Newsletter of the District of Asia

 Jul - Dec 2003

Set All Afire!
St Francis Xavier And the Fishery Coast of India

By Louis de Wohl

Note: This life of St Francis Xavier, Set All Afire!, written in a novel form in 1953 is completely based on historical documents. We give here some of the extracts concerning the arrival of Catholicism in South India in the years 15421545.

St Francis spent these three years evangelizing, first in the area of Goa, on the West coast, then in the SouthEastern tip of India, in Tamil Nadu (where most of the SSPX apostolate is taking place since 1986). The following extract recalls St Francis' first visit to the Fishery Coast.

St. Francis Xavier

A ship, a small merchantman, built at Goa, and serving the coastal route. The pepper ship, they called it, because it brought pepper from Cochin to Goa, pepper, that most precious article. The whole of the Portuguese Empire of the Indies was built on pepper. There were other spices, of course, and there was silk from the faraway, unapproachable land called China unapproachable because every foreigner trying to land there was instantly killed, according to the standing orders of the Emperor. But pepper was the main thing.

Francis and his three Tamil students were the only passengers. He almost wept as Goa vanished in the mists of the morning sun. Somehow the rumor of his departure had got around and a huge crowd had come to see him off, Father Almeida and Father Campo and other priests, Violante Ferreira with her nice young daughter, both in tears, Father Diogo de Borba of course, with all his students, and hundreds and hundreds of others; they upset the entire traffic near the port. And as the ship left, they had sung the Credo, rhymed as he had taught it to the children. How they loved singing, these joyful people. They sang when they plowed their fields, sang when they worked on the wharves. And there were the children, his children, tossing hibiscus flowers at the ship, bobbing up and down ....

Leaving them was a kind of dying. And now started the voyage to purgatory.

Father de Borba had told him a good deal about the Paravas, and no one could have given him better information. Eight years ago Father de Borba had been there himself, in the course of the War of the Ear.

Every girl child on the Pearl Fisher Coast had the lobes of her tiny ears pierced. Little leaden weights were inserted into the ears and these weights were gradually increased, till at last they were large enough for the enormous earrings that would be put in on the day of the girl's marriage. They were the sign of the married state and a Parava woman's pride and badge of rank and dignity.

An uncouth, greedy Moslem trader one of the many who cheated the poor pearl fishers out of their goods, won by so much effort and under constant danger from sharks and stingrays tore such a ring off the ear of a young Parava woman, tearing her earlobe at the same time. Outraged, the Paravas killed him and everyone of his kind they could lay their hands on. Then came the armed feluccas to burn down the Parava villages and the pearl fishers asked for Portuguese protection.

And Dom Martini de Sousa, Gran Capitan of the Seas, arrived with his fleet. Francis had heard the story from Marcello, but Father de Borba had a few things to add. He and a few Franciscans had gone ashore with the troops, and the priests numbering no more than six had baptized twenty thousand natives. They tried to instruct them, too, but the fleet had to go on and priests were needed on board ....

Since then the Paravas had had to be left to themselves, except for a few priests going over at Easter, from Cochin.

And now it was eight years since the War of the Ear.

The little ship, the pepper ship, was careful not to sail too far out into the dangerous waters of the Indian Ocean. Hugging the coast, it stopped for a day at Mangalore, for two days at Calicut, for another two at Cochin. Then it sailed along the Travancore Coast and round Cape Comorin to Manapad.

There Francis and his three students went ashore.

"Flat country", said Coelho, the oldest of the students, and the only one who had received major Orders and was a deacon. "Good for us, because there won't be so many wild animals. Bad because there is little shade." He opened his parasol.

They found a little grotto, where Francis said Mass.

Walking towards Manapar (at the very tip of India)

Walking towards Manapar (at the very tip of India)

Far away, to the north, a few catamarans stood out in the ocean.

"Pearl fisher boats", explained Coelho. "One of the men is diving now. Can you see, Father?"

"Yes he's holding something in his mouth, something shimmery..."

"His knife. For sharks."

Francis made his bundle ready and swung it over his shoulder. "You said you know the way to Tuticorin", he said.

"I know it, Father. I I hope I do."

Rice paddies. A few laborers working in a millet field, with a number of completely naked boys jumping around and throwing stones at something, Francis could not see what it was.

"They're chasing parrots away", explained Coelho.

Coconut palms and banyan trees and limes and mangoes. With those and the fish they can get from the ocean, at least they have enough to eat, thought Francis. Of course, fish had to be eaten at once; they putrefied at almost the moment they were taken from the water.

A cow appeared suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, and the workers in the field turned towards her and bowed their heads.

"They hope for the droppings", said Coelho. "It is a sacred animal, you know, and the droppings are a certain cure for a great many diseases, when mixed with the food of a man. That is what Hindus believe", he added hastily, as he saw Francis look at him with horror.

"But these people are supposed to be Christians!"

"Some of them, yes, Father. Many of them. Not all. And there is no priest. Things get mixed up..."

" .. with the dung of cows", said Francis grimly.

He had to restrain himself from walking up to the men and tackling them then and there. It would have been foolish. The thing to do was to go to the heart of the country and to work from there towards the periphery. That was what Father Ignatius would do, he thought.

