Sunday, April 10, 2005

Stamp of Spirituality

By G. Mahadevan, The Hindu [India's National Newspaper]

From the time he was a child, George Ambalathil was fond of collecting stamps. He used to painstakingly search for old and rare stamps, often writing to friends and relatives asking them to save stamps for him.

In 1986 when George was in the ninth standard, his hobby acquired a new dimension. That year after seeing Pope John Paul II from afar during a prayer meeting in Kottayam presided over by the Pontiff, George started enquiring whether there were stamps featuring `The Papa.'

Today, Fr. George Ambalathil, a Carmelite priest, boasts of 54 stamps in his collection featuring the late Pope; stamps brought out by countries "as different in their religious attitudes as Italy and Cuba."

These `papal stamps' were collected the same way the other stamps in Fr. George's collection were; by writing to friends around the world. " If I wanted, I could have had stamps featuring the Pope brought over directly from the Vatican through the church. But then the Collector in me would not have been satisfied," he said as he fondly showed stamp after stamp from his collection. "As you can see, each of these stamps has postal seals on them."

The 54 `papal stamps' in his collection portray more or less as many moods of the late Pontiff. If in the 1986 stamp brought out by the Vatican, the Pope is seen blessing some poor people, in the stamp brought out by Syria in 2003, he is seen as an old man bent over the cross in solemn prayer.

In Cuba's 1998 stamp, on the other hand, the Pope is seen as a much younger man. Perhaps, it is no surprise that the `oldest' papal stamp in the priest's collection is the one issued in Columbia in the year 1986.

However, the greatest variety of Papal moods has been captured by the Vatican's own stamps. These range from a young, handsome Pope blessing the multitudes in St. Peter's Square to those showing him in full Pontificals with the dome of St. Peter's basilica in the background.

Also forming part of the collection are papal stamps from Croatia (1994), Zambia (1989), Italy (1998), Portugal (2001), Poland (2002), Croatia (2004), Sri Lanka (1995) and Bolivia (1998).
For Fr. George, just looking at these stamps is inspiration enough for his life as a priest as were the words of John Paul II when he was alive.
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posted by Don Schilling at 1:18 PM