History

This has been compiled by the Catholic Communication Centre from the article by Dr. Fleur D'souza: ‘A Future for Our Past’ and from the CBCI website.

One hundred and twenty-five years ago, in 1886, through a Concordat signed by the Holy See and Portugal and following that, through Pope Leo XIII's Bull Humanae Salutis, Bombay (as it was then called) received its own Archbishop and became an Archdiocese. As we mark that event, we glance back at the 1,500 years of Christianity in the region of Mumbai, trace its tumultuous history and treasure the uniqueness of our cultural past. Presented below is a micro-view of the history of the Archdiocese especially through its constituent one hundred and twenty-three parishes, with the spotlight on its leadership, works and ministries. The testimony of the global reach of the Catholic faith finds manifestations in myriad cultural expressions through many continents. In India, Christianity found a home on the west coast long before colonial governments brought power into issues of faith. Though tradition holds on to the Apostolic connection with the Christianization of the region, actual historical evidence eludes us.

EARLY CHRISTIANS

Our earliest historical reference to Christianity in the region of the Archdiocese of Bombay comes from a Greek merchant, Cosmas Indicoplestus who writes about a community of Christians in Kalyan served by a Bishop appointed in Persia in the 6th century. In 1321, we have the letter of a French Friar, Jordanus of Sèvèrac, regarding the martyrdom of his companions Franciscans of the Friars-Minor - priests Thomas of Tolentino, James of Padua and Peter of Sienna and Demetrius of Tiflis, a lay brother and linguist "on the Thursday before Palm Sunday in Thana of India”. These Italians were hosted by the fifteen odd Christian (Nestorian) families to be found in the port city of Thana. Friar Jordanus himself was serving a Christian community in Sopara (Nalla Sopara). Since Kalyan, Sopara, Chaul (Revdanda) and Thana have been, at varied points in time, port-cities claiming internationally mixed populations with an ancient tradition of trade links with West Asia, the birth place of Christianity, it follows that Christians could be counted among the demographic.

THE PORTUGESE

In 1534, the same year as the Archdiocese of Goa was founded, the Portuguese took control of the territories of Bassein (Vasai), Salsette, Thana and the Bombay (Mumbai) group of islands. Missionaries accompanied the conquering fleets to serve as chaplains and then fanned out into the countryside making Christians, gathering them into communities and providing for their spiritual sustenance. Just a few years before this, at the southernmost reach of the present Archdiocese, the first Portuguese Churches sprang up in Chaul (today's Revdanda). The Franciscans were the first Religious Order to make its presence felt in Bassein and its surrounding territories. Under the indefatigable Antonio do Porto, the Franciscans established churches in and around Bassein and, more successfully, in neighbouring Salsette from 1547 onwards. A 1549 Jesuit report regarding the Franciscan missionary activity says, "On an island opposite Bassein, a league and a half from the river…there is a Church of Our Lady, where there must be four hundred Christians…it is entirely in a rock cliff …it is very large and has four Chapels." This is perhaps the earliest reference we have to a local Christian community in the colonial chapter of Christianity in the region. On the Eastern side of the island of Salsette, the Jesuits set up a very small house and colegio (school) for the converts in Thana in 1551. A few years later in 1557, in the valley now covered by the waters of the Powai-Vihar lakes, a unique community of Christians lived and worked and this may be seen as an experiment that perhaps inspired the later internationally renowned Jesuit Reductions of Paraguay and Brazil. Reading between the lines of laudatory missionary reports, the new Christians faced social ostracism and rejection and a combination of the policy of exclusion and the nurturing of their pastors probably contributed to their staying Christian.

The earliest surviving colonial architecture in the Mumbai Metropolitan region may be still found in pockets around Roman Catholic settlements that dot suburban Mumbai and the region around. Mostly religious, the style is evocative of the age when zealous conquistadores and their supportive religious leaders built to express religiosity and awe, to inspire and to indoctrinate.

