Saint and ceremony

The city’s East Indian Community marked its annual Feast Day yesterday. Though they celebrate it on the same day every year, this one was extra special. For the first time in their history, the community declared that they are going to have their own patron saint.

Saint Gonsalo Garcia
A statue of Saint Gonsalo Garcia at a church dedicated to him in Vasai. Pic/Nimesh Dave

The saint chosen by the community is Saint Gonsalo Garcia. Revered as a holy man, Saint Garcia was martyred in Japan around 400 years ago while spreading the teachings of Christ. But that is not the only reason for the community to choose him. Saint Garcia was born in Vasai to an Indian mother and a Portuguese father and is the first Indian saint.

The Mobai Gaothan Panchayat (MGP), a welfare organisation of the community, took the decision to have a patron saint of their own during their managing committee meeting. Says Alphi D’Souza, sarpanch, “Each parish has their own patron saint but this is the first time the community as a whole will have a patron saint. The idea (to have a patron saint) just struck us. The Goans have a patron saint, but we didn’t have one.

A traditional East Indian dance
A traditional East Indian dance

Saint Gonsalo Garcia is the first Indian saint. He was born in Ghas village in Vasai 400 years ago. He was a very holy person. He had gone to enlighten people in Nagasaki (in Japan) and was martyred. Every year, we have a feast to keep his teachings alive.” The feast is held on his birth anniversary, February 6. Incidentally, he was crucified on February 5, 1597.

The Panchayat has further plans too. “We will request the Archdiocese of Bombay to dedicate a church or chapel in Mumbai to Saint Gonsalo Garcia, between Colaba and Borivli,” says D’Souza. “We do have a church dedicated to him now but it is in Vasai.” The MGP also wants to install a statue of Saint Garcia at the East Indian Museum, slated to open in Manori this May. The statue will be accompanied by a brief history on his life.

Traditional dance
A slice of East Indian life, showing the way some folk live and traditional utensils

‘Good idea’
Crompton Texeira, a prominent voice in the community states that it is a good idea to have a chapel dedicated to Saint Gonsalo Garcia in the city. Says Texeria, “I hope the Archdiocese takes heed of this request. We must make the patron saint as a kind of role model for the community, especially the youngsters. Today, at least 25 per cent of the community may not know much about Saint Gonsalo Garcia.

It is through Him that we can make more people aware about our community,” he stated. Texeria admits that getting a patron saint is one important step for East Indians, who lately, “are waking up to the need of keeping their culture alive. Earlier, we were a sleepy community, more interested in partying and frittering away our time, than these aspects. Now there is an effort in different ways, through music and making more strident noises politically as well, to preserve our vibrant culture.”

Alphi D'Souza
Alphi D’Souza

About the East Indians

Known for their vibrant culture and tradition, the East Indians are one of the original inhabitants of Mumbai. Mainly concentrated in rural areas, this community once upon a time, owned large tracts of land in these rural pockets. With rapid industrialisation, many of them sold their land and shifted to urban areas of the city to seek better growth opportunities. 

The community has always been an integral part of the city’s history. To protect the interests of the community, the Bombay East Indian Association (BEIA) was established on May 26, 1887. The BEIA marked 125 years of existence last year, with a slew of celebrations across the city.

Saint Gonsalo Garcia: A Slice of History
Saint Gonsalo Garcia was born on February 6, 1557 to a Portuguese father and an Indian mother. The family lived within the Bassein Fort. Gonsalo was in close contact with Father Sebastian Gonsalves and was inspired by his teachings. When Gonsalo was 15, the two of them sailed to Japan. Gonsalo endeared himself to the locals for eight years, but when he was refused admission to the Jesuit Congregation, he became a merchant. His business flourished but he was a religious man at heart.

Crompton Texeira is about keeping tradition alive
Crompton Texeira is about keeping tradition alive

He was accepted as a Franciscan Friar by the Franciscans at Manila and he began his second innings as a missionary. He and 25 of his fellow missionaries travelled to Japan on the Emperor’s invitation to spread their teachings there. They were well received by the people but the king turned against them when he was misinformed that they wanted to instigate his subjects against him so the Spanish could take over the kingdom.

All 26 of them were sentenced to death and Gonsalo was the first to be crucified on a hill at Nagasaki on February 5, 1597. Much to the surprise of the Emperor, the neglected bodies remained intact for almost 40 days. There were reports of miracles happening on the hill. In 1629, Pope Urban VIII beatified the 26 martyrs and in 1862, Pope Pius IX canonized all of them. Thus Garcia became the first Indian to attain sainthood. 

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