Cordileone’s pilgrimage to India
The Portuguese influence
Day 12: Tuesday, Jan. 10
We began our day by joining the other pilgrims from
the diocese for Mass at the tomb of St. Francis Xavier, the great evangelizer
of the east in the 16th Century. It was a privilege and an inspiration
for me to celebrate Mass for our people at such an important holy place
for the Church’s mission “ad gentes” (to the nations)
in this basilica dedicated to his honor. Afterwards, Father Loiola, who
joined us for the Mass, gave a tour of the cathedral across the street
to our group. He informed us it is the largest church in the east, and
one of only two churches in the east that has a chapter of cathedral canons.
Father Alengadan and I split from the group at this point, and went off
with Father Loiolo for a tour of “Old Goa.”
Our first stop was the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, right next door
to the cathedral. This was the first tragic example I would see of many
others in which churches with glorious and precious artwork have been
left in a state of disrepair. I learned that when the waves of anti-clericalism
swept through Spain and Portugal in the 1830s, the religious here –
of whom there were very many – were expelled from their religious
houses. These were the ones who had maintained these churches, and now
there was no one left to do so.
As the government of India cannot afford to keep all of them up as historical
or artistic monuments, they have been left to decay.
Our next stop was St. Monica’s Convent, which at one time housed
some 200 cloistered Augustinian nuns, the largest convent in the east
at that time. It now serves as a pastoral institute to give education
in philosophy, theology and religious formation to women religious. It
was founded in 1961, hence, even before the Second Vatican Council gave
the Church direction to take on these sorts of pastoral initiatives.
Here, too, I saw the tragic result of lack of maintenance of precious
artwork: all of the walls and ceilings not only of the chapel but all
throughout the corridors of the cloister outside were at one time covered
in frescoes. The damage is now so bad that most of it is whitewashed,
and what little remains is in very poor condition.
These frescoes were testimony to an emerging unique art form known as
“Indo-Portuguese.” It is an art form reflected in architecture
as well as in art itself, a baroque style of art that incorporates colors
and styles of the native Indian culture.
This signaled to me a confirmation of my immediate impression upon arriving
in Goa of the European influence here. As we progressed throughout the
day, I noticed other signs of this influence.
Manner of dress was one sign: I didn’t see too many men wearing
the traditional dothi, the sheet-like garment worn wrapped around the
waist in the manner of a skirt, and many women were wearing western-style
dresses or blouses and skirts, rather than the traditional sari.
Of course, the cuisine is a significant example, as I had already noticed.
For one thing, various sweets and pastries are much more of a featured
item here. One in particular that caught my fancy was bebinca, a creamy
cake with a consistency a little thicker than cheesecake made from coconut,
egg and flour.
And while I have very much enjoyed all the food everywhere here in India,
I must admit that it was a welcome change of pace to go back to having
cereal and bread and jam for breakfast rather than curry with chicken
The European influence shows itself in the habits of the local people
as well in little, subtle ways. For example, I noticed that here people
tend to greet each other a little more frequently by shaking hands rather
than giving the traditional namaste (placing the palms of the hands flat
against each other in front of the chest in a form of prayer and bowing
the head); also, there is much less removal of shoes before entering church
The lunch hour took us to another institute, this one dedicated to the
ongoing formation of newly ordained priests. The priests spend their first
six months after ordination living at the institute and taking courses
in pastoral ministry and visiting the parishes on the weekends.
After lunch, the director of the program asked me to give a message to
the young priests. I found this request coming to me just about everywhere
I went, whether it was the convents and schools that I visited, families
who opened up their homes to me, or groups of priests. As I can sometimes
feel acutely the burden of administration that my position brings, this
has served as a pointed reminder to me of what my responsibility as a
bishop to be a spiritual leader, and not a CEO, really means.
After lunch we went to see the most ambitious project Archbishop Ferrão
has taken on yet: the reconstruction of a dilapidated monastery into a
spiritual retreat center for the archdiocese. And dilapidated it is, being
more reminiscent of the ruins of ancient Greek and Roman temples one might
see in the Mediterranean world than an active monastery that had been
thriving into relatively recently in history. It is a very large complex,
and a huge amount of work and money will be required to restore it to
its former glory.
This project, though, shows the vision and resolve of the Archbishop,
who says that “we must step out in faith, and God will provide.”
We concluded the day with a visit to the major seminary for the Archdiocese
(seminarians studying philosophy and theology). This local church of 250,000
Catholics has 88 seminarians at this stage of formation, a very high ratio
(we have 28 seminarians studying for the Diocese of Oakland with about
twice as many Catholics).
A very interesting side note in this visit was some of the art work on
display, done more recently, in that “Indo-Portuguese” style.
The colors and shapes of the figures definitely had a taste of what one
sees in Hindu art, but the themes were all Christian.
My visit to Goa has been rewarding and enriching. I have always been intrigued
by this small state in India, what I understood as a little Portuguese
Catholic enclave in a large, complex nation characterized by a dominance
of non-Christian religious influence. My idea of Goa, though, did stand
some need of adjustment.
For one thing, the Catholics here comprise only 26 percent of the total
population. The vast majority of these live in what is called the “Old
Conquest,” the part of Goa closest to the coast. While the Portuguese
first arrived here in 1510, they did not penetrate into the interior of
the state, what is called the “New Conquest,” until much later,
and very little evangelizing took place there. Thus, most of the people
living in these inland villages are Hindu.
On the other hand, the Catholics living here are quite fervent and, as
the saying goes, “the only game in town.” That is, all of
the churches in the entire state of Goa are Catholic except one, which
belongs to one of the Orthodox Churches present in the country. And almost
all of the Catholics here actively practice their faith, with Sunday Mass
attendance very high and the high number of religious vocations as a visible
fruit of this fervor.
After 500 years, the meeting of east and west here seems to be characterized
much more by a smooth blending of cultures rather than a sharp contrast.
Perhaps this blending of east and west is nowhere more apparent in the
nation of India than here in the state of Goa.