Tribal prelate uses arts for faith
Music and modern communications help get the message across
Salesian Archbishop Dominic Jala
As a pastor and liturgist, I firmly believe modern channels of communication should not be overlooked but integrated into religion and culture.
In the Bible, we see how God communicates with his people by various means: chosen persons, signs and wonders, natural phenomena. Jesus used words and signs to get across to people. The apostles and successive generations used the best means available to evangelize. Why not use the best in the fast changing world of communication for the cause of Jesus?
We encourage and provide timely guidance to Catholics who produce video films – some wonderful works have been launched, treating themes that are socially relevant, with a profoundly Catholic outlook – such as family life, drug addiction and justice. We have the necessary hardware and software for live transmissions of major church events in Shillong, thanks to the hard work put in by committed lay Catholic professionals.
We produced a film entitled Rome of St. Peter and St. Paul and a historical documentary on Shillong Archdiocese – both launched to mark the 75th anniversary of the mother diocese of northeast India in 2009. We have transmitted both on local TV channels.
These transmissions enable us to reach out to peoples of all religious affiliations. I have also had very positive feedback from Protestant church leaders in the region.
Indigenous art forms are most important to us. In 2009 we started contacting Catholic artists – experts and amateurs, through the youth organization of the Archdiocese. About 50 responded. The professional artists conducted workshops to enable the amateurs to acquire more professional skills.
We held two exhibitions of artworks on biblical and religious themes.
With my limited knowledge of faith expression through art I was able to reflect with them on biblical themes that could be transmitted through their God-given talents. The results have been very inspiring.
Music too is important. Anyone who comes to our Church celebrations will note the quality of church music has taken a new turn – more liturgical, more inculturated.
Musical instruments, tunes that are inspired by traditional Khasi music are becoming more common. We have an official prayer-cum-hymn book, Ka Lynti Bneng (the heavenly way). We have invited liturgical music composers to send in their contribution for scrutiny and additional volumes of hymns. The response is indeed amazing!
More young people are learning traditional Khasi music and musical instruments. We get together Catholic musical talents to impress upon them the great richness our religion and culture.
We also have very gifted musicians who have made it on the national and international scene: the Shillong Chamber Choir (where a number of Catholic young people are members), and young people like Felix Langstieh (who has featured even in the US).
Singer-songwriter Louis Majaw from Shillong, known as the Bob Dylan of Northeast India, is a well known figure in various musical genres. People like him have to be drawn to contribute to church and Christian music as well.
In keeping with our healthy missionary tradition, our present day missionaries will be guided to promote and integrate local tribal musical traditions into our Christian musical repertoire. We are in the process of collecting and codifying our tribal folklore, with the musical renditions of orally transmitted stories of our peoples.
This will be a major step towards inspiring more effective interpretation of our heritage and linking it to our Christian faith.
We seek to learn from other cultures. There is so much to be learned from other Indian traditions and from the Western traditions as well, especially the soul-stirring Gregorian chant. I note how the younger generations are discovering the beauty of such music and are searching for ways to create equally spiritual expressions of our musical genius.
Salesian Archbishop Dominic Jala, 60, has been Bishop of Shillong, the capital city of the Khasi Hills, Meghlaya, for 11 years. He was speaking during an ad limina (five yearly) visit to Rome.