Indian church leader recognized for peacebuilding efforts

A retired archbishop from India’s northeast has been recognized for his peace efforts and decades of volunteer work among some of India’s tribal groups.

The Delhi-based International Human Rights Council (IHRC) awarded the Ambassador for Peace Award to retired Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, Assam, on Dec. 9. 

Archbishop Menamparampil has been involved in peace activism in India’s northeast since 1996 when 250,000 people in Assam fled violence resulting from a separatist movement that left 32 dead and 40 injured.

The 83-year-old archbishop told LICAS News that he was surprised to learn that IHRC had chosen him for the award. 

“Whatever I had done was no more than my duty — to come to the help of people in difficulty to the extent one can. In all honesty, my contribution was very small,” said Archbishop Menamparampil who has dedicated the award to the members of his ecumenical Joint Peace Mission Team.

“They risked their lives on occasions to bring relief to the victims of violence and staked everything for peace,” he said. 

The archbishop described how peace can be made a reality, even in the most trying of circumstances.

“Every human being longs for peace. This yearning is buried deep in the heart of even the strongest combatant. Young people are often misled into thinking that force will work where persuasion fails,” he said.

A contextual understanding of people’s perceived problems and a deeply felt sympathy for their legitimate aspirations can reveal solutions other than violence, he said. 

“I have often proposed to them during long dialogues: ‘Why don’t you change your grievance into a message?’” he said. 

Their hard feelings can be changed into raw material for the painstaking effort needed to build a better future, he said. 

‘Not lecturing people’

State governors and chief ministers have appreciated his team’s contribution to resolving some of the inter-ethnic tensions that have troubled the north-east region of India

“We always stayed away from politically-loaded issues. It could easily be misunderstood, but we have helped with a message of peace at all times,” Archbishop Menamparampil said. 

But amidst tangible successes, there were instances of the opposite occurring, he said.  

“One important thing that I have learned as a peace worker is that one must be prepared to fail many times,” he said. 

There is no easy ride to peace when anger is high, and emotions decide issues, he said. “Today, it seems to me, the entire world is sliding in that direction,” he said.

“Our contribution has not been to lecture to people in conflict on their moral obligations or religious duties, but to appeal to their good sense and their native desire for peace,” the emeritus archbishop said. 

His peace team intervened on at least 10 occasions to try and resolve conflict situations.

“Peace came by itself, but I sincerely feel we helped,” he said. 

The archbishop said that he wasn’t an “appointed a peace-worker” and stressed that he was “merely an ordinary missionary.”

He said the healing of historic memories is supremely important in today’s world.

“Unfortunately, there are people who keep alive the negative memories of their people and build on them. This is doing injustice to one’s people. It will be pity if politics is built on the grievances of communities,” he said. 

Archbishop Menamparampil is now in demand to speak at universities in India and abroad on issues relating to peace and inter-community understanding.

Last year, he addressed the World Congress of Philosophers in Beijing.

“I believe that the cause of peace must assume greater importance in today’s world where divisive forces are multiplying and workers for peace are growing timid,” the prelate said. 

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