigrants and refugees is an affront to the Gospel.

Johnson County Interfaith Coalition, of which St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City is a member, responded with a prayer vigil to show solidarity. The prayer vigil should be the beginning of an individual and collective response to prevent cultivation of an environment that allows hatred to grow and flourish in our hearts and in the public square.

• We begin with prayer. Choose whatever form of prayer resonates with you. The more we pray, the more likely we are to hear God’s voice as we consider the choices we make in our daily lives.

• We read Scripture, particularly the daily readings for this Lent. Devotional guides can aid our reflection on the readings. Bishop Robert Barron’s daily Gospel reflections, for example, are brief and thought-provoking. They focus on what really matters, the salvation of all souls. The reflections are available online at www.lentreflections.com.

• We engage in dialogue with someone of another viewpoint. When we avoid speaking and listening respectfully to someone with another point of view, we deepen the division that allows hatred to take root. Visit the Better Angels website at www.better-angels.org, which offers insights on talking across the political divide. Representatives from the group conducted a workshop last week at The Canticle, home of the Sisters of St. Francis of Clinton.

• We step outside our comfort zone to get to know someone from another faith group. Bishop Thomas Zinkula recently returned from a journey to India where he interacted with Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths. Two of his Indian priest friends oversee Catholic schools whose students are mostly Hindus and Muslims. The education received by these children, many from impoverished families, will help them to have a better future. “As a church, we serve others not because they are Catholic, but because we are,” the bishop says. We don’t have to travel to India to encounter people of other faiths. We can check our community calendars or with other faith communities in our area for opportunities to participate in their celebrations.

The hatred expressed against a church in Iowa City “is a reflection of the society in which we exist. If it’s in society, it’s in the church,” says Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Iowa City. And so, a response must come from the church. “We have to continue to preach the Gospel and conversion of heart. That’s the only way things are going to change.”

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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‘Blessed are the peacemakers’


A stack of passports sat atop a security officer’s desk in the crowded reception room where visitors waited for an audience with the Dalai Lama at his temple in the Himalayan foothills of northern India. After 60 years in exile, the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists, continues to draw people from around the world, inspired by his example in cultivating inner peace and world peace.

The spiritual leader of the Diocese of Davenport, Bishop Thomas Zinkula, was among those whose passports sat atop the security officer’s desk that morning. Kudos to the Pacem in Terris Coalition of the Quad Cities, on whose behalf Bishop Zinkula readily traveled halfway around the world to present the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award to the Dalai Lama. That journey sent a message that the faithful in eastern Iowa and western Illinois join in solidarity to foster peace at home and abroad.

Four years after the Dalai Lama fled for his life from his beloved homeland, Pope John XXIII released his preeminent encyclical “Pacem in Terris” (Peace on Earth), which motivated creation of the award. In his encyclical, now-St. John XXIII wrote, “The world will never be the dwelling place of peace, till peace has found a home in the heart of each and every man, till every man preserves in himself the order ordained by God to be preserved” (#165).

During his 10-minute audience with Bishop Zinkula, the Dalai Lama said, “Today’s world really needs (the) peace message.” Tensions between India and Pakistan underscored that message. The plane in which the bishop flew home had to be diverted from flying over Pakistan’s air space. The brief audience didn’t allow time for the bishop to discuss the crisis between Pakistan and India, but the Dalai Lama’s words and actions serve as a blueprint for nurturing peace in our hearts and in the world.

Nurturing requires time, patience and practice, great skills to undertake this Lenten season in the following ways:

• Prayer and meditation. The Catholic Church offers a plethora of prayer practices and meditation, such as: Scripture reading and reflection (Lectio Divina), the Liturgy of the Hours, the rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, eucharistic adoration, extemporaneous prayer, the Daily Examen.

• Listening. Give full attention to the person who is talking. Don’t be thinking ahead about how to respond or rebut. The Dalai Lama and Bishop Zinkula made eye contact and sustained it. Each took away the other’s message. The Dalai Lama expressed appreciation when the bishop shared the interfaith composition of the Pacem in Terris Coalition.

• Patience. This skill can be practiced in our interactions with others, especially in our willingness to try to understand what the other person is going through. The Dalai Lama takes patience to even higher heights. He visualizes his enemies deliberately trying to make his life miserable to help him cultivate patience in adversity. (“The Wisdom of Compassion,” His Holiness the Dalia Lama and Victor Chan)

• Education. The Dalai Lama believes that it is essential for children to learn “the indispensability of inner values such as love, compassion, justice and forgiveness” as part of their school’s curriculum. Education helps to nurture and sustain compassion. (“The Wisdom of Compassion”)

For adults, that education can include attending peace-oriented events in our diocese. On March 21, St. Ambrose University in Davenport will present the Wilber Symposium at 7 p.m. in the Rogalski Center. Professor Duk Kim will address the successes and failures of peace-keeping efforts. The Pacem in Terris Coalition will present a local celebration of the Dalai Lama as recipient of the 2019 Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award on April 9 at 7 p.m. in the Rogalski Center. Also check the calendar in The Catholic Messenger for additional peace-related programs and events.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his disciples the nine Beatitudes, one of which states: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Bishop Zinkula handed over his passport in a crowded reception room 7,200 miles from home to demonstrate his commitment to being a link among the peacemakers. How will the rest of us respond as Jesus’ disciples today?

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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