world council of churches

Excerpt from Between Two Cities - Part I: Early Years
by Stanley Samartha

1. Remembered Moments

Although the focus of this book is on my ecumenical years, in this chapter I wish to recall some events in my earlier years that shaped my life and which may help to interpret my work in the WCC. Inevitably this leads to a selective look at the past and a telescoping of events. That is why this chapter is entitled "Remembered Moments".

Autobiography, or even biography, has not been a significant element in the long history of India's cultural life. Only in recent years have politicians and retired civil servants begun to write their autobiographies. Of the great acharyas of Hindu religious life and thought and other thinkers who have shaped Indian culture and civilization very little is known. The details of their personal life are not recorded. This however has not prevented their thought from making enduring contributions to the life of subsequent generations.

Some have suggested that history as a category of life has not been given sufficient importance in India because Hindus regard the world of history as maya, usually translated as "illusion". But this is a doubtful explanation. Maya is not "illusion" in the sense of a dream or mirage or "like a banana without substance". Many Hindu scholars have pointed out that it indicates "relative reality"; that is, only in relation to the Absolute, the Brahman, is the world regarded as maya. The great acharyas like Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva established monasteries in strategic places in the country, with endowments of land and carefully worked out rules for succession which operate even to this day. If they had regarded history as "illusion" they would not have made provision for the future so carefully.

Another reason for this neglect of biographical details may be the feeling that perceptions of Truth are more important than the persons who perceive them. The extent to which a knowledge of the details of an individual's personal life contributes to understanding that person's thought is debatable. The observation that theology is rooted in biography is only partially true. In recent years what is called investigative journalism has brought out many intimate details of the personal lives of people in positions of power or aspiring to attain them. What this has contributed to understanding and evaluating those persons is not easy to say.

When P.A. Schilpp, editor of the Library of Living Philosophies, asked the philosopher and former president of India, S. Radhakrishnan (1888-1975) to provide an autobiography for the volume on his philosophy in 1952, Radhakrishnan wrote only a few pages under the title "Fragments of a Confession". When S. Gopal, the son of Radhakrishnan, published a biography of his father in 1988, he included many details, some of which only a son could reveal. But one is left wondering whether these details have in any way helped us to understand Radhakrishnan's thoughts in a different or better way. Nevertheless, autobiographical details provided by persons themselves or biographical information carefully researched and provided by others may indeed provide the background to understand the factors that go to the making of persons and the motives that drive them to particular courses of action.

I was born on 7 October 1920 in Karkal, a small village in the district of South Kanara in Karnataka (population 46 million in 1990), one of the four states in South India. Most of my earlier years were spent in Mangalore, a town on the west coast, which is the headquarters of the district. My father was a pastor and my mother a primary school teacher.

Coastal lands are always open to trade and cultural influences from outside. This is true of this area as well. This strip of land between the mountains and the sea, from Bombay in the north to Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of the peninsula, in the south, with Goa, Calicut and Cochin in between, is a fertile area, with several rivers flowing from the mountains to the sea. There are evidences of trade with Rome. Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut in 1498 and, along with him, Roman Catholic Christianity made its entrance to this area. Protestant missionary activities started here in 1834 by the Basel Evangelical Mission.

Although Hindus are in the majority, Jains, Muslims and Christians have lived together here with Hindus for many centuries, without any tension or trouble. Only recently, in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in December 1992 were there tensions and conflicts in some pockets of this area. The fact that Jains, followers of a religion founded by Mahavira (c. 817 B.C.) could settle down in this district to escape persecution in the north, and that later Muslims and Christians too were accepted, is evidence of this inter-religious harmony.

According to a count made in 1990, in this small district of South Kanara, there are 18 Hindu monasteries or Maths, 374 major temples, several hundred mosques and other Muslim shrines, 110 churches and seven Jain temples. This means that during the year a large number of festivals of different religions are held in which the whole community participates in one way or another. In Moodabidri, close to Karkal, there is a thousand-pillared Jain temple which is a well-known pilgrim centre. Udipi, a Hindu pilgrim centre, established by Madhvacharya (13th century), with its eight monasteries, is only 30 kilometres from Mangalore. Dharamsthala, another well-known pilgrim centre, where thousands of people gather every year for an all-religions festival, is about 80 kilometres from Mangalore. All these are familiar landmarks to people in the district.

