Father Thomas: Working for religious harmony in India

Father M D Thomas has many firsts to his credit. He was among the first batch of Missionaries of St. Thomas (MST); he earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Hindi, and he was the first to hold the post of National Secretary of the Commission for Religious Harmony of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) for nine years. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies (IHPS), New Delhi, since 2014.

As part of this, Father Thomas, 68, has long been committed to promoting interfaith relations and communal harmony with others in India be they adherents of Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Ahamadiyya, Baha’i or Judaism.

“In this world where hatred and killings are happening in the name of belief, dialogue among different religions is the need of the hour,” Father Thomas told LiCAS.news.

“The mission of harmony and peace I have been pursuing for decades keeps me happy as well as united with the divine source of the mission. Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, ‘Fratelli tutti’ has emphasized this,” he said.

Father Thomas’ mission aligns with Pope Francis’ ecumenism efforts most prominently seen when the pope signed the document for ‘Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together’ with Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque and university in early 2019.

When speaking of how his mission began, Father Thomas said he wanted to work for the largest interest of the Christian community. “I owe this to my upbringing at home,” said the Kerala born priest.

“After schooling, I joined the seminary in 1969 where for next 10 years my passion developed as a mission. Later, as a priest in central India, I came across many people from other religions and ideologies,” he said. 

“But not knowing their language, Hindi, was a handicap. Being exposed to the demands of the mission field, I decided to specialize in Hindi literature overruling several other possibilities.”

Father Thomas then went on to study Hindi while further interacting with people of other religions and conducting multi-devotional music programs. He also pioneered a rural literacy program by which he took school students to the rural areas where they taught children read and write.

“Later, I joined Banaras Hindu University for a PhD in Hindi, the first Christian priest to do so. My subject for research was ‘Kabeer (a saint and revolutionary poet of the bhakti devotion literature of the middle ages) and Christian philosophy,” he said.

“After completing PhD in 1994, I went back to my mission center. As director of the Institute of Religion and Culture I engaged in inter-religious, inter-education, inter-language and multi-disciplinary studies. Soon, I joined Aligarh Muslim University … which helped me to learn Urdu, the language most Muslims speak.”

He was then appointed to the CBCI Commission for Religious Harmony which further enabled him to work towards interreligious harmony in his country of 1.3 billion people.

During this time, his thesis was published as a book, ‘Kabeer aur Eesaayee Chintan’ (Kabeer and Christian Thought), which got the ‘Saahityik Kriti Sammaan’ award by the Hindi Academy.

Father Thomas has lectured at universities and colleges both in India and abroad and has also addressed research conferences plus multi-faith and civil programs. He has also been an examiner of doctoral students and visiting professor at several universities. His writings have been published widely in various forms and he has even released two music albums.

Of late, he has started a video message series on festivals of all religions, national and international days and on social themes, with the aim of further promoting goodwill and fellowship among people.

P P Wangchuk, senior journalist and religious thinker, said that anyone who met Father Thomas would be inspired to work for harmony and peace. “His warm smile is a proof of his interior joy and gratitude to God and to everyone he met,” Wangchuk said.

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