They closed their parasols, as they entered a forest if the maze of trees of all kinds and sizes, of high grass and strange plants could be called a forest.

"Look out for snakes, Father", warned Coelho. "Most of them will not attack except when they believe that they have been attacked. You must be careful not to tread on them. They will never believe that you didn't do it deliberately."

Mansilhas might have said that. Mansilhas. Perhaps he and Father Paul had arrived by now. They should have arrived long ago.

Suddenly he stopped. From a tree something was hanging upside down, an animal, not unlike a huge bat. But surely there could be no bats of that size! It had a horrible head, black or dark brown, with large, pointed ears. It looked like a devil.

One of the younger students jumped up and clubbed it to earth with his parasol. A few more strokes and it was dead.

"What did you do that for?" asked Francis with disgust.

"Verrie good to eat", the student grinned. "Flying fox, Father. Wonderful, when cooked."

A country where they held cows sacred and cooked devils. He gave awry smile. "Let's go through the Credo in Tamil again, Coelho", he said. "I must learn it. Visuvasa manthiram paralogath iyum pulogathiyum sarvesar anai athiokia bhaktiyaga..."

"Visuvasikirain"; Coelho helped out.

Francis sighed. "Why must every word in Tamil have at least six syllables", he complained. "Avarudya yega suthanagya namudaya..."

"Nathar Yesu", said Coelho, beaming. "Christuvayum..."

"Ah yes, now I know: athikiya bhakthiyaga visuvasikirain ivar ispirithu santhuvinalai karpomai urpavithu archayasishta kanni Mariyaiyidathilai nindru piranthu".

"Wonderful, Father", said Coelho. "You are making great progress."

"I know the Ten Commandments", said Francis, "and the Pater and the Ave, but I'm hopelessly lost with the exposition of the Faith and the story of the Gospels. Tell me, Coelho, I know there are those who speak Hindi and Konkani and Tamil, but tell me, quite honestly and frankly how many other languages are there in India?"

"Oh, quite a few", said Coelho, looking away. "There is Pushtu and Urdu and Gujarati, and Telugu and Kanarese and Bengali and Singhalese and Gondi and Malayan and... ."

"That will do", said Francis. They went on silently for a little while. Then Francis said, "Let's get on with the Credo where we left off. Ponchu pilathinkizhai padupattu siluvaiylaiaraiyundu marith adakappattar...."

The names of the villages they passed were of the same ilk. Alantalai, Periytalai, Tiruchendur, Talambuli, Virapandianpatnam, Punaikayal, Palayakayal, Kayalpamam and  Kombuturé.

He did not stick to his original idea, to start working only when he had reached Tuticorin. He could not wait. It was bitter to see the shrines and temples on the way, with obscene gods of stone performing obscene actions on temple friezes, with phallic symbols abounding; bitter to see trembling villagers watching overfed cows eating all their food without daring to disturb the sacred animals; bitter to hear that the pearl fishers paid a good percentage of their catch to sorcerers for spells and talismans against the bite of sharks, and paid still more for mantrams against any other kind of danger, trouble and illness.

At Kombuturé they told him about a woman who had been three days in labor and was dying, although her husband had paid the sorcerer for all the aid he could give and the house was full of mantrams of all kinds.

Coelho shook his head sadly. "The demons are more powerful than the sorcerer and the mantrams", he murmured.

Francis exploded. "Where is that house?" he asked.

Coelho and the other two students tried to hold him back, but they might as well have tried to stop the monsoon with their hands.

Francis stalked into the house.

The sorcerer, with two apprentices, was squatting on the floor; all three of them were drumming on some kind of musical instruments and chanting invocations at the top of their voices. They had put a kettle on the floor, filled with some burning substance that sent up clouds of stinking smoke. In a corner of the room the husband and at least half a dozen youngsters of all ages were crouching, moaning and rolling their eyes in abject fear.

A grotesque figure of clay and half a dozen mantrams were tied to the body of the suffering woman.

Francis took one look. Then he seized the kettle and swung it at the sorcerer and his helpers. They did not wait for what might happen next, but jumped up and raced out. Francis threw the kettle after them, untied the idol and the mantrams and threw them out as well.

A midwife, sitting at the feet of the woman, looked up at him as if she were seeing a demon. The woman herself kept her eyes closed. Now that the noise had subsided, Francis could hear her moaning softly.

He knew nothing of childbirth. The hospitals in which he had nursed his patients in Paris, Venice, Lisbon and Goa were only for men. He thought the woman was dying, as he had been told that she was. She certainly looked as if she were dying. And into a dying woman's room he brought his Lord. It was all he could do and all he set out to do.

"Coelho translate. Tell her that I am coming in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth..."

Coelho's lips were trembling a little. Perhaps Father Francis was not quite aware of the risk they were taking. Now if the woman died, as surely she would, the sorcerer would say that it was all the fault of these interfering strangers...

"Translate", ordered Francis. "I command you."

Coelho translated. The woman opened her eyes. She fastened her gaze not on Coelho but on the strange face of the white man with its complete absence of fear, with its tranquil smile. Being a woman, she recognized love when she saw it.

