Articles

The Pilgrim Route to the Shrine on the Hill

Patricia Trinidade

The Bandra suburb, as we see it today, derives much from pilgrims' zealous devotion to the 'Queen of Bandra' over the centuries.

Bandra, the famed "Queen of the Surburbs" (and by extension, Mount Mary's Basilica styled as the "Queen of Bandra") is now a popular shopping destination. Bandra was once a rice producing village on the island of Salsette, parcelled out into 22 hamlets separated from each other by extensive rice fields, vegetable gardens and fruit orchards. It was inhabited by the Portuguese aristocrats and their descendants (living in Poacao—the locale at the junction of Swami Vivekananda Road and Bandra Bazar Road), as well as native fishermen and farmers. Devotion to the Queen of Bandra began in 1565, when the Jesuits built a small Oratory atop the hill, placing it under the patronage of Our Lady of the Nativity. It was later refurbished by a Portuguese commander of the Bandra Fort for the benefit of the garrison, into a more spacious Chapel in 1678, and rebuilt in 1774. It was finally transformed into a splendid Gothic structure in 1904, and was raised to the dignity of a Basilica during the Bombay Marian Congress, 1954. The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was always celebrated with fervour, festivity and a strong community spirit. A novena precedes the feast on September 8, drawing myriad worshippers, many of whom devoutly make the pilgrimage up the hill after the manner of their forebears, when the only mode of transport was one's own feet or the bullock cart.

Construction of the Causeway

In the past, the islands of Bombay were separated by a bay from the thickly wooded and populated island of Salsette. Travellers between Mahim and Bandra had to cross a stretch of choppy water in small ferryboats. Marian devotees from Bombay then docked at the pier, where today stands the Portuguese Customs House in front of Mount Carmel Church. They then resumed the remainder of their journey up the hill on foot. The land around the pier was later reclaimed, and today, the area is known as Bandra Reclamation. The monsoons, coupled with storms and treacherous currents, frequently capsized boats, and sent passengers and animals to their watery graves. The government-run ferry services (operational since September 26, 1775) were erratic, and did not run from sunset to sunrise. A maritime disaster occurred in 1841, when 15-20 boats capsized while crossing the creek. This mishap resulted in the construction of a Causeway, linking Bandra with the islands of Bombay, which was funded by Lady Avabai, spouse of Sir Jamshetjee Jeejeebhoy in 1845, in fulfilment of a vow.

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The Legion of Mary - Still misunderstood after 98 years!

Fr Anthony J Fernandes

Many in our Archdiocese are not aware that the ‘Star of the Sea Senatus’, Mumbai (i.e. a higher Legion Council) governs nearly 80% of India, covering 94 dioceses in 26 states. In addition, it also looks after Nepal and Bangladesh. Under its care, there are 600+ units (called 'praesidia') of the Legion of Mary. In the Bombay Archdiocese itself, there are 230+ units. Nepal has five units and Bangladesh has four units. A pair or more of Mumbai legionaries venture out on extension and consolidation in all these areas,periodically, to enhance the growth of the Legion and spread it far and wide.

Pioneer of the Lay Apostolate

The Legion of Mary was established on September 7, 1921; several years before the Second Vatican Council. At that time, critics of the Legion of Mary used to accuse it of being too modern, too revolutionary in its system of training lay men and women to perform apostolic works with, and for, the Parish Priest. The Legion of Mary was ahead of its time, and these critics were suspicious of lay apostles intruding into the pastoral field of the care of souls, a field reserved in most part, up to this time, for priests only!

Now, strangely enough, after the Second Vatican Council, there is a misunderstanding of the objectives of the Legion apostolate, and some say that the Legion of Mary is not modern enough, and that it must be updated to agree with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. Cardinal Krol, who was an undersecretary of the Second Vatican Council, and who knew well the mind of the Council Fathers, found the Legion of Mary "to be truly apostolic and completely in accord with the decrees and the spirit of the Second Vatican Council." His Eminence, Cardinal Suenens, stated at Rome, while the Council was in session, that the Legion of Mary actually anticipated the Second Vatican Council in many ways, when it came to lay participation in apostolic works.

