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People: Sonu Augustine

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by Don Duncan

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Sonu Augustine, 46, arrived in Qatar from Kerala, India, 20 years ago. There he married and built a life, and now rears two children. A legal advisor in a local Qatari company, he is one of an estimated 400,000 Syro-Malabar Catholics in the Persian Gulf region. As secretary of the Syro-Malabar Cultural Association in Qatar, he is at the forefront of a coterie of lay Syro-Malabars pushing for better access to services and pastoral care in their own Catholic tradition within the Gulf region’s Latin-dominated Catholic Church. Mr. Augustine recently met with ONE magazine’s Don Duncan to discuss the challenges of faith and culture in the Persian Gulf region.

ONE: Tell us about your family, and how it shaped your faith and your life.

Sonu Augustine: I belong to a traditional Catholic family with an ardent vigor for faith. Of my father’s five brothers and four sisters, three became priests and one became a religious sister. Prayer was present in my family, so it was quite natural for me to inherit this faith — my main source of strength in my day-to-day life.

ONE: You grew up in Kerala among many Indian Catholics. Did you experience other religions in your youth?

SA: In my village, there were Christians and Hindus in equal numbers. The Hindu temple was so close to my house, we could hear the prayers. Many of my close friends were Hindus. It was a very lovely atmosphere: peaceful coexistence.

ONE: Did the multiplicity of faiths ever confuse you in your own faith?

SA: When I reached college, I began to read texts from other religions — especially from Hinduism. The way Hinduism perceives God attracted me; in Hinduism there is only one all-encompassing God, whereas in Christianity, God is manifested as a person, in Jesus. This created a friction in me and the further reading led me to atheism for a short time. But the faith I practiced at the very beginning of my life came to my rescue during a hard time, in which I found myself answerless, helpless.

It can be confusing during our formative years when we begin to question our beliefs and others’ beliefs and wonder which one is correct. But once we mature, we realize that coexistence with other religions is of great benefit for us, even for understanding our own faith.

ONE: Does this experience make you wary for the faith of your two children?

SA: As I bring up my two girls, I am very anxious and very cautious that such a phase of moving away from faith shall not happen in their lives. Faith is real. Faith is required. Faith is inseparable from any human being. So, my wife and I, we cautiously lead our children in the path of faith. Whenever we have an example of God’s presence, we say, “praise the Lord for this,” so that the Lord is there with us in every moment. We go to church and we regularly receive the sacraments. Every day we have prayer in this house.

ONE: Does your existence far from the core of the Syro-Malabar Church make it harder for you to transfer your traditions to your children?

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