Mangaluru, Sep 15: Saturday, September 15, 2018 has become a historical day in the chronicles of Mangaluru diocese as young scholar priest Peter Paul Saldanha has been consecrated as the 14th bishop of the diocese.
Those who know Fr Peter Paul strongly believe that he is a blend of both of his patron saints, the first time apostles of Jesus Christ, St Peter and St Paul. While St Peter, being close to Jesus Christ was an able administrator, so also was strong in his faith and spirituality. Possibly for this reason Christ appointed him as his successor and on him the Holy Catholic Church was built. At the same time, St Paul was an evangelist and a powerful orator, communicator.
Without doubt Fr Peter Paul has inherited these qualities to qualify as an efficient administrator so also an effective communicator. His own book, titled, ‘The Church: Mystery of Love and Communion’ reveals his deep faith and commitment towards the church and its people.
Bishop Peter and his brilliant parish
Kirem Church dedicated to Our Lady of Remedies, is located 32 kms north-east of Mangaluru city from one side and 10 kms to the west to Arabian sea-coast, nearest town being Kinnigoli, which falls in between. It is one of the oldest parishes that boasts of a huge catholic population and has the distinction of recording huge number of vocations to the religious order. Until the Gulf boom opened avenues for better living, most of the population wholly depended on agriculture and petty businesses.
It should be noted that, Fr Peter Paul Saldanha is the third bishop hailing from this parish, two others being former bishop of Mangaluru diocese Rt Rev Raymond D'Mellow (1959-1964) and Rt Rev Dr Robert Miranda, currently bishop of Gulbarga.
The history tells us that Kirem Church was one among those catholic structures that came under the invasion of Tipu Sultan and the church was demolished around the year 1784. It is also believed many Christians from the parish were taken and kept as captives in Srirangapatna. These staunch Catholics, when they returned to their home town after Tipu’s death, re-built the church around 1799, thanks to the timely support of the local Bunts community. In a way this led to the renewal of faith among Catholics and it is true for the Saldanha family too that dwelled in this parish.
In an interview to Daijiworld TV as soon he was designated as Bishop, Fr Peter Paul (named after his grandfather) described his early days as a student, about his parents and family, etc. He also revealed that one of the parish priests of his parish, Late Rev Abundius D’Souza was a great influence in his life and was instrumental in his becoming a priest. He had also recalled his early days of poverty, the way his parents and uncles toiled in the farm land to make ends meet. He also spoke quite adequately about his affection for his other eight siblings and how the daily work and prayer helped them to live a simple Christian life.
‘Ladram’ whom I knew
When I heard the news of Fr Peter’s appointment as the future bishop, that he happens to be my neighbour, I recollected the face of his dear father, whom I knew quite closely as ‘Ladram.’ It was such a great moment of delight for me as I kept wondering whether Christ was right when he had said no prophet is accepted in his hometown/country. Can Jesus Christ be wrong in what he had said in case of Fr Peter in terms of his elevation to decorate the highest seat? There seem to be no answer.
Then I went on visualising Ladram, always dressed clad in white top and dhoti, a scapular hanging by his neck, who peddled his bicycle in and out of town, carrying the essentials needed for his small time business near Moorukaveri. He was a jovial person by nature who out of affection joined us whenever we invited him to play a game of cricket with us after a laborious day’s work. Often we sat over a gup-shup (mostly on politics) on the nearby hill-top which we called as ‘Calvar Dongor’.
He was a simple, hardworking person, although I had known very little about his family and children. How I would have imagined that his son would become our bishop someday.
Big brother was a father figure
This excitement prompted me get down into more work, and to gather much needed fodder for my synopsis on Fr Peter Paul, the new prophet from our village.
I started interacting with a number of his acquaints from different walks of life, who knew him closely. They included his siblings, family members, well wishers, classmates and others who were connected with him over the past many years. Almost all of them spoke in one language, one voice, that he is an affectionate person, approachable and quite intense towards values of life. True to his own admission, having born into a poor dignified family, he had inherited spirituality and devotion from a young age, from his parents.
