Farewell Archbishop Dominic Jala 

Fr Roland Kharkrang SDB

After “A long and anguished wait” (ST, 19, 2019 Oct.), the mortal remains of Archbishop Dominic Jala today have finally reached the place of his birth – Shillong. The city and especially the Catholic population of the dioceses are now able to breathe more easily.

Many of us have hardly got over the pangs of the departure of Fr Sylvanus Sngi Lyngdoh on 28 May, 2015. Now we are mourning the sudden, unexpected and untimely death of Archbishop Dominic Jala. Could not God give us just a little more time to dry our tears?

Archbishop Dominic Jala left Shillong on September 17, for the once-in-five-years ad limina visit to the Vatican. From Europe he went to the United States on October 11. There on one of the highways of California, Death waited to meet him. That tryst was never intended, never scheduled by him nor by his secretary. Nonetheless it was there, and Archbishop Dominic could not but obey the summons. He left us all shocked and heart-broken We were too traumatized to be able to find words.

There is no one to tell us why he went so far away to die. Kong Patricia Mukhim says it is because the Archbishop “was a citizen of the world”, that he was “A universal man” (Fr Albert Thyrniang, both in ST, Oct 14, 2019). So then, he was a man who belonged to the whole world, not only to us, but to everyone else also. The world was his home, the blue sky above was the dome of his cathedral, every other human person his brother, sister, mother or father.

Therefore, he spoke his mother-tongue Khasi, (and his Phudmuri dialect), Garo, Assamese, Italian, English, French, German; he was conversant with Latin; he was familiar with Greek, Spanish, Nepali. The languages of the world! He was well versed with the universal language of mankind, the language of the heart, as they say. Very many of us can vouch for what Fr Albert Thyrniang said that the Archbishop could connect with anyone, no matter who he was, from where he came.

Aiborlang Nongsiej describes Archbishop Dominic as “A Down to Earth Man” (ST Oct 19, 2019) Which earth? That earth where there are persons, who need him, with whom he could talk, and converse, to whom he could listen, whom he could look in the eye and say, “You are my brother, or sister.”

There is a Latin adage which prescribes De mortuis nihil nisi bonum, that is,about the dead count not their sins but their virtues.’ No one, of course, can gainsay the fact that only God can dare us “Who can convict me of sin?” Since the news of the death of the Archbishop first appeared, men and women of every description have poured forth their hearts, counted his numerous virtues, and extolled his greatness.

Kong Patricia Mukhim says the Archbishop was a blend of intellect and spirituality. The stern and cold keenness of the intellect was in the Archbishop tempered, mellowed, sobered and complemented by a deep and soothing spirituality. That combination made him ever so humble and simple, so human. That blend was so proportionate that he was able to relate to the highest-ups as well as to the lowest-downs. Bah Phrang Roy praised him for his “inclusive attitude” (ST, Oct 14, 2019), for being a person who had room for everyone in his heart.

Bah Phrang Roy appreciates the spectacular academic and linguistic achievements of Archbishop Dominic Jala. In the case of the Archbishop, the words of Isaiah come alive: “the higher the tree grows, the deeper does it send its roots into the soil (Is. 37:31), and the result is the more abundant its fruitfulness.”

Archbishop Jala was a gold medalist in Literature in the North Bengal University. In Rome he studied under the best of masters. He did and defended his doctoral thesis under a slave driver and a task master, a very demanding and exacting mentor. Not many survived his stringent academic rigour. Father (later Bishop) Vincent Kympat (God rest his soul!) summed up the experience by saying “I have never seen such a defence!” Such was the competence and the erudition.

Several more plain and common folks have been impressed by the humble beginnings of Archbishop Dominic. He came from a very ordinary family, from the very humble circumstances of Phudmuri, a son of very humble parents, a brother of very ordinary brothers and sisters. But they were people who had very lofty, god-fearing ideals and magnificent hearts. The greatness of the Archbishop was that he did not allow himself to be held down in the mire, in the gutter. He rose to be an eagle risen from a chicken coop. This is not to say that he did it all alone. He had received the gift from God; he received the earliest nourishment for the mind and spirit at his home.

Archbishop Dominic has apparently not written much. It makes many of us wonder. There is no one to tell us why. One thing is true: especially since 2000 April, when he was ordained Bishop, he has been writing several volumes in the hearts and in the lives of all of us, of all those who listened to him, of all those who will remember him.

The unfinished work is that he was also Apostolic Administrator of the diocese of Nongstoiñ.

As Archbishop of Shillong, as President of the Conference of the Catholic Bishops of North-east India, as Chairperson of the International Commission for English Liturgy, Archbishop Dominic Jala was our face and our voice to the rest of the world. For the time being, that face has just been obliterated, that voice has fallen silent.

Archbishop Dominic Jala was born at Mawlai Phudmuri, died in the USA, and will be buried by the side of his cathedral at Laitumkhrah. That is the gist of the man we mourn today, that describes him. It sums up his life and the man he was.

Face to face with the inevitable moment of truth, one could not help being reminded of the poetry from An Anthology of English Poetry we studied in class VIII:  HOME THEY BROUGHT HER WARRIOR DEAD. The wife of the warrior in the poem did not cry; we are shedding copious tears. At this dreadful moment, Mark Anthony seems to scream to us across two thousand years: If you have tears, prepare to shed them now!    

As we bid farewell to Archbishop Dominic Jala, we pray the gloom will be lifted, the light will be lit again, the songs will be heard once more in the near future. Adieu and Goodbye!

(Fr Roland was a classmate of Archbishop Jala)