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Goa still a 'battery' of Catholicism for Asia

Bosco de Souza - UCAN - Fri, Aug 17th 2018

Former Portuguese colony, like Kerala, keeps exporting prelates to keep faith strong in region, other countries.Goa still a 'battery' of Catholicism for Asia

Archbishop Raul Nicholas Gonsalves (center) holds the blessed sacrament during a special Mass as other clergymen look on in the grounds of the St. Francis Xavier church in Old Goa, 615km south of Bombay, in this Dec. 3, 2003 file photo, as they commemorate the anniversary of the passing of St. Francis Xavier. (Photo by Rob Elliott/AFP)

Goa, a former Portuguese colony that now ranks as having one of the most famous beaches in India, is continuing to promote Christianity in Asia as part of its colonial legacy, according to former Archbishop Raul Gonsalves.

The 91-year-old retiree believes Jesuit missionaries, who have been based in his homeland on the subcontinent's southwest coast since the 16th century, are still having a ripple effect across the entire continent, despite alleged attempts to "ethnically cleanse" the area of Catholics in the past.

Archbishop Gonsalves said Goa has produced bishops for a number of countries due to the strong sense of faith instilled in so many families in the region.

This tiny Indian state, covered by the dioceses of Goa and Daman, has churned out some 60 bishops and cardinals for India, Pakistan and Africa, according to Father Joaquim Loiola Pereira, secretary to the current Archbishop of Goa Filipe Neri Ferrao.

Goa Diocese was created in 1533, 23 years after the Portuguese conquered the state by defeating its then-Muslim ruler Ismail Adil Shah.

The first priest from Goa, Father Andre Vaz, was ordained 55 year later in 1558 amid a general feeling among colonial missionaries that locals were "unworthy" of becoming priests, Father Pereira said.

The first bishop from the state was Matheus de Castro, who was ordained in 1637.

Since then bishops from Goa have led many Indian dioceses because Goa is a hub of Christianity in India after Kerala, Father Pereira said.

About 500,000 of Goa's 1.8-million population identify as Catholic while in nearby Kerala about 5 million of its 36 million people are Catholics, and another 1 million are from other Christian denominations.

But the impact of these two states on global religious affairs has been super-sized.

For example, there are now 80 bishops serving in various posts around the world who were born in Kerala. Just over half (50) of those bishops serve in the state's 41 dioceses.

This was not always the case, however. During the colonial era they were prohibited from evangelizing outside of the state, which severely crimped their influence.

In fact, the number of Kerala-born prelates only began to increase after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which stressed the mandate of every church to go forth and spread the word of their faith.

In contrast the Portuguese, who ruled Goa for 450 years with a history comparable to that of the British in India, came with a mandate for missionary expansion. They were joined by Franciscan, Dominican, Jesuit and Augustinian missioners.

"They went on a missionary expansionist spree through Goa to South Africa, Japan and China," Father Pereira said.

This missionary spirit can still be seen in a number of bishops and cardinals who remain active in India and Pakistan but who trace their roots to Goa.

The latest example would be Cardinal Joseph Coutts of Karachi, who received the red hat on June 28.

He ranks as the fifth cardinal with roots in Goa, following in the footsteps of Cardinal Valerian Gracias of Bombay (1900-1978), Cardinal Joseph Cordeiro of Karachi (1918-1994), Cardinal Ivan Dias (1936-2017) and Cardinal Oswald Gracias (1944-present day).

Meanwhile in Pakistan only two prelates have been made cardinals and both men — Cardinals Cordeiro and Coutts — also have their roots in Goa.

This connection dates back to the colonial era when Karachi posed as the closest "friendly" seaport and air link to Pakistan.

At the time of a blockade during the final years of colonial rule, thousands of Goan families headed to Pakistan with plans to then venture on to Africa and other countries. However, some decided to stay there.

Later, before British India was carved up to create Pakistan in 1947, thousands of people from Goa traveled, worked and settled in big cities like Karachi.

After India was partitioned, many could not return to their ancestral homes in Goa, where their assets were frozen and deemed "property of the enemy."

While many religious figures from Goa have risen to prominence, the leading prelate from the region to capture the limelight was Altino Ribeiro de Santana, the state's first bishop.

He was born in Porvorim and ordained a priest in October 1938. After serving as an assistant parish priest and military chaplain, he earned a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome.

Then, at 39, he became the first priest from Goa Archdiocese to be appointed a bishop and was consecrated as such in October 1955 at the Se Cathedral in Old Goa.

In July 1955, Pope Paul VI created the Sa da Bandeira Diocese in Angola. De Santana was appointed its first bishop and served the people of his diocese as a true missionary, faithfully and tirelessly. 

He stayed there from 1956 to 1972, when he was appointed bishop of Beira Diocese in Mozambique, Africa.

He died of a heart attack about one year later, on Feb. 27, 1973, shortly after a bomb was detonated outside his residence by the ruling military regime in a bid to frighten him.

At the time, he had been harboring two Portuguese priests accused of crimes against the state and labeled as security threats.

After his body was buried in Beira, the people of Sa da Bandeira asked that his mortal remains be brought to their city where he had enriched their lives for 16 years. Their wishes were respected on April 4, 1974.

While Goa has many famous spots, the village of Aldona is notable for having served as the birthplace of no fewer than six prelates.

They are Ferdinand Fonseca, the late bishop of Bombay; Anthony Lobo, the late bishop of Islamabad, Pakistan; Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi; Felipe Neri Ferrao, the archbishop of Goa and Daman; Evarist Pinto, the former archbishop of Karachi; and Anil Couto, the archbishop of Delhi who is also a cousin of Cardinal Coutts.

Another prelate from Goa, who leads the Indian Bishops' Conference as its secretary-general, is Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas.

Father Pereira said Goa's abundant priestly vocations stem in part from the practice of families in the region traditionally "offering one child to God."

Archbishop Gonsalves said it also relates to a different system of praying in Goa.

In the past, Catholics in Goa would pray to God to help them fulfill His wishes, whereas today they ask that He help them carry out what they see as their mandate, he said.

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