Paulos Mar Gregorios a Lifelong Friendship

Anne Schandorf, M.D.
AebleNaven 98, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark

It is wonderful for Scandinavians, when the sun appears behind the clouds. And the sun was shining really bright on that slightly windy day in 1950, when I had gone swimming with my brother and sister.

We were attending school in those days, not so long after the second World War, and I was going to start Medical School in Copenhagen a couple of weeks later. Copenhagen was far away, it was all a good deal frightening.

Happily splashing in the sea we saw a young man, most likely from India, shivering for cold. The water seemed icy to him, surely he was used to a milder climate.

We were playing ball in the water, and my brother threw the ball to him - Luckily he took it, played it back and right away we were all playing ball and had a wonderful time.

At long last we went up on the beach. The young man from India picked up his towel, chatted with all of us and greeted my father also.
I come from India, he said. - I’m attending the YMCA conference on the nearby hotel.

During the next few days and also during the following years - Paul Verghese - as his name was in the early days - visited us many times. Usually he came in connections with conferences in Denmark in between we exchanged quite a few letters.

India was popular country in Denmark, also then. Everybody remembered Mahatma Gandhi and his sacrifices, his non - violent struggle for peace, freedom, independence from oppression.

India’s independence in 1947 was something very important, we had studied at school. We had seen the film Jungle book from India and it was so thrilling!
And here came - a handsome new friend right from India, into our place. Almost a miracle, wasn’t it?

As for my anxiety about going to Copenhagen, our new friend laugher and said to me: you will manage!

This comforted me a good deal.

I remember Paul - and my father - who was a Danish minister on pension - always laughing, chatting, and also in between talking very serious. They talked about Gandhi, Sadhu Sundar Singh, C. F. Andrews, and the Apostle Thomas not to forget.

We youngsters, I was 18 years myself, we did not understand everything, but there was a lot to pick up.

In my later life I always collected the books, written by these authors, and to this came Paul’s own books later on and they made me very thoughtful indeed.

The Danish people suffered from the occupation by the Germans during the war - and peace in the world - also God’s kingdom - it was so important.

Paul and my father always seemed to agree upon every subject discussed.

My mother tried to cook - curried chicken - for Paul. Was it the same curry taste as in India?

Paul chewed the chicken very thoughtfully, maybe in search for a diplomatic answer.

Very nearly the same, but not quite, he said.

The years were passing by. I began my studies in Copenhagen and Paul went to Princeton university in the U.S. and started his theological studies. Princeton university was a place with intense work and many prayers, I understood. He wrote letters which were copied and sent to his friends, he had many of them, all over the world.

My father died from a heart condition in 1955, at the age of 72, and it was difficult for us to handle the loss and the grief. I remember Paul’s unhappy letter shortly after, and somewhat later he came around to talk with us and comfort us.

I had been working hard with my exams in physiology and anatomy and finally passed the first part of the medical exams in January 1955.

Stressing with my exams and my father’s disease and death, also a little later I went through an unhappy love affair. These burdens of life seemed at times unbearable.

I shall here try to lay out what came up in these wonderfully restoring talks I had with Paul in those days. About life, lived with the inspiration and close togetherness with Christ.

In the beginning of the fifties we have to remember the war in Korea and the shadows, cast by this.

The Bomb - the atom bombs and frequent nuclear tests were daily stuff in the media, causing fear of another even more destructive world war.

Paul had worked a couple of years as a private chaplain for the Emperor Hailee Selassie of Ethiopia, resigned and decided to continue his studies in 1959.

The serious world aspects always came out, when I had a chance to talk with Paul in the fifties. Once he visited us in 1959, I discussed with him the unfortunate love affair, and I admitted frankly that the burdens of life often seemed - too much.

My final exams were on the schedule for December - January 1959-60. I had to pass 12 subjects within two months.

I had never seen Paul so serious. He understood my crisis so well. - I know you are a good student, he said.

Then I started complaining. I was sure I never got married. I was now 20, it was almost a catastrophe.

Look, he said. - You are too frantic about it!

Well - I don’t think so, I said, but I knew in a flash, he was right.

There are also other things than marriage, he remarked. Not all marriages are, what a marriage should be. Maybe 5% of them are - real good. As for myself, I cannot marry at all.

Due to your commitment, I said. This was something, we had always been aware of.

It is due to something, I experienced, when I was very young, he said.

My family suffered an economic disaster, my family was scattered around. My brother and I ended up in Addis Ababa. I was to yearn.

Then, one day, we got work at the Post Office.

And one day I had - a revelation. I was there.

He hesitated. I nodded my head. Yes, he continued. Where they crucified our Lord. His sufferings. I was there.

The shock spread in me, and I have never forgotten it.