I was thus born and brought up in a multi-religious society with little tension or conflict. My close friends in the primary school in the little village of Perdur were two Hindus and two Muslims -- one the son of a cobbler who supplied leather pouches for our catapults free of charge. I have kept in touch with them over the years, visiting the village during my travels to India from Geneva.

Even though Hinduism, in its Bhakti traditions and temple worship, is the religion of the majority and provides the pervasive cultural ethos, an ancient, perhaps pre-Hindu primal tradition persists to this day in song and dance and ritual in the villages. As children we were excited by this, though we did not understand its meaning. This tradition is also connected with female goddesses who are held in awe and reverence, even fear, by the people. Perhaps over the centuries these have degenerated into what is sometimes despised as a vestige of "primitive superstition". But their importance for the life of the community is now being recognized and attempts are being made to recover their authentic rituals and understand their cultural significance. In the language of the area these are described as "devil (bhuta) dances". These dances, with dark masked figures leaping up with flaming torches, surrounded by crowds in a circle receding to darkness, are meant to banish evil spirits of sickness and pain and bondage. Although children were not allowed to go near them -- and Christian children were told that they were indeed "devils" from the world of Satan -- our group quite often stole to the edge of the circle to watch the dancers with excitement mixed with awe and fear.

Only later when I visited countries in Africa and native peoples in America did I recognize the deep significance and worldwide presence of primal traditions which endure despite secularization and the powerful influence of science and technology. When I organized a consultation on traditional religions in Africa during my years in Geneva, the connection between different manifestations of this tradition across the continents came to me in a sharp manner. What is significant in South India, as I reflect back on my village days, was the co-existence in the village community of the Hindu epic tradition, the song and dance depictions of episodes from Ramayana and Mahabharatha in "field-dramas", with the "devil dances" of the primal traditions.

Rich in culture and tradition, Indian society expresses its multiple ways of life through symbols, myths, songs and dances in addition to philosophical thought and religious ritual. Here life is a process in continuity; death is a fresh beginning. I recognize now what did not occur to us as children watching a dead body being burned in a dry paddy field in the village: that when the monsoon rains came, the ashes went into the ground to provide sustenance for the new crop next year. There were rituals to be followed, symbols to be displayed, pleasures to be enjoyed and sometimes denied, and a variety of enabling means to emphasize the continuity of life between the living and the dead. The whole village community accepted this. I did not realize then that only Christians and Muslims, even though they were converts from Hinduism, were outside or kept themselves on the outside of this unifying cultural force which held together different responses to the mystery of life and death.

One particular incident stands out in my memory of primary school days. Mahatma Gandhi had returned to India from South Africa in 1915. Within a few years the winds of nationalism and the demands for independence were blowing even in the remotest villages of India. Our small village of Perdur, nestling below the western ghats (hills), was not immune to the movement. Gandhi's autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, was already translated into several languages of India, including my own. Bankim Chandra Chatterji's Anandmath (The Monastery of Joy) was also available to us in translation. I read these two books although they did not make much impression on me at the time.

Prohibition was one of the planks in Gandhi's platform. He was very much against people, particularly poor labourers in towns and villages, spending their money on liquor instead of the needs of their families. Congress men were picketing liquor shops all over the country. There was a liquor shop about fifty yards from the end of the mission compound to which labourers used to come for drinks after a hard day's work in the fields. We boys used to crouch in the corner of the compound to watch them, particularly to see them return drunk and swaying to their homes, shouting and singing.

One evening, three Congress men well known in the village, in their homespun white clothes (Khadi), and Gandhi caps, were picketing the shop. Suddenly a group of six Indian policemen led by a British sergeant came marching to the shop and began beating them ruthlessly with long thin bamboo canes. We children were used to a few cuts on the outstretched palms of our hands by the teacher using similar but shorter canes. But this was the first time we had seen adults being beaten like this. The Congress men stood with folded hands, not resisting the policemen in any way. Even when they fell to the ground the police continued beating them till we could see blood staining their white clothes. We ran away trembling with fear. Many years later, when I saw Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi, this incident came to my mind as I watched the nonviolent resistance of the people to police beating. I felt a tide of anger surging within me when I heard some viewers nearby saying that all this "nonviolence" was simply "made up for the movie".

