-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
I have just returned after saying a final "goodbye" to you, Joe, and I have done so with an extremely heavy heart!
We were told over and over again during the ceremony that we need to remember you with joy and gratitude and without sadness! That is easier said than done; because, as I encountered the women of Gulbai Tekra outside the Church with tears welled up in their eyes, it goes without saying that there are many, many here on this earth, who are going to miss you – very much!
My first 'real' encounter with you must have been in 1978 when we spent a month in Mt. Abu, in a programme, trying to understand the real meaning of people-centered development work. You as a Professor of great repute from a well-known college, and me as a young "raw" scholastic. We had one thing in common: both of us like several others, seemed to have been bonded by the faith-justice mandate that was given to us, by our recently concluded 32nd General Congregation. You played a stellar role in the whole programme, literally dropping your guard and reaching out to all in a most humble manner.
It was simply amazing to see you take the part of a blind beggar and later that month to see you dance away with Eddie Fonseca and me, to celebrate Fr. Espassa's Golden Jubilee. No one expected the respected Professor Joe Braganza to be dancing a jig; but that was you Joe,... sheer vintage!
And then came those three memorable years when as a student of Theology, I was privileged to assist you in the Gulbai Tekra School. It was here that I truly experienced the quintessential Joe - a person who oozed love and compassion without measure. You gave of your all, without counting the cost.
The little children simply loved you; the youth would do anything for you; and the elders regarded you as one of their own. Through your dogged determination you were able to throw open the doors of St. Xavier's College to the poor of the area. The Gulbai Tekra folk finally had something which they could call their own: a whole campus indeed! There were many who were very amused when they used to ask the Gulbai Tekra children, where they study, to hear them say with puffed up pride, "In St. Xavier's College!" Yes Joe, in your own unassuming way, you gave them an identity and dignity!
That is why, I guess, that when I invited you to preach the homily at my first Mass, you emphasized the fact that a Priest must first be a true shepherd and a servant of the people. In your own inimitable way, you personified that!
The last time I met you was on November 25th...as usual, your memory was as sharp as ever, as you asked me about my work and former colleagues. You condoled with me on the death of my mother; and when I told you that she died at the age of 87, there was that mischievous grin on your face as you retorted, "Well, she was quite old then!" Guess you knew that a fortnight later you would be joining her in the choir of saints!
There are hundreds of other thoughts that race through my mind at this moment. I feel good that I have been able to put down at least a few of them, as a tribute to you, Joe! You were a multi-faceted human being but at the core, you were a man with a very big heart: with a special place for the poor, the rejected and the unloved.
Thank you, Joe for all this and more! Goodbye Joe!
(A personal tribute to Fr. Joe Braganza, a Jesuit of the Gujarat Province who died at the age of 90 years on December 11th, 2010. He was a founding member of St. Xavier's College, Ahmedabad, and a former Vice-Principal who later reached out to the slum-dwellers of Gulbai Tekra through a variety of initiatives.)
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)
13th December, 2010
Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad – 380 052