Mapping the way ahead

When my term of office as Vicar General came to an end in 1982, I wanted to return to India. I requested the new General Council to give me time to explore the options before coming to a decision.

At the time my brother Nico was running a center for the training of managers. I discussed my situation with him. He told me that I was at a turning point in my career and that I would profit from considering all angles in a professional way. He gave me an information packet that contained suggestions as to how to identify the avenues open to me, and how to choose the right procedure in coming to a final decision. It would prove to be an invaluable guide.

I flew to India. But before travelling on to Andhra Pradesh where I had worked in the past, I chose to visit New Delhi first where the office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India – the CBCI – was located. The Jesuits at Vidya Jyothi College kindly offered me accommodation for a few days.

I heard that the Steering Committee of the Conference was scheduled to meet in the course of the next week.  I decided to stay for that because it would give me the opportunity to talk to its members, archbishops from various Indian States. I also learnt that the Indian Government had ordered a German missionary whom I had come to know quite well, Fr Engelbert Zeitler SVD, to leave India for good. It caused commotion in the Indian media. Demonstrations for and against foreign missionaries were staged in major cities throughout India. I saw it as a sign that the welcome for foreign missionaries was coming to an end., a factor that would have a bearing on my own long-term future.

My stay in Vidya Jyothi almost began in disaster. I had been asked to preside at a eucharist for the Jesuit community of staff and students at 7.00 am in their house chapel. Whether it was because I was still suffering jet lag or whatever, I failed to hear my alarm and only woke up ten (!) minutes before mass was supposed to start . . . I managed to jump into my trousers and khurta (shirt) in three minutes flat and staggered into the sacristy just in time. The other priests, who were going to concelebrate with me, were already vested . . .

With them I processed into chapel which, incidentally, had been totally Indianised. I sat on the floor behind the low altar, facing the congregation and flanked right and left by the other concelebrating priests. By the time the Scripture readings had been read I had composed my thoughts and was able to deliver a reasonably meaningful short homily. I heaved a sigh of relief when the function was over!


I knew that my first priority now was to clear my mind on the options open to me. The staff and students had departed after breakfast to attend lectures and seminars. I however returned to the chapel.

There were no benches in the chapel, just a huge carpet covering the floor with some cushions spread out in a number of places. No one else was there. I positioned myself on a cushion with my back against the wall, facing the altar and the tabernavle behind it. Around me, on the carpet, I spread the planning papers from Nico’s info pack.  I asked for guidance from the Holy Spirit. I relaxed, enjoying the knowledge that I had plenty of time to think . . .

I won’t bore you recounting the long and detailed process I went through, from spelling out a vision of what I wanted to do to identifying opportunities and limits. I compiled lists. I filled sheets of paper.

I realized it would be very difficult for me to obtain a year-round residential permit, remembering the problems when I had applied before (see chapter    ). On the other hand, three months’ visitor permits were more easily granted. And such permits could be extended for another three months. I also had seen the enormous need for more modern catechetical media in all Mill Hill mission territories .  .  .

To make a long story short, my hours’ long praying and planning resulted in the vision of a mixed job for myself:

  • six months a year visiting India as a touring lecturer, for priests and religious sisters, giving lectures in India’s main Catholic institutes, organizing seminars, conducting retreats – you name it;
  • the other six months developing catechetical media such as slides and videos for general use in our missions, as well as teaching in the Missionary Institute London. Being in London for part of each year would also have other advantages.

I laid my plan before various top leaders of the Indian Catholic community who assembled for the Steering Committee of the CBCI. The all said it was a good plan. Some already provisionally booked me for events in their own dioceses. The most important confirmation came from Archbishop Samineni Arulappa, head of the Bishops’ Council of Andhra Pradesh. He gave me his full support.

On my return to India I submitted my plan to the General Council of Mill Hill. To be precise, this was my letter to Bishop Cees de Wit, the new Superior General:

October 28, 1982

Dear Bishop,

My visit to India was fruitful in producing a clear plan of action for my future work in India.  I stayed at the CBCI Centre in New Delhi for a number of days to discuss the visa question with our people at the Bishops’ Secretariat;  I talked to the Bishop of Varanasi and Cardinal Picachy of Calcutta;  then I stayed for two weeks in Andhra Pradesh where I discussed all aspects of my stay and apostolate with the many people concerned.  The proposal that has emerged teems to be balanced and practical, though it may sound complicated.  I will, therefore, explain it in a number of separate points.

1.   It is suggested that I divide the year into two periods, one based on  Hyderabad, and the other one based on London.  During the Hyderabad period, I would be involved in a number of specific activities to support the Church in Andhra Pradesh (and in other parts of India) by giving courses, by assisting in planning and by training personnel; during the London phase, I would concentrate on producing material for publication in support of the apostolate.

