Family Background and Early Life
He was born in Kolkota (then Calcutta) in December 21, 1940. He was named Cyril, after his Dad, just as his sister, born two years later, was named Maisie, after his Mum. Another sister, Marina, was born two years later. She was to die of TB at the age of eighteen months.Says Cyril,"She has always been my little baby intercessor in heaven. Mum and Dad died, also of TB, in the early 1950s (it was a fatal illness, in those days). We were brought up by a very loving Uncle (my Mum’s brother)." Cyril was schooled, at first in Calcutta, with the Jesuits (St Xavier’s), then with the Irish Christian brothers (in a boarding school, Asansol) and he enjoyed his five years with them. He almost joined them, but thought better of it. He did his B. Com at St Xavier’s College (Calcutta) and worked for a year at Remington Rand of India. His sister and he have always been very close to each other. What inspired Cyril to join the Society? He had a Jesuit Uncle, Fr Vernon Desbruslais sj, who died fairly recently, and perhaps his personality and the love everyone had for his gentle ways of service had some impact on him, which he did not notice at the time. He had been, off and on, considering being a priest, which he used to brush aside. But from the beginning of 1962, the whole question began to bug him so, that he decided to give it a try. He joined the SJs as they were the only Catholic priests he really knew In retrospect,Cyril is glad that entered the Society. He says, “I don’t think I’d have lasted very long anywhere else. The Jesuits, for all their stress on obedience, give plenty of scope for creativity and initiative.”
|Society of Jesus|
History of the Jesuits
Apart from St Ignatius, Pedro Arrupe sj has inspired him most.As Cyril puts it,"He helped the Society come alive for me. He taught me about the inseparable link between faith and justice. He was a true contemplative in action. He was able to meet this charismatic personality twice, when he visited DNC and one of my treasured possessions is a book with his signature in it. Just to re-read one of his writings (especially “On Our Way of Proceeding”) fires me with enthusiasm and fervor all over again." He is also deeply impressed by Adolfo Nicolas SJ, whom he met before he became General, at the “Asian Identity Seminar” in Delhi and who reminds him in so many ways of Pedro. Nicolas has an infectious joy and sense of commitment. Cyril is also influenced by Teilhard de Chardin sj, who taught him about the holiness of matter and the divine milieu.
SSU, the Youth Group ( 1971-)
He started the group “Searching in Service and Unity” (SSU) in 1971, when he was beginning his Theology studies at De Nobili College, Pune, India. Since he had faced a lot of problems and confusion in his own youth, he wanted to help other youngsters not to make the mistakes and blunders he did. He wanted to reach out especially to youngsters who normally don’t feel drawn to join any youth groups, who seemed to be interested only in ”freaking out” and drifting along. He also wanted to set up an inter-denominational youth group, one made up of young people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds. "And I wanted us to celebrate our differences, not just sweep them under the carpet and so we had inter-faith celebrations of our major feasts". Finally he wanted to help youngsters to develop a deep social sense, a sense of responsibility and concern for the poor, the deprived and all victims of injustice, in our country and all over the world – and do something about it. In the SSU there are Outreach programmes where they collaborate with Institutions doing this kind of work (mainly with NGOs). The group also stages an annual play (usually written by him) with a social message, giving youngsters to discover and develop her talents.The lion's share of the profits go to the NGO concerned. Yes, the group is now 42 years old (2013) and had a three day Ruby Anniversary Celebration of this in December 2011, with SSU members from over the years (many of whom have their own teenage children following in their footsteps into the SSU). They meet once on Sundays (a one hour's fun and games session, followed by a one hour of creativity or personality development) after the Catholics - with more than a little help from some of the non-Christians! - have animated the 5.30 Sunday evening Mass at the Jesuit parish of St Xavier’s in Pune, Camp. Then there are the regular Outreaches, the Annual one week leadership training Camp, at Kune, besides the yearly fund-raiser dramatic venture.
His Philosophy of Life?
In an interview given to DNC Times, he put it succinctly: “I suppose it’s to help all people become more fully human, more fully alive. That would also imply recognizing that beauty is unity in diversity. Unity without diversity is uniformity, and that’s boring; diversity without beauty is jarring and garish, and that’s ugly. We, the so-called clergy, must be prepared to do a little more listening and learning and a good deal less talking and teaching. Each of us can learn how to better and appreciate our faith and culture more by being more open to, and learning from, the views of others.”
Philosophy of Liberation
He discovered the Theology of Liberation during his Theology studies (1971 - 1974) at JDV and was deeply moved by it. As Gustavo Guttierez had put it, this was not a mere re-hashing of the old doctrinal theses with a new emphases, as Jurgen Moltmann's 'Theology of Hope', for instance. Rather, it is a radically new hermeneutics "a theologising from the underside of the boot". If other contemporary "Western" theologians (Europeans and Americans), like Rahner, Schileebeckx and Dulles weren't exactly wearing the oppressor's boot that trod down the poor, they certainly not share the situation of the oppressed. Now it is oppressed people ("under the boot") who are enunciating a theology, from their oppressed perspective. And that is a totally new way of looking at things. And wasn't the Bible addressed primarily to them?
