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A Journal’s Journey through Seventy Five Years

The celebration of the Platinum Jubilee of the VJTR invites us to a retrospective look and to a reflection on the way in which the Journal was born and grew, and on how it travelled along the roads of half a century history.  Born at the end of the pontificate of Pius XI, the life of the Journal seems to naturally divide itself into four main periods: (a) the pontificates of Pius XII and John XXIII, up to the eve of the Council, marking the first 25 years – the service to the priests of a growing church; (b) the ten or twelve year transition of the Council and post-conciliar period, covering most of the pontificate of Paul VI – the new discovery of the Christian identity; (c) the last twelve or fifteen years, the end of the period of Paul VI and the era of the two John Paul’s – the dialogue of the Church in the world; (d) the search for a truly ecumenical and universal manifestation of the kingdom of God by a Church after the 28 years of the pontificate of Bl. John Paul II.

 The Birth

The newly erected theological faculty of St. Mary’s College, Kurseong was, in the mid-thirties of the last century, young and enthusiastic.  Of the eleven members of the staff seven were in the forties and two in the early fifties.  The intellectual leader of the team was Fr Joseph Putz, the youngest of them, who in 1932 at the age of 38 had succeeded the former rector A. Wigny as “prefect of studies” or Dean of the Faculty.  As a faculty of theology in India the team felt the responsibility of providing food for reflection and ongoing formation to the growing priest community at the moment when the country itself was marching rapidly towards its independence.

Surprisingly, the Salesians of Madras, in January 1938 rolled out of the Good Pastor Press, Madras, 40-page first issue of THE CLERGY MONTHLY to the priests of the country.  It is of the birth of this journal, eventually rechristened VIDYAJYOTI, of which we celebrate today the 75th anniversary.

At the end of 1938, THE CLERGY MONTHLY showed itself satisfied with the popularity it had acquired in 12 months, the variety of its topics and contributors, the number of its subscribers – “many more than we expected.”  By November 1939 a thousand copies were printed, nine hundred of which were sent to subscribers.  The executive editor at the time informs that he had in hand eight full articles awaiting publication – a position any editor could envy today!

The journal was published from Madras for 27 months.  Many Jesuits collaborated in it already from the first year of publication: of the 107 articles of the first year Index, 47 are signed by Jesuits; and 31 of the 89 articles in the second year.

Meanwhile the professors of Kurseong felt quite frustrated.  Two options were now open to them: either to start a different journal more oriented to a scientific theology, or to commit themselves to collaborate with the newly started pastoral journal, and to strengthen and improve it.  The second option was taken.  The Archbishop of Madras was approached on the matter.  He was in Canada when he received the Jesuit letter on the matter, and he immediately wired back, in October 1939: YOUR LETTER RECEIVED STOP TAKE OVER EDITORSHIP PUBLICATION MANAGEMENT CLERGY MONTHLY STOP WIRED MADRAS ACCORDINGLY STOP LETTER FOLLOWS. 

Fr. Putz was able to form a strong team with the youthful staff of Kurseong.  The CLERGY MONTHLY could proudly show that its subscription was nearly 4000 of which 1200 copies went out of India.  It enjoyed wide patronage by the bishops and echoed the rumblings of new theological trends and pastoral initiatives. 

With the celebration of its silver jubilee in 1962, the role of the Journal was transformed.  It was the year of the Council.  The monthly had to interpret the rapidly changing Church to its readers and to encourage them to move with the Council towards those unchartered and at times threatening areas into which the Spirit was beckoning the Church.  Eleven years later the editorial responsibilities were transferred, in 1973, from Fr Putz to the first Indian editor, Fr. M Amaladoss; in 1977, Fr. Amaladoss was given wider responsibilities and Fr. J Dupuis became its editor.  In 1984 Fr. S Arockiasamy took over the responsibilities of Chief Editor of VIDYAJYOTI.  As the Council taught us, it is now more than ever necessary to learn from the world, to be attuned to its culture, to its problems, to its joys and sorrows.  Ours is no longer a clerical Church: the priest today cannot be separated from the people of God and from the laity that form the largest constituent.  In order that the title of the review might no longer seem to indicate that it is exclusively addressed to the Clergy…, in the year 1975, changed its ancient name, “The Clergy Monthly” by the new title, “Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection.”  The whole journal would be indological, dialogal, missionary.  Now the clergy are placed in the midst of the community in which they are leaders, though not the sole leaders.  They are no longer isolated from the Church, nor is the Church abstracted from the world in which it lives.

 The Statutes of VJTR was approved in 1984, after defining the purpose of the Journal in the worlds of the editorial:

Vidyajyoti will seek to participate in and promote the search for Indian ways of worship, witness and life and the expression of an Indian theology.  Aware of the pluralistic nature of this search it will still offer a variety of expression respecting the freedom of creative theological and pastoral research within the parameters of the Gospel and of the Christian faith.  Hence different points of view may be expressed in the Journal, not necessarily agreeing with those of the editors, in the measure in which they may contribute ‘to build up the body of Christ and so we all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, (and) become mature people reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature’ (Eph 4:12-13).

What is new in the third millennium after the pontificate of Bl. John Paul II?  The emergence of the multi-polar world, the revival of the aggressive atheism and the growing cancer of an economic neo-colonialism masquerading as liberalism, and a growing tension between the Islamic and the rest of the world.  Like the world at large, the Church feels the temptation to go back to the securities of the past, rather than step courageously into the universal expression of the kingdom of God in our rich multicultural world.  The Journal in this century has to exorcise the fears of the new future, strengthen the faith of the community in the promise of the Kingdom, and point towards a development of the Christina message in harmony with whatever is holy in other traditions and with our people’s aspirations for justice, freedom, equality, fraternity.  May the supreme ruler of our peoples bestow blessings upon us!