Rev. Fr. Francis Pereira SJ
|Born||4 December 1931
Vadawali, Palli, Vasai
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Reverend Professor Francis Pereira S.J. (born 1931) is a well-acclaimed Jesuit priest, scripture scholar and Marathi writer. He is professor Emeritus of Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune, India. He has contributed to the study of the Bible and especially through his Biblical commentaries in Marathi, the language of Maharashtra, India.
Fr. Francis was born on 4 December 1931, at Vadawali, Palli, Vasai of Catholic parents. The region of Vasai (formerly known as Bassein), like Goa, was evangelised by the Portuguese missionaries in the sixteenth century. His parents were simple people without much formal education, sufficiently well to do; they had their own farm and vegetable garden. By their life more than their words his parents taught Francis deep faith and genuine piety, integrity and honesty, love for all without discrimination of caste and creed, especially the poor and needy around in their neighbourhood. Francis and his brother and four sisters grew up in an atmosphere of peace and happiness within the family and in the neighbourhood. Two of his sisters are religious nuns. After his High School studies he did BSc (Hons) at the Bombay University in 1953, after which he joined the Society of Jesus at Andheri, Mumbai. He holds master's degrees in Philosophy (Barcelona, Spain) and in Theology (Pontifical Athenaeum, Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune. Francis was ordained a priest on 18 March 1964.
Fr. Francis was appointed to teach Sacred Scripture in Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth. Accordingly, he did his Licentiate in Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome. He started teaching New Testament Scripture from 1969. After teaching for a couple of years he did his Doctorate in Sacred Scripture at the same Biblical Institute in 1975, under the guidance of Fr. C.M. Martini, S.J. (later Cardinal Martini). Most of his life from 1969 onwards has been spent in teaching at Jnana-Deepa Vidyaapeeth (while staying at the Papal Seminary to which Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth was attached in the beginning), except for the break of five years when he was called to St. Pius College Seminary at Goregaon, Mumbai, to teach Scripture and to be a Spiritual guide for a period of five years (2000–2005).
While he was at St. Pius College Seminary in Mumbai, he received a congratulatory letter from the Jesuit General, Fr. Hans-Peter Kolvenbach, S.J. on the occasion of his golden jubilee in the Society of Jesus on 1 July 2003. That letter shows how Fr. Francis came across to others. In the letter he wrote the following:
- “You may certainly recall with satisfaction these fifty years during which the Lord has given you signal graces and enabled you to give valuable service to the Church and the Society. Especially noteworthy are the thirty years you spent at the Papal Seminary, Pune, teaching Sacred Scripture at Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth where you were much appreciated not only for your academic competence and teaching skill, but also because you infused your lectures with a spiritual and pastoral slant. Your knowledge of two Indian and five European languages and your facility in using them have been a valuable tool for communicating theology in books and periodicals.
- Besides teaching, I am told that you have shown yourself an able and much sought after counsellor and spiritual director of both seminarians and religious. It is not surprising, therefore, that after your retirement from teaching at Jnana-Deepa your services were eagerly sought at the Diocesan Seminary in Goregaon, Mumbai, where you quickly won the trust of the Seminarians. I am very pleased to hear that besides teaching a course on Scripture, you are also busy composing a book in Marathi, so as to make available the best of your research on St Paul to the Marathi speaking Christians.
- Over and above your apostolic activities, your continuing witness as priest and religious testifies that the Lord Who is mighty has done great things for you and indeed your fifty years of generous fidelity are an effective witness to the continuing presence of God in our lives today. It is clear that you have touched many lives and these could recount better than I how you have been both Jesuit and priest for them.”
It was the letter of Fr. Kolvenbach which gave the impetus to Fr Francis to write Commentaries on NT books in Marathi. There has not been much written in Marathi regarding the Bible either by Catholics or even Protestants. So it was a challenge and inspiration from the Lord. There was a genuine need.
- Ephesus: Climax of Universalism in Luke-Acts. A Redaction Critical Study of Acts 19:23- 20:1 (Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, Anand, India,1983); ASIN: B0006ERUTE
- Gripped by God in Christ. The Mind and Heart of St. Paul (St. Paul Publications, Bandra, Mumbai, 1990; 5th print in 2011); ISBN 978-8171091171.
