Carmel lights

Ever heard of “Carmel” school or college? My sisters studied at Carmel School in Bandra, Mumbai. In boyhood I’d often tease them: “Why do you go to a camel-school?” A well-informed classmate explained, “That school gets its name not from camel but from ‘caramel’ since the nuns wear chocolate-brown robes!” I later learnt that Carmel had nothing to do with camels and caramels but is a coastal mountain range in northern Israel.
Carmel institutions, nationwide, are run by Catholic religious called “Carmelites”. At school, the flowing brown robes and veils of the nuns seemed outmoded and intimidating, However, I now know many Carmelites who are refreshingly vivacious and up-to-date. These practise Carmelite spirituality, which stresses prayer and penance.
On my recent trip to Israel, I visited many sites atop Mount Carmel ideally suited to dhyan (meditation) and sadhana (spiritual practices). Situated 30 kms from the seaside town of Haifa, Mount Carmel has many grottoes and elevations that transport one towards Transcendence: God.
Mountains have traditionally been “sacred geography” for believers. Like our holy Himalayas or sacred Sinai, the western slopes of Mount Carmel began to be inhabited by Christian pilgrims in the 12th century. These monks — desirous of imitating Prophet Elijah by living ascetic lives in caves — later took the name of “Carmelites”.
In the 17th century a large church and monastery were built on Mount Carmel over a grotto in which Prophet Elijah is believed to have lived. Thereafter, the church was destroyed and rebuilt. It is now dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus, with the title Stella Maris: Star of the Sea.
Many Carmelites serve in India: Discalced Carmelites (meaning, barefoot), Apostolic Carmelites (ACs), Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMIs) and Carmelites of Charity of Vedruna (CCVs). Years ago, my family was aghast when an extroverted aunt, Ruth, joined the “Cloistered Carmelites” (meaning, secluded). She has, ever since, never left the four walls of her convent praying and doing penance. When I last met her, she seemed aglow with spiritual joy.
Mount Carmel is special for the Baha’i and Islamic faiths, too. It houses the Baha’i World Centre and Shrine of the Báb — called Kúh-i-Núr or “Mountain of Light” — surrounded by 19 terraced gardens illuminated at night. The Ahmadiyya Muslims have their largest Israeli mosque on Mount Carmel known as the Mahmood Mosque in Kababir.
Today, July 16, is special for Carmelites who remember Elijah and Mother Mary. Aglow with the sacredness of Mount Carmel that sustains Jews, Christians, Muslims and Baha’is, my heart was grateful to One God — who, according to the motto of my Vidyajyoti College, “Alone shines; this whole world radiates with that light!” (Katha Upanishad 5:15). May the Lights of Carmel continue illuming many pilgrim paths!

Francis Gonsalves is the principal of the Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi.
He can be contacted at fragons@gmail.com

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