"Tell her, Our Blessed Lord wants her to live with him forever. Tell her what he wants her to believe. Visuvasa manthiram paralogathiyum ...."

She stared at Francis. Her lips moved a little and then she echoed his smile.

"Are you ready to accept what you have heard?" asked Francis gently, when Coelho had finished translating the last part of the Creed. "Can you believe it?"

Oh yes, she could. She could.

He took the New Testament out of his pocket and read out the story of the birth of the Christ Child. Coelho translated again. From time to time he looked towards the entrance of the house. The crowd outside was growing larger and larger. They would never get away alive. He was sweating. But he went on translating.

"Water", said Francis. When they brought it to him, he baptized the woman.

Coelho, looking on, prayed for all he was worth. In a state of utter confusion he implored God to save their lives, to save the woman, to prevent the sorcerer from making the villagers storm the hut, to have mercy on him, on Father Francis on everybody.

A sudden tremor went through the body of the woman, she threw back her head and gave a loud cry. Instantly the midwife sprang up.

Francis took a step backwards.

At first he did not know that labor had started again after hours of interruption. But he knew it soon enough.

Minutes later the child was there, and a few seconds later yelling lustily.

Outside the villagers broke into a howl of enthusiasm that shook the hut.

Two hours later Francis had baptized the husband, three sons, four daughters and the newly born infant, another son.

Coelho was grinning from ear to ear.

But for Francis this was no more than the beginning. He stepped outside, where the villagers were still howling their joy to heaven and asked for the headman. Coelho had to tell him that Father Francis wanted the entire village to accept Jesus Christ as their God and Lord.

The headman scratched himself thoughtfully. They would do so gladly, but they could not not without the permission of the Rajah.

"Where is that Rajah?" asked Francis curtly.

Coelho passed on the question. The Rajah was far away, very far away, but there was an official here, who represented him. He had come to collect the taxes for his master.

Francis went to see him at once.

The tax collector was at first a little suspicious. If these people accepted this new belief, would they still be willing to pay their taxes to the Rajah? They would? Well...

Francis began to explain the tenets of Christianity to the man who listened politely. In the end he gave permission in the name of his master. He himself? No, no. This new thing seemed very good, but he himself could not accept it. He was the Rajah's man. The Rajah would have to give the order to him personally.

"It is a pitee a great pitee", said Coelho, when the man withdrew, rather hastily. "We could have called him Matthew."

It took all next day to baptize every man, woman and child of the village and two days more to tell them at least the rudiments of what they must know.

As they left, they saw the woman with her newborn babe in her arms standing in the door of the hut, smiling at them and making the sign of the Cross.

The children came in droves. There was no holding them back. They beleaguered the hut in Tuticorin, they stormed it and sat all around Francis, chattering away, nudging him, clambering up on his lap. They chanted the Creed and the Ten Commandments, the Pater and the Ave and they went on chanting when they went home. The very air of Tuticorin was full of it.

"Ants", said Coelho disapprovingly. "Exactly like ants. You can do nothing. You can only go away or they eat you up."

Francis shook his head. "That's not the way you've been taught. What did Our Lord say about children?"

"Of such is the kingdom of heaven'", quoted Coelho dutifully. "They will have to make less noise there, though. Perrrsonallee, I cannot see why it is good for the kingdom of heaven, if these brats do not let you eat or sleep ever!"

"They ask questions", said Francis, beaming. "They want to know, Coelho. They do not accept it, as if it were just another law of their Rajah's. They are full of it, God bless them and send me more of them."

He had his wish. In fact he could never go anywhere, without at least a hundred and often hundreds of young, shiny brown bodies milling around him. Soon enough he made teachers of them who brought the truth he had taught them to houses where he had no access as well as to their own homes.

The very first thing he uprooted in their young souls was the fear he saw time and again in the eyes of their parents, fear of the spirits and demons of the woods and sea and air and fire, fear of witches' spells and sorcerers' power. It was no more and no less than a revolution. Never in the history of the Paravas had demons been treated with such irreverence.

The children delighted in reporting to him when and where one of those ghastly meetings would take place, where black cocks and rams were sacrificed to Bhawani, Siva's bloodthirsty wife and where everyone cringed before the eye of the priest of the goddess, to whom she gave power to wish any evil he liked on those who did not sacrifice enough and particularly on those who for some reason or other did not turn up at the meeting.

When they told him about that for the first time, Francis looked around the crowd of youngsters: "Who's coming with me to help beat the devil?"

They were so enthusiastic that he had to warn them. None of them was to say a word about it to anybody else. None of them was to do anything, except on the Father's direct order.

They assembled just as silently as did the worshipers of Bhawani and they appeared at the meeting, sixty boys, all between ten and fifteen or sixteen, just as the fat and entrails of a black ram began sizzling in a copper vessel before the statue of the atrocious goddess.

They pelted Bhawani with stones, then rushed in and upset everything and everybody.

Francis himself walked in and pushed the sixfoot statue off its pedestal. It was of wood. He poured the contents of the boiling kettle over the statue. "Such is the power of Bhawani", he said in a ringing voice. "From now on no Parava will serve her or any other demon."