- Jesus: The Human and Humane Face of God. The Portrait of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (The Bombay Saint. Paul Society, Bandra, Mumbai,2000).ISBN 978-8171094615 .
With the encouragement and support of both the Bombay Provincial and the Provincial of South Asia, Fr. Francis returned to the Papal Seminary, Pune in June 2005 with this important 'assignment'. He has been primarily engaged in writing the Marathi Commentaries for the last eight years. He has been busy also with part-time work of being a spiritual guide to a good number of the Seminarians. So far, by the grace of the Lord he has been able to write five Commentaries in Marathi. They are of scholarly and scientific nature, but written in a simple, clear style so that even ordinary lay people can understand the message of the Word of the Lord. The five Commentaries are:
- Gospel of St. Luke (Media Commission Prakashan, Diocese of Vasai, Jeevan Darshan Kendra, Giriz, Vasai, Thane Dist., Maharashtra, India, 2011);
- Gospel of St. John (Media Commission Prakashan, Diocese of Vasai, Jeevan Darshan Kendra, Giriz, Vasai, Thane Dist., Maharashtra, India, 2013);
- The Acts of the Apostles (Media Commission Prakashan, Diocese of Vasai, Jeevan Daeshan Kendra, Giriz, Vasai, Thane Dist., Maharashtra, India);
- The Letters of St. Paul (Jeevan Darshan Prakashan, Diocese of Vasai, Giriz, Vasai, Thane Dist., Maharashtra, India, 2007);
- The Book of Revelation (Media Commission Prakashan, Diocese of Vasai, Jeevan Darshan Kendra, Giriz, Vasai, Thane Dist., Maharashtra, India, (2013).
It may be interesting to know that during the last 30 years or so, beginning with 1982, Fr. Francis has had a number of life experiences, moments of physical illness, which have in fact made him more happy, more peaceful and fruitful in the Lord. The words of St. Paul, "When I am weak, then I am strong; because Christ's grace and power take over" have been experienced by him on these occasions. The first was the massive heart attack in 1982, Then in 1993, he had a fall in the bath room at home in Vasai, and fractured his right femur and shoulder bone. The femur fracture, however, was healed miraculously. While he was recovering from the shoulder bone minor fracture, he had a mild stroke in May 1994. A year after that, when he was heading for another heart attack, he had a bypass surgery on 7 July 1995. Prior to that, he had an exceptional spiritual experience during the second half of May. He feels that for the greater glory of God something should be said about it. The following is an extract from the account of his "My Trinitarian Bypass Experience" (2007):
- "One afternoon, after siesta, I was standing in the passage outside the small chapel. I was not actually praying. But suddenly I was carried in the spirit to the front part of our big Seminary chapel, outside, where there stand two pillars and a canopy-like concrete structure. In the open space there about twelve feet above the floor was a huge luminous sphere, shining with a brilliant, 'divine' light and splendour. And I was taken up into this sphere. I looked up; and I saw the three persons of the Blessed Trinity: the Father, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. I could perceive them distinctly. They appeared to be seated. It did not occur to me to see how they looked or what the surroundings were. But they were all bathed in the glow of diving light, splendour and holiness. They were all looking at me, smiling with love and affection; they seemed to be pleased with me. I felt so happy to be in their company. Then they said to me: “ Francis, we are going to have a bypass operation for you; and we will bring you back to your original condition of health which you had before your heart attack in November 1981”. I felt very glad, and said with a grateful heart: “Please see that I behave as a good boy in response to this grace!” And the vision disappeared suddenly. I felt deep peace and consolation. I thanked the Triune God for this.
- What struck me was the fact that so far in my prayer usually my heart and mind was directed to the Risen Lord Jesus. Sometimes I also directed my attention to the Father as well as to the Spirit. But all this practically always to the three persons ‘individually’ and ‘separately’. Yet, today was the first time that I was taken to the three persons of the Blessed Trinity together, on their own initiative! It was not even in the act of my being at my personal prayer.
