By H R Alva
Mangaluru, Sep 5: The diocese of Mangalore consists of the entire Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka and Kasargodu taluk of Kerala. Till July 16, 2012 the present diocese of Udupi (the entire revenue district of Udupi) too was a part of the diocese of Mangalore. Before partition, the area of the undivided diocese was 9,425 square kilometers. Total population was about 42 lacs and Catholics were about 3.95 lacs in the undivided diocese. Most Rev Aloysius Paul D’Souza was the Bishop of undivided diocese of Mangalore till the partition. His predecessor was Bishop Basil Salvadore D’Souza, who administered the diocese from May 11, 1965 till his death on Septemeber 5, 1996, over a period of 31 years. During this tenure the diocese had progressed in all respects be it in the increased number of Parishes, Educational and religious institutions and in other aspects. Mangalore was the first diocese in India to implement the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, be it transformation of the liturgy to the vernacular language, participation of the laity in the affairs of the Church and in other fields. Because of these implementations, Konkani language gained a lot by way of respectful recognition. Much later Konkani language got included in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution on August 20, 1992.
Bishop Basil went to his heavenly abode on 5th September 1996, exactly 25 years ago. Though a quarter century has elapsed, his tall personality, powerful and commanding voice, is still fresh in the minds of people those who had seen or heard of him. I came to the contact of Bishop Basil in 1979 through the Diocesan Catholic Youth Movement (CYM) and since then this acquaintance got nurtured further as I became the first lay person from the diocese of Mangalore to be the Secretary of the Diocesan Pastoral Council for 2 successive terms from 1986 to 1991. Even after my tenure ended, we remained in close contact. He solemnized my nuptials with Concepta Fernandes on January 1, 1992 at Pangala Church. We did get several occasions to meet him till his end. In this article, I make a humble attempt to narrate his life and achievements on the occasion of his 25th Death Anniversary.
Christianity in the Canara region:
Before going in detail about Bishop Basil I would like to explain the formation of the diocese of Mangalore, known as the Rome of the East. There were traces of Catholic existence in the Kanara region way back in 1600. Prior to that there were no records about the existence of Christianity in the Kanara region. The Syro – Malabar Christians maintain that Christianity was preached to them by the first century, and it is probable that this knowledge was not restricted to that part, but may even have been extended to the northern coast too. Thereby it can be presumed that there were Christians in the Kanara region. However, it is certain that Christianity was preached on Kanara Coast towards the end of 15th century.
By the beginning of the 16th Century the Portuguese succeeded in opening settlements in Kanara, and with these settlements the arrival of Missionaries into India. In 1510 Albuquerque conquered Goa, and this made it easy for the Portuguese to send reinforcements of Missionaries to the existing stations of Kanara.
Formation of the diocese of Mangalore:
The basic year of the establishment of the diocese of Mangalore can be considered as 1674. In that year on the representation of the Carmelite Missionaries of Verapoly, the Holy See appointed Father Thomas de Crasto, Vicar Apostalic of Kanara and Malabar. On the July 16, 1684, Very Rev Crasto died, leaving his Vicar General to administer the vicariate. In 1700 on the death of the Vicar general, Kanara was once again placed under Goa. The period from 1784 to 1789 was of the captivity of Kanara Christians under Tippu Sultan. In 1799 with the death of Tippu, captivity ended. In 1838 Pope Gregory 16th authorized the Vicar Apostalic of Verapoly to exercise jurisdiction over Kanara. On May 12, 1845, the Holy See in answer to the memorial sent in 1840 by the prominent Catholics of Mangalore seeking Kanara be constituted into a separate and independent Vicariate appointed Bishop Bernadine, a Carmelite as Pro-Vicar Apostolic of Mangalore. In 1853 Kanara was entirely separated from Verapoly and formed into a Vicariate with Bishop Michael Antony as Vicar Apostolic.
On March 24, 1876, the Vicariate was placed once again under Verapoly. On September 27, 1879 the Holy See freed Kanara and assigned it to the care of the Jesuit Province of Venice. Father Nicholas Maria Pagani was appointed Pro-Vicar Apostolic of Kanara. On February 21, 1885, Kanara was erected into a Vicariate and its Pro-Vicar raised to the dignity of Bishop of Tricomium and Vicar Apostolic of Kanara. On June 23, 1986, the settlement of boundaries between Goa and Kanara arrived. On September 1, 1886 Pope Leo 3rd proclaimed a decree under which Mangalore ceased to be a Vicariate and took its place as the diocese of Mangalore. Thus Bishop Nicholas Maria Pagani was the first Bishop of Mangalore (1886-1895). Msgr Abundius Cavadini, was the 2nd Bishop (1895-1910), Msgr Paul Perini was the 3rd Bishop (1910-1923).
Mangalore was entrusted to its own Clergy:
In 1923 the diocese of Mangalore was entrusted to its own clergy and Fr Joseph Pais was nominated as the Administrator Apostolic of Mangalore. But he declined to accept the appointment and thus Msgr. Paul Perini, Bishop of Calicut was appointed as the Administrator of diocese of Mangalore.