The scenery at Golgata has been more and more vivid for me ever since, especially at Easter - time. I see the crowd, hear the noise - the Roman soldiers, plenty of them. The victims first lying on the ground.

Paul continued. Thereafter I had to follow the calling, work for Christ only and not establish a family.

It is often difficult, he said.

I nodded my head again.

He travelled a lot already then, attending conferences and also lecturing. Very fond of children he had always been.

After his visits, things always worked out very smoothly, and I stopped feeling sorry for myself.

Two charming episodes, he told us about in the fifties, I also remember vividly. - He had been playing the leading role in Othello! - Oh, my black skin! he exclaimed, to our delight. He also taught in Primary Schools once, as far as I understood.

One little girl came up to me all the time in the class, he said. - I had to sharpen her pencil every minute. Then she broke it again!

This little girl, I could see her so clearly.

I graduated as a medical doctor and passed those 12 exams without the fear I had anticipated.

Then I had the chance to meet Paul briefly in New York in August 1960, when I was on my way to work out my medical internship at a hospital in Kansas City, US.

He was then working on his thesis at Yale University, and during holidays at Interchurch, New York City.

Later that year, he wrote a brief note and explained that he had not been happy to study at Yale and he was going to Oxford and continue his studies at a University there in the U.K.

It started with a big flu, and the weather was nasty, he wrote in another letter.

Paul’s all - round letters, followed by a private note in the end, were always very caring, cozy, intimate.

When I came back from the states in 1961, to Denmark, I had the chance to meet Paul again in 1962.

He was now the leading guest speaker at a large Convention at the same hotel as before. I think it was in August, and the weather was quite cold.

Paul had now been ordained as a priest and wore a black ornate. He had also grown a beard. He came to visit us, and I had a chance to hear him lecture: about the kingdom of God. Also ecumenic ways of thinking. The power, the delight, is was all there.

The Danish people and many from neighbouring countries were crowding around him.

During the late sixties we exchanged letters off and on, Paul started traveling more, in my opinion too much.

My life is hectic, he wrote in a letter. Look at my itinerary! There it was – Australia - the US - later came Moscow.

He admitted that some, maybe many, of his good friends were also worried about his frequent traveling and inevitable perils combined with air traveling. Always airoplanes, air ports, delay - His passport! It was often full up, and a new passport had to be issued.

But my place is in India, he wrote.

As for myself I completed my doctor’s post - graduate training while living in Roskilde near Copenhagen. In 1966 I went to Ghana in West Africa to work in the subject Tropical Medicine.

I married Dr. Adjei Schandorf, a General Practitioner in Accra and also a Children’s Specialist.

These years were wonderful years, but in 1977 I had to return to Denmark because of the difficult situation in Ghana - inflation and extreme scarcity. At that time I was employed at a tropical hospital, but had to leave my job, patients, collegues, family, friends, and house, everything.

Two children stayed with my husband, our youngest daughter I got with me back to Roskilde, where I so to speak, started from scratch.

Luckily I had a hospital job a couple of weeks after our return, and also soon an apartment in Roskilde, where I am living up to this day. I am now having my own psychiatric Out - Patient Clinic near Copenhagen.

During these turmoiles in life I was still corresponding with Paul about the situation as it came. He managed to come to Scandinavia several times in the early eighties, and we had a few meetings, also once I was lucky to catch him in Copenhagen Air Port and talk with him.

He knew that the situation in West Africa was difficult. The glorious NKrumah Era had been followed by large welfare problems and demands from the people.

These demands have turned out a lot more urgent since then.

A new consciousness of the masses: I see this as a part of what I can call the Christian vision. Trying to do away with class - differences. Wasn’t this an important issue for the first Christians?

Paul always discussed with me the new challenges of his “hectic life”, the responsibilities - off and on also his frustrations.

He had become Paulos Mar Gregorios.

A modest celebrity in my opinion and usually not too happy about media - interest.
I have written a lot about the many ways he had supported me in my life, I have not said much about the fear and anguish I had often felt.

Especially his dangerous travels and meetings with controversial figures such as Fidel Castro, Desmond Tutu, many other famous persons.

The fear was there, I can say for my part, and I am sure that many friends felt the same sort of worry. The minute Paulos became more famous and influential, also came a new fear: somebody may assassinate him, as happened to Martin Luther King.

Peace - making breaks into a lot of financial power - games, as we see also now.
We Christians try to place our burdens on the Lord, but this is not a safe - guard against grief and discouragement.

Just here, a word, a book, or an old letter from Paulos, comes as a candle in the darkness.

After finishing his thesis, he became a president of world Council of Churches, also a Metropolitan for the Eastern Orthodox Church in New Delhi, as you know so well.

