By Aiborlang Nongsiej
The passing away of Archbishop Dominic Jala, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Shillong on October 10 last has shocked not only the entire Northeast but also the nation. Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi had tweeted a message of condolence to the Archdiocese as well as to the bereaved family members. The entire archdiocese mourns the sudden demise of its shepherd in distant shores. Moreover, the death of the Archbishop was not natural but due to a road accident. This incident has shocked people even more when the news spread thick and fast on social media. Archbishop Dominic Jala has contributed a lot to the entire state not only spiritually but also intellectually through his talks and writings. After this tragic event the name of the Archbishop is uttered in every nook and corner of the city; everyone is shocked and saddened by the tragic incident. Listening to the conversations of people in different parts of the city, I realize that the Archbishop is a much loved man; one who was down to earth and was able to engage easily and equally with everyone, irrespectively of the rank or status of people.
It was on February 3, 2019 that Archbishop Jala visited my village Mawranglang which is under Mawkyrwat Parish, on the occasion of the Platinum Jubilee of the arrival of the Catholic faith in my village. It was during lunch that I had an opportunity to sit with him and had a little conversation on the growth of the faith in my village. From this conversation I realized that he was a down to earth man and cared for the faithful entrusted to his care. Being an Archbishop of the Mother diocese which gave birth to many other dioceses in Northeast India he is yet so simple in life and able to adjust himself with all types of people. The Archbishop is a Liturgist by profession which is known internationally, yet he was kind and supportive when ordinary people in the village committed errors and misinterpreted the Liturgy of the Church. I witness this love and kindness of the Archbishop while dealing with the Liturgy during the Platinum jubilee in my village. I remember the person concerned with the Liturgy was so afraid that the Bishop would be disappointed with the error but the Archbishop gently corrected the person in a friendly and personal way.
This ability to come down to the level of the ordinary believers and to deal differently with the faithful and the clergy according depending on the circumstances show his deep understanding of his role and mission. Personally I believe that Bishop Jala has touched many lives in his service as a religious and particularly as an Archbishop. Since, the day the Archdiocese declared that there would be a Requiem Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians, Laitumkhrah Shillong at 5:30 Pm every day until the mortal remains arrive in Shillong, the Cathedral has been packed with worshippers attending Holy Mass and praying for the departed soul of the Archbishop. Hence, I am fully convinced that people love and miss him a lot, or else the Cathedral won’t be full as we see it every day. The love of the people for their shepherd is not only seen in the city but also in many other parishes and villages where prayer services are being held for the departed soul of the Archbishop.
Staying near the Archbishop mother’s house, I could see many people visiting his bereaved family. Politicians and common people alike dropped in to offer their condolences and to pray for the departed soul. Interestingly, I had a chance to chat with a man from outside Northeast who was taken aback by the modesty of the Archbishop’s family home. The gentleman said that the house of an international figure in the annals of the church is so simple compared to the house of his neighbours around. In fact, the gentleman thought that the ancestral home of Archbishop Jala would be posh and opulent. The gentleman observed that the house itself reveals the simplicity of Archbishop Jala and his simplicity in dealing with people.
The news of the sudden demise of Archbishop Jala went viral over Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and many other sources. These messages and photos in the social media clearly affirm that the Archbishop is a true pastor who travels to every nook and corner to reach the faithful who are in need of him spiritually. We can see that there are few villages in the remote areas where vehicles cannot reach and the Bishop had to travel on foot for hours, yet he never left his flock untended. Instead he is one with them in his openness in dealing with people in village after village.
Coming from a diocese where sheep are scattered without a shepherd for the past few years (Nongstoin Diocese) it is my privilege to thank this great man for looking after our diocese in the absence of a shepherd. In my opinion, the reason why our diocese is growing spiritually and materially is because of the care and love of this great man. In fact, he never left us behind whenever we were in need of him. In spite of the heavy schedule in the Archdiocese he makes time for the spiritual and material needs of the diocese of Nongstoin. I was so happy to attend the Requiem Mass on October 17 where our Vicar General, Fr Wilfred Marwein was the main celebrant of the Holy Mass. Fr Wilfred expressed his depth of gratitude to late Archbishop Dominic Jala for all the contributions and support to the diocese in the absence of a shepherd. ‘The entire diocese is shocked and cannot accept that Bishop Jala is no more’ said Fr. Wilfred. He also added that many parishes in the diocese are organizing a prayer service to pray for the departed soul of the Archbishop.
The shocking news of the death of Archbishop Dominic Jala, the spiritual leader of the state is not only a huge loss to the Catholic church but to other Christian denominations as well, in particular, the Presbyterian Church. A few ago the Laitumkhrah Presbyterian Church had offered their condolences to the Archdiocese of Shillong and announced that all the schools and colleges run by the Church will remain closed on day of the funeral of this great soul. This shows that other Christian denominations too respect Archbishop Jala and I strongly believe that the he has left behind an unshakeable legacy. The Catholic Church of Northeast India and the Archdiocese of Shillong will feel his absence very acutely this coming season of Advent followed by Christmas.
The Archbishop is known for his contributions particularly to the church in Northeast India. We now await with a prayerful spirit for the arrival of his mortal remains from the distant land where he was fated to breathe his last. It is amazing that just hours before his death, Archbishop Jala was seen in a park taking pictures of a couple of deer and extending his hand towards one. It just shows how unpredictable death is but we can rest assured that Archbishop Jala was ready to meet his Maker after fulfilling his mission on earth.