Fr Valerian J D’Souza, was the 4th Bishop of the diocese of Mangalore, who was a member of the local clergy (1928-30), Bishop Victor Rosario Fernandes, the 5th Bishop (1931-1955), Bishop Basil S T Peres, the 6th Bishop (1955-58), Bishop Raymond D’Mello, the 7th Bishop (1959-64).
Bishop Raymond D’Mello, a Mangalorean (Kirem) by birth was an ordained priest for Allahabad diocese. He was filled with missionary zeal as he was a missionary in North India. He was transferred to Allahabad in 1964 and the seat of Bishop of Mangalore remained vacant for a year till the appointment of Bishop Basil Salvadore D’Souza, who was elected on 22nd March 1965 and consecrated on May 11, 1965. He administered the diocese of Mangalore for over 31 long years (a record), till his death on September 5, 1996 (5 years to go for his retirement).
Basil Salvadore - Birth, education and priesthood:
Basil Salvadore was born on May 23, 1926 to Diog D’Souza and Mary Pereira, the cultivators (betel leaves) and devoted Catholics of Bondel, Mangalore. The child was baptized at Omzoor. He was eldest among 7 children of his parents (Siblings – Peter Albert, Angeline, Rosario Antony, Theresa (Sr. Alphonsa, a nun of Disciples of Devine Master), Raphael and Philomena. After education at the Parish School and at St. Aloysius High School, Kodialbail, young Basil joined St Joseph Seminary on May 30, 1943. He was ordained as a priest on 25th March 1952. Thereafter he served as an Assistant Parish Priest at Infant Jesus Church, Modankap - Bantwal for 5 years. His Parish Priest was Fr Albert Vincent D’Souza, who afterwards rose to the position of Auxiliary Bishop of Mysore and then to that of the Archbishop of Calcutta. Under Fr Albert young priest Basil groomed to the fullest. (Till the end Bishop Basil had great respect and admiration for Archbishop Albert. As per the wish of Bishop Basil, on his death he was interred near the tomb of Archbishop Albert in the Rosario Cathedral, Mangalore. This was on 9th September 1996). Fr Basil then served in the Kadaba Mission for 2 years as Parish Priest with missionary zeal. In 1959, Fr Basil was brought to the Bishop’s House and was made the Manager of Codialbail Press and in 1961 with additional responsibility of the Manager of Catholic Board Education.
Elected as Bishop at the age of 39:
In the year 1964 the then Bishop of Mangalore, Bishop Raymond D’Mello was transferred to Alahabad and the seat of Bishop of Mangalore fell vacant for a year. On March 22, 1965 Fr Basil got elected as the Bishop of Mangalore. On May 11, 1965 he was consecrated by the then Pro Nuncio Most Rev. James Robert Knox, being the Papal representative. Nuncio Knox had said during the consecration – “In the day by day changing scenario and situations of progress many difficulties and hurdles will come before the church. Since the Holy See is confident that Bishop Basil can tackle these types of situations for which he has been chosen”. For over 31 years Bishop Basil lived up to the words of the Nuncio.
Participant of the 2nd Vatican Council and implementation of teachings:
On assuming office, Bishop Basil participated in the fourth and last session of 2nd Vatican Council in 1965. On returning home, he jumped into action at the earliest to implement the teachings of the Council. In this task of implementing the renewal proclaimed by the council he became the first Bishop in India. Masses and liturgy turned to the vernacular language (Konkani). Required literature and books were published. He took steps to translate and publish the Holy Bible and related books. He himself drafted some and edited many a manuscripts, by dedicating his time and energy. Arranged seminars. Formed Senate of Priests and Diocesan Pastoral Council, Denary (Varado) councils, Parish Pastoral Councils and other committees. It was not an easy task to translate into action the mind and spirit of the Universal Catholic Church as documented in the books of 2nd Vatican Council proceedings. This was because some of the older priests resisted and some younger priests were over enthusiastic in the implementation.
Achievements of Bishop Basil:
Established Mangala Jyothi (Diocesan Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre), CODP (Canara Organization for Development and Peace), Rural Self – Employment Programme (RUSEMP) at Pakshikere, Pastoral Institute, Canara Communications Centre, Chair in Christianity in Mangalore University, Sandesha(Foundation for Culture and Education), Family Life Service Centre, Small Christian Communities. Re-organized institutions like CBE (Catholic Board of Education), Yuva Jyothi (Youth Centre), Codialbail Press and the likes.
Bishop Basil formed new parishes by dividing larger parishes for the convenience of the faithful. The number of parishes rose to 140 in 1996 from 108 in 1965. There were 26 mission stations in 1996. Bishop Basil was regularly paying Pastoral Visits once in 3-5 years to all parishes, though the condition of roads was bad at that time. He had the knowledge of each and every parish including buildings, land etc. He was verifying the reports of the Parish Assemblies, Parish Councils by summoning them. Vocations rose during his tenure. The Diocesan Priests’ number was 264 in 1996. Mangalore diocese provided vocations to many of the dioceses in India, and religious congregations – both male and female and thereby the diocese of Mangalore has been nick-named as the ‘cradle of vocations’. During Bishop Basil’s time there were about 20 houses of religious men and about 140 houses of religious women. For some years Bishop Basil was the Director of Vocations in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).
