The power of Jesus’s Passion and the message of the Gospel are heard in a unique way by the poor.  So to celebrate Good Friday with the villagers of Pannur, many of them ‘untouchables’ in the eyes of higher castes, is a special privilege.   Yesterdays  2 hr long ‘live’ stations of the cross was a powerful experience.  As we processed through fields and villages, past mosques and temples, I won’t forget it for a long while. There were soldiers who seemed slightly over enthusiastic with their whips – particularly with Simon of Cyrene who has a reputation for being lazy and workshy in the village. I was told that last year was the first time they had dramatised it and many of the women, and even some of the soldiers,  burst into tears when Jesus was crucified,  This year not so many tears – but lots of devotion. Click on the Video below to get a taste of these ‘Live’ Stations of the Cross.

Untouchability’ is a horrible concept.  To say to someone that somehow who you are is unclean is devastating and dehumanising.  The Dalits have had this label for generations. Their ancestors were untouchable and their children are untouchable.  Many teachers will not even touch their books to mark them.   The Jesuits have explained to me that combined with a fatalistic cosmology, reincarnation, the cyclical nature of time, there develops a  fatal passivity – I am unclean and there is nothing I can do about it.  It seems to me that it is through the lens of these ‘out-castes’ that the power of Jesus’s liberation resonates vibrantly.   In this context liberation and redemption are very tangible.  Reading the Gospel during Holy week with these people reminds me that Jesus was closest to those who were deemed ‘unclean’ : lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors.  These were not necessarily ‘the poor’ but they were ‘the excluded’.  It was a religious-social marginalisation rather than an economic marginalisation that seemed to make Jesus angry.   With the Dalits, poverty and exclusion are combined.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that Gospel is only for the poor – the excluded.  I think the message is universal. It is just that the poor – particularly the outcasts – they hear the Gospel with a certain freshness and urgency that must be acknowledged and learnt from.