THE COLONIAL PERIOD (1637-1947) & THE "PADROADO vs PROPAGANDA" CONTROVERSY

The year 1637 marks the establishment of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith by Pope Gregory XV, under which the Church work energies of various Religious Congregations of nationalities other than Portugal and Spain could be harnessed for evangelization in those parts of the world where Portuguese (in the East) and Spanish (in the West) Fathers were, for one reason or another, unable to reach. From 1622, different Congregations were enlisted and sent to India, Malacca, Siam, China, etc. under the leadership of Vicars-Apostolic, i.e. Titular Bishops who received directly from the Holy See jurisdiction to work in certain regions assigned to them, within the somewhat indeterminate boundaries of existing "Padroado" dioceses.

The Vicariate Apostolic of Bijapur was established by the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (hence forth, "Propaganda") in 1637. The Vicariate of Bijapur increased rapidly in size, absorbing Golconda, and extended from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, from Madras-Mylapore to Calcutta. It finally came to comprise the whole of the Moghul Empire at least on paper; hence it was also referred to as the Vicariate of the Great Moghul. From the end of the 17th century, this Vicariate was served by the Carmelite Fathers, whose headquarters was at Surat, north of Bombay. It was probably in 1692 that the Jesuit care-taker of the Parel property was expelled from Bombay. That ended the Jesuit presence on the island - till 1848 - a full one and a half centuries later.

The Decree expelling the Portuguese Franciscans from the Bombay Island was issued on May 24, 1720. As they did not want to openly break the solemn promise they had made when they took over Bombay from the Portuguese - namely that they would not interfere with the religious beliefs or practices of the Catholic inhabitants of the island - the British approached the Vicar-Apostolic of the Great Moghul, the Italian Carmelite Bishop Fra Mauritius, to take charge of the Catholic Community in Bombay. Since the British were determined on getting rid of the Portuguese Franciscans, Rome approved the entry of the Carmelites into Bombay. Thus the Franciscans left Bombay and Bishop Mauritius with four or five Carmelites came to Bombay. The churches taken over by the Carmelites were four in number: Our Lady of Hope (Esperanca), Our Lady of Salvation ( Salvacao), Our Lady of Glory ( Gloria) and St Michaels.

In 1828, civil war broke out in Portugal between King Dom Miguel and the party of Queen Maria da Gloria. Dom Miguel, to whom the Religious Orders lent moral and financial support, was defeated, and the new government not only suppressed all Religious Orders in Portugal but also broke off diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1833. Pope Gregory XVI issued the Brief `Multa Praeclare' on April 24, 1838, in which he confirmed the Vicars-Apostolic in their office, extended their field of work and deprived the Padroado clergy of all jurisdiction within the established Vicariates. The authorities in Goa rejected the Papal Brief: though Portugal had broken off diplomatic relations with Rome, they claimed that since the Brief had not received the "regium placet'', it was null and void.

Archbishop Dom Jose Maria da Silva Torres landed in Bombay on his way to Goa in January 1844. The Padroado party, clergy and laity, escorted him to Gloria Church in a triumphant procession. In Gloria Church and in other parishes, Archbishop Torres administered the sacraments, began a series of visitations and generally acted as if "Multa Praeclare'' and The Salsette Decree had never been written. The Archbishop's behaviour threw the whole of Bombay into ferment.

THE BIRTH OF THE EXAMINER & BISHOP HARTMANN

When Bishop Hartmann came to Bombay in 1850, the one Catholic newspaper for those under the Vicar-Apostolic's Jurisdiction was the Bombay Catholic Layman, run by two Irish laymen, who used the paper to oppose the first Bishop Whelan and then Bishop Hartmann. Rather than cross swords with them, Bishop Hartmann encouraged the starting of the Bombay Catholic Standard, under the editorship of another Irishman. Soon, disappointed with that paper as well, the Bishop approached a certain Mr. Borges, a son of the soil, who in July 1850 had, on his own initiative, started a monthly publication, The Examiner. Three months later in September 1850, with Mr. Borges' consent The Examiner became the ecclesiastical organ of the Vicariate under the Bishop's control and management, but under another title, The Bombay Catholic Examiner. By 1852, the other two publications folded up while The Bombay Catholic Examiner kept on going. In April 1905, its title was shortened once again to The Examiner.