2.   The main reason for dividing the year into two parts is the present visa situation.  The Government of India at present is putting many obstacles in the way of obtaining residential permits for missionaries. Recently a prominent SVD Father, Fr E. Zeitler, was almost expelled from India, and efforts to regain him a residential permit resulted in much unwanted publicity for the Church.  After considering all the implications in discussion with those who know the situation well, I came to the conclusion that it would be inadvisable for me to start a process of wrangling about a residential permit that would be awkward to the local church and that would make my own position vulnerable.  At the same time, it was clear that I still have an important contribution to give to the apostolate in India so that some compromise solution needs to be found.

The solution is actually quite simple:  The Indian Government allows non-residents to come into the country on a three-months’ tourist visa “for any legitimate business’ (which includes teaching and training purposes).  The three-months’ tourist visa can be extended with another three months.  After this, six months should elapse before one can apply for a new tourist visa.  The implication is: if I restrict my presence in India to a six months’ period, there is no problem about visas.

3.    This solution is also very much compatible with the kind of contribution I can and should give to the apostolate in India.  I originated and helped to build up some very important apostolic structures for the Church in Andhra Pradesh such as AMRUTHAVANI, JYOTIRMAI and JEEVAN JYOTI.  These structures are still in their infancy.  They experience the teething problems at any such undertaking and most of their leaders are still in various stages of training.  It would be a great mistake for me to take any position of permanence that would stand in the way of developing this local leadership.  On the other hand, through my ideas, advice, financial planning, encouragement and providing training opportunities, I can guide others to take full charge of their tasks. In other words: My contribution should be in the line of inspiration and support, not in the form of domination or control.

In detail the kind of work the Bishops and the local leaders expect from me is as follows:

3.1 JYOTIRMAI is the state-wide pastoral planning. organization tor the ten dioceses of Andhra Pradesh. It deals with all aspects of the Church’s life: conversion work in new villages; training and up-dating of catechists; adult training camps and children’s camps in the villages; transport for mission purposes (from pushbikes to jeeps); building of prayer-huts, chapels, churches, convents, board1ng schools, etc.; the distribution of scholarships for poor children; audio-visual programmes.  The Bishops of Andhra Pradesh have an annual budget tor those programmes based on a partnership agreement with the agencies in Europe.  From the beginning I have held a key position in helping all the parties concerned to work together in harmony.  I can’t go into all details of this here, but my presence will probably still be very helpful to ensure that Jyotirmai does not fall apart.

3.2 During the past three years an intensive RESEARCH was conducted on the Church in Andhra Pradesh concerning self-reliance, evangelization, the position of the laity, the role of the clergy, the religious life etc.  The research has now been completed and will be put in effect from February 1983.  As priorities emerging from the research a lot of animation and instruction will need to be done among the 500 priests, 3000 sisters and many teachers and catechists of Andhra Pradesh.  Here again, I can play an important role.

3.3 The Communications Centre AMRUTHAVANI has developed enormously during the past years.  Through its Telugu weekly, correspondence courses, daily radio programmes, audio-visual productions, films, books & booklets in Telugu etc, it reaches out to both Christian and non-Christian audiences.  Although the frame-work is there for an enormous impact, the staff still needs much training and there is an enormous demand for a good theological input in all these departments.

3.4 JEEVAN JYOTI is a theological institute for Sisters in Andhra Pradesh. Apart from providing a one-year’s theological course for resident junior Sisters, it also organizes much needed shorter seminars and renewal courses tor the 3000 Sisters in the State. They urgently need someone to help them to plan the programmes. They are also short of theological lecturers (the seminary staff helps from time to time but only on sporadic basis).

3.5  For a number of reasons I don’t think it would be advisable for me to serve in ST JOHN’S SEMINARY as a resident staff member (my presence may be felt as threatening to the young Indian staff).  But I will be able to help as a part-time lecturer.

3.6   The Bishops of Uttar Pradesh have opened a new pastoral training centre, called NAV SADHANA, in Varanasi.  When I met Bishop Patrick D’Souza, Bishop of Varanasi, he requested me to help the Centre especially by planning its annual programmes with the local staff (two priests with little experience) and help in conducting a few biblical seminars every year.

3.7   There are number of part-time commitments I have been requested to take on such as giving courses at the National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre in Bangalore; being an adviser to the National Missiological Institute in Pune; being a part time lecturer in Vidya Jyoti, New Delhi; etc.  Obviously I have not committed myself to any of these requests, but they do indicate that there is ample scope for my giving even wider help throughout India as I used to do in the past.

The important thing about these contributions, especially the ones concerning Andhra Pradesh, is that because of their specific nature, they don’t require my presence throughout a full year.  In other words:  I could do this work during my annual ‘half year’ in Andhra Pradesh.

4.         Reflecting on my work in India and its impact on the Church, I am coming more and more to the realization that my writing is possibly my most important contribution. This is a new realization because up to now I have done much. of my writing in the margin of available time, next to my teaching, administration, organizing, etc.

