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Day 1: Visit to a Hindu temple; Concord parish reaches out

Day 2: Learning the rules of the road

Day 3: Family visits in ‘Catholic’ India

Day 4: Chennai (Madras) – Time with an apostle

Day 5: Close look at an Eastern Rite Church

Day 6: Ubiquitous respect for each others’ religious beliefs

Day 7: Southern India home to vast tea fields

Day 8: Worship on a houseboat

Day 9: St. Alphonsa, India's first canonized saint

Day 10: Home shrines a standard feature

Day 11: Portuguese influence very clear in Goa

Day 12: The Portuguese influence

Day 13: Time for a little tourism

Day 14: Seeing ‘the king’s land’

Day 15: Taj Mahal builder sought to unify religion

Day 16: India’s oldest mosque

Day 17: Discussing world issues

Concluding reflections

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placeholder January 23, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA

Bishop 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 and vegetables.

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 here.

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.

 



 
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