This is what his younger brother, Naveen Lancy Saldanha had to say on record – “Our big brother is a father figure to us. For whatever decisions, we always seek his advice. Being in such a prolific position in priesthood he has fulfilled his obligation towards his parents, his siblings and other family members, he has strived hard to keep the family united and ensured that all of us are educated.
We never had electricity in our house, our mother was engaged in jasmine cultivation, yet we had high hopes that someday God will bless our home, and he has indeed blessed us by raising our brother to the highest position. On behalf of the entire family we wish him good luck.”
The excitement and ecstasy of Leena Fernandes from Kirem parish saw no bounds when we asked her to share her feelings. She was too thrilled that her student has become a bishop. “He was a quiet boy, very helpful in nature. He used to bring my son home on his bicycle. I am sure his knowledge and prayerful nature are behind this wonderful gift,” she said.
The vice-president of Kirem parish council, Santan D’Souza, who is also a family friend, had no words to describe the qualities of Fr Peter. He says when he was studying in primary school; it was customary for Fr Peter to carry him around on his shoulders.
“He is so full of love, so humble, God has chosen the right person for the right position,” he said out of profound happiness.
Kind and compassionate
I started asking Fr Victor Pinto, former Rector at St Joseph’s Seminary at the time when Fr Peter was a seminarian. Both of them were born and brought up in the same parish, within a distant of a few miles and in a gap of few years. Fr Victor remembers his erstwhile student as a humble handsome youth who had immense desire to walk in the steps of Christ by serving the poor. “We expect him to be closer to his people, the sick, poor and marginalised, as I know him both as a kind and compassionate person,” said Fr Victor.
My research on Fr Peter led me to talk to two of his classmates, whom even I know closely. All three of them were called ‘Trimoortis’ (trio.) One of them was Fr Andrew Leo D’Souza, currently the parish priest of Bondel Church and hailed from Nirude parish. The second was Fr Victor D’Mello, who hailed from Bola/Kelmbet and currently the parish priest of Bishop’s own Kirem parish. Although all of them came from three different parishes they shared strong bond with each other during their schooling at Pompei High School, Aikala and later at the seminary.
According to both Fr Victor and Fr Andrew, their affection for each other was mutual and they shared most of the common elements in life, like poverty at home, lot of hard work, agriculture as a profession and hunger for knowledge. They believe this perhaps helped them into choosing their future path, to work in the vineyard of Christ.
When asked about the personality and nature of Fr Peter they both spoke in one voice about his integrity as a person. He is a born leader, said Fr Victor with as much excitement in his tone. He is sober and we always looked towards him for leadership. He was genuine, affectionate. Never been controversial, whatever may be the situation.
When asked if Fr Peter maintained the friendship even after leaving for Rome, he said they were always connected as the former whenever was down on annual vacation, made it a point to meet them and revive the good old memories.
According to the bishop’s own admission, besides Fr Abundius, another person who supported him to choose priesthood was Fr Andrew Leo. Fr Andrew known for not for mincing words said Fr Peter walks the talk and has supported his family in thick and thin of their lives, at times sharing their burden in spite of his busy work schedule. He said his quality of listening to others will help him tend to his folk and feel their pain, without being bias or diplomatic. “I am sure he will serve as a good friend and a good shepherd at the same time”, he concluded.
When asked to share some memorable moment during their seminary days, he said once they were returning from a prayer rally and there was a beggar at the gate of the seminary who had strained his leg and was in great pain. Most of the seminarians who had returned from the prayer over sighted the man in distress (including Fr Andrew) and walked past the place. But Fr Andrew, having returned to the seminary, realised how grim the situation is, and rushed back to help the poor beggar. By then, Fr Peter who was staying upstairs came running and joined him in addressing the cause. “I felt as if Jesus himself came down to help,” says Fr Andrew brimming with pride for his friend. “We were like St Peter and St Andrew, inseparable friends of Biblical days,” laughs Fr Andrew.