My high school and college studies were done in Mangalore, which is noted for its fine educational institutions run by Jesuit fathers and Carmelite sisters. I did my high school studies (1933-37) in the Basel Evangelical Mission High School (1933-37). For the first two years of college studies I joined the government college (1937-39) and the next two I spent in St Aloysius' College, a Jesuit institution (1939-41). At that time all educational institutions in the district were affiliated to the Madras University, and so I took my first degree in economics and history, with English and Kannada, which was the mother tongue of most of the students.

This was a time of serious economic depression. Unemployment was high, with many young people wandering from office to office, seeking any kind of jobs available. During this period we also read in the newspapers about the rise of fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany. Reading about the attacks on "foreigners" in Germany and other countries in Europe today, I am greatly alarmed because these symptoms are the same. In the midst of my college studies the second world war broke out (1939), and many young people joined the army.

We took part in many cultural activities in schools and colleges, in plays and dramas and musical festivals. There were many debates in student unions, particularly on political themes like independence and nonviolence. Quite a few people were impatient with the slow progress of nonviolent resistance to the colonial power and wanted to take up more aggressive action against the oppressors. I was active in these debates, but I was too timid to take any part in processions and other activities, perhaps because within the church circles it was unheard of for Christians to play any role part in political activities. I was the editor of the College Times, a student fortnightly typed and displayed in the reading rooms of the government college and St. Aloysius' college. One of my classmates, M.V. Kamath, who wrote regularly for the College Times, later became the correspondent for Hindustan Times in Geneva and, when he returned to India, the editor of the well-known Illustrated Weekly of India. He is now a respected journalist whose columns are syndicated in many papers.

The nationalist movement under Mahatma Gandhi was growing in intensity and deeply touched the life of people everywhere in the country, including university students. Looking back, I am struck that neither the independence movement nor the emphasis on nonviolence as a political weapon made any impression on the life-styles and attitudes of Christians, either Roman Catholic or Protestant, except for a few fiery individuals who defied church leaders on this question. The church was anxious about what would happen to Christians if the British left -- the British government was considered a Christian government -- and Gandhi's Congress Party came to power.

I heard many sermons cautioning Christians about the dangers of national independence, several based on the text: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment" (Rom. 13:1-2). I do not remember feeling uneasy about such sermons nor questioning their literal application to our political life. It was a time when we Protestants accepted the authority of the Bible as the unquestioned authority of the Word of God. There was no possibility whatsoever of opening one's mouth against it even at home or among close friends.

During my third year in the university (1940) I was elected first secretary of the Student Christian Movement (SCM) in Mangalore, which brought together for the first time all Protestant students studying in the various colleges in the town. Later I became president of the SCM in Mangalore and was active in regional and national conferences. When the Mangalore SCM celebrated its golden jubilee in 1990 they graciously invited me to deliver the inaugural address under the title: "Lift Up the Cup of Salvation" (based on Psalm 116:11-12).

The SCM helped students of my generation at a crucial time in our intellectual and spiritual life. It stimulated me to work towards the theological credibility -- one might even say, the intellectual respectability -- of the Christian faith in the midst of the "cultured despisers" of religion in the university. From my intense biblical background it was clear to me that the source of the gospel was not in the intellect or the life of reason. The gospel is the gift of God in Jesus Christ who is accepted both as the revelation of God and the way of salvation. But at a time when, as college students, we felt that the sermons in the church were not helping us to come to grips with some of the questions raised by what we were studying in the university, the SCM helped to show us that the articulation of Christian faith demands critical reflection on the content of this faith. Without giving a reason for the hope that is in them, Christians either remain ignorant of the depths of the Christian faith or become fanatical in shouting about it.

Christian students, particularly in the early years of their university studies, face many intellectual difficulties. Doubts gnaw at the bone of belief and the marrow of faith is likely to spill out of their lives. For example, I felt greatly troubled by the distance between the theory of evolution and the biblical stories of creation. Even more difficult were the miracles in the New Testament. At this juncture the SCM helped me, igniting a process of intellectual reflection within me on the fundamentals of the Christian faith. It may even be that this experience nudged me in the direction of theological studies, though not necessarily towards the Christian ministry.

Further, it was through the SCM that for the first time I came to recognize and experience the larger fellowship of the church. We as a small minority of Protestants in Mangalore were so isolated geographically and spiritually that we had become introverted and suffered from a deep sense of inferiority. The fact that our missionaries were German and Swiss, who had no access to the government's corridors of power so familiar to British missionaries, further marginalized us.

