Saturday, September 29, 2018

Cyprian Fernandes: Outstanding Goans Bishop Agnelo Gracias

Bishop Agnelo Rufino Gracias
Mombasa Goan School luminary



By Marci Pereira (April 2017) as part of the Project: Archiving Memories of Mombasa Goan School.

An Icon to my mind

Bishop Agnelo Rufino Gracias, ranks high amongst that notional, ‘Exclusive Club of Mombasa Goan School Luminaries’, as per my research.  He is the first of three school ex-students I am aware of, that appears to have had opted for the Priesthood.  The other two being Michael De Souza who joined the Fransalian Order and Leslie Coutinho who joined the Jesuits – all three in India.  I marvel at Agnelo’s astounding accomplishments and the profound impact he has made in his apostolic ministry ~ this Bishop, my former Makadara boyhood, play-mate.   To have risen to the status of “Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay” was for me, as for all fellow Makadara Goans of the day, an immense occasion of pride, joy and thanksgiving.  To this day, he is still jealously remembered by Makadara Goans, as: ‘One of our very own’.  And so, it is with the Mombasa Goan School and the Mombasa Catholic Community too.

I can still sense that buzz of high elation that transmitted through our Makadara Goan Community, when Agnelo’s ordination to the Priesthood was announced in 1962 and the excitement it generated in our circles, in witnessing him celebrate his very first Mass at the Holy Ghost Cathedral, Mombasa, on 23 December 1962.   The fact that I still have his celebratory holy-picture, that was issued as a memento on that occasion, on the cover of my working file to this day, shows my high regard and respect for the Bishop. (A copy of that holy picture is reproduced herein).  If I heard someone mutter: “What good did ever come out of Makadara?” Well, he is one.

Memories of his boyhood

Agnelo was born in Mombasa on 30th July 1939.  I presume, like so many of us boys, he will also have attended the “White Sisters Convent School” until the age of 10/11, when we had to transfer to another school for secondary education.  Many of us moved over to the Mombasa Goan School.  Agnelo went on to complete the Senior Cambridge School Certificate, at the Mombasa Goan School in 1953.

He always struck me as being very studious, someone who took his studies seriously.  I remember him as always being loving, mild-mannered and courteous, qualities that endeared him to all our families and mates.  His extraordinary devotion to the Catholic faith, stood out very early on, amongst the boys.   The ‘Holy Ghost Church’, as it was called then, used to draw quite a few devotees for daily services from Makadara.  Those loud peals of that distinctive church bell echoing in our direction, was an unmistakable reminder of ‘God’s calling’ it seemed.  The Gracias family, were regulars in this lot, as were the Pereiras’, the Gonsalves’, the Monteiros’, the Fernandes’, the De Souzas’, the Mascarenhas’ etc.

I still hold vivid memories of the young Agnelo, armed with, what seemed like a ‘voluminous’ leather-bound Daily Missal in hand, walking briskly diagonally through the Makadara Park after morning Mass.  That short-cut to his home, was regularly used by other town-folk who lived in that direction. Remember the Makadara Park?  That was the park with the circular band stand, with a rotund roof and circumferential steps leading up to the platform.  When not in use as a band stand, it was a great place for kids to play around safely, especially on Sunday evenings, with their parents squatting leisurely close by.

Love for Football ~ “Stella Maris Club”

Up to today, my enduring memory of Agnelo, as a boy, was his love for football.  That image of him, soon after he finished his Cambridge School Exams, is so colourfully etched on my mind.  That was the time between him awaiting his results and sailing off to seminary, in Bombay.   For many of us Makadara boys, our playground was the “Stella Maris Club”, immediately behind, and located within the Holy Ghost Church grounds.  It was as good as an extension of our neighbourhood.  On days when there were no evening church services on, the Stella Maris playing field was alive with boys eager for a robust and energetic kick-about, quite apart from those that fancied table-tennis indoors.  The numbers were often sufficient to select two lively competing teams.

Now, somebody had to be responsible for ensuring there was a decently inflated and well-maintained leather football, available for play.  Whose role was that?  Who else? Me.  Kidding aside, this was serious stuff, because I was conscious that if there is no ball, there is no play.  Imagine the disappointment if there was no ball? After inflating it to the right pressure with a bicycle hand pump and ensuring the tie-lace was sufficiently tensioned, my regime was to rub candle wax into the stitching (and the leather) of the panels.  That was to ensure a prolonged life for the ball.  Soon after that ‘polish treatment’, it really was a big temptation to give the waxed ball, the first whack.   I loved the sight of seeing our mate Agnelo turn up at our house, around play time, infused with such excitement, take charge of the ball, grab it tightly under- arm and along with Flavio, his brother, myself and my brothers, and anyone else whoever was there, march delightedly towards the Stella Maris ground.  What a lovely and delightful memory that remains for me.  I missed that playful ‘passion’ when he sailed off to Bombay in 1954.  So much has happened in the 64 years (!!!) since then that I will not be surprised if the Bishop hardly remembers any of this.  We have not met since.

