Thursday 08 Jun 2023

GOAN MISSIONARIES IN NORTH-WEST INDIA: Pilar Society’s Mission in Rajasthan, ‘The Land of Kings’

GOAN MISSIONARIES IN NORTH-WEST INDIA: Pilar Society’s Mission in Rajasthan, ‘The Land of Kings’

The Pilar Fathers landed in Rajasthan in 2000. Rajasthan means ‘The Land of Kings’ and is a portmanteau of the Sanskrit ‘Raja’ (king) and ‘Sthana’ (land). The first mission of the Pilar Society in Rajasthan was in Dholpur under the Province of Delhi.

Dholpur, ‘The Land of Red Stones’ where Chambal river flows, was initially known as Dhawalpuri named after the ruler Raja Dhawal Deo who established the city in 700. It is known for its bandit-infested ravines and red sandstones. It is located in the eastern part of Rajasthan and lies in the jurisdiction of the Agra Archdiocese.

The mission of Dholpur was started in 1970 by Franciscan Capuchins and by the decree of Capuchin Archbishop Dominic Athaide of Agra Archdiocese, St Peter’s School was opened in Dholpur but in 1976, it was closed down due to unavoidable circumstances. After that, diocesan priests from St Peter’s College, Agra catered to the spiritual needs of the Catholics of Dholpur.

In 1993, the Pilar Fathers were invited to serve in the Archdiocese of Agra by Archbishop Cecil de Sa and were given the parish of St Mary’s at Pratappura in Agra. In 1993, Fr Shivaji Henriques was appointed as its parish priest and the mission of Dholpur was attached to it.

In 1996, I as the parish priest and Fr Rosario Antao as the curate of St Mary’s Church began celebrating Mass for the Catholics of Dholpur in the government Nurses’ Quarters once a month and kept the faith of the people alive.

Later I was appointed as the Mission In-charge of Dholpur in 2000 and I pitched my tent in the town. So, with the permanent base of Pilar Fathers in Dholpur, the mission was revivified after a break of 30 years. St Xavier Coaching Centre for English Speaking Course for college students was opened, which helped us to interact with the local people.

In the view of establishing the mission, Fr Marden Pereira and I lived in rented rooms, then in the house of a Keralite Catholic family and again in a rented house of a local person. After living a nomadic life with struggles, consternations and insecurities for about three years, we shifted to the newly built presbytery which was blessed on April 13, 2003, by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, former Archbishop of Agra Archdiocese and was inaugurated by Emeritus Archbishop Cecil De Sa of Agra Archdiocese. Later, Fr Paixao Gonsalves was posted to this mission, who built the Church of Our Lady of Pilar which was blessed on February 5, 2005, by Cardinal Oswald and was inaugurated by Fr Menino Gomes, the Provincial Superior of Delhi Province. Fr Anthony Rosario Fernandes who was posted there later bought a plot of land at Sua Ka Bagh at a distance of 11 km from Dholpur for educational purposes.

After that, Fr Joaquim Miranda built a school there which was blessed by Archbishop Albert D’ Souza of Agra Archdiocese and was inaugurated by Pradhyuman Singh, ex-Finance Minister of Rajasthan on January 12, 2013. Fr Agnel Learning Center at Birondha village and St Teresa of Kolkata Learning Center at Mustafabad village established by Dholpur mission support the poor village children by helping them in their school studies. Frs Vincent Machado, Rupert Travasso, Michael Fernandes, Sagaya Selvam, Savio Fernandes, Peter Melo Fernandes, Alfredo Rodrigues and Max Gonsalves served in this mission. Presently, the mission is manned by Frs David Raj and Joseph De Souza.

The second mission in Rajasthan was opened in 2021 at Kherwara under the Mumbai Province of Pilar Society which lies in the jurisdiction of the Udaipur diocese. Kherwara lies in the bosom of the Aravalli hills and is surrounded by trees. Its name derives from the large number of Kher (Khair) trees in the region. Divine Mercy Church was given to Pilar Fathers. The Goan missionaries Fr Joe Fernandes (parish priest) and Fr Mcsteein Oliveira (curate) are doing missionary work in this parish. Earlier Fr Clanny Fernandes served in this mission.

The parish has about 116 Catholic families. The total Catholic population is about 980 spread out over 42 villages. The local language is Wagdi. During the Mass celebrated in Hindi, the parishioners of the Bhil tribe sing hymns in the Bhili language, their mother tongue. The Fathers make regular visits to the villages and celebrate Mass in the houses of the parishioners. Regents (candidates for priesthood) Newton Kingsly, Aston Carvalho and Daniz Vaz are put up in Parbeela village for a year to attain mission experience. Dholpur and Kherwara are the two missionary landmarks in the history of the Church in Rajasthan.

The writer is Director of Apostolic School & Assistant Parish Priest of St Francis Xavier Church, Hisar, Haryana

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