The villagers were in a daze. They had seen their boys burning mantrams and heaping ridicule on the sorcerers, but never before had anyone dared anything like this. The priest of Bhawani had vanished with great speed, and the goddess herself did not seem to take any action.

Standing on the wooden image of the fallen foe, Francis intoned the Creed while all his boys chanted with him.

Many such raids followed. Sometimes Francis took several hundred boys with him, to the utter destruction of a temple dedicated to the monkeygod, Hanuman, or to the potbellied, elephantheaded Ganesha.

"You must plow the field before you can sow the seed", he told Coelho. "And you must uproot the weeds that are only good for the fire."

What happened in Tuticorin and  Kombuturé, happened in five, ten, twenty, thirty villages, all along the seacoast. Everywhere Francis preached, admonished, won over, baptized. Everywhere the children streamed to him to become his friends, his catechists, his ambassadors and his army. It was a bad time for demons. It was a bad time also for those who were ridden by one of those demons for whom no statue was erected even by the idolloving Paravas: the demon of arrack, the toddy made of the juice extracted from the Palmyra palms. Francis made the headmen of each village responsible for the drunkenness prevailing in his domain, when he found that many a Paravas, under the influence of attack, mistook his brother or friend for a shark and went at him with the long knife.

He raced up and down from Vêdâlai in the North to Cape Comorin, sometimes with Coelho or another of his three helpers, sometimes accompanied by the headman of a village. It was necessary that the whole tribe understand that he was never too far away not to appear quite suddenly.

He was like a sheep dog, circling the herd and keeping the flock together, the only sheep dog for twenty thousand sheep grazing on a field of one hundred and forty miles in length.

He knew only too well that his work was insecure and he also knew why. Not only human nature, weak and prone to sin ever since the Fall, even human habit which reverted time and again to haunting old fears and the thousand and one superstitions which were supposed to banish them, not only arrack and datura and other poisons that made a man forget his miseries instead of carrying them as a man should it was a certain class of men who endangered his work.

His first encounter with one of that class had shown him the power these men had over the minds and bodies of the Paravas.

In Punakayal, in the main street of the teeming village, while talking to the headman, he noticed a tall, emaciated figure sauntering down the street. It was a man of sixty with a wellkept gray beard and a caste mark just above a proud nose. People were drawn back right and left and bowing. He did not respond to their courtesy. He did not even seem to see them. A child of perhaps four years of age, a little boy, was sitting in the middle of the street, cheerfully playing with a few sticks.

The tall man gave it a single glance and then stepped carefully aside, passing the child at a distance of several feet.

"At least the fellow seems to like children", said Francis.

The headman shook his head. "How could a twiceborn like one who is only a Sudra?" he whispered.

"A what? Why did he step aside then?"

"He must not be polluted by the shadow of a Sudra child. He is a twiceborn, a Brahman. Don't you see the sacred thread from his shoulder to the waist?"

Francis gave the man a hard stare.

The Brahman passed him as if he were not there at all.

Then and there Francis decided to tackle the "twiceborn". He did not know that he already had trespassed on their immediate sphere of power, when he first led his swarm of boys against the meeting in honor of Bhawani.

Coelho then gave him at least an inkling of what he was up against. The Brahmans were the spiritual aristocracy of India, initiates to the sacred mysteries, towering high above all other castes, untouchable in their exalted rank, as the harijan were untouchable because of their lowliness. They were so holy that they could not eat food if as much as the shadow of a man of low caste had fallen upon it. They were priests, sages and prophets and their influence was immense. All the pearl fishers were Sudras. The caste was hereditary. No Sudra could possibly stand up against a Brahman.

"We shall see", said Francis grimly.

The twiceborn came to visit him that same day. The villagers recoiled and fled at the man's approach and to his astonishment and anger Francis saw that even Coelho was uneasy.

The Brahman was dignified and courteous. He had heard so much about the foreign sannyasi, who was such a great teacher and could cure men by just looking at them. He was delighted to make his acquaintance and to bid him welcome in the land of the Paravas. It was most kind of the foreign sannyasi to bother about the spiritual enlightenment of such illfavored and lowcaste dogs as the Paravas. The Brahmans knew only too well how difficult it was to teach them anything at all beyond the exertion of their natural faculties.

Four servants brought baskets full of presents: fresh fruit, meat, betel and, in a beautiful ivory box, a number of beautiful pearls pearls conquered from the sea in the face of appalling risks by the illfavored and lowcaste dogs of Paravas and sacrificed by them to the Brahmans in exchange for a blessing or, more likely still, claimed and received by the Brahmans as dutiful tribute to potbellied Ganesha or bloody Bhawani.

"Please accept in kindness these little tokens", said the Brahman, "tokens of our admiration and respect and the sign of the respect we servants of the gods have for each other."

"There is only one God", said Francis stiffly.

The Brahman smiled. "To the servant of Siva there is only Siva", he said. "To the servant of Ganesha there is only Ganesha. That is as it should be and as the wisdom of the gods has decreed it. But confusion would result if we were to teach the lower castes that they must listen to us alone and not to anyone else. We are resolved not to contradict your teachings, wise man from the West, and all we ask of you is that you will not interfere with pious men and women rendering their tribute to the gods in our temples."

