Volume XI:2 July - December 2021
Yann Vagneux
Any sincere seeker of truth will find A Priest in Banaras by Yann Vagneux to be a book that invites one to serious soul-searching.  Subhash Anand beautifully summarizes it as an account of the ongoing incarnation of the eternal Word in the life and ministry of the author. Reading the book helped me embark on an inner journey with the author and with all seekers of ultimate reality as they encounter each other at a particular point of truth.
This is a challenging time for humanity. We thought we had answers to all the questions of humanity, but COVID-19 and other issues confronting the world have shown who we are: weak and fragile creatures. Since we no longer believe in an artificial separation between the sacred and the secular, any crisis that confronts humanity is also a crisis for the Church. The Church is not an other-worldly institution that ignores the concrete issues of its people. More than other human institutions, the Church is called to be powerfully present in times of crisis. The problems that beset humanity are not only a challenge for the Church but also an opportunity, an opportunity to rediscover who and what it is. This book is a offers a special challenge to the Church’s way of spreading the good news of Christ.
The Indian mind is concrete, incarnational, and contextual. There is no dichotomy between thoughts and deeds. As I was going through the book, I realized just how incarnational it is, how it mirrors the way God’s love enters human flesh. The book flows out of the author’s participation in the struggles, sufferings, joys, hopes, and dreams of the ordinary and simple people of Banaras, the spiritual capital of India, a conglomeration of different cultures, religions, and people.
Vagneux’s book brought me to a deeper understanding of Abbé Jules Monchanin, the lesser known of the three founders of Shantivanam  ̶̶ Henri LeSaux (Abhishiktānanda) and Bede Griffiths being the other two. He lived a hidden life of Nazareth and can be called the Charles de Foucauld of India. More than his writings, his whole life and death were a message to the Indian and universal Church. The vision of Monchanin is that the Church is fully Indian and Christian and that the contemplation of the Holy Trinity is the essence of the Christian presence in India.
The book helps us understand Nazareth spirituality. The presence of Christians in India and Banaras is minuscule. In a big city like Banaras, no one may be aware of their presence.  We are always blindly pursuing something spectacular and grand, but Christianity always flourishes in its ordinariness and simplicity. The author emphasizes this point repeatedly.
Another important point emphasized by the author is our unity and common destiny. Our God is a God of newness and oneness. We realize more and more that we are one family. Our origin and destiny are the same. The whole cosmos can be compared to the divine cosmic womb from whom we come and return. The problems facing humanity are immense and daunting; no one culture, nation, religion, or peace can find a solution. We need a collective effort to solve them.
Interaction with another culture, religion, or people always makes us richer. Coming to know about another religion through both reading and experience makes us better Christians.  In the process of encountering another religion we lose nothing but gain a lot. In times past, it was common for religions to be pitted against each other, looking upon each other as demoniac and barbaric. Today we discover that we need each other for harmony and peace in the world. God is powerfully and fully present in the riches and wealth of every culture and religion. An antagonistic attitude makes us poorer and isolated.
A Priest in Banaras is a fascinating work. The author’s sincerity, humility, and willingness to learn from others are evident throughout. I would recommend this book to any sincere seeker who wants to be in dialogue with other religions and thereby become a better Christian, Hindu, or Muslim—and a better human person.
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