mass in his church. Susheel Gupta,
now a lawyer and vice-chair of the
human rights tribunal, was 12 at
the time of the disaster in which he
lost his mom. He talked about the
experience of taking communion
from this Catholic priest, and being
devastated and amazed when told
he was eating and drinking the
body and blood of Christ!
The priest was officially reprimanded by his superiors for his
laxity in relation to Catholic doctrine and teaching. But he later rose
to become a bishop in Ireland.
And his reputation lives on
among the bereaved families as a
witness to Christian compassion
and generosity – as providing what
Susheel called “the human touch”
in a time of great spiritual need.
Bal Gupta also spoke of the
warmth, empathy, tears and sheer
kindness of the nuns the victims’
families met in Cork and elsewhere
during their sojourn in Ireland.
Conference attendees didn’t hear
any equivalent stories about Christians in Canada.
A web archive of the conference
will be available through McMaster
University ( airindia.humanities.
Meanwhile, the legacy of that
Irish Catholic priest and the nuns
in Cork can keep us pondering how
to show the love of Christ to people
of other faiths in profound need,
and asking ourselves when and
whether compassion and trust in
God’s providential care might be
more important at such times than
our understanding of doctrinal
textbook stages of grief management
anticipated by the story’s Torontonian social worker. Mukherjee’s
characters have visions and dreams.
They see their families in unexpected manifestations. The family
members speak to them and give
them courage and strength.
Perhaps the most relevant and
thought-provoking part of the conference for Christians was Bal
Gupta’s description of the role of the
Catholic Church on the Irish coast
near the crash site.
Recognizing the vital importance
of the spiritual dimension at a time
of such profound loss, the Catholic
priest in Cork opened his church
for gatherings by the many different religious groups among the
thousand or so bereaved relatives
who came to his city, including
Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Zoroastrians and Jews.
What’s more, he invited anyone
who wanted to do so, to come to
ment of Grief.” This story on the
aftermath of the Air India tragedy
(taught in many literature classes)
demonstrates both that grief is a
universal emotion and the manage-
ment of grief will be culturally
specific. This truth was evident
through many of the creative works
presented at the conference.
So, in a time of such profound
grief, what does the Christian have
Several of the bereaved spoke of
being catapulted by the overwhelming loss into a space of deep spiritual
searching. They were not shy to describe what they knew of a spiritual
realm, whether in the Hindu religion or in other religious traditions.
In some ways this openness about
the spiritual in a cosmopolitan place
seemed deeply non-Western. It’s
there in Mukherjee’s story as well.
The characters manage their grief in
spiritual ways rather than following
the rationalistic and psychologized
Deborah Bowen is chair of the department
of English at Redeemer University College
in Hamilton, Ont.
Relatives and friends of the victims
of the 1985 Air India bombing look at
names prior to the unveiling ceremony
of the Air India Memorial in Montreal,
Que., on June 23, 2011.
His reputation lives on
touch” in a
time of great