It is often commented that the Handbook was composed in the 1920s, and that Legion members have been obligated to follow it ever since. While it is true that the first Legion Handbook appeared in the late 1920s, it is not generally understood that it has grown from a mere pamphlet to the full-sized, 300-page volume now in print. The fact must be acknowledged that the Legion Handbook is a compilation of methods, works and ideals recorded officially only after world-wide testing and acceptance.

Missionary Apostolate

Those who misunderstand also think that the Legion of Mary exists only to propagate devotion to Mary.

In recent times, new apostolic works have been attempted and have been incorporated into the Legion system and Handbook, e.g. the Patrician meeting (Interactive discussion on a faith topic open to those not in the Legion), the Peregrinatio Pro Christo (travelling to another diocese or state for not more than two weeks for evangelization), the Incolae Mariae (Legionaries who can secure for themselves a means of livelihood and stay away for as much as six months, a year or even more, without detriment to family, may be appointed by the Concilium (i.e. the International Legion Coumcil at Dublin,Ireland)), Exploratio Dominicalis (a mini Peregrinatio Pro Christo, where one is required to give a weekend of his/her time) and the True Devotion to the Nation(work for peace; that each individual is responsible for his neighbour; that he must serve his community with self-sacrifice, and that is a realistic way of fulfilling the Christian mission of loving all.’

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Msgr Willie Nazareth: A Century of Blessings

Dr Mrs Elaine Ann Charles

On Sunday, September 8, 2019, Msgr William Nazareth (fondly known as Msgr Willie) celebrated 100 years of life and living—a blessing and privilege granted only to a chosen few, and therefore occasion for rejoicing and celebration.

William Edwin Hypolito Nazareth was born in Entebbe, Uganda on September 8, 1919, and had the privilege of sharing a birthday, with our Blessed Mother Mary all his life. The son of Mr C.P. Nazareth and Mary Saldanha, he was one of six children—four boys and two girls. When Msgr Willie was two and a half years old, they moved from Uganda to Nachinola in Goa, and he spent his early years studying at the St Thomas High School in Aldona, Goa. Later, the family moved to Bombay, and Msgr Willie completed his studies at Antonio D'Souza High School in Byculla. After his Matriculation, he joined college, and did his First Year of Science. He then enrolled to do his Engineering degree from Hong Kong.

His niece, Rowena Pereira, recalls, "My dad who was studying medicine in Hong Kong had booked a room in the hostel, as Uncle Willie was slated to do Engineering. A week before he left for Hong Kong, he went for a Retreat and received his call to the priesthood. The rest is history. As it is often said, we make plans, and God makes other plans which are always for our good."

He was ordained a priest on December 21, 1947 by the then Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay, Valerian Gracias, at Gloria Church, Byculla. His first appointment was as an Assistant priest at Holy Spirit Church in Nandakhal, Bassein, and Msgr Willie used to often recount how, as a young priest, he was responsible for opening and sweeping the church every morning, and getting things ready for Mass. He also mastered the Marathi language, and preached to the people in Marathi.

Two years later, in August 1950, Bishop Valerian Gracias, with his keen eye for quickly spotting intelligence and talent, sent Msgr Willie to Rome to study at the Propaganda University there, where he secured a Doctorate in Canon Law. On his return to India in 1953, he was appointed to various offices—Chancellor of the Diocesan Curia, Professor of Canon Law at the Theological College and Privy Chamberlain to His Holiness, the Pope. He served as Acting Parish Priest at St Anne Church at Pali, Bandra for a brief while, then was appointed Vicar General, and finally, in July 1966, was appointed Parish Priest of Our Lady of Victories Church at Mahim, where he spent eight fruitful and fulfilling years. In 1974, he was appointed Parish Priest of St Joseph RC Church, Colaba, and then from 1976 to 1981, he served as Rector of the Holy Name Cathedral, Fort. Since 1981, Msgr Willie has been residing at the Cathedral, serving in various capacities, as Archdiocesan Consultor and then Episcopal Vicar for Marriages for 11 years. He was responsible for the foundation of the Marriage Tribunal—the first of its kind, and setting it up on sound administrative lines. He was constantly finding ways and means to improve its working, and himself served on the Tribunal until the ripe old age of 95 years, rendering yeoman service to the Church and the Archdiocese with his vast knowledge, his maturity and wisdom, his analytical thinking and his administrative skills.