"I have no intention to be bribed by you or by anybody else", said Francis, and a quavering Coelho translated it. "Truth makes no bargain with error. Take your presents. I cannot accept them. I shall not rest till all Paravas have become the servants of the one, true God. And I tell you that many of them whom you call lowcaste dogs are more pleasing in the sight of God than those who strut about as you do, believing themselves to be so high and exalted. Instead of parading your arrogance before men, evoke in yourself humility towards God and you too will be pleasing in his eyes."

"Surely one gift is worth another", said the Brahman, without so much as batting an eyelid. "And if these presents are not good enough for a sannyasi of your rank, you must forgive us for not having recognized your true greatness."

Francis swung around to Coelho. "Tell him", he said, "all the wealth of India will not change the law of the one, true God and the will of his servant."

Coelho translated.

The Brahman shrugged his shoulders, gave a courteous greeting and left, slowly and dignified.

"This is war", said Coelho in a low voice.

"What else can there be between truth and lie? And what do we have to fear? If God wants us to go on spreading his holy law, all the Brahmans in the world won't be able to stop us. And if God wants us to die, how could we possibly live? They can do nothing."

Even so, Coelho told the other two students that in future they would have to do all the cooking and that all victuals would have to be inspected very closely. Father Francis could not be bribed, but a Parava woman could, more likely than not. And even a few bristles from a tiger's skin, hacked very small and mixed with food had the disagreeable quality of perforating the intestines and bringing about a protracted and very painful death.

His boys were the most faithful of all, and by far the most militant. They loved to argue and they loved to fight. They could now be sent to other villages to teach the children and to pray for the sick. Again and again reports came of patients who had become well after their prayers. Youth was on the side of God. No wonder then that God was on the side of youth.

But both young and old now assembled on Sunday for Mass, prayed daily, sang the truth while at their work.

And yet the influence of the Brahmans was felt almost everywhere. When one of them was near, the villagers were reticent and sullen. Many would not open their doors to the white man. Some refused to talk or to listen.

After an experience of that kind Francis returned to his own but and began to write to Father Ignatius in Rome, pouring out his lonely heart.

After a few moments of brilliant display the sun had sunk as a stone sinks in water. Darkness in India came as suddenly as death, and with it came the hooting of night birds and the faraway howling of jackals. The first mosquito began its monotonous, insistent buzz.

"There is a class of men out here", wrote Francis, "called bragmanes. They are the mainstay of heathenism, and have charge of the temples devoted to the idols. They are the most perverse people in the world, and of them was written the psalmist's prayer: De gente non sancta, ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe me. They do not know what it is to tell the truth but forever plot how to lie subtly and deceive their poor, ignorant followers.... Thus they make the simple people believe that the idols require food, and many bring an offering before sitting down to table themselves. They eat twice daily to the din of kettledrums and give out that the idols are then feasting.... Rather than go short, these bragmanes warn the wretched credulous people that if they fail to provide what is required of them, the idols will encompass their deaths, or inflict disease, or send devils to their houses. They have little learning, but abundance of iniquity and malice. They regard me as a great nuisance because I keep on exposing then wickedness all the time, but when I get one or other of them alone they admit their deceptions and tell me that they have no other means of livelihood than those stone idols and the lies they concoct about them. They really think that I know more than all of them put together and they request me to visit them and take it ill when I refuse the gifts they send me to keep my mouth shut...."

There was a stir and Francis looked up.

Coelho was standing in the doorway. "They have sent a message", he blurted out. "They want you to come to them. If you go it is certain death."

"What are you talking about?" asked Francis, frowning. "Who are 'they' ?"

"The Brahmans, Father. They are having a full assembly at Tiruchendur. They want you to come there."

"Where is the messenger?"

"There were three of them all Brahmans. But they would not wait. You know how they are. You won't go, Father, will you? After all it is sheer insolence, not to deliver their message to you in person."

"In other words, you don't want me to go", said Francis, smiling dryly. "And they will say that the strange sannyasi is afraid of them. And God will say that his servant Francis out of pride or fear or sloth missed the opportunity to talk to all the Brahmans together. I will go tomorrow morning at sunrise. And I will go alone."

He did not finish his letter that day. Tomorrow evening there might be more to report, if he was alive to report it. It was quite possible it was even probable that Coelho was quite right and that the Brahmans had resolved to get rid once and for all of the nuisance that was Francis Xavier.

A man must step out briskly, if he wants to make the way from Tuticorin to Tiruchendur while the sun still shines. All is well in the neighborhood of the town, but there are a few stretches of forest and "forest" here means the Jungle.

Despite his fear Coelho had begged to be taken along, when Francis departed, but the answer was a quiet shake of the head.

It was not that Francis wanted to punish his best helper. He wanted to be alone. By now his Tamil was good enough, he hoped, to cope with the Brahmans' arguments if there were any arguments. He did not know what they wanted of him and he dismissed all surmise. He knew he had to go in the name of his Lord and that was all there was to it. It was much. It was so much that the man, walking alone through the jungle, paid no attention at all to the dangers around him. He did not even see the snakes slithering away at his approach as most snakes will. He paid no attention whatever to the long, brown shapes, like fallen trees, that lay quietly on the bank of a half driedup river. The crocodile rarely attacks on land. But the very assurance of the man, walking alone, baffled a huge hamadryad into uncertainty and made it let him pass. And the hamadryad, the cobra of cobras, is illtempered and will attack without provocation. Parrots screamed and became silent. Monkeys chattered and became quiet. Silent eyes followed the wanderer all the way through the jungle.

They were waiting in the great hall of the temple beside the sea. Two hundred and four men, each one wearing the sacred thread of the twiceborn, and in their midst HaritZeb, eightytwo years of age, priest in charge of the temple, and Devandas, of whom it was said that he was very learned.

On the other side of HaritZeb sat Ramigal, who came from the high North. He had vowed that he would go to the holy city of Benares on foot, following the seacoast. He was a young man, as the age of a single incarnation goes, no more than thirtyfive years old. But for twelve years he had been sitting at the feet of an old man who had given up his name together with his heritage as the brother of a rajah and withdrawn to the mountains, and the ancient one had become Ramigal's teacher and taught him many things.

But even such as the ancient one must die. Thus Ramigal had become a chela without a guru and he decided to go on pilgrimage to the holy city, to find enlightenment at another source. For alone he could not yet face the life the ancient one had lived.

He finally arrived in Tiruchendur, where they received him with the courtesy due to his rank as a Brahman and asked him many questions about his life in the North and particularly whether his studies of yoga enabled him to perform certain feats that would astonish the unenlightened. The very question had shown him their mettle, and he declined to answer, hiding his disdain because he was their guest and because it was unbecoming to show disdain to someone less learned.

Then they complained to him about the workings of a foreign sannyasi who went about turning the people away from the service of the gods; but their main complaint was that so few people now came to bring offerings and that even threats did not always have an effect.

They told him that they had sent for the sannyasi, but were not sure whether he was going to turn up.

And now they were all waiting, over two hundred men of the sacred thread, for the arrival of the foreigner, a man who had never studied the Upanishads, who did not know anything about the sacred mysteries, a clever and glib demagogue, as they told Ramigal. What did they want with him? Surely, it was doing such a man far too much honor, to receive him in full assembly. He asked Devandas for the reason and Devandas smiled. "It may be that he has some knowledge. If so we shall soon know what it is. If not..."

Devandas shrugged his shoulders.

They were inferior people. They were thinking in terms of tricks and hoping that the foreigner could teach them something new. Or was there another meaning behind the idea of getting the man here?

It was senseless and purposeless to think about it. Tomorrow, Ramigal thought, he would go on towards the holy city of Benares.

Just as the sun went down and the slaves brought the torches, the foreigner appeared in the entrance.

The great temple had stood for many generations. Now that the sun had gone, the thousand and one obscenities performed by intricately carved stone figures on its many tiers were no longer visible. And the two hundred figures sitting closely together appeared like one huge body.

The thin man in black walked straight towards them, gave a curt greeting and at once asked in a loud and clear voice what their religion claimed from them as necessary for their salvation.

Old HaritZeb raised his hand a little and smiled. Would it not be better if the foreign sannyasi told them what commands the God of the Christians had for his adherents?

If this was a polite way of reminding the foreigner that it was not for him to ask questions of the assembly, it was lost on the barbarian from the West.

"I will tell you that, when you have answered my question", he said.

Again old HaritZeb smiled. "The two main religious duties are to abstain from killing cows and to show honor to Brahmans", he said.

Ramigal gave him a sharp look. Was this gross ignorance or was the old man trying to insult the stranger?

"If that is so," said Francis, "a murderer, thief and oppressor of the poor could be a man who still fulfilled his main religious duties. After what I have heard, I feel no wish to know more about your religion."

Ramigal winced. The subtle insult had been answered by a stroke with a heavy club. When the stranger walked up to them, he looked like a man who had some knowledge of things known only to the initiated. But now he went down to the level of those who were living in the plains. It was a pity.

"You have asked me what God demands of those with whom he is pleased", said Francis. "This I shall now tell you."

One by one he recited the articles of the Creed, always with a short, poignant interpretation of the meaning. Then he gave them an exposition of the Ten Commandments.

Old HaritZeb went on smiling all the time.

Devandas looked bored.

All this is extremely simple, thought Ramigal. It is a good teaching for children. But he thought it with only a part of himself. There was another part and he was far enough on the way to know what it was that fixed itself on the man who spoke and enjoyed his sincerity as a thirsty man will enjoy a drink of cold, fresh water, And there was a third part of himself and here he was no longer quite so sure what it was that felt a great and rising longing. Twice only in his life he had felt it before. Once, when he first met the Ancient One, the day before he became his chela. And a second time when the Ancient One was dead and his body burned. Then that longing had welled up, strong and demanding, and he suddenly knew that he must leave and go on his search till he reached the holy city. The first time the Ancient One had evoked that longing in him either the Ancient One or something or somebody which in turn worked through the Ancient One and made Ramigal wish to follow him and become his disciple. The second time he had often meditated about it it must have been the soul of his teacher urging him on to undertake that search. But now? What could it mean now?