On February 6, 1986, Pope John Paul 2nd visited the diocese of Mangalore. Bishop, as the Head of the diocese, made elaborate arrangements for the huge gathering of about 5 lac people at Bajpe. During his tenure St. Joseph Seminary came into the Diocesan fold from the Jesuits. He also established Gladsome Home for aspirants (Minor Seminary).
Bishop Basil toiled hard to uplift Father Muller Hospital and Institutions. Homeopathy College, a few degree colleges, junior colleges, High schools, primary schools and such other institutions were established in the length and breadth of the diocese.
Bidar Mission – dream project:
Bishop Basil had missionary zeal. He established Mission activities in the remote and backward district of Karnataka – Bidar, 850 kms away from Mangalore, which was attached to the Hyderabad Archdiocese at that time. The mission was inaugurated on June 18, 1982. He went there many a times despite his advancing age and the poor condition of the road. To start with there were 4 parishes and other institutions and 11 Mangalore Diocesan priests were serving in Bidar along with a few number of religious brothers and sisters (1995). This mission, a brainchild of Bishop Basil has been elevated to the position of a diocese by name Gulbarga, including Bidar and Vijayapura (Bijapur) revenue districts on June 24, 2005.
Episcopal Silver Jubilee while serving:
Bishop Basil was the longest serving Bishop of the diocese of Mangalore. He served the diocese for over 31 years and this record is still intact. On May 10, 1990 he completed 25 years of service in the diocese of Mangalore as the Bishop. On that evening a meaningful celebration was held at the Rosario Cathedral grounds organized by the religious and lay faithful of the diocese. Cardinal Simon Pimenta, the then Archbishop of Mumbai, Most Rev. Alphonsus Mathias, the then Archbishop of Bangalore, 15 Bishops from all over India, 2 CSI Bishops, about 200 priests, 1000 religious men and women and about 3000 people were present for the function. On this occasion, in his message Pope John Paul 2nd had said –“Bishop Basil, you have fulfilled the pastoral commitments honestly. You have served the people without considering your own self. The educational and other catholic institutions which have been started under your leadership, the increasing number of vocations, and the number of faithful will stand testimony for your selfless service all these years”.
Bishop Basil in his words of gratitude recollected 3 incidents of his life – When he was studying in the 3rd year of Seminary he fell ill and sent home by the superiors with a note to return if cured, during his theology studies he was saved from drowning in the river behind the Capuchin Seminary at Farangipet, he survived a motor accident at Lalbagh Mangalore some months before his election as the bishop. He believed that in all such incidents he was saved by God. Bishop Basil had appointed the Auxiliary Bishop for Mangalore diocese just a few months prior to his demise, perhaps that too was by the will of God.
I, writer of this reminiscence, was serving as the Secretary of the Diocesan Pastoral Council for the 2nd term (the first lay person as Secretary) during the Episcopal Silver Jubilee. I had the opportunity to prepare the Citation (Maanpathr) along with 3 others. I also had the privilege of reading the citation during the civic honor and felicitation and to offer the same to the jubilarian Bishop.
Bishop Basil lived a simple life:
My acquaintance with Bishop Basil was of about 17 years. As I observed him from close distance, Bishop Basil lived a very simple life. His food and accommodation were simple. During my visits to a few Bishop’s Houses in India, I have seen bigger and furnished offices. But Bishop Basil ran the diocese by working in a small office and his personal room too was simple. He slept on the old wooden cot with a thin mattress (On one occasion I have seen his resting room and I know that his successors too maintained the same office and cot). Though he appeared strict and serious he was a jovial person. He had love and concern towards all. Whatever he was doing it was for the benefit and betterment of the diocese. There were a few controversies over his way of administration and functioning. A few people, including clergy and religious misjudged him. Some even passed anonymous letters to the higher authorities of the church.
Twenty-five years have elapsed after Bishop Basil left for his eternal reward. Many of the people who had seen and heard of him remember him fondly even today. As far as my limited knowledge goes, two Books have been published on the life and works of Bishop Basil. Authors: Fr Leo A Cutinho (in Konkani) and Fr Baptist Menezes (in English). The third book with articles by his close friends and people who had seen him from close quarters is ready for publication, compiled and edited by Prof. Stephen Quadros. It will be released on 9th September 2021 at Rosario Cathedral, Mangalore after the memorial mass.
This is my humble tribute to Bishop Basil Salvadore D’Souza. I miss you Bishop Basil.
H R Alva
Some of the photos courtesy: Raknno Weekly, Mangalore, Clifford D’Mello and John Rodrigues, Shankerpura)