Monday, July 5, 2010

Catholics did not get British boost

Mumbai: “A common misconception is that Christianity in Mumbai followed the entry of colonial powers. However, records indicate that Christians inhabited the region almost 200 years before the Portuguese came as rulers,’’ said Fr Larry Pereira who has done research on the history of the Church in the city.

The Archdiocesan Heritage Committee of Mumbai has taken an initiative to undertake the preservation and promotion of the architectural and historical patrimony of the Church by undertaking tours to places of historical importance and organising seminars. It has also drawn up plans to set up a museum of Christian artifacts in Goregaon.

While giving a talk on the ‘History of Christians in Mumbai,’ Fr Pereira, parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Orlem, gave some interesting nuggets about the Christian community in Mumbai, Kalyan, Vasai and Thane.

“As far back as the sixth century, Cosmos Indico Plestus, an Alexandrian merchant, mentioned in his writings that in the year 525 AD, a bishop in Kalyan was appointed from Persia. This means that the region had a well-established diocesan,’’ he said. Fr Pereira also referred to the Gazetteer of India to emphasise his point. “It is mentioned in the records that between 800 AD and 1,200 AD, Muslim rulers destroyed churches and temples, implying the presence of a Christian population,’’ he added.

Historical records are available, which state that in 1321, four missionaries were killed in Thane and buried in St Thomas Church, Sopara, whereas Portuguese merchant Vasco Da Gama discovered India in 1498 and came to Bombay in 1534, said Fr Pereira.

Portugal ruled the Mumbai Metropolitan Region only from 1534. The territory was under the control of the Sultan of Gujarat who sought protection from the Portuguese against attack by the Mughals in exchange for the territory.

Under Portuguese rule, missionaries got protection and infrastructure to carry out evangelism. “They built large churches, whose ruins can still be found in Chaul (currently Rev Danda), Thane and other places to project their greatness. The Portuguese could not come to terms with a Christian having a local name. Hence, they started assigning Portuguese names to the newly converted groups. Names like D’Souza, D’Silva and Pereira were given based on the names of priests or sponsors who carried out the conversions,’’ added Fr Pereira. The policies of the Portuguese rulers resulted in the latter’s eviction by the Marathas who won a war against them in 1739.

Fr Pereira does not agree that Catholics got a fillip under the British rule. “In fact, the British were Protestant and therefore anti-Catholic. Moreover, they took away large tracts of land belonging to local Catholic populations. Importantly, the local Christian population also disliked the Portuguese as they were laid-back rulers.’’ He also touched upon modern history by mentioning how Cardinal Valerian Gracious was the first Indian to head the Bombay Archdiocese in 1950. “After Independence, then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided that no outside power would decide the appointment of a religious head in this country.’’

Manthan K Mehta -TNN

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