Archbishop's Message

My dear brothers & sisters,


When God answers our prayers it is not because we have power over God but that God is merciful to us. Prayer manifests our total dependence on God and his providence. God listens to our prayers when we place our petitions before him with childlike trust and confidence. This is the theme of the entire Bible and particularly of the New Testament. Our Lord has promised us that our Heavenly Father will grant to us what we ask for when we pray to him in faith: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Mt. 7:7-8). In reality, when we have faith even as small as a grain of mustard seed we can move mountains, because there is nothing that is impossible to the one who believes (cf. Mt. 17: 20); in fact “with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26). However there are ‘conditions’ for the effectiveness of prayer which our Lord lays down in the one and only prayer he taught, the ‘Our Father’. It is the heart that matters before God and not words alone, however loud and lengthy. Sometimes we rattle through the ‘Our Father’ but if listen carefully to the introduction to the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ at the Holy Mass, we will realize that we cannot take this prayer lightly. The introduction says: “At the Saviour’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say”. We would never ever have had the courage to relate to God in this manner unless the Son of God himself had opened for us the mystery of God’s infinite love towards humanity and the Trinitarian communion into which we are called. In another instance the Lord sums up the two conditions for prayer to be heard: “Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mk. 11: 24-25). And we may even add a third condition to what the Lord has taught, which is like a corollary and that is ‘thanksgiving’. St Paul teaches: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice … The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4: 4-7). This is not a thanksgiving ‘after’ receiving what we have asked for but ‘before’ receiving it, and that is true Christian faith.

When Peter was in prison after Herod had executed James, the early church prayed in earnest for his release and an angel of the Lord rescued him from the prison in a miraculous way (cf. Act of the Apostles 12: 1-11). Miracles do take place when we trust in the Lord with a humble and childlike heart.

Nevertheless, there are many people of a critical and skeptical mind who do not believe in ‘miracles’ and want to explain every event through ‘natural causes’. They also don’t believe in prayer and its power. However, when a world famous surgeon who belongs to the scientific community begins to talk about the power of prayer and the role of faith in his life, that should make us to sit up and listen. It calls for full attention.

Dr. Luzito J. de Souza is one of India’s most eminent onco-surgeons from Mumbai. He has been professor and head of gastroenterology department at Tata Memorial Hospital for many years before moving to P.D.Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre as consultant onco-surgeon. He has been consultant oncologist to Air India and Indian Airlines. Besides receiving a Padma Shri from the Government of India in 1992 he has to his credit many international awards and recognitions in the field of cancer research and palliative care. He is the founder of the charitable trust called the ‘Shanti Avedna Ashram’ for the terminally ill patients run by the Holy Cross Sisters (Kottiyam). The trust currently has a network of three homes in Mumbai, Goa and Delhi respectively. The ‘Shanti Avedna Ashram’ of Delhi has entered its twenty-fifth year in 2019. The other two are older.

In 2015, during the ‘Year of Mercy’, he penned a beautiful little book by the above-mentioned title wherein he narrates in twenty succinct chapters twenty incidents in his life where he has experienced the “power of prayer and the mercy of God”. In fact the very foundation of the three homes itself and their growth is a miracle of God made possible through prayer, as he mentions in his book. Some of the incidents he narrates may look very ‘ordinary’, but to him they are ‘extraordinary’ and beyond human explanation as the outcome could never have been possible if he had not prayed earnestly to God for help.