In the SCM meetings I met for the first time Christians of other traditions: Syrian Orthodox, Mar Thoma, Anglican, Methodist and others. To me, accustomed from childhood to worshipping in only one way, it was very significant that we could all worship together in the name of Christ without the slightest hesitation, that we could share in Bible studies, lectures and discussions and, above all, that we could not only raise critical questions about the faith without being reprimanded for it, but were even encouraged by our Christian teachers to do so. Meeting Christians of other denominations enlarged my Christian horizon tremendously at a time when I had never even heard the word "ecumenical". It may be that it was the SCM which taught me very early that Christian life can be lived pluralistically, even as the religious life in our country has always been pluralistic both in vision and reality.

Later, in regional and national conferences, I met other SCM leaders such as Malcolm Adisheshiah, M.M. Thomas and Chandran Devenesan, along with a wide circle of Christian college teachers equally committed to the basis and the programmes of the SCM. At leadership training conferences during the summer holiday months I was invited along with others to give lectures on Christian theology. These helped me immensely not only to clarify for myself the fundamentals of the Christian faith but also to articulate them in a manner that could be understood by students without too much difficulty. I quickly realized that complexity should not be misunderstood as profundity nor clarity as shallowness. What is the use of knowledge and scholarship if their distilled wisdom cannot be communicated to younger people eager to learn?

Looking back, I am surprised that immediately after my college studies I decided to join the Christian ministry without any discernible inner struggle. I seem to have glided into Christian ministry without even a slight bump. I was very young -- a few months short of my 21st birthday -- and the mission board surprisingly accepted me as a candidate for theological studies without the usual requirement of one or two years of practical work in the field.

Although my parents never once mentioned the subject to me, it was assumed that as the eldest son I would naturally follow in my father's footsteps and become a pastor. I was indeed impressed and attracted by the teaching and pastoral dimensions of the ministry, but I distrusted, even disliked its ritual side. Only during my years with the World Council of Churches, when I met many Roman Catholic friends and had Orthodox colleagues from Greece, Russia and other Eastern European countries, did I come to appreciate the importance of ritual and the significance of symbols in religious life. But to this day I am inwardly disturbed by the creeping clericalization, even episcopalization, and ritualization in my own church, the Church of South India. When I returned to Bangalore in 1981, the bishop of my diocese, C.D. Jathanna, and the pastorate committee of the church asked me to take charge of the Cathedral of St Mark as presbyter. While attracted by a challenge quite different from the academic world in which I had laboured for many years, I decided against it mainly because I was not particularly eager to get involved with the repetitive and ritual side of pastoral work.

I began my studies in the United Theological College in Bangalore in 1941. At the end of my second year I contracted typhoid and could complete my studies only in 1945, after a year's break. The months of my illness and the long period of enforced leisure gave me a lot of time to reflect on matters of faith, particularly on life and death. At a time when there were no antibiotics, typhoid was a very serious illness. My parents told me that I hovered between life and death for 42 days.

The years at UTC deepened my spiritual life, strengthened my understanding of the Christian faith and greatly widened my Christian experience. For the first time I was with a larger group of Christian friends who came not only from different denominational backgrounds but also from different language areas of the country both north and south. With faculty members from India, the US and Britain and visiting professors from abroad, the teaching staff was truly international. To see, handle and read so many books in the library was an exciting intellectual experience.

Two subjects in the curriculum immediately attracted me intellectually: Christian theology and the history and philosophy of religions. While biblical studies were basic and church history exciting, it was theology and religions that interested me most. What challenged and disturbed me was not so much the information about these subjects as their confrontation within my own Christian consciousness. Throughout my life I have therefore worked in the "intersection" of theology and religions, particularly where Hinduism in its philosophical expressions and Christianity in its theological formulations meet each other in the life of India. During three years at UTC I took almost all the courses offered by Marcus Ward, the British professor who taught us theology, and Paul David Devanandan, the Indian professor of religions.

Devanandan impressed me not only by his scholarly knowledge of Hinduism but also his attitude towards it. He was indeed critical of many aspects of Hinduism, as is evident in his book The Concept of Maya (1950). But instead of taking a negative attitude towards other religions, including Hinduism, he encouraged a positive attitude, even respect for the beliefs of others. At a time when almost every book on religions in the library, no matter how scholarly, ended with a chapter on "the uniqueness of Christianity", this attitude struck me, especially since I had been brought up to take a wholly negative view of other religions. That one could be a committed Christian and yet take a positive attitude towards other religions came to me as a surprising alternative. Devanandan contributed decisively to this change of attitude.

