Exactly ONE MONTH ago on December 2nd 2014..we lost a GREAT HUMAN BEING in the person of ALLWYN FERNANDES-a communicator par excellence , a courageous and truthful journalist , a loyal witness of Christ and his teachings and a wonderful friend.
At the invitation of THE COMPANION magazine I completed and sent in this piece on him just before he died. A slightly edited version of this under the title
ALLWYN FERNANDES: COMMUNICATOR PAR EXCELLENCE
appeared in their December 2014 issue.
May Allwyn truly enjoy the eternal happiness
to which he has been called.
WE MISS YOU ALLWYN!!!
ALLWYN FERNANDES: A COMMUNICATING PERSON FOR OTHERS
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
If a person like Allwyn Fernandes can be described or contained in one statement it will have to be ‘a communicating person for others’; but this too is rather limiting if one were to go deeply into the concern this man has for others and of his total commitment to a cause.
Allwyn is (in Church lingo) a ‘layman’ and a complete one at that. Enid, his wife for almost forty years now often wonders why several of their good friends and even strangers often ask her “is Allwyn an ex-Priest?” or “was Allwyn at any time a Jesuit?” Not sure if such questions are meant to be compliments, but it does say one thing that there is something solid about this man – he does radiate something very special.
While Allwyn’s forte has always been communications, there are two other C’s which are hallmarks of this extra-ordinary person: his concern for others and his high degree of commitment.
From the time Allwyn was a little boy, he has shown a tremendous concern for others. The eldest of seven siblings (he has a brother and five sisters) Allwyn was ‘the big brother’ who was always there for them: concerned about what they were doing and always ready to help them. In small and big matters, Allwyn feels that ‘the other’ has to come first. As a student of St. Xavier’s College, Bombay where he graduated with Physics and Maths in 1969, Allwyn stood out in extra-curricular activities and particularly in social work.
The post-Vatican II period was a spring-time for the Church and particularly for a country like India. The best way Allwyn felt by which he could combine ‘living his faith with a concern for others’ (which Vatican II so strongly emphasised) was to plunge into a ‘Christian Life Community’ (CLC), the international association of lay Christians who have adopted an Ignatian model of spiritual life. This group which was formerly called the ‘Sodality of Our Lady’ was renamed CLC in 1967; drawing its inspirations from the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, ‘the members of the CLC are encouraged to adhere to a lifestyle which is Gospel-based and simple, to serve the poor and to integrate contemplation in action’. So Jesuits like Frs. Benac and Sidney D’souza from SEVA Niketan (which was Allwyn’s haunt) encouraged him to be a person for others.
Here in SEVA Niketan (‘on the 6th floor’, one is reminded) Allwyn met Enid D’souza (another committed CLC member) in October 1974. They married in January 1978. Today, Enid and their two children, Rohan and Rohini, easily testify of what a loving husband and doting father Allwyn has been to them all through the years. They unanimously say that Allwyn always had time for the family and he would never permit anything to invade this sacred space.
Another dimension of Allwyn’s concern is that people (and particularly the Church) are not doing enough for justice and truth. Allwyn has always epitomised righteousness and he gets down-right angry when the Priests and religious are not transparent enough and do not take a stand for truth and justice. Allywn fumes when the Sunday sermon of a Priest is totally alienated from a reality or a particular context; when Gujarat was burning in 2002 or the Christians were attacked in Orissa and in Karnataka in 2008, Allwyn has always wondered why several Priests seem to be totally oblivious of what was happening. These traits of his, are also misunderstood by several and some think that he is just a ‘grumbler’ or a ‘complainer’ or simply ‘being negative’; however, when we look at the bigger picture, one has to accept that in Allwyn, one sees a person always concerned about people and what is happening in the country today.
Allwyn is a communicator ‘par excellence’. He feels that his involvement with the CLC inspired him to do something ‘different’ for Church and society. So in 1969, he decided that journalism would be his career and for a good 25 years worked with the ‘Times of India’ in Bombay rising up to be their Chief Reporter.
As a journalist, his blog says ‘he always took up for the under-dog doing a series of investigative stories, getting a closer view of life on several topics in the Times of India’. His stories range from noise pollution, the railways and to the plight of ordinary workmen.