Off to Seminary & Ordination to Priesthood

Agnelo’s leaning towards the priesthood will have undoubtedly have emerged during his family life at home, with perhaps some influence from his attachment to the church and probably, in a small way, the school.  With no seminaries in East Africa at that time, those opting for the priesthood would go to Rome; the UK; Ireland or India.  Agnelo was admitted to the Bombay Diocesan Seminary and left Mombasa in 1954.  The history of this seminary has three specific periodic phases, defined by its physical location in Bombay, as follows:

a) Pre-Parel Period (1770-1936);    
b) Parel Period (1936-1960);    
c) Goregaon Period ~ St Pius X College (1960 to date).

Bishop Agnelo, having joined in 1954, had spells first in Parel and then St Pius X College, Goregaon, where he was ordained as a Priest on 21st December, 1962.   He celebrated his First Holy Mass at the Holy Ghost Cathedral, Mombasa on 23 December 1962.

[A full historical listing of Bishop Agnelo’s impressive appointments in his vocational ministry is presented in a tabular format in Section (g), below].

Appointment as ‘Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay’

Further to accomplishing a Doctorate in Spiritual Theology in Rome (1971-1975), Father Agnelo took up a Professorship at the St Pius X College, in Goregaon, Bombay.  In 1985 he was appointed the Rector of St Pius X College.  In 2001, he was elevated to the rank of ‘Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay’.  His ordination as the ‘Titular Bishop of Molicunza’, was conducted by Cardinal Ivan Dias on 21 April 2001. 

 After his ordination as a Priest, this appointment as a Bishop, must surely feature as another very proud milestone for Agnelo, his family and the Mombasa Goan Community.  I know the Makadara Goans were abuzz when the announcement was first released.  This was truly a momentous day for so many of us ~ a Bishop of a city, as renowned as Bombay, with a population of over 16 million, of which, Catholics numbered half-a-million then, somewhat puts that elevated status in the archdiocese, into perspective.

 Humilility exemplified                                                                                                                                                           
For me, a statement of his profound humility is best summarised by the following account.  When I worked in London around 2005/06, I used to visit Mr and Mrs Joaquim Monteiro, at least once a month, before commuting back home to High Wycombe.   The Monteiros, our very good family friends, formerly from Makadara, Mombasa, lived near Ilford (Greater London).   Being senior citizens, (Mr Monteiro was 98!!!), I recall how eagerly they looked forward to my visits.

On this one visit, they were both most anxious to relate how much over-awed they felt with an unexpected visitor ~ none other than ~ Bishop Agnelo Gracias, who was in London and made it a point to go and see them.  The Gracias family and the Monteiros, were almost next-door neighbours in Makadara.   Mrs Monteiro, a very good cook, quickly conjured up a meal for their distinguished guest and his brother, Flavio.

On taking his leave, the Bishop, stooped down before Mr Monteiro, with ‘praying hands’, seeking his blessing ~ a traditional custom during our upbringing, as a mark of respect for the elders.  Mr Monteiro would have nothing of it and insisted stubbornly, that the blessing should be in reverse.  This account is from the mouth of Mr Monteiro himself.  They felt so honoured that they should be visited by a Bishop: “One of our very own”, as described earlier ~ in their case, someone they witnessed, almost daily, grows up in their neighbourhood.   That exceedingly humble gesture by the Bishop moves me to this day.  My mind flicks to thoughts of him every time the following line appears, whenever singing the hymn: “As the deer pants for the water …. by Martin Nystrom”, at our church.   The line? “You’re my Friend and you’re my Brother, even though you are a king”.  The Monteiros would certainly endorse that.

 Outstanding Vocational Advancement/Appointments





30 July 1939
Born in Mombasa, Kenya

December 1953
Passed ‘Senior Cambridge School Certificate’
Mombasa Goan School
Admitted to ‘Bombay Diocesan Seminary’
Parel, Bombay
21 December 1962
Ordination to Priesthood
at ‘St Pius X College, Goregaon, Bombay’

23 December 1962
Celebrated First Mass
at ‘Holy Ghost Cathedral, Mombasa, Kenya
The church he attended as a boy
1 June 1963 ~
31 May 1971
Assistant Priest at ‘Holy Name Cathedral’
1971 ~ 1975
Doctorate in ‘Spiritual Theology’
1 June 1975
Professor/Spiritual Director
at ‘St Pius X College’
1 June 1985 ~
31 May 1993

Rector of St Pius X College
1 June 2000 ~
February 2001
Parish Priest
of St Michael’s Church, Mahim

