The desire to get the church and the Jesuit Society solidly rooted on the Indian soil remained a recurring theme in Pedro Luis’ letters. The knowledge of the local languages was rightly perceived as a core issue. Working as an interpreter he was well aware of the handicap of the missionaries, and he became convinced of the need of men who knew the local language. He took pride in his knowledge of Malayalam, the local language and his own mother tongue, and the impact of his preaching in that language.
“If we have only eight Fathers of the Society who know the language, in a short time the Serra (Thomas) Christian will be united, and for this there is no need of an income of 1000 pardaos,” he writes pungently.
He wrote to Fr General Claude Aquaviva:
Trusting in the fatherly love that you have for me, as your only Malabarese son who am in the Society longing for companions: may God forgive those who are the cause of some not being received.
I do not know on what they base themselves. They wish to measure the work of grace – which is to persevere in religious life and make progress in it – with their opinions which are works of nature. They say that the Malabar clerics live badly; in this matter God is witness of how other people live. They may say that Peter Luis is not perfect. I reply that I am not the pinnacle of nature; there are many who, were they to be received, would be better than me. To this I say, if because of me this tempest has risen, throw me out – which may God forbid – and let there be received individuals who may better serve the Society and the conversion of souls. In conversion the local may not be excluded by reason of their language. May Our Lord put it into Your Paternity’s heart to open the door for those of India to be received”
Strong words indeed. And what was the ‘tempest’ that he refers to?
The context seems to indicate some cultural conflict that might have occurred, leading to a feeling of victimization in Pedro Luis or other sons of the soil. With regret he recalls Jorge Correa, the Parish Priest of Tuticorin, whose request for admission into the Society made to the Rector of the place and to the Provincial was not accepted. Correa-Afonso observes that Pedro’s was voice crying in the wilderness, and the admission policy of the Society in India did not change till its suppression in 1773.
As a result no indigenous remnant of the Society remained to respond to the call of Restoration in 1814. History would have been different if Pedro Luis’ pleas had been listened to.
(2) Uniting the Thomas Christians with Rome.
Work among the Thomas Christians with a view to uniting them with the Roman Church was part of the agenda if the missionaries,
Pedro Luis reports that Fr. Alexandro Valignano, the Visitor who first came to Malabar in 1575, took interest in this group of Christians
as it was the wish of Fr General. Accordingly, two Jesuits, Frs. Bernadine Ferrario and Pedro Luis, were assigned to the Serra to work
among them. Pedro was sent to the Thomas Christians probably because of his knowledge of the culture and the language of the
Serra. He joined Fr Bernadine in pastoral visits – leading prayers in churches, saying mass and preaching in Malayalam baptizing and
hearing confessions. These visits, with the permission of Archbishop mar Abraham of the Thomas Christians, gave him enough
insights into the situation and its complexities.
Pedro Luis wrote to Fr. General more than once about te Thomas Christians in the Serra. His letter of Jan. 6, 1580 refers to an earlier
letter on the same theme. After sharing it with the other Fathers and with the Father Visitor he writes to the General that “it would be
good either to admit some Syrians into the Society and make them Catholics, and then His highness to make them bishops and send
them here; or for some Brothers of the Society to study Syrian well and after being made bishops to be sent here, all this through the
Patriarch of Babylon from whence these bishops come; it would be a very good means of fast conversions because it means entering
with theirs and coming out with ours.” He repeats in 23 Dec. 1580: “It would be good to bring up in the seminary there in Rome half a
dozen of those from Syria; after they become good Catholics and well learned, they could be made Bishops and sent here or
someone in the Society with good inclinations and nature could learn well Syrian, so that he may speak very well that tongue; and if he
came as Bishop of Serra it would be a big thing and much useful for rapid conversion.”
It shows that he had touched the chore issue, which the missionaries in general had failed to perceive, viz, the importance of liturgical
language and the Syrian Christian culture. He also dwells on the example of Bishop Dom Ambrosio, an Italian Dominican who had
reached India twenty-five years earlier through Persia and had made a good impact. Perhaps his views were too utopian and
impractical, given the geo-political complexities at the time, but it shows that he had touched the core issue, which the missionaries’ in
general had failed to perceive. viz, the importance of liturgical language and the Syrian Christian culture.
(3) In many of Pedro Luis’ letters the ‘pastor’ in him stands out strongly. Its creative side is most evident in his proposal on lay ministers in the letter he wrote to General on Jan 2 1589. He suggests that the Holy Father grants permission to lay men to administer the sacrament of marriage as the Fathers could not remain in Travancore because of the war. These lay ministers should be granted all the faculties of the Society of Jesus if they worked four leagues (c. 2kms.) away from their Rector.
The radical nature of this proposal is evident if we recall that the proposal was made over four centuries ago. This is not to be dismissed as a grand idea of an armchair theologian; he knew what he was talking about, for he had been not only an interpreter but also a ‘lay missionary’ to the laity long enough. He was aware how handicapped the missionaries were not only due to the cultural dived but also because of the clericalism in the church. It is amazing that ministries by married deacons and lay ministers continue as topics for mere theological discourse even today!