But, one might ask, "Could such uneducated, illiterate and dehumanised people theologise at all?" Yes, affirms Paolo Freire. No matter how brain-washed into considering themselves as unimportant, brutish and ignorant such people were - for however many centuries - they WERE still capable (with a little help) to critique their situation, to give new definitions ("names") to reality and initiate startlingly new praxis (action-plans as the fruit of critico-reflection). And Ernesto Cardenal's "The Gospel According to Solentiname" was proof of this. Cyril devoured the latters volumes and was convinced.
Around about this time (1975), an International Synod of Bishops, inspired by Medellin, spoke of the inseparable link between authentic faith and action for justice. General Congregation XXXII of the Society of Jesus put it more forcefully when it spoke of the "inseparable link" between faith formation and building up God's kingdom (action for justice, again). And then there was Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ, the man who helped put the Society of Jesus back on its radical path again. He was convinced that this was the way to live out the Christian, Jesuit way of life in today's world.
But, it suddenly dawned on him that the "Theology of Liberation", however fine and noble and biblical an endeavour it may be, was irrelevant to Asia in general and India in particular, precisely because it was a Biblical endeavour: it took inspiration from the Bible and was inspired by the mission of Moses, the Old Testament prophets and finally, the greatest and most striking prophet of them all, Jesus - a man, THE man, more than a man. But India is 98.5% non-Christian, so our Theology of Liberation would be able to galvanize, at most a minute 1 1/2% of our people for faith-inspired action for justice. What about the others? One could, of course, try to elaborate a separate Theology of Liberation for Hindus, based on the Gita (as some Indian freedom fighters had done, during the struggle for Independence - or by calling upon other Hindu Holy Books), a Theology of Liberation for Muslims, based on the Koran (as Ashgar Ali Engineer and some brave young radicals in Iran are doing) ... but that would only divide us up again! What we need is united action for justice and liberation by ALL Indians, inspired with a common vision. And this common vision could NOT be the Holy Book of one religion, but a shared understanding of the human person. However, in this post-modern age, all talk of anything like a common human nature was considered to be foolish, if not a pipe dream, to say the least. After all, the colonials had fallen into the rut of peddling the dominant qualities of their oppressive group as THE human characteristics: adult, male, white, Christian (and they had scant respect for people or cultures which were not distinguished by these attributes).
Yet, it seemed to him, we must, through dialogue, establish some sort of common base for this or we'd have no grounds for praise or blame, there'd be no real criterion to challenge white supremacism or the caste system. So he went forth, dialoguing with people (common people, youth of all religions and their families, from his youth group, and all over the country and abroad, not forgetting to talk over controversial issues with academics and University professors, too). And he eventually formulated an understanding of "common human nature, adequately understood" (the phrase is from the medieval Francisco Suarez SJ and listed the following four conditions for considering a being human: embodiedness, a social dimension, rootedness in the world and a capacity for transcendence (the ability to go beyond the space-time boundaries). Thus it is not absolutely necessary to believe in God or be religious to be fully human; but one must be, at least, spiritual and open to transcendence.
The content of his reflections, carried on at a critical academic level were tested in his ministry among youth and older people of all religions and none and further tested by action-reflection in our work among quarry-workers, street children, prostitutes and their offspring, slum-dwellers, etc. Like Plato and some existential thinkers, he presented a more popular form of his liberation philosophy in over 20 plays, written by him and enacted by youngsters of all creeds and communities for over 40 years, mainly in Pune. Some have been adapted and staged in Mumbai, Hyderabad and even other parts of, the world. And the work still goes on.
- Interpretations of transcendence, 1989
- The philosophy of the human person : an introduction to philosophical anthropology, 1997
- The philosophy of be-ing : introduction to a metaphysics for today, 1997
- Cyril Desbruslais, Paul F. Rötting: Unser Vater. Daddy Darling; plattform Verlag 2011, ISBN 978-3-9503295-0-6 (English/German)
Cyril Desbruslais has been writing and directing every year a play which has relevant social themes. With more than 25 stage plays on themes as diverse as nuclear disarmament, globalisation, terrorism, capitalism and consumerism and religious dogma to his credit, Desbruslais believes that, even in this contemporary age of 24x7 internet, theatre is a force for enlightening and changing mindsets, attitudes and prejudices. “Through the messages embedded in our plays, SSU is promoting out-of-the-box thinking among the young and is abating — if not removing — hatred that’s making us all such violent beings,” he says. Some of his plays are:
- Even to the Indies
- No, No, Jeremiah
- The Seven Spanish Devils
- Adam and Eve
- The Impossible Dream (1971)
- For details please see his notes on "Towards a Philosophy of Liberation" or "General Ethics" (JDV, Pune).
|Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth: Pontifical Institute of Philosophy and Religion|
|Motto||"The seer sees the self through his/her own self"|
|President||Rev. Selva Rathinam, SJ|
|Location||Pune, Maharashtra, India
|Campus||Urban, Ramwadi, Pune|
|Mascot||Meditating person under a tree with roots up|