Father Augustine Savarimuthu S.J. was born in 1953 in T. Sindalacherry, in India, which is in the federal state of Tamil Nadu. He has been a Jesuit priest for 32 years. He is dedicated to the teaching of human sciences, particularly in the area of communication and social psychology and he came to Rome to teach these disciplines. At the Centro Interdisciplinare delle Comunicazioni Sociali (CICS) of the Gregorian University, where he was also director, he held a course entitled “The Church as communication”, and when the Center was merged with the Faculty of Social Sciences he became part of the Faculty’s teaching body.
“I really like preaching, announcing the Good News, especially announcing Hope. I like this because I see in people a response. For me this is important because it affirms our calling.”
Father Savarimuthu, what are your professional interests?
I am a priest, I do not have a profession or a career; we are called to preach the Gospel: this is a vocation and this is what it remains. As a Jesuit I am dedicated always to teaching, but I prefer pastoral work and contact with people; in terms of academic interests I am prepared to teach fundamental theology; at the centre of theology is the Word of God, the communication of God. Every year during the summer I return to my country to teach theology and homiletics, which is the art and theology of preaching.
When did you begin to be interested in communication and social psychology?
When I completed a doctoral thesis in communication in the USA I chose a very interesting topic, “Suicide in adolescence”, because I consider suicide to be a cry for help. For this study I associated the instruments proper to theology with those that come from other disciplines, such as psychology and sociology, and this has helped me to understand the phenomenon better, and in particular adolescents. I am more interested, therefore, in social psychology than communication because I maintain that a phenomenon as complex as suicide cannot be explained completely using only psychological concepts, or by only using sociological theories: to study a theme of this type you need to use both disciplines. To use a single approach would be, in fact, too limited because I believe at the centre of social psychology is communication, in fact the true problem of suicide is in interpersonal relations. For me, suicide is a symptom and not a disease; it’s like a thermometer that helps us understand the level of social bond that exist. Social psychology allowed me to help people who are in this crisis from the point of view of pastoral counseling.
What do you expect from this formation and training for students of social sciences?
In my opinion, here at the university, we have a very particular sociology, which is not pure sociology, but sociology from the point of view of the church, of religion. We try to understand the world from the point of view of our faith and, at the same time, enrich our faith using all the concepts of social sciences. We have so many things to offer to others, and others can also help us in our development. Our students must have this perspective and vision of faith; our faith is not only pious, on a spiritual level only, instead it is a very concrete faith, a faith that can help us understand our world, and that, at the same time, can be enriched; it’s a help to understand the other better.
We have spoken about your academic and pastoral interests. What else are you passionate about?
I really enjoy preaching before people and announcing the Good News, especially hope. I really like this because I see a response in people. For me this is important because it affirms our calling. I have another passion; I really like watercolor painting, I teach it and it is a form of pastoral work for me. When I was completing my doctorate I did not have much time, I always watched on TV how to do it and while I was talented, I did not have so much time. After my doctoral defense I started painting and I have never stopped: it’s something that comes to me naturally. Every year, in fact, I make an exhibition in the United States and all the proceeds from the sale of the paintings go toward helping nuns who care for the poor.