‘Go, set the World on Fire’

‘Go, set the World on Fire’

5th January: A memorial service was held at Bodh Gaya for social worker and catholic Priest Father Sumit Edwin Menezes SJ . The event was graced by former Chief Minister of Bihar Jitan Manjhi, Jesuit Provincial Donald Miranda SJ, leading luminaries of inter-faith associations, social activists and others. In tribute, we reprint the homily given by Fr. Dionysius Rasquinha, SJ at his funeral on December 20, last year.

Fr Edwin Sumit SJ, 32 years of dedicated service to the Musahar community of Bihar, founder of Jeevan Sangam, and avid pioneer of inter-faith dialogue at Bodh Gaya. RIP

“Go set the world on fire.” These are the famous words of Saint Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit Society to St. Francis Xavier when Ignatius sent Francis as a missionary to India.

Father Sumit Edwin listened to these very words being spoken to him in the depths of his being. They brought him to Bihar in 1971 when he was just twenty years old. He said goodbye to his home in Sonapur, Dhobitalao, Mumbai, his parents, the Late Mr. Salvador Menezes and the late Mrs. Catherine Menezes and his 8 siblings, 5 brothers and 3 sisters.

While St. Francis Xavier was on fire to establish Christian Communities in India and the rest of the East, Fr. Sumit Edwin was on fire to set free the oppressed, the core of the mission of Jesus in Bihar.

What stood out in the life of Fr. Sumit was his passionate love for Jesus whom he encountered in the poorest of the poor, the dalits, especially the Manjhis and the Bhuinyas of the districts of Gaya, Rohtas, Patna, Madhubani, West Champaran and Aurangabad. He was deeply attached to the poor and did not seek power, position, comforts, status and prestige.

He identified with the little ones of this world and enjoyed the company of the least and the last of society. They brought out his creative best in the work of non formal education, conscientization and the establishment of self-help groups. In the areas where he worked, the people remember Fr. Sumit Edwin with love and warmth.

Fr. Sumit spent his last days working in Jeevan Sangham, Bodh Gaya. He put himself fully and with great happiness into the work being done by the social centre. The Bodh Gaya centre was very close to the heart of Sumit. He was the pioneer of this centre in 1994. On many occasions Sumit told me that a number of Jesuits wanted him to start an English medium school. However, Edwin stood firm in his preferential option for the poor and established a centre with the help of other Jesuits that would serve the poor of the area, especially the dalits.

He also wanted to establish a dialogue centre since Bodh Gaya was an important religious centre for the Buddhists and Gaya for the Hindus. While the dream of a dialogue centre has yet to be actualized, the work of dialogue has become a reality and is being done in the area by Fr. Lawrence Eucharist.
A dream very close to the heart of Fr. Sumit was a museum dedicated to the culture, religion and history of the Manjhis. This is in the process of being realized. Hopefully one day this dream will become a reality for the sake of the people and also to help us remember Sumit.
Fr. Edwin loved his family and was looking forward to going to Mumbai on the 27th December. He was happy and wanted to have a small Christmas celebration with me on the 26th December before he left for home. But God had better plans for Fr. Sumit.

Edwin’s simplicity of heart in which there was no guile and childlike nature won him many friends. He enjoyed their company and organized small outings and simple gatherings. His love for music and skill at playing the guitar made him a great asset at these gatherings. He also used his musical gifts to conduct the singing for the liturgy and to train children in choral singing not only in urban parishes, but also in the villages.

During the last five years of his life which he spent in Aurangabad district, Fr. Sumit found the going tough during the winter months. He was asthmatic and so, he had difficulty in breathing. However, despite his health problems he did his level best to go to the villages to be with his people and supervise the educational programme.

It is significant that he had just completed the project with DK Austria in Aurangabad. His accounts were settled and the audit of the project was done. However, the good Lord had other plans. He told Sumit in his heart that not only, was his work complete in Aurangabad district and Bihar, but his work on earth was complete and he must now enter into the fullness of eternal life.

Hence, he called Sumit to be with him forever on the 18th December 2019 at around 5.00 p.m.
While we mourn the loss of Edwin and miss him, I can honestly say that God knows what is best for Sumit and for us. I say this not only from the standpoint of faith in a good God, but also from what I personally know of Edwin. He was always a man on the move and I often wondered how he would cope with slowing down and greater restrictions on his physical movements which would come in all probability with old age.

I sincerely think that old age would have been really difficult for Fr. Sumit. St. Augustine said many years ago that our hearts would always be restless until they found their rest in God. Fr. Sumit’s apostolic restlessness has now come to an end and he has found his rest in God.
The poet Robert Frost says in one of his poems that he has miles to go before he sleeps, miles to go before he sleeps.

And so, Sumit Edwin, our bother and friend with mixed feelings of sorrow and joy in our hearts we say goodbye. Sleep forever in peace with your Creator and Saviour Lord for you have gone all those many miles and more in faithful service. Amen.