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The Power and Beauty of the Cross

Leon Bent

The Cross of Christ became Christianity's genius and centrality. The Cross, like any genuine mystery, is always shrouded in silence. We approach a mystery with respectful listening, by cherishing paradox, and loving what we cannot reduce to understanding. The silence of the Cross is rich: filled with God and on fire with Jesus' Presence. It is the prayer of quiet rising out of solitude, in which we seek to deepen our awareness of the Redeemer's Presence in our lives. It is a humble, simple, lowly prayer, in which we experience our total dependence on the Lord, and an awareness that we are in Him. Wordless prayer or contemplation reminds us that all reality is charged with the glory of God's Presence.

In silence, a Voice speaks to us, like it did to Moses from the "burning bush". The way God came to him changed Moses' life, for it set his silence on fire. The Cross is triumphant, because we now have fire under our wings that will light us up, and power the faith-filled, Spirit-imbued believer heavenward into the welcoming, outstretched arms of Jesus, who opened His arms and died to embrace all Creation, from times immemorial, to the present day, till the Second Coming of Jesus. The Cross helps us catch glimpses of oneness of all things in God.

The Triumph of the Cross involves total emptiness and total fullness. We are offered the "whole Christ," the "Cosmic Christ". This is what St Paul means when he speaks of "being in Christ." The Cross gives us a dream; it is the way we respond that brings us fulfilment. Three attitudes are called for. We are to be genuinely caring persons: first, a willingness to enter into dialogue with people we do not agree with; second, a deep sense of compassion, which means the ability to enter into the sufferings of others, and third, a deliberate, chosen stance of non-violence in its diverse forms, in all our relationships.

The Triumph of the Cross makes the utter centrality of love sparklingly clear. For a true Christian, loving is like breathing. Love is the very centre of our lives. John 3:15 asserts that "God so loved the world that He sent us His only begotten Son, that He might shed His blood to bring us salvation." The Cross teaches genuine communication, true compassion, and unconditional love. It is the grammar of justice and mercy and syntax of mutual love. Truly, God is like a calm sea of mercy.

That God loves us is the wondrous truth we need to keep saying to ourselves, and to all who are willing to listen to us. The Cross is the only place strong enough to bear this divine secret: the secret of who God is. Yes! God is Love! I find support for this stance in the great Gospel of Luke 15: Its three parables (the caring Shepherd; the happy Woman who finds her Lost Coin; the Prodigal Son and his ever-loving father) carry this central message. One cannot forget St Paul's magnificent poem on love, as the heart of the Christian life, in 1 Corinthians 13.

Karl Barth expresses it strikingly when he asserts: God deals with us not with a natural 'therefore', but with a miraculous 'nevertheless'. The sequence is not, we are unworthy, therefore God rejects us; but rather, we are unworthy, yet God loves us. This is an all-important lesson of the Cross.

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St Thomas’ neglected legend in Pakistan

Kamran Chaudhry


The Apostle's fabled visit led to the Sirkap ruins earning World Heritage status, but they are widely overlooked

For the past two decades, Abdul Rehman has been telling stories of St Thomas the Apostle's visit to the world-famous Sirkap archeological site in Punjab province. "Christian pilgrims, pastors, priests, foreign tourists and students of history are among the top visitors," said the 47-year-old tour guide. "Many Muslim visitors claim to have had their prayers answered. However, none of them will proclaim this publicly."