13 March 2001
Appointed ‘Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay’

21 April 2001
Ordained Bishop (Titular Bishop of Molicunza)
By Cardinal Ivan Dias

28 February 2002
Elected Chairman of ‘Catholic Bishops Conference of India’
~ Family Commission

1 August 2007
Appointed ‘Archdiocesan Consultor’

16 January 2008
Appointed ‘Pontifical Commissary’ ~ Heralds of Goodness

2010 ~ 2011
Named “Goan Review’s” ‘Personality of the Year’
(For dedicated service to society + Konkani Language & Culture)
Taught Konkani Language to Seminarians
January 2011
Elected Chairman of ‘Catholic Bishops Conference of India-
~  Doctrinal Commission

1 June 2011
Appointed Rector of St Pius X College
Second spell as ‘Rector’ of College
30 July 2014
Retired as ‘Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay’
(As Emeritus Bishop he was engaged in General Administration of Archdiocese
+ Convenor of ‘Archdiocesan Proclamation Commission of Faith’)

New appointment was expected to a Mission Parish in Panvel
Anticipated as of 26/12/2016
Casting an eye through the listing in the table above, Bishop Agnelo strikes me as an outstanding Theology academic, borne out by his Doctorate in Rome, followed by the two stints as the Rector of St Pius X College (his alma mater).  He will have impacted on so many Seminarians during his years of leadership of the College.  Likewise, in his spiritual and pastoral ministry, he will have touched countless lives through administering the holy sacraments, his advisory role and guidance, counselling, attention to the sick, poor and needy in the community, driving educational advancement, community progress and well being, etc.

Member of that renowned ‘Gracias-Name’ Pedigree

The ‘Gracias’ name appears to carry high prominence in the history of the Bombay Archdiocese hierarchy.  The first ethnic Indian, to be appointed Cardinal of Bombay, was Cardinal Valerian Gracias, who made a big impact with Catholics in Bombay and Goa.   The current Cardinal of Bombay is Cardinal Oswald Gracias and with Bishop Agnelo Gracias, all one-time residents of Bishops’ House, I know many in our community who get confused on who is who.   Although, probably not related at all, the ‘Gracias Name’ has certainly left a lasting historical memory, especially with Goans, in general.

I feel great pride that our ex-student, Agnelo Gracias, stands amongst that select group of residents of Bishops’ House in Bombay.  The Bishop, I proudly remember as my playmate, schoolmate, family friend and now brother in Christ.

 Left: Father Agnelo Gracias blessing Menino Pereira after celebrating his first Mass.
Right: Bishop Butler blessing Father Agnelo Gracias just before celebrating his first Mass.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Cyprian Fernandes: The vanishing tribe: Mombasa: First Goan Institute in Africa

Mombasa Institute

WITH the establishment of the Imperial British East Africa Company, the port and island of Mombasa became a vital gateway to the unexplored and undeveloped riches of Kenya and Uganda. It was also the starting point for the Kenya-Uganda Railways and Harbours. Towards the end of the 19th Century there were already a number of Goan merchants as well as civil servants in the British administration and the mercantile service.

Out of those, a few men founded at Mombasa, on November 1, 1901, the Goan Institute, the pioneer institution for all others that would come after through Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar. It was actually called the Goan Reading Room and was housed in rented premises in Ndia Kuu (it still existed in 2001) for Rupees 20 a month. The name chosen suggests that the members were keen to spend their leisure hours, after a hard day’s work, in reading as a past-time.

As the activities of the Institute increased, it was suggested the name be changed to “The Goan Association” and later to “The Mombasa Goan Institute”. The “Goan Institute” was adopted by an overwhelming majority.  However, in 1920 there was a move to change the name to “The Indo Portuguese Institute” which did not succeed. The final change came in 1963 when Kenya gained Independence and “The Mombasa Institute” to all of good repute.

As the membership grew, “there was a longing own a building in a suitable locality amidst the beauty and healthy surroundings. They were dreaming of a new building with a spacious hall for social gatherings, debates, weddings, lectures and space for a secretary’s room, indoor sports and open courtyard to facilitate tennis and badminton (badminton could also be played in the main hall)”.
A Special General Meeting on March 14, 1917 decided:
To petition the Government with a view to securing Crown land.
A deputation was to seek an interview with the then Sheikh Ali bin Salim for a gift of a plot of land.

Captain Sir Ali bin Salim was born in Malindi around 1860 and he was about 80 years old at the time of his death. The many tributes paid at the time of his death indicated just how much this man was loved by all who knew him or knew of him. “The life of Ali and his influences were not restricted to racial boundaries because he was a benefactor to all communities.”

He became Liwali (local ruler in Arabic) of the Mambrui in 1891 in the service of the British East Africa Company, at a time when his father was Liwali of Mombasa. In his special affection for the Goans of Mombasa, Sir Ali donated to the institute a sword, his most precious possession to be held in trust forever.

It took a lot of dogged determination to overcome some of the disappointments as the leadership of the Institute pursