The sense of occasion was overwhelming. A scan of the crowds inside and around the church would make one imagine it was the build-up before Christmas or Easter mass. It wasn’t. A few weeks back, we were privileged to witness the re-consecration of St John the Baptist Church in Thane. The 433-year-old church had been restored to its former glory, and the entire suburb, parishioners and others, had turned up to be a part of the celebration. The wooden altar, intricate sculpting, and tasteful refurbishing invited wows from all quarters.
As the celebrants, comprising of the Cardinal, priests and nuns, entered the church, amidst the lilting notes of the entrance hymn, we noticed that a few women draped in traditional East Indian saris (representing one of Thane’s oldest indigenous communities) and school girls from St John’s dressed in Bharatanatyam costumes, were also a part of the procession. After a short performance of the dance form these little dancers did an aarti-tilak for the celebrants. What ensued for the next 90 minutes was a vibrant and inclusive celebration.
The evening mass culminated in a felicitation ceremony that was held inside a shamiana erected on the church grounds. Dripping with nostalgia, it was evident that it meant the world for the many thousands who squeezed in, as speeches and a documentary detailed the arduous journey. Seated in the gathering were religious heads across faiths who came to share their wishes and support on this red-letter day in Thane’s history. It was time for the vote of thanks, and a long one it turned out to be. But nobody was in a mood to leave. The conservation architect and his team who supervised the entire restoration from start to end received the maximum applause, closely followed by those who played key roles – from the sculptors to the ushers, the sound technicians to the carpenters, and finally to every single contribution to rebuild the iconic church. The humongous display of gratitude by the community, for the community had to be seen to be believed. For this journalist, it was a warm, feel-good moment, as one of the city’s oldest, historically-rich churches got its due.
Smiles were in full display. Laughter filled the air. The plum cake served at the felicitation was relished, just as much as every moment. It was a day when Thane taught a few lessons in community living, old-school style.
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day