The following may sound like boasting, but this, I assure you, is not my intention.  My book “Background to the Gospels” is a handbook used in practically all seminaries and novitiates in India.  I am also well known by other books such as “What can we learn from secular efficiency?”, “God’s Word to Israel”, “Christ’s idea of authority”‘, “Communicating the Word of God”, etc.  My latest book “Come and See” (with the parallel publication of “Experiencing Jesus”) has so far sold more than 20,000 copies.  An illustrated Life of Christ has been translated into ten languages and has a circulation of 200,000.  A complete handbook for Catechists in Telugu, “Mukti Margam”, is used throughout Andhra Pradesh.  Probably I am reaching more people and doing more good with these and other publications than through my personal contacts.

It is this realization that reconciles me with spending the second ‘half year’ period every year in London.  Because, if I organize myself properly, I can easily, perhaps with greater tranquillity, work on writing and production from a place outside India. I can take requests, outlines, plans and ideas with me from India and work than out in a sultab1e retreat in London. At present I already have a number of writing projects that need to be done, such as two spiritual books, seven theological documentation books for college students (to complete the “discovery series” I began for the college students in 1975), theological documentation material for catechists, in Telugu, etc.

5.         The arrangement of residing half the year in India and the other half abroad, though forced by the situation, has some additional benefits.  During the past six years while serving the Society in the General Council, I have been acting on behalf of the Bishops of Andhra Pradesh as their ambassador with the partner agencies. In this capacity I have on various occasions been able to help this delicate and important partnership function smoothly. In fact three years ago during a major crisis my presence in Europe may have saved the cooperation from turning sour.  My presence in Europe for a number of months will help to strengthen the work done in India itself.  I also maintain a parking fund for some pastoral structures that need to make periodical payments outside India.

For my own writing and production, it will also be beneficial that I can consult proper libraries in London and that I would have periodic periods of time, for calm and undisturbed concentration.

Moreover, on account or my stay in Europa but also of the natural overflow of my activities from India to other countries, I have been able to make a contribution to the apostolate of the Church outside India.  It has come to my mind that possibly my forced but precious time in London every year may help to make the most of this contribution. For instance, I am trying to help the communication apostolate in Pakistan. I have a request for assistance in projects at Malaysia.  Such services can be rendered more easily from London.

6.         I arrived at this complex proposal after consulting many people in the Church in India.  In general, as it now stands, it has wide support of many important persons. Allow me to list them here below:

  • Archbishop S. Arulappa, Archbishop  of Hyderabad (under whose jurisdiction I fall  and Bishop Joseph Thumma (Chairman of Jyotirmai);
  • Fr K Sunder Raj (Director, Jyotirmai);
  • Fr M M Balaguer SJ, Fr Raymond Ambroise, Bro Hubert de By (Directors of Amruthavani);
  • Sr R Josepha and the Staff of Jeevan Jyoti;
  • Fr John Vallamattam, Fr Antunes Nazareth of the CBCI Secretariat, New Delhi;
  • Some leading Bishops at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (the CBCI) whom I consulted; Cardinal L T Picachy, Archbishop of Calcutta; Bishop Patrick D’Souza, Bishop of Varanasi; Archbishop Henry D’Souza, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar; Bishop J R Rodericks, Bishop of Jamshedpur; etc.
  • Fr J Dupuis SJ, Theological Adviser at CBCI Centre, New Delhi;
  • Fr E Zeitler SVD (retired Chairman at the Conference of Religious in India and the Chairman of the National Missiologlcal Institute, Pune);
  • Last not least Fr H Bijvoet (Society Superior whom I met in Bangalore), Fr F Neuhauser (Consultor) and the other Mill Hill members in Hyderabad.

My proposal of serving India in this way by a double residence may seen a little unusual.  However, I am convinced that in the given circumstances, this is the best way in which I can give a very important contribution to the apostolate in India.  I request you and your General Council not only to permit me to live out my commitment in this way for at least five years, but also to give me your whole-hearted support and backing.

With kind regards and requesting your blessing,

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Hans Wijngaards

Two weeks later, on the 15th of November, I received the official approval I needed.


Rev. Father Hans Wijngaards

Dear Hans,

This letter is to make it official to you that the General Council has approved of your plans and gives you the go-ahead signal. It is a novel idea to be available for the Church in India both from a base here in London, as well as from a base in Hyderabad. Your work there is under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Hyderabad, who has approved and encouraged your apostolate for India

It may be good to evaluate how it will work out, and feel free to communicate to us at any time as to how you proceed and how you see the future.

The General Council wishes you also to give your remarkable talents to the spreading of the Good News by writing and publishing.

For all these expressions of your missionary zeal, we want to encourage you and we hope and pray that by doing so, you will yourself grow in joy and interior peace.

With personal warm greetings and best wishes for your future,