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On 22 May 1998, through the Decree entitled Eternae Salutis, His Holiness, Pope John Paul II erected the new Diocese of Vasai in Maharashtra. It was carved out of the Archdiocese of Bombay. His Eminence, Ivan Cardinal Dias, the then Archbishop of Bombay, brought the announcement of this momentous event to the notice of the people on 28 June 1998, the eve of the feast of the Apostles, Peter and Paul.[] I shall try to trace a brief history and the liturgical life of the people of Vasai.
Geographical Location
Bombay, at present is one of the famous metropolitan cities in the world. The closest place to this city is the Taluka of Vasai in the district of Thane. The Diocese of Vasai consists of ten talukas of Thane district namely, Vasai, Palghar, Dahanu, Talasari, Jawar, Bhiwandi, Shahapur, Wada, Mokhada, and Vikramgad. The total area of the diocese is 6693.68 sq. kms. The total population of this area is around twenty nine lakh and the Catholic population of the diocese is about one lakh thirty thousand, out of which approximately more than one lakh are in the Taluka of Vasai. The mother tongue of the people here is Marathi. The people here are a homogenous group. The total number of parishes is thirty-six. Out of these, thirty parishes are in the taluka of Vasai and the remaining six are in the talukas of Palghar, Dahanu, and Talasari. The total number of diocesan priests is a hundred and three. Together with the diocesan priests the diocese enjoys the presence of sixty-four religious priests, four hundred and thirty-one religious sisters and nine religious brothers.
Vasai in the Apostolic Times
Christianity in Vasai is not to be associated only with the arrival of the Portuguese in Vasai. There is a strong tradition which claims that St. Bartholomew, the Apostle of Christ came to the port of Kalyan & Sopara in the taluka of Vasai, along with some Jewish traders and preached the Gospel. The effect of this was that a few locals accepted the new religion and practiced it along with the early Christians of the Middle East. By the end of sixth century, when Christianity had not spread in the West, it has been pointed out that there was a sizeable number of clergy men and the then Bishop of Persia had his jurisdiction over the area of Vasai and Kalyan.
Vasai under the Portuguese
In 1509 the Portuguese landed in Vasai. The first Church was being built in this region in the Vasai Fort in the year 1535. At that time there were five religious orders, namely, Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, Augustinians, and Hospitaler or Brothers of St. John of God. From this date till the abolition of double jurisdiction in 1928, Vasai remained continuously and peacefully under the Jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Goa. And after that till 1998 it was under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Bombay. The five Churches built in Vasai under the jurisdiction of Goa are, in chronological order St. Thomas Church, Sandor, in 1556, Holy Cross Church, Nirmal, in 1557, Our Lady of Light Church, Agashi, in 1568, Holy Spirit Church, Nandakhal, in 1573, Our Lady of Grace Church, Papdy, in 1574. These parishes served as the mother Churches from which other parishes were carved and till date we have around thirty-six parishes. The Portuguese were the key missionaries who spread the Gospel in this land. They not only preached the Gospel but also gave their culture, food habits and musical treasure. Along with them the four congregations working for evangelization were Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, and Augustinians. Some of the outstanding personalities who toiled this land in the early stage were St. Francis Xavier, Fr. Antonio do Porto, and Fr. Thomas Stephen. During this period Christianity spread all over the taluka of Vasai. This period also gave rise to a missionary saint of the soil St. Gonsalo Garcia born in 1557. His father was Portuguese and his mother was a native Catholic of Vasai. He along with Jesuit missionaries went to Japan. On 5 February 1597 on the mountain of Nagasaki he was crucified along with Fr. Paul Miki S. J. and twenty-four other companions. On 8 June 1852 Pope Pius IX canonized him as a Saint. Today he is the Patron Saint of the Diocese of Vasai. He has inspired many young men and women to join religious orders.
Vasai in the British Period
From the sixteenth century, Vasai was under the Archdiocese of Goa and therefore many Goan priests came and served the place till 1965. During this period there was considerable importance given for faith formation and liturgical services. The priests were interested in the life of the people and therefore they focused on the overall development of Vasai. They also trained many musicians in the diocese. Therefore in every parish we have a good number of musicians who offer their service whole-heartedly.