At a time when Gandhi's appeal to the British to "Quit India" had set the whole country aflame with a nationalist upsurge, the UTC campus was rather isolated. Our protest activities were mostly confined to wearing what we considered "nationalist dress", making speeches about political freedom and arguing somewhat timidly with our British professors. Some of our Christian friends in the university in Bangalore and Mysore who joined the freedom struggle were arrested and imprisoned.

After my theological studies I was appointed in 1945 as assistant to the pastor in Udipi for two years, then as lecturer in theology and religions at the Basel Evangelical Mission Theological Seminary in Mangalore. After a couple of years, I had the opportunity to go abroad for graduate studies, first at Union Theological Seminary in New York, later at the Hartford Seminary Foundation in Hartford, Connecticut.

At Union I worked for a master's degree in theology under Paul Tillich with the topic: "The Hindu View of History According to Radhakrishnan", which I later developed into a doctoral dissertation on "The Hindu View of History According to Representative Thinkers". Niebuhr's book Faith and History had just been published. Tillich graciously gave me a copy, which helped me a great deal to understand the inner relation between theology and history. I took several courses offered by Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr. As I listened to Tillich's lectures and read his books, it occurred to me that his thoughts on God as the Ultimate Concern were very close to the Upanishadic vision into the nature of Ultimate Reality, the Brahman, both in epistemology and ontology. But I did not have the courage even to suggest it. My first paper for Tillich was on "The Metaphysical Basis of Radhakrishnan's Thought", making the point that this was deeply embedded in the Upanishads. He read it and said to me, "This is very much like my own thought". He took the paper home, he said, because he wanted his wife to read it.

Because of my interest in history I took a course offered by James Muilenberg on Second Isaiah. I was most impressed by him as a person -- a tall man with a long mane of silvery white hair -- and as a teacher who made Second Isaiah come alive to us across the centuries. Muilenberg lectured without a scrap of notes before him but showed a remarkably detailed knowledge of the Hebrew text and grasp of various critical interpretations. At the time C.H. Dodd was a visiting professor at Union, and I eagerly attended his course on the fourth gospel, having earlier read his books on Apostolic Preaching and its Development and The Gospel and History. I had also studied selected chapters in the fourth gospel in the original Greek under Harold K. Moulton in Bangalore. Later, in Basel, I took a course on the fourth gospel offered by Oscar Cullmann. From my earliest days in Bangalore I was deeply touched by the fourth gospel. I was familiar with A.J. Appasamy's book on it, Christianity as Bhaktimarga, and I knew that many of my Hindu friends were attracted by this gospel and were reading it.

The Hartford Seminary Foundation had a very fine missionary training school where young missionaries who had spent a term in the field came to do graduate studies. They formed a group of committed and mature students with international experience and considerable knowledge of other religions, and it was stimulating and rewarding to be with them in discussion groups. Here the professor who helped me most was Malcolm Pitt, who had taught for several years at the theological college in Jabalpur, North India. He and his wife deeply appreciated Indian culture, music and art. His house was full of Indian musical instruments, some of which he could play, and many works of art which I had never seen in India in Christian homes or institutions. This opened to me as never before the aesthetic dimension of faith, which has remained an interest and concern for me ever since. The books by Heinrich Zimmer on The Philosophies of India (1951) and The Myths and Symbols of Indian Art and Civilization (1952), as well as the writings of Ananda Coomaraswamy on Indian art, opened up an entirely different worldview. They helped me gradually to recognize that theological ideas and aesthetic symbols mutually enhance the meaning and depth of religious life. It is strange that an Indian Christian student brought up in narrow Christian circles should discover the profound aesthetic dimensions of Indian culture and art not in India, but in the USA.

On my way back from the United States the Basel Mission invited me to spend a term in Basel and graciously arranged for my wife to join me there. It was a great joy for us to spend some time in the place from where the first missionaries had come to our area in India. Our stay in Basel had several purposes. One was for me to attend the weekly lectures of Karl Barth at the university; another was for us to visit congregations in Switzerland and Germany and speak to them about churches in India; a third was to discuss with the board of the Mission the future of the theological seminary.