Rehman is one of four staff members at the provincial Archaeology Department stationed at Sirkap, second-century ruins in Taxila which belong to four different periods, including Pre-Greek, Greeks, Scythians and Parthians. Taxila is known as the centre of the ancient Buddhist kingdom of Gandhara (500 B.C. to A.D. 200) and archaeologists have uncovered the site of several Buddhist monasteries at Sirkap, which also contains temples belonging to Jainism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism.

The History

According to tradition, St Thomas passed through Taxila on his way to India, and preached at the court of King Gondophares. An early third-century Syriac work known as the Acts of Thomas, discovered in 1822 in Syria, says the king gave some money to the saint, and ordered him to build a royal palace. St Thomas, however, gave away all the money in alms; when the king discovered his disobedience, he ordered that the saint be burnt alive.

Meanwhile, the king's brother, Gad, died, and then miraculously came back to life, whereupon he recounted that in heaven, he had seen a palace built for Gondophares by St Thomas. The king pardoned the saint, and converted to Christianity, along with the people of the capital.

Sirkap is protected under the Antiquities Act 1975, passed by the Pakistani Parliament, and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1935, a farmer tilling a field outside the ruins found a cross, which was later presented to the Anglican Bishop of Lahore. The famous 'Taxila Cross' is now kept framed in the Cathedral Church of the Resurrection in Punjab's capital city. Sirkap is also a major pilgrimage site for Pakistani Christians; thousands celebrate the feast of St Thomas on July 3 at Sirkap, where they pray and light candles at the three-feet-high throne. Baptisms are also held for infants and adults at two separate places around the throne.

One legend has it that St Thomas himself constructed the throne, and Rehman believes he preached here for 40 years. "He was one of the hawaris (sincere companions) of the prophet Isa, who we also respect," he said. Despite that legend, Taxila was declared one of the most endangered sacred sites in Asia in 2012 by the Global Heritage Fund, which promotes the preservation of historic architectural sites around the world.

Local authorities say funding is a major challenge in preserving it. "Four of our colleagues were fired earlier this year. We try our best to keep the site clean by cutting wild grass, removing plastic bags and emptying water bottles, as well as providing security," said Rehman.

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Extraordinary Missionary Month - October 2019

Mission - It’s not what you think it is

"So, how many people have you converted?" I wasn't sure whether my interlocutor was joking, aggressively attacking me, or completely serious. But I am used to scepticism when I tell people that my ministry focuses on evangelization and service to the poor. Apparently, the word 'evangelization' or 'mission' evokes images of pushy street preachers, and manipulative or coercive recruitment.

"That's not how it works." I responded. "My job is to introduce people to Jesus, and to accompany them on their own journey of faith. God is the one who transforms or 'converts'. No human being can 'convert' another human being."

"Aren't we just adding the burden of religious obligations on their already burdened shoulders?" This came from a member of a parish social service group when I was serving on an RCIA team. Ah, I thought, now I understand why some people are against evangelization. To them, faith is about obligations and rules, not a freedom-giving relationship with God.

Many think it makes no difference which religion you follow, because all religions are basically a bunch of similar moral precepts, and archaic, though possibly comforting, religious rituals. 'It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization, unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus, as not to have known Him,' wrote Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium. Something changes when we encounter the love and truth of Christ. We realise we have something or Someone so good, it would (literally) be a sin NOT to share Him with others.

Some have had that encounter, and are gung-ho to evangelize. But they are not always clear about the best way to do it. "Jesus said to go baptise everyone. So I thought we could have a vehicle that drives by, spraying holy water on bystanders, as we say the words of baptism," I was told seriously by someone. I tried to keep a straight face. "Er… I don't think that's exactly what Jesus had in mind."

So how do we evangelize? It is a lot simpler, though not always easier, than we imagine. I once had a long heart-to-heart conversation with an old friend at a coffee shop. As we were about to say goodbye, I summoned up my courage, and asked, "Can I pray with you? Right now?" My friend seemed surprised, but willingly accepted. Evangelization can happen in a parking lot.

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