The Eucharist is the centre of his life. He had given this testimony at the Eucharistic Congress held in Mumbai in November 2014 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 38th Eucharistic Congress held in Mumbai in 1964 when Pope Paul VI came to our country as a ‘pilgrim of peace’. In Chapter Eight he speaks of the power of the Eucharist. He narrates: “In my professional work, I make it a point to take the help of the Eucharist every day, and especially when I have to do a difficult or complicated surgery. In fact, when we (he & wife) leave the Church after the Eucharistic celebration we say, ‘And grant that as we leave your House we may be aware of your presence’. He is with us and in us when we receive the Eucharist and when God and man work together nothing is really impossible. This, I have experienced any number of times in my surgical practice of almost fifty years. To give just one example, we had recently operated a rather complicated case in one of the city hospitals. He had not one but three cancers in his colon. Further, one of the cancers was the size of a coconut and densely adherent to surrounding vital structures. When I explored the patient, my first impression was that it was inoperable. I was planning to back out and give him chemotherapy initially, to shrink the tumours. This would have meant a temporary stoma (opening), and a secondary surgery to resect the cancers after the chemotherapy. I started separating the big tumour slowly, and most unexpectedly was able to dissect it off the major surrounding structures without any damage. Further, when we opened the specimen after resection we could not find the lower-most cancer as shown by the endoscopy. We had to look lower in the rectum to find it. Just when we were preparing to do on table an endoscopy to find the tumour, my Assistant felt something much lower down. We were able to resect this successfully also. The final report showed that all three cancers were resected and there was surprisingly no spread to nodes. The patient made an uneventful recovery and with some minimal adjuvant chemotherapy should have a very good prognosis. At the end of the surgery I said to my Assistant that it was a near ‘miracle’ that we were able to remove the cancers. He was a non-believer and did not understand what I was saying, but I did. It was the strength and guidance of the Eucharist that had enabled us to save the patient’s life. Such is the power of the Eucharist in prayer”.

In the Prologue to his book he recounts an incident that he had read in an article on the “The Power of Prayer”. Let me reproduce the entire narrative here as it is very captivating.

Dr. Mark, a well-known Cancer Specialist was once on his way to an important conference in another city where he was to receive an award in the field of medical research. He was very excited to attend the conference and was desperate to reach as soon as possible. He had worked long and hard, done his research and felt his efforts deserved the award he was about to obtain. However, two hours after the plane took off, the plane made an emergency landing at the nearest airport due to some technical snag. Afraid that he would not make it in time for the conference, Dr. Mark immediately went to the reception and found that the next flight to his destination was well after ten hours. The receptionist suggested that he rent a car and drive himself to the conference city. It was only four hours away.

Having no other choice he agreed to the idea, despite his hatred for driving long distances. Dr. Mark, rented a car and started his journey. However, soon after he left, the weather suddenly changed and a heavy storm began. The pouring rain made it very difficult to see and he missed a turn that he was supposed to take. After two hours of driving he was convinced he was lost. Driving in the heavy rain on a deserted road, feeling hungry and tired, he frantically began to look for any sign of civilization. After some time, he finally came across a small tattered house. Desperately, he got out of the car and knocked at the door. A beautiful lady opened the door. He explained his predicament and asked her if he could use her telephone. However, the lady told him that she did not have a phone or any electronic gadget. She told the doctor to come inside and wait till the weather improved.

Hungry, wet and exhausted, the doctor accepted her kind offer and walked in. The lady gave him hot tea and something to eat. The lady told him that he can join her in prayer. Dr. Mark smiled and said that he believed in hard work only and told her to continue with her prayers. Sitting at the table and sipping the tea, the doctor watched the woman in the dim candle light as she prayed next to what appeared to be a small baby crib. Every time she finished a prayer, she would start another one. Feeling that the woman might be in need of help, the doctor seized the opportunity to speak as soon as she finished her prayer. The doctor asked her what exactly she wanted from God and inquired whether God would ever listen to her prayers. He further asked her about the small child in the crib for whom she was apparently praying. The lady gave a sad smile and said that the child in the crib was her son, who was suffering from a rare type of cancer and there was only one Dr. Mark who could cure him. But she did not have money to afford his fee. And moreover, he lived in another far-off town. She said that God had not answered her prayer so far, but added that God would create some way out some day, adding that she would not allow her fears to overcome her faith.

Stunned and speechless, Dr. Mark was in tears which were rolling down his cheeks. He whispered ‘God is Great’ and recollected the sequence of events – there was a malfunction in the plane, a thunderstorm hit, and he lost his way. And all of this happened because God did not just answer her prayer but also gave him a chance to come out of his materialistic world and give some time to the poor, helpless people who have nothing to offer, but are rich prayer!

Dr. Luzito says he could have recounted hundreds of incidents in his life to testify to his faith but the twenty he has described in his book are enough to convince us that there is something more than mere ‘chance’ or ‘luck’ and this ‘something more’ is the “power of prayer and the mercy of God”.

God will always answer our prayer but not always according to our will and in our time but according to His will, in His time and in His way because our ways are not His ways!

Yours sincerely in the Lord,
+ Anil J. T. Couto
  Archbishop of Delhi