I had a working knowledge of German, which I had studied at Mangalore with the help of German missionaries. The Basel Mission provided me with a German tutor; and when I attended Barth's lectures I had an interpreter with me who translated every sentence as I took careful notes.

Even more helpful than Barth's lectures on Christology were the fortnightly seminars in his home for non-German-speaking students. I was the only student from Asia in the group. Here we could ask him questions, and he would answer them in English. Whenever he felt some difficulty with English he would ask Scottish students to explain his point, saying that Scottish theologians understood him more correctly than any one else. He was extremely courteous and considerate towards Asian and African students because he knew that both German and English were foreign languages for us. If an English mother-tongue student was talking too often or too much, Barth would say: "English is your mother-tongue. You can talk without thinking. Please give others a chance."

During this time I also met Hendrik Kraemer for the first time at the WCC's Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, near Geneva, where he was director. Recently I discovered my handwritten notes of his lectures. At that time I was both an admirer and follower of Barth and Kraemer. Both influenced me deeply and shaped my theological thinking in the earlier years. Subsequently I added the element of openness to commitment, without diluting the latter. Later, because of the critical attitude I came to take towards Kraemer, J.A.B. Jongeneel, professor of mission at the University of Utrecht, Netherlands, described Kraemer and me as "two adverse brothers". Supported by Professor Jongeneel and the faculty, the University of Utrecht conferred on me an honourary doctorate during their 350th anniversary in 1986 -- exactly fifty years after awarding one to Kraemer. In conferring the degree Professor De Knijff spoke of "the critical and reconciling engagement" which he and others in Utrecht had found in my work.

Via Geneva

"Via Geneva" is more than a geographical transition point. It is not just a matter of departure and arrival. It has more to do with the inner expanse of the spirit than movements in time and space. It is an experience of meeting people in so many different communities and situations that one's consciousness is transformed in more ways than one can realize at the time. All airports may look alike, but each leads to a different community of people in very different historical and cultural contexts. During my travels I have the opportunity to meet not only many leaders of churches, Christian theologians and lay persons, but also people of other faiths in their own communities of faith and academic institutions. This was the soil in which new insights emerged, ideas were critically tested and possibilities of co-operation were discussed together.

It was at the WCC's fourth assembly in Uppsala in 1968 that I was appointed as associate secretary in the Department of Studies in Mission and Evangelism, specifically to carry forward the ongoing study on "The Word of God and the Living Faiths of Men", begun by the International Missionary Council in 1955, before its merger with the WCC in 1961.

When we left India, we had considerable anxiety about the education of our children. Our eldest daughter, who was in the middle of medical studies at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, stayed behind to complete her course, though she visited us during her summer holidays. Our son and younger daughter were admitted to the International School in Geneva. Within a few months my wife, who was a high school mathematics teacher, got a job in the same school. Since the school was within walking distance of our home in Geneva, they could go together to school All this lifted a lot of anxiety from our minds, allowing me to turn to the work to which I had been called.

The Study Department, under the direction of a working group moderated by Hans-Jochen Margull, professor of mission at the University of Hamburg, was carrying out two studies at the time. In addition to the one for which I was responsible, there was "The humanization of Institutions", which was the responsibility of Steven Mackie, the executive secretary of the department. He had visited me in Serampore and explained the working of the department within the larger structure of the WCC. I could not have had a more friendly and helpful colleague than Steven during the days when we were working together in Geneva. He and his wife Anne-Beth greatly helped us to enter life in Geneva with ease and confidence.

Uta Hobrecht from Germany was my first secretary; and when she married and left the WCC a few years later Luzia Wehrle from Switzerland was appointed in her place. Until I left the WCC in 1980, Luzia was my administrative secretary. Her knowledge of English, French, Italian and Spanish, in addition to her mother-tongue German, and her administrative skills were a valuable contribution to the work of the department. In addition, she typed the articles I published during these years, as well as the chapters of my book Courage for Dialogue (1981).

During my very first week on the WCC staff, I was standing in the lunch line in the cafeteria when a booming voice behind me asked, "Are you the Indian theologian recently appointed to promote syncretism in the World Council of Churches?" A few days later, in a staff meeting, when I used the phrase "wider ecumenism", a senior colleague immediately interrupted me: "We do not use such phrases at the Ecumenical Centre". I had been "rapped on the knuckles", and I recognized that caution was necessary.

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