National Seminar Organised to Honour Indian Theologian Prof Fr Kurien Kunnumpuram SJ
What is the relevance of Vatican II for the Indian Church? How does acts of piety related to depth in spirituality? How can spirituality humanize us and take us to our fellow human being and to God? These were some of the questions that Fr Kurien Kunnumpuram SJ reflected on and wrote about.
Fr Kurien remains one of the pioneering theologians of Vatican II and has been internationally recognised as a thinker and writer of eminence. A National Seminar on “Fr Kurien Kunnumpuram, SJ: A Theological Inspiration,” was conducted at Socio-Religious Centre, Christ Hall, Kozhikode, Kerala, on 17-18, October 2018.
Fr George Mutholil SJ, Provincial, Kerala Province, inaugurated the seminary. He remembered Fr Kurien as a man “who challenged me to grow.” He saw Fr Kurien’s life and writings as a challenge “to priests to practice a spirituality of active involvement in the lives of people and to practice an integrated spirituality – integrating life, prayer and work, instead of ‘scattering their energies in many directions’.” As a scholar and mentor he had a way of accepting everyone personally and encouraging them to grow.
About 45 scholars in the fields of Philosophy and Theology came together to deliberate on the theological significance of Prof Kurien Kunnumpuram. There were 18 papers presented, which urged the Church to be open to dialogue, to become a community of love and to humanise our spirituality. Some of the prominent figures who participated in the seminar are Fr Johnson Puthenpurackal OFM Cap (Elluru), Fr Job Kozhamthadam SJ (Delhi), Fr Keith D’Souza SJ (Mumbai) and Fr Mathew Chandrankunnel CMI (Bangalore).
Fr Paul Raj, Papal Seminary, Pune, spoke of the love commandment of St. Paul, which is related to and different from Jesus’ love commandment. Fr Paul Thelakkatt, editor “Light of Truth,” Ernakulam, elaborated on the distinction between madness and sanity, in relation to contemporary society. Fr V M Joseph, Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune, spoke of the liberative and societal dimension of encountering God. Fr James Ponniah, University of Madras, elaborated on the shared sacred spaces that different people and communities live in. Prof Job Kozhathadam SJ, Director, Indian Institute of Sciences and Religion, New Delhi, Fr Stephen Jayard, Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune, spoke of collaboration of the Church and with the world of science and technology.
Sr Surekha Lobo, Centre for Women’s Studies, Pune and a Bethany Sister, spoke of a spirituality that humanizes and enables us to be better human beings. Fr Jacob Parappally MSFS, Chief Editor, “Journal of Indian Theology,” elaborated on “ways of salvation” and “the way of salvation” which Kurien explored in connection to Vatican II. Fr Mathew Chandrankunnel CMI, Director, Ecumenical Centre, Bangalore, spoke of the need to dialogue with Hinduism and bring about an East-West complementarity continuum.
Fr Victor Ferrao, Rachol Seminary, Goa, spoke of the bodily dimension of divine human love. Fr Thomas Karimundackal SJ, Papal Seminary, Pune, spoke of the Church of the poor, children and marginalised from the perspective of Luke’s Gospel. Fr Nishant Irudayadason, JDV, Pune, tried to link theory and praxis in theologising. Fr EP Mathew SJ, Dean, Satyanilayam, Loyola College, Chennai spoke of the future of anthropology from a Christian vision. Fr PT Mathew SJ, Christ Hall, Kozhikode, pleaded with the theologians to bring the heart dimension into theologising. Fr Johnson Puthenpurackal OFM Cap, former President, Association of Christian Philosophers of India, reflected on the dynamic tension between “what has been and what could be (possible)” in theological language. Fr Stephen Chundamthadam, SJ, Samanvaya, Institute of Advanced Indian Spirituality, Kanjirapally, studied the humanising and integrating spirituality of Fr Kunnumpuram, that fosters freedom, joy and intimate experience of God, leading to fellow human beings.
During the seminar Fr Kurien’s last book “Freedom and Joy” was released. In the book Kurien perceived freedom and joy as essential characteristics of a Christian. Fr Kuruvilla Pandikattu SJ opined that the person of Kurien himself personified both these freedom and joy of the Gospels.
Fr Kurien was born in 1931 at Teekoy, Kerala. He was a good athlete in his younger days. Because of his extraordinary intellectual talents, he was sent to pursue his doctoral studies in Innsbruck, Austria. “His must have been the first doctorate on Vatican II,” opines Fr Sebastian Painadath SJ, one of his colleagues. Fr Kunnumpuram finished his Phd on “Ways of Salvation” in Vatican II in 1968. Then he joined the staff of Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune and taught Theology. He also served as the Dean and Rector of Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune.
He was the founder of the influential theological journal “Jnanadeepa: Pune Journal of Religious Studies,” from 1998 onwards. He also edited another journal “AUC: Asian Journal for Religious Studies,” and was the first editor of the “Encyclopedia of Christianity in India,” published by Jnana-Deepa Vidypeeth, Pune. He wrote more than 20 books and have made significant contributions to Indian theology. Therefore, the participants came to honour him and pay due respect to him. He was a remarkable person, who dreamt of a Church that is open to Indian traditions and that empowers all sections of the people.
Unfortunately, they missed Fr Kurien’s physical presence during the seminar, since he was in Nirmala Hospital, Hospital, Kozhikode. Due to a blood clot in the brain, he has been in comma for more than 20 days. But they felt his empowering presence, urging them to be more human and to experience God, especially in our neighbours.
The coordinators of the seminar were Fr PT Thomas and Fr Kuruvilla Pandikattu. They are planning to publish the articles of this research seminary. The event was organsied by Kerala Province of the Society of Jesus.