Hardly had Bishop Hartmann come from Patna to Bombay than he found himself in the middle of the bitter Padroado-Propaganda conflict. The Vicar of the Church set into motion a series of events which ended in June 1851 with Salvacao Church transferring itself to the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Goa. Then came the Bishop of Macao, Jeronimo da Matta in February 1853, on his way to Goa. He stopped at Bombay and officiated in the churches of Gloria and Cavel, then he passed on to Salsette where he said Mass and conferred the sacraments at Kurla, Thane and Bandra. Sharing in the rebellious conduct of the Bishop were four Bombay priests: Antonio Mariano Soares (Vicar Genreal of the North and Vicar of Gloria Church), Braz Fernandes (Vicar of Salvacao Church), Joseph de Mello and Gabriel de Silva (Vicar and Assistant respectively of St Michael's Church). The Papal Brief of May 9, 1853, Probe Nostis, completely vindicated the rights of Bishop Hartmann and confirmed his claim to the exclusive exercise of jurisdiction in the islands of Bombay and Salsette. It also condemned unreservedly the behaviour of Bishop da Matta and the four Bombay priests. In point of fact, however, his jurisdiction continued to be ignored by the adherents of Padroado: witness the series of events at St Michael's Church in 1853 which culminated with the transfer of that parish together with the Sion chapel to the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Goa in June 1854.

The year 1853 is also noteworthy in that it marks the success of Bishop Hartmann's efforts towards founding a Catholic College in the Vicariate. Aware of what he called "the complete want of educational institutions for youth'', he first invited in 1850, the Sisters of Jesus and Mary to take over the education of girls in Bombay. This was the very first Religious Congregation for Women to really begin work in the Vicariate. Bishop Hartmann then turned his attention to a College which he considered would be the foundation stone of the social, intellectual and moral renewal of the Bombay Catholic Community. He laboured heart and soul to bring the Jesuits to Bombay for this purpose; his labours were rewarded when, by the end of 1853, there were four Jesuits in the Vicariate of Bombay (among them Fr Walter Steins and Fr James Peniston).

On December 12, 1853 the Carmelite General informed Propaganda that the Carmelite Fathers had decided to give up the administration of the Bombay Mission. The Holy See accepted their resignation and thus ended, after a period of 133 years (1720-1853), the Carmelite administration of the Vicariate of Bombay. On February 16, 1854 Propaganda officially divided the Bombay Vicariate into the northern Vicariate of Bombay (comprising the islands of Bombay and Colaba, and Aurangabad, Khandesh, Malwa, Gujrat and Sind as far as Cabul and the Punjab) and the southern Vicariate of Poona ( comprising the islands of Salsette and Bassein, and the regions of the Konkan and Deccan or Bijapur). Further, Propaganda entrusted the Bombay Vicariate to the Capuchin Fathers and the Poona Vicariate to the Jesuit Fathers. Bishop Hartmann was appointed Vicar-Apostolic of Bombay and Administrator of Poona.

When the island of Bombay, politically, came under a new colonial master - the British - they ruled in 1720 that the Catholics of Bombay island in particular be placed under the Propaganda Fide. When Salsette was added to Bombay, some of the parishes were ecclesiastically under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Goa till 1886 and then the Archdiocese of Damaun (from 1886-1928) with priests and other Church officials appointed by Portugal - the Padroado. The undercurrents of the Padroado-Propoganda divide involved not just church authorities but the British Government, the Portuguese Government, Religious orders, and the local Catholics. Undermining the unity of the Catholic Community in Bombay, the controversy of the double jurisdiction absorbed the leadership both ecclesiastical and lay in what essentially was a very tumultuous period of India's history. Thankfully this dark blot on Church History ended in 1928 and a united Church forged ahead under the leadership of stalwarts like Joachim R. Lima S.J and Thomas d'Esterre Roberts S.J, an Englishman, who followed him from 1937-1950.

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