Indian bishop uses cartoons to evangelize

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BANGALORE, India - Not every bishop is a cartoonist.

But Bishop Stephen Rotluanga of Aizawl in northeast India is. He has become known as the "cartoonist bishop of India."

That's because at the end of every major gathering of the Indian bishops, Bishop Rotluanga would summarize the proceedings succinctly and strikingly in a large cartoon.

And he uses his artwork in his ministry in Mizoram state, where he is the only bishop.

"Drawing and painting is my God-given talent, and I have a duty to use my talent to spread the word of God," Bishop Rotluanga, 62, told Catholic News Service.

"Cartoon is a powerful tool for evangelization. You can a give strong message in a very pleasing and palatable way. It is a visual form that gives shape to the faith narrated in abstract words," explained the bishop, whose art has been published in several leading magazines, including India Today.

"Nowadays, everyone is busy and may not have the time to read the lengthy books and documents. But if the same message is conveyed through a cartoon, it will catch the attention easily," said the bishop, who has pursued drawing as a hobby since his childhood.

In fact, the 6 feet by 6 feet cartoon that Bishop Rotluanga drew at the end of an Indian bishops' conference assembly in February left many of the 140 bishops astonished.

"It was amazing," Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona told CNS of the artwork his colleague drew during a meeting of Asian bishops in the Focolare movement communion in February.

"His sense of humor, astonishing capacity to draw lifelike sketches of the speakers and participants, and compress conference proceedings to a cartoon is wonderful. We are proud of him," Bishop Dabre said.

Bishop Rotluanga said that since he started creating visual summaries of bishops' assembly proceedings in 2006, bishops would ask as soon as they gathered for their biennial meetings, "When is the cartoon coming?"

"I had to sit up the entire night (to complete a work)," Bishop Rotluanga told CNS at the end of the February assembly as he stood near his cartoon summarizing the meeting, while fellow bishops eagerly hunted for their caricatures and enjoyed the humor in the drawings.

Several bishops were taken by the sharp comments of the speakers portrayed in the cartoon, including Pope Francis saying "ask the theologians" on the question of enculturation.

The cartoon did not miss Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, who had to address the conference by video teleconference after he was denied a visa by the Indian government and could not attend.

"Normally, I do the cartoons only at the end of the conference. I observe the proceedings keenly. The formal statement (of the conference) may not have all the different opinions expressed at the meeting. So, I try to bring in diverse voices on the theme. While being critical, I am also careful not to be controversial," Bishop Rotluanga explained.

Bishop Rotluanga's interest in drawing emerged in childhood, and he regularly won prizes for his artwork throughout his schooling. After joining the Congregation of Holy Cross, he honed his skill as a novice in Bangalore under a famous Hindu artist.

It was his scholastic days - while studying philosophy and theology - that were Bishop Rotluanga's most productive as an artist when he would draw dozens of cartoons and other images for church advocacy campaigns, magazines and even for project reports of classmates.

During a sabbatical year in 1995 after a decade of missionary work on the Myanmar border, he opted to study at the Ontario College of Arts and Design - now OCAD University - in Toronto. He also has studied in Florence, Italy.

"When I returned from Ontario in 1999, I had great plans to take my paintings and artworks to apply and utilize them for different needs and application in the church, but God has entrusted me with a bigger mission," Bishop Rotluanga said.

That mission was his appointment as bishop in 2002. The work leaves little time to pursue his hobby of painting and drawing except for occasional cartoons.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015