Vasai after Vatican II
Vatican II brought a paradigm shift in the universal Church. One of the changes was the introduction of vernacular languages in the liturgies. This shift gained momentum in the Diocese of Vasai because during the early sixties onwards many of the Vasai students were ordained and they returned to their native place to serve their own in their mother tongues. They built upon the great foundations that had been laid by the religious and the Goan priests earlier. They tended the flock and brought about tremendous changes in the spiritual life of the Catholics, forming the people in their faith. During this period, i.e., 1955 to 1985 there was a tremendous growth in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Today, Vasai is proud to be a land blessed with vocations and has offered many priests and religious to different Churches and congregations in the world. During this period another significant event that took place was the division of major parishes into smaller parishes. Since there were vocations and priests available, many new parishes were set up. One more point to be noted in the history of the Diocese of Vasai is that Pope John Paul II has visited this place and celebrated Mass for the people of Vasai on 9 February 1986.
Vasai as Part of the Archdiocese of Bombay
In 1980, Simon Cardinal Pimenta, the then Archbishop of Bombay, organized a priest consultation and this brought about a significant shift in the Church in Bombay. The priests unanimously felt that the Church, in order to be vibrant and effective, needs to be a peoples Church. This idea was taken up by the present retired Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay, Bishop Bosco Penha, the then Rector of St. Pius College, who injected this idea into the minds of the seminarians, the budding theologians of the twenty first century. With the help of seminarians, Bishop Bosco Penha started BCCs in the Archdiocese of Bombay. This took off beautifully and has systematically spread all over. Vasai, a part of the then Archdiocese, seems to have been the most fertile land for this project. The natural setting of any parish in Vasai is the village. Each village has around twenty to thirty families. Each parish has a number of such villages. The BCCs took a giant step forward in Vasai. With the whole hearted support and co-operation of the priests and people, the Church in Vasai became more vibrant and community-oriented. Today many activities are carried out through the BCCs.
Vasai as an Independent Diocese
In 1998, Vasai was erected as a Diocese. As the new diocese it felt necessary to set its goals and objectives clearly. Therefore, on the eve of the Jubilee Year, the Diocese of Vasai had its Diocesan Synod from 13 to 18 March 2000 under the able leadership of Bishop Thomas Dabre, the first Bishop of Vasai. A hundred and thirty people met every day for six days. They discussed five major topics: Faith Formation of the Laity, Lay Participation in the Pastoral Activities, focus on Tribal belt, Effective celebration of Sacraments, and an Indian way of being Church. Twenty-nine resolutions were passed in this synod which incorporated all the aspects of the above mentioned topics. The synod set a new perspective, a new direction to reform and revitalize the clergy-laity relationship. It helped the diocese to formulate its goals and objectives in order to leap into the twenty first century. It also felt that Vasai is blessed with plenty of personnel in Marathi and therefore it could contribute much for the overall development of the Marathi speaking Dioceses in the whole of Maharashtra.
Present Situation of Liturgical Animation in the Diocese of Vasai
The lay catechists and the liturgical ministers in the entire diocese are well accepted and willing to accept responsibilities for the growth of the Church. They are actively involved in the liturgical services and other cultural activities in their respective parishes and it has been appreciated by all. In order to cater to the Marathi speaking parishes a pastoral Centre under the name Jeevan Darshan Kendra was established. This Centre for the past many years has provided for the needs of the Marathi speaking areas in Vasai, Bombay, and the whole of Maharashtra. The Pastoral Centre has conducted many faith formation and liturgical formation programmes for the laity and clergy. The coordinating committee and team of resource persons are made up of priests, religious sisters, and lay persons who plan and execute the programmes for the diocese and the other Marathi speaking dioceses. During Diwali vacations JDK conducts a week-long programme at NBCLC. This has been going on for past twenty-six years, and has trained many lay leaders for their effective participation in the Church. JDK offers various formation programmes for the people of the diocese such as parish Liturgical Teams, the Liturgical Music Ministers, the Extra-ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Catechists, and Family Apostolate Programmes. These are basic courses for a day or weekend. Long term programmes are conducted during the vacations in May for the music teachers, where classes in liturgical hymns, vocal and instrumental music are conducted. The Centre aims at forming lay leaders for the service of the Church. We also have a similar formation Centre in the mission area of the diocese to train lay leaders for the mission of the Church. The liturgical committee not only invites people to their Centre but they are also willing to go to them to conduct weekend programmes for the faithful. Now, under the able and efficient leadership of Archbishop Felix Machado we have a number of spiritual and liturgical activities undertaken.