In 1987, there was a petition filed by three women’s groups from Andhra Pradesh in the High Court seeking the Court’s order to ‘deliver’ nine nuns whom they considered were “forced” to live behind bars in a Cloistered Convent there. From Bombay, Allwyn realised that the petitioners really did not understand the meaning of a Cloistered life and how young women voluntarily embraced this way of life. He felt that it was his duty that a right picture had to be given to the Court and to the country. He sought out Janet Pinto who then had a top job with Hoechst. Janet was for three years in the Cloistered Convent in Bombay from 1974 – 1977. In a brilliant piece entitled “A Cloistered nun reminisces” (TOI, Bombay November 27th 1987), Allwyn was able to put things in perspective as Janet very poignantly and positively described her experience in Carmel; and that was the article perhaps that ensured that the Andhra High Court threw out the petition.
About twenty years ago, Allwyn made a career-switch ‘and joined a Public Relations Agency to see what life was like on the other side of the fence. A life-long learner, as he calls himself, he has published among others a biography of Mr. MR Pai, India’s Ralph Nader’. Allwyn has always wanted to share his professionalism with others. He has been invited as a facilitator / resource person to programmes organised by the CBCI and has gone several times to other Asian countries to train Bishops to be communicators at the request of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC). In a recent communication to Allwyn, Cardinal Oswald Gracias writes, ““I appreciated your help very much in many matters. You will remember that I took you to address the CBCI Bishops and later on the FABC. You helped me often in the FABC Final Statements”
Allwyn, however, has never understood why the Church in India and particularly the Bishops have not seriously taken their statement of the 26th CBCI General Body Meeting, (Trichur, January 2004). He often brings to one’s attention the core of this statement entitled ‘Called to be a Communicating Church’ which says “Media, we recognize, are ‘gifts of God’ to humanity. They are in “accordance with his design to unite people to unite people in fellowship” and help them “to cooperate with his plan for their salvation” and work for the “unity and advancement of all peoples” (Communio et Progressio, n.2). The signs of the times would demand that we all be media conscious. While encouraging people to be media users, the Church must dutifully alert our people to the threats being posed by the present mass-media and educate them, particularly children and youth, to use the media for authentic and wholesome lives in accordance with the plan of God. We need to motivate all our Church personnel to actively participate in the new opportunities created by media and the information technology to share the Good News and spread the Kingdom of God by fighting the menace of crime, corruption and communalism.”
In the wake of the attacks on the Christians in Orissa, Karnataka and other parts of India in 2008, a very restless Allwyn strongly felt that something had to be done. So he contacted his friend John Dayal in Delhi; in a recent email message to John, Allwyn writes, “you will recall that it was exactly 6 years ago when the American Banks crashed and you were fighting the massacre of the Orissa tribals, while I was stunned at the violence in an otherwise peaceful Mangalore, which had befriended the Hindu community and built its social infrastructure. The picture that shocked me was that of Christ’s broken limbs which shook me to the bones. I suggested to the bishops that they make that the symbol of Christianity in India at that point, in every Christmas Card sent out that year. As a second step, we would start informing the community about what was happening in the church, in the world and in the universal church. This, we have tried to do as honestly as we can.”
Allwyn and John ultimately launched the group (A communicating Indian Church firstname.lastname@example.org) which today has several laymen and women, nuns and priests exchanging news, views and opinions on several issues related to the Church and the country at large. Thanks to Allwyn, this group in some small way has truly been realising the 2004 vision of the CBCI: ‘to be a Communicating Church in India’.
Allwyn is above all a deeply committed person. He has been exemplifying this in several ways. In 1965, he completed his SSC from Fatima High School, Vikhroli – as the school’s first ranker – which is no small achievement.
On December 1st 2014, he completed full twenty years with Edelman (which is regarded as the world’s largest public relations firm) as the Director of Media Practice in India. In a citation to Allwyn, on that day Mr. Robert H. Holdheim, CEO Edelman (South Asia, Middle East & Africa) writes, “Veterans like you are the backbone of our organization. You’re a role model to the many colleagues in our teams and to young people who have just joined our company who are embarking on their careers. We appreciate your commitment and years of hard work that have helped to make Edelman one of the premier firms in public relations...we want you to know that we appreciate your loyalty and devotion.”
Several of his colleagues in Edelman also presented him with a dossier appreciating what he has meant to them over the years. Rakesh Thukral writes, “Since the time I joined Edelman, I have always admired you. Have been inspired by your selfless commitment, remarkable energy and work ethic. Every conversation with you has added value to my perspective and every piece of work we have done together has been enjoyable.”
It is indeed difficult to write about a great human being like Allwyn Fernandes - for some he is an enigma, his candour, his fearlessness and his frankness ‘to call a spade a spade’ has certainly upset others; but when one looks at the invaluable contribution, this one man through his concern, communications and commitment been making both to the Church and to the country, one surely has to thank the Lord for a great gift: the likes of which one rarely sees!
December 1st, 2014