- Then after a couple of days, at the same time in the afternoon, more or less in the same place, I was suddenly taken up to the presence of the Three persons exactly as on the previous occasion. They said the same thing; I responded with the same words; and the vision suddenly disappeared. I felt, once again, deep peace and joy within my heart.
- Then after a day or two, suddenly the same vision took place. Once again, I felt immense joy and peace in my heart with deep sense of gratitude.
- Since the same vision took place three times, I began to wonder if it was not perhaps a subjective imagination on my part, though in my heart of hearts I felt certain about the truth of the episode. I felt I should share this experience with some spiritually discerning and holy person. Hence I went to Fr. Lionel and told him the whole story. He listened to me carefully and finally said that it appeared to be an authentic spiritual experience. I thanked him and told him to keep it to himself. ….
- The bypass operation went off most smoothly. In fact, when they were getting ready to take me to the operation theatre, I had a distinct feeling that my whole being was being enveloped by the divine presence of the Triune God. One of the doctors, Dr. Nirmala, who visited me after the operation, and who happened to be in the operation theatre during my operation said, "Father, I wish we had patients like you". Then she added, "Usually during the operation, when we prick the body of the patient, it 'reacts' as if to resist; but your body was, so to say, offering itself to be completely at our disposal during the operation". I knew where the secret lay. Quietly in my heart I thanked my Triune God for His tremendous love and goodness…”
From 2003 Fr. Francis has been suffering from a serious vertigo problem which still troubles him. And more recently, in April 2008 he had a severe stroke, A year after that came the prostate operation. In all these experiences, he sincerely feels that it has been the power of the Lord which has made him bounce back through all these ailments. And with all these limitations, his life has gone on as usual: the writing of the Marathi Commentaries on NT Books, Spiritual Guidance of Seminarians and others, etc.
In the perception of the staff and students in the Papal Seminary:
- "Fr. Francis has been an effective spiritual director for so many young seminarians. He has guided them through proper direction and given them the message of love and intimate relationship with the Lord. Many bishops, provincials of both men’s and women’s Congregations have also profited from his spiritual guidance. Though he has dedicated his priestly ministry mainly to the formation of young seminarians, he has special love for the laity. This is evident when Fr. Francis gets visitors young and old from far and wide. As a person he is lovable, kind, understanding, outgoing, compassionate, and prayerful. Fr. Francis is always in the hearts of young seminarians. Many of his students still cherish the old memories of Fr. Francis and visit the Papal Seminary, the ‘home of love’. Many of his students are holding high positions like cardinals, archbishops, bishops and VGs and good priests and religious in the church of India and the church at large. For him a priest is a man of God, a man for others; someone who aims at being ‘fully human in Christ’.”
According to a recent decision of the Jesuit Superiors, all the Jesuit professors in the Common Houses of Formation in India are supposed to return to their respective Provinces after their retirement at the age of 65. So Fr. Francis also, now 81, is going back to his Bombay Province in May 2013. He goes to Vinayalaya, Andheri, where he hopes to do more or less the same type of work he has been doing at the Papal Seminary.
- Directory of South Asia, Delhi, JCSA, 2008, p. 48.
- Papal Seminary Directory: 1893–2003, Pune: Papal Seminary, 2003, p. 7.
- JDV Handbook, Pune: Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, 2006, p. 12.
- Carlos Merces de Melo, Papal Seminary of Kandy-Pune: A Hundred Years of History (1893–1993), Papal Seminary, Pune, 1993, p. 47.
- Kuruvilla Pandikattu, James Ponniah and Thomas Kuriacose, Committed to the Church and the Country, Delhi, ISPCK, 2013, pp. 7–9.
- This is an unpublished material. Taken from personal notes.
- Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, Louis J. Puhl (ed), Loyola Press, 1968, ISBN 978-0829400656
- This is very similar to the experience the founder of the Society of Jesus had. See Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, Louis J. Puhl (ed), Loyola Press, 1968, ISBN 978-0829400656
- Papal Seminary Newsletter (2012–2013), Pune, India, p.3.
- Lionel Mascarenhas, Unto New Horizons, Pune: Papal Seminary, 2005, p. 34.
- See http://en.CatholicCommons.org/Vinayalaya_House_of_Retreats
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