When the stranger had finished, HaritZeb thanked him. No doubt what he said was beautiful and true. All search for holy things was sacred and bound to lead to truth and all religion was searching. And therefore all religions were true. Now if a Brahman was eating the food offering of a Sudra after due purification of the food, of course it was by no means untrue for him to say that the god ate it. For was there not a spark of the god in him and did it not need nourishment as long as it was a prisoner in its present incarnation? And yet, how could this be made clear to a mere Sudra, still so much at the beginning of the longjourney? Surely he could not possibly understand therefore he was simply told: the god ate your offering. It was not just that the great foreign sannyasi should go about denouncing the Brahmans and it was hoped, very much hoped, that he would not continue doing so. In this hope all the brethren joined. Also it was not just that the great foreign sannyasi told his young men to destroy the sacred images of the gods. After all, the Indian gods had been in India long before the Christian God and there should be respect for that which is old especially in the souls of young men. It was to be hoped very much hoped that they would in future abstain from such works of destruction. Because if the hopes he, HaritZeb, had expressed did not find fulfillment, the gods themselves were likely to take a hand and things then would happen over which even Brahmans had no control.

Francis listened carefully. His Tamil was not good enough to understand every word, but sufficient to understand the essential trend and he easily guessed the rest.

"When God was incarnated on earth", he said, "and became Jesus Christ, my Lord and your Lord, he told those who showed him the great temple in Jerusalem: tear it down and I will build it up again in three days. But he spoke of the temple of his body. And when they killed him on the Cross and buried him, he rose again on the third day. The idols that my young men destroyed did not rise again and more and more idols will fall. For there is only one God and he is not pleased with idols. It is because he wishes his law to be obeyed in India that I am here. And under his law there is no difference between a Brahman and a Sudra, but only a difference between those who obey his law and those who sin against it. Listening to you, one would think that it is you who demand equality. But the only equality you demand is that between truth and error and that can never be. The equality I demand in the name of Christ is that between man and man before God. And I have found more honesty and goodness and above all more humility and faith in the Sudras than I find in you who are supposed to be learned and holy men. The vengeance of the demons you call your gods I do not fear. If you wish to accept the law of my God, I shall teach you and baptize you. If not, you must know that Christ has said: 'He who is not for me, is against me'".

He gave them a greeting, turned and walked away.

Ramigal saw Devandas lean forward and whisper with HaritZeb. The old man nodded and Devandas rose and walked quickly, till he had caught up with the stranger.

"I am Devandas", he said politely. "Please permit me to accompany you to the hut we have prepared for your stay at night. I shall keep you company, if I may. There are some questions I want to ask of you."

Francis accepted. It was impossible to return to Tuticorin at night, when the jungle woke up. Besides, he was very tired, and he still had to say his Office. He was under little illusion about Devandas' questions, but one could never know for certain ....

Behind them, the assembly in the wide courtyard broke up into little groups. Then a steady flow of whiterobed figures began to disappear inside the main building.

A short, thickset man bent down to HaritZeb and muttered something.

Ramigal saw that he had a sacrificial knife in the folds of his dress.

HaritZeb gave him an angrily hissing answer and the man, reluctantly, withdrew.

Ramigal said, "What is this foreign sannyasi doing?"

"He is the first and only of the Portugi who will not come to terms with us", said the old man sullenly. "He does not understand the law of give and take. But he will pass away sooner or later. There are many teeth in the jungle and some of them are poisonous."

After a while Ramigal said, "That is not what I meant, my old brother. What kind of life does the sannyasi lead?" "There is little doubt that he is possessed", said HaritZeb. "Many say he never eats anything at all and he drinks only water, except when he celebrates his ritual in the morning . He goes about teaching and pouring water over the heal of the Paravas, invoking his God. He continually interferes when some of the people start a quarrel. He prays when they are ill and it is said that his demons hear him and that many walk again who should have died. This is particularly upsetting to us, because there has been no healer in the temple for many years now and they all go to him."

"He charges them heavily for the healing?"

The wrinkled, old face twitched in annoyance. "He does not charge them at all. Nor does he charge them anything for his teaching and the Paravas are too stupid to understand that anything given away cannot be valuable."

"What is his gain then?" asked Ramigal quietly.

"Ah, if only I knew! We thought it might be power. But power goes with display. Yet he has never been seen but in the same coat and he does not wear any precious thing on his body. He refused to accept our presents, and we sent him some good pearls. He does not accept presents from the Paravas either. They call him Father. It is bewildering, Ramigal he really is treating these lowborn dogs as if they mattered! As if he could instill into them the understanding of mysteries, due to them only after another two or three incarnations. He tells them that his God loves them. As if it were possible to love a Sudra! We have had him under sharp observation, Ratingal. He does not pretend about the kind of life he is leading. He lives the same way even when he believes himself unobserved unless, of course, his demon tells him when he is watched and when he isn't. And he sleeps no longer than two or three hours at night. The rest of the time he either reads a book he always carries with him, or he kneels in the middle of his hut and holds converse with his demon."

"When a man is thirsty for power", said Ramigal almost inaudibly, "he will kneel only before himself."

"What did you say? Ah yes, power. But what itch can it satisfy in him, to be the father of many thousands of Sudras? Well, Devandas has gone to ask him certain questions. Perhaps we shall soon know more. There are some who recommend very simple ways of dealing with the problem I am not for that."