Still, his friendship and wonderful influence, it was good to have. I knew where his strength came from, but what could I give in return?
I had suggested several times that he ought to visit us for a few days in Roskilde. I had a nice little guestroom ready. He could unwind a bit and get the chance to see all three children at the same time in the summer 1986.

My stepson, then 26 years, was to visit us in Roskilde, after my husband had died in Ghana in 1984. There had been endless problems getting my son’s visa in place, and finally we thought it was not possible for him to get out of Ghana.

Paulos arrived at the Air Port, as fresh, charming, and sparkling as ever. He always wore his black, long dress when travelling. He was a celebrity, but you could hardly feel it.

The famous curried chicken I had also tried to excell in - it had to be changed into fried rice and shrimps, salad and other seafood, things that Paulos delighted in.

Needless to say, my son arrived late in the evening - ringing the bell violently.

I opened, a bit frightened and there he stood, big and beautiful, with a large rucksack.

He and Paulos had not met before, but one should think they were old friends. How we all chatted and laughed that evening!

Another day Paulos and I walked in a park outside Roskilde. I remember the glittery sunshine that day. There was an old castle, and all of a sudden the big gate slammed open and a superintendent appeared with her cleaning utensils. It was a bucket of water and a broom, and she asked, If we wanted to see the castle from the inside.

This was usually an expensive affair, possible only at rare occasions.

While we were admiring the posh and decorated rooms, former home of a noble family, I thought: any more miracles?

Paulos had presented me with his famous book: Cosmic Man, and showed some surprise at my interest in these theological matters.

Can that stuff really interest you, he asked. I said: very much indeed, - and up to this day I enjoy the book as a sort of reconciliation between God and creation. it is so rich and full of endeavours - and Paulos himself almost a reincarnation of the church father Gregory of Nyssa.

When I expressed my usual apprehension about his travels to Moscow, he was not impressed at all.

The congregation needs me, he said.

The totalitarian system did not frighten him at all. - And they have no unemployment there, he added.

This impressed me, as we in Denmark had about 250000 unemployed people then, in 1986. Later, the figure came up to about 300000.

Paulos had always been very interest in psychology, and as I had become a psychiatrist in 1984, he wanted to talk about what psycho - analysis really was?

I had a feeling, he was wondering about the Freudian concept of man’s personality structure. I knew he had studied these theories and I wondered if the Freudian statements about children’s early sexual development - somehow seemed blasphemic? Or colliding with the Christian way of thinking?

I said something about the development of the psychic realm - mental development, and this followed certain rules and structures. Just as well as the growth of the body, which we learned about in anatomy I thought it was a total genial construction or concept, given by the Lord altogether.

Paulos did not go further into these matters, and a few days later I brought him back to the Air Port once again and saw him disappear up the steps.

That well known painful feeling, tears, and prayers, it was all there again. Would he come back another time?

I had several letters from him after he attended some conferences in Germany. Everything went on quite smoothly.

But then after 1989, I did not get any more letters, not even when I wrote to him about a major cancer operation, I went through in 1995.

He always wrote a personal note, when a crisis came up, and I wondered, if he had got my letter, or had problems about his own health.

I could have sent some medicine, some ideas, done something eventually, if this had been the case.

In the Danish Christian Daily I read in 1991 about one of Paulos speeches at a conference, where he talked about Christian Unity and Peace once again. The Middle East was the topic.

The situation may call for martyrdom, he remarked at another occasion.

It is my opinion that many of those peace - measures which have shown to be fruitful in later years, have grown and come into reality due to Paulos’ peace missions.

Finally I have to confess that my cancer operation seemed to be successful, and two weeks after the operation I felt perfectly all right. About a week after I was dismissed from the hospital, I sat in my clinic and checked a couple of patients.

Return the miracle! It is a feeling that gives responsibility, may be also a new freedom. And gratitude.

To serve the Lord is also to serve mankind.

It is sometimes as if part of Paulos spirit comes around - to whisper good ideas. I am trying to say it that way. It can be like a bird passing by. I can also be a bit annoyed with him: he left us too early! Maybe almost everyone who knew him has that feeling off and on.

A big problem in my country is a lot of refugees and “foreigners”, coming from Bosnia, Somalia, Pakistan and other Muslim countries. Anyway they are all Muslims, they are crowding everywhere in our area here, totally helpless, it seems. They are on the welfare bill, and the Danish welfare bill is not so bad.

They are also crowding in my clinic. I often feel discouraged and burned out, in these cases, it is a sad feeling for a doctor.

Especially the Muslim ladies are very helpless.

I went around my secret “telephone” to Paulos. - What shall I do?

They are brothers and sisters, he said.