Jubilarian Fr. Cyril Desbruslais SJ Speaks
1. A few things about my Family Background and Early Life
I was born in Kolkota (then Calcutta) in December 21, 1940. I was named Cyril, after my Dad, just as my sister, born two years later, was named Maisie, after my Mum. A third sister, Marina, was born two years later. She was to die of TB at the age of eighteen months. She has always been my little baby intercessor in heaven. Mum and Dad died, also of TB, in the early 1950s (it was a fatal illness, in those days). We were brought up by a very loving Uncle (my Mum’s brother). I was schooled, at first in Cal, with the Jesuits (St Xavier’s), then with the Irish Christian brothers (in a boarding school, Asansol) and I enjoyed my five years with them. I almost joined them, but thought better of it. I did my B Com at St Xavier’s College (Calcutta) and worked for a year at Remington Rand of India. My sister and I have always been very close to each other.
2. What inspired me to join the Society?
I did have a Jesuit Uncle, Fr Vernon Desbruslais sj, who died fairly recently and perhaps his personality and the love everyone had for his gentle ways of service had some impact on me, which I did not notice at the time. Though I had had my share of girl-friends and parties, I had, off and on, considered being a priest. I kind of brushed the idea aside, but from the beginning of 1962, the whole question began to bug me so, that I decided to give it a try. I joined the SJs as they were the only Catholic priests I really knew (I thought all other priests were Protestants and I knew nothing of the diocesans). In retrospect, I’m so glad I entered the Society: I don’t think I’d have lasted very long anywhere else. The Jesuits, with all their stress on obedience, give plenty of scope for creativity and initiative.
1. An unforgettable event of my Jesuit Life?
That’s a hard question. Not because there have been no unforgettable events in my Jesuit life, but because there have been so many. It’s difficult to find one that stands out. So many meaningful and rewarding experiences there have been in my ministry with youth and countless moments of grace in my encounters with young Jesuits in formation as well as seminarians of various dioceses and congregations, especially the DNC philosophers during my six years as their Superior – all these form a kaleidoscope of lovely and inspiring memories for me.
2. The Jesuit who inspired me most
That’s easy. Apart from St Ignatius, Pedro Arrupe sj. He helped the Society come alive for me. He taught me about the inseparable link between faith and justice. He was a true contemplative in action. I was able to meet this charismatic personality twice, when he visited DNC and one of my treasured possessions is a book with his signature in it. Just to re-read one of his writings (especially “On Our Way of Proceeding”) fires me with enthusiasm and fervor all over again. I’m also deeply impressed by Adolfo Nicolas sj, whom I met before he became General, at the “Asian Identity Seminar” in Delhi and who reminds me in so many ways of Pedro. Nicolas has an infectious joy and sense of commitment. I could also mention Teilhard de Chardin sj, who taught me about the holiness of matter and the divine milieu.
3. A few words about the SSU, the Youth Group I formed in 1971
I started this group in 1971, when I was beginning my Theology studies at DNC. I had faced a lot of problems and confusion in my own youth and I wanted to help other youngsters not to make the mistakes and blunders I did. I wanted to reach out especially to youngsters who normally don’t feel drawn to join any youth groups, who seemed to be interested only in ”freaking out” and drifting along. I also wanted to set up an inter-denominational youth group, one made up of young people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds – and I wanted us to celebrate our differences, not just sweep them under the carpet (through inter-faith celebrations of our major feasts, and the like). Finally I wanted to help youngsters to develop a deep social sense, a sense of responsibility and concern for the poor, the deprived and all victims of injustice in our country and all over the world – and do something about it. In the SSU we have Outreach programmes where we visit and/or help Institutions doing this (mainly NGOs), as well as put on plays with a social message, giving them the lion’s share of the profits. Yes, the group is 40 years old this year and we’re having a three day celebration of this in December, with past SSU members over the years (many of whom have their own teenage children following their footsteps in the SSU). We meet twice a week on Thursdays (a more serious activity) and Sunday (a fun and games session) after having animated the Sunday evening Mass at the Jesuit parish of St Xavier’s in Pune, Camp. Then there are our regular Outreaches, the Annual one week leadership training Camp, at Kune, and the yearly fund-raiser dramatic venture by which we help some needy social work organization and give ample practical experience to our members.
4. Should Jesuits in other Provinces start similar SSU ventures?
By all means. Incidentally, SSU stands for what the group does: searching and serving in unity. It helps young people to find whatever they’re searching for (God, friends, values, whatever) and also inculcates in the members a love and respect for other religions and cultures as they get o better know and understand them. I think this is the need of the hour in India, the best way of fighting both fundamentalism and corruption as well as give our youth values more worthy of them. Many scholastics (and seminarians from other dioceses and religious congregations) have come and worked with the SSU as a preparation for starting similar ventures in their ministry.
5. My Philosophy of Life?
I suppose it’s to help all people become more fully human, more fully alive. That would also imply recognizing that beauty is unity in diversity (unity without diversity is uniformity and that’s boring; diversity without beauty is jarring and garish and that’s ugly). We, the so-called clergy must be prepared to do a little more listening and learning and a good deal less talking and teaching. Each of us can learn how to better appreciate his or her faith and culture by being open to, and learning from, those of others.
6. The three boons I would ask for?
1. The gift to be able to reach out to, and make a break through to, the most apparently unconcerned and uncommitted of all people by the mere force of my sincere love and respect for them (as Jesus did).
2. Greater knowledge of India languages, so I could reach out to the non-English speaking youth.
3. Better health so that I could carry on this work with more energy and enthusiasm.
7. My message to our younger men of today?
Give yourself generously to the service of the people. Inspire others also to take care of, and reach out to, the “little ones”. Make good use of the energy and resilience of your youth in the service of the people. Never write anyone off as a “gone case”, or irredeemable. Learn languages and how to make better use of the media. Sts Ignatius and Francis Xavier would have, if these precious blessings had available to them in their ministry.