HaritZeb broke off: He suddenly felt that he was saying far too much. After all, this Ramigal was a stranger himself. Devandas would have said he was being garrulous again the impudent young man if he had been present. But then he saw that Ramigal was no longer at his side. He was walking towards the entrance of the courtyard, very slowly and with his head bowed, deep in thought.

"We know", said Devandas eagerly, "that there is only God the Creator of all there is. This is one of the great secrets Brahmans know about. This is one of the things we are told by our great teachers. But it is not for the uninitiated. We must swear a most solemn oath never to reveal it to them, nor any of the other great mysteries. Yet I will tell you all. And in turn you will tell me all the secrets of the Christian religion and I will swear to you that I will not reveal them to anybody else."

"I will gladly tell you all the Christian mysteries", said Francis, "and I will hold back nothing but only if you promise not to keep them secret, but to spread them as best you can. And the first is: he who believes and is baptized will be saved."

Devandas wrote it down. "I will write it all down", he said, "and you will baptize me. But you must never tell anyone that I have become a Christian."

"There is no need for me to tell anybody," said Francis, "but you must never deny that you are a Christian."

Then he saw Devandas smile, a crafty, cunning smile, the smile of a man who knew how to circumvent a dangerous situation, and he sighed and said wearily, "If you deny Christ, he will deny you."

"It must remain a secret", murmured Devandas. "No Brahman can become a Christian, unless he can be sure that it will remain secret."

"I cannot accept you into the Church under such conditions", said Francis sadly. "Pray that God will give you courage to overcome your fears. At least you can teach those who come to you for advice that there is only one God, the Creator of heaven and earth."

"Teach that to the Sudras?" asked Devandas, startled. "I would break my oath and a demon would surely, kill me. Siva has many servants." He caught himself. "I will pray", he said. "Most assuredly I will pray. But tell me, what incantation do you use that makes ill people well even dying people? Or do you use a mantram of great strength? You do not accept payment in money or pearls, they say. But perhaps they must give you their children in payment. What do you use them for?"

"Go, Devandas", said Francis quietly.

The Brahman gave a short laugh. "I knew you wouldn't tell me your real secrets", he said. "But perhaps we already know them." He left.

After a while Francis became aware of a shadow, darkening the entrance of the hut. He made the sign of the Cross and rose from his knees. So the man had come back. Perhaps they had given him fresh instructions. But it was not Devandas.

"I am Ramigal", said the tall, young Brahman. His eyes shifted to a corner of the room, where a plate with rice cakes and some fruit was lying on a low table of brass. Something was moving on that plate.

A small, flat, triangular head appeared, raising itself high on a slim, stalklike body. It darted first to one side, then to another and now it shd down to the floor. Francis saw it, too. Neither of the two men moved. The snake hesitated for a few moments, then made its way right across the hut. Still neither of the two men moved. It was a krait, its bite deadly within a fraction of an hour. It passed noiselessly between the two men and reached the entrance and was gone.

"What is it you want of me, Ramigal?" asked Francis.

After five heartbeats the Brahman answered, "When you told those men about what Christians believe, I thought it was a very beautiful thing to teach children. But then I thought who would dare to teach children things that are untrue? Then I saw that you yourself believed in your own teaching. And I heard from the lips of an enemy that you are living it. For the sake of my soul and for the sake of the soul of India, answer me: if God became incarnate on earth and suffered for all men, be they Brahmans or Sudras or any other caste, then is final salvation possible for a man even if he has not achieved perfection by himself?"

"No man can achieve perfection by himself', said Francis gently. "But by cooperating with Our Lord and on the strength of Our Lord's death on the Cross a man will be acceptable to God."

"If he can do that, there is no need for him to be reborn on earth", said Ramigal slowly.

"A thief died on a cross next to Our Lord", said Francis. "Surely a man who had not reached perfection. But he begged Our Lord to remember him when he came into his kingdom and Our Lord answered him: 'I promise thee, this very day thou shalt be in paradise.' "

Ramigal took a deep breath. "It is clear, then, that you have come to teach people how to cooperate with the incarnate God. It is not surprising that the basis of such teaching is simple. Great truth of its very nature must be simple."

"God", said Francis, "is simple."

The man who had been sitting for years at the feet of the Ancient One in the faraway North understood at once, and he knew that there was now no need for him to go to Benares, because he had found the holy city." 1 have been searching for God a long time", he said. "Now I come to you and I beg of you: teach me, as you would teach a child."

When Francis returned with Ramigal to Tuticorm, he found so much work needing immediate attention that he had no time to go on with his letter to Father Ignatius. Several weeks went by before he could resume writing.

"The bragmanes tell me that they know right well there is only one God....

"I let them have my views of their behavior; and I expose their impositions and trickeries to the poor simple folk, who out of sheer terror alone remain attached to them, until I become tired out with the effort. As a result of my campaign, many lose their devotion to the devil and accept the Faith. Were it not for these bragmanes all the heathen would be converted...

"Since I came here only one bragmane has become a Christian, a fine young fellow, now engaged in teaching the children Christian doctrine."

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