IN MEMORIAM: ARCHBISHOP JALA (1951-2019)

By  Michael Makri SDB

“…with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God.” (Ps 55: 14)

These three days we are paying tribute to the mortal remains of His Grace Most Reverend Archbishop Dominic Jala, who last went home to the Father’s bosom on October 10 (US time). Who will forget how he presided at liturgy? He understood the meaning of gracious presiding, even while maintaining the principle of ‘noble simplicity.’ He sometimes shunned liturgies that were overly extended.

Who will forget the Catholic Missal or the new revised version of the New Testament in Khasi? Here is the intelligence of this man, who was asked by Holy See to be part of the Commission for Divine Worship and Liturgy. On various occasions he would invite church leaders and youth leaders to stand for justice and freedom. Often he would dare strongly to confront corruption and immorality in society. His sole motive is to protect his fellow human beings and uphold the values of the Kingdom. In times of trouble, people found in him a voice they can trust in the midst of uncertainty, a true shepherd’s voice that led them to the valleys of green pasture and flowing water, that brought them to peace. Who among us will ever forget this shepherd so filled with love for his flock? He always cherished the priests of the Archdiocese, although weak and imperfect as they were. At table he would say they were the ‘best’ in the world. When he said to the flock, as he used to do often, “Continue to do well”, everyone felt the sincerity of the love he had always shown. His fatherly concern for the Church; his defence of the rights of the oppressed; his active compassion for the poor were totally genuine.

I first came in contact with the Archbishop in a very personal way in 1997, when as the then Provincial of the Salesian Province of Mary Help of Christians Guwahati, he called me to his office and proposed that I should take up Science in Classes XI and XII. Previously the provincials and the superiors had decided not to send aspirants for Science studies. Archbishop Jala was ahead of his time and decided to send four of us to study Science. Since then, my connection with him has grown from being a superior to being a friend and to considering him as a family member. In 2000 just before his Episcopal Ordination, he visited us at RRTC Umran. After we sang songs of congratulations, I addressed him as bishop elect. He later rebuked me and said ‘Call me Madeng.’ I addressed him with this title until September 12, 2019 when I called him for his monthly visit to our community.

Archbishop Jala is a Man of God. He is a man of the Eucharist, a man of prayer. One evening in 2006, we were walking from the Archbishop’s House to Nazareth Hospital to see my mother who was admitted there. He said, ‘Michael start the Rosary.’ We recited the Rosary and completed five decades by the time we reached the hospital. We were told that my mother would be discharged from the hospital the following day. He has not performed any miracles as far as I know, but definitely he is a man of miracles. His life is a miracle because he had touched and brought changes to many lives with his divinity and spirituality.

The archbishop was a man on the move, never spending idle time or sitting in the chair even in the Archbishop’s House? Nay! He often said, ‘think while you walk; when you sit, your mind will rest and rust’. True, coupled with knowledge and experiences he prepared most of his speeches not in written format but while walking and moving from place to place. Archbishop Jala had probably traveled all over the villages of the Archdiocese. One evening while returning from a convent he peeped into my office and told me he went to my village walking on foot for two hours, because the road was so bad that he had to leave the driver and the vehicle on the GS road. He moves with a ‘mission to complete’ whether internationally or locally. He departed from this world while on the move on an intersection of highway 16 and 20, at Calusa County, California. And even in death his body travelled from the US to India, then from Delhi to Imphal and finally landed in Guwahati entering many institutions to be rested in his parental home for a night and from there to proceed to his eternal dwelling place the Cathedral. He has requested to be buried outside the Cathedral, probably because he wants to commute and move from his grave to the altar daily.

No one can deny the fact that the Archbishop is an intellectual. People who listened to his talks and homilies would vouch for this. He had vast knowledge of politics, religion, spirituality, technology, food, clothing et all. No wonder he was appointed as member of the ICEL on Divine Liturgy by the Holy Father. On his demise his colleague at ICEL, Monsignor Andrew Raymond Wadsworth had this to say “It is with deep sadness that I must inform you of the death in a car accident of Archbishop Dominic Jala SDB, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Shillong and ICEL Commissioner for India for many years. A dear friend and valued colleague, he will be greatly missed. May he rest in peace.” Every one valued him for his contributions and ideas. Those who worked with him in many seminars and presentations admired his sharp mind. His ability to speak many languages is legendary. He obtained the gold medal from the University of West Bengal in Literature.

While he appears grave because of his strictness especially in Liturgy but those who knew him well also know the Archbishop to be a fun loving and humorous person. He often came to our community and we would sit in the refectory listening to his endless jokes, stories, histories, events and many narrations and he would end up saying ‘please do not tell this to others’. The last time that he came he narrated how as students of Theology at KJC Bangalore he and his classmates would play tricks on their professors. He forbade us from imitating that and telling out friends about it.

Archbishop Jala was a great communicator and expressed his ideas loudly and clearly. His speeches are loved by all, because he spoke in a language that is understood by everyone. He is a medium and a content combined. He communicated what he IS. Like Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis he is into all kinds of Social Media platforms. He believed that using them, he can reach out to people more. However in the last few years he has refrained from using Facebook or Twitter and that is understandable because of the hectic schedule as Archbishop of Shillong, Apostolic Administrator of Nongstoin, Chairman of the North East Bishop Conference and Member of ICEL all in one. When in 2014, I approached him for permission to create the ‘Baibyl Khasi Application’, this is what he said in the mail ‘Makri go ahead…permission granted as it will help the faithful specially the youth to access the Word of God’. Since I developed the App in the Philippines, he would call me once or twice in a week to find out the progress – this shows his love for the new way of evangelization through the media. Again in 2016, when we created the Khasi Baibyl Games App– he had this to   say: ‘I am happy that the Don Bosco Media Network is creating the Bible Games application according to the technology of the time. This will help the youth, the children and all those who use it to know more about the Bible. May God bless all those who work for spreading of the Word of God through various means.’ In the last visit to our community, he asked me if we can also create ‘Audio Application for the Khasi Baibyl.’ Definitely he is a man of technology and communication because he communicates.

As we pay homage to his mortal remains, let us give him a fitting tribute. Let us be inspired by him. Let us emulate his courage, which came not from bravery but from deep faith in God, which gained for the Archbishop the world’s admiration. Other religious leaders have described him as the contemporary “Prince of Peace,” a “passionate protector” and the “inspiration to the fearful and tearful. May his soul rest in peace.

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