His simplicity talks about his ability
I spoke to Fr Richard Coelho, director of Fr Muller Charitable Institutions who described Fr Peter as his junior by a few years, yet was quite known to him. “He is a well balanced person,” said Fr Richard. “I have no doubt, through his simplicity he will bring the people of the diocese unto his fold; he possesses such humility, capacity. I am sure while sustaining our culture and faith; he is destined to give new direction to the diocese.”
When I asked Fr Richard what is expected of the future Bishop of Mangaluru diocese, he said, there are a few normal expectations from the bishop as far as bringing new ‘direction’ in administration. “We expect him to consult both the clergy and laymen, in order to gather enough feedback and guidance from the seniors and experts in each field.”
Dialogue with other religions
I also happened to interact with his three other classmates, now serving in three different destinations and in distinct roles. One was Fr Sylvester D’Costa, parish priest of Mulky church, the second was the Magician priest Fr Ivan Madtha and the third, Edwin Mascarenhas, currently principal at Permannur School. All the three had high regards for their friend and spoke in full breath on the days and times they spent together.
Fr Sylvester while agreeing to what others had said added that Fr Peter with his secular outlook has greater capabilities to initiate inter-religious dialogue in engaging leaders of other communities to set a platform for ‘unity in diversity.’ “It is not only the slogan but the action that counts,” he stressed.
Fr Ivan Madtha was most upbeat in his opinion. He explained Fr Peter Paul as a bright student, who secured the First rank in the B Th. (Bachelor of Theology) in the final year of his study at the seminary. He described him as a man of discipline, humility, punctuality, and dedication.
He says once batch mates had met for a gathering few years ago. The meeting concluded late at night, but still the others saw Fr Peter praying the breviary, the prayer of the church. Fr Madtha says he will cherish the days of acting together in dramatics during philosophy days.
What changes you would expect under his leadership, I asked Fr Madtha. He said the whole diocese looks forward to revolutionary changes. The new Bishop according to him should concentrate more on building communities rather than building structures with bricks and cement. He should take priests and laities into confidence, but should not practice favouritism.
No doubt, Mangaluru being a vast diocese which has a 500 year history will be handover to a new pastor, a scholar, a true humanist, simple and approachable as everyone has described him. He will have a herculean task to keep his folks together, strengthen their faith, right from his own parish Kirem in the north, Kasargod region to the south. He may have to manage a number of Catholic institutions that include social, health and educational institutions. He may have to take some tough decisions that may paint him in red and put him into isolation. Is this likely to happen?
Will he be able to make it or not, is the question.
I believe as a well wisher, if not as a media person, he can and he will. He has the support and prayers of a million behind him. He is not destined to fail, for his struggle will be for the sick, for the poor, for the down trodden. And he has will and vigour to serve the last person without malice or prejudice.
We all know our previous Bishop Dr Aloysius P D’Souza was an excellent pastor, a simple person at heart and led by example. He lived a life of prayer and benevolence. He added value to our diocese and he stood for the truth and righteousness. Mangaluru diocese could not have asked for a better successor. They say, ‘yatha Raja, tatha Praja’. Our former Bishop has groomed many priests, nuns and people of Christ in his nature and competence, including Fr Peter Paul. I am sure now on he will relieved and relaxed to realise that he has handover the reigns to a better person in Fr Peter Paul.
Will we able to see many changes within soon? Not necessarily. Rome was not built in a day. But surely those people, who I spoke, certainly look forward to some revolutionary changes, in administration in particular.
Your Excellency while summing up, here is a few tips which come from your people. In all that you do, please take into confidence the voices of the clergy, nuns and laymen from all the nooks and corners of the diocese, not just a few henchmen and politicians who are available all the time.
Instead have a team of experts, in every field, be it spiritual, social, liturgical, political, educational, health – in every discipline. Let them come out with solutions. Share your burden, your pain, your apprehensions, goodwill. And you will never go wrong.
Listen to everyone, but when time comes, look into your conscience and submit to the only one whom you know better than me.
Best of prayers and wishes, Fr Peter Paul.