By Msgr. Jonas Achacoso, JCD
When I thought I was alone during a downtime in the church, a man came in and knelt to pray. After praying, he approached me and asked for my blessing. I gave him what he was asking for with the sign of the cross. Then the unexpected happened.
He bent down to touch my shoes. I felt stupefied like a statue. For a split second, I wondered if that is how the statues feel when devotees touch or kiss their feet. Seeing me confused, the man explained that this is an Indian tradition to touch elders’ or religious leaders’ feet. He then thanked me for letting him do it. He said that he comes to church every day to visit the “Master.” He says that the. “Master” gave him a house nearby, which for him is a sign that he should come by very often. He goes to two statues: the big Crucifix and that of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
I confirmed to him the fact that there is a need for us to pray. In the words of St. Paul, we have to pray unceasingly (Thes. 5:17). He agreed with me. He said that the most important thing is to love God. I again confirmed the truth that this is the highest commandment.
Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment” (Mt. 22:37-38). I asked him if he remembered this teaching in the gospel. Then the truth came out because he acknowledged that he is not a Christian. He is Hindu.
At this point, I felt I lost control of the conversation. The twist was just so radical. Hence, I just let myself be carried away by the flow. I felt we were becoming friends. I offered to explain the second most important commandment. It is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39). He agreed and explained his agreement by taking as an example of praying and burning incense.
You burn incense to God, but consequentially you also have your neighbors smell the incense and encourage them to pray to God. My friend concluded that when you love God, it is automatic that you love your neighbor.
There was one thing that puzzled me in the conversation. He asserted that when he comes to church and prays to Jesus, Jesus becomes Krishna to him. When he goes to the temple and prays to Krishna, Krishna becomes Jesus to him. I don’t think my little brain can understand what my friend said. I have to convince myself that this is truly possible by God’s infinite grace. After all, nothing is impossible with God (Lk. 1:37).
Except for the last point of the conversation, I realized that my friend and I have many things in common. We can talk about wisdom, prayer, blessing, grace, goodness, and, most of all, respect for each other. At the end of that day, I thanked God for giving me good preparation for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25), when we need to focus on things that we have in common for unity and not on the difficult things that separate us.
Msgr. Achacoso is the author of ‘Due Process in Church Administration’ (2018), recipient of Arcangelo Ranaudo Award (Vatican City), and Administrator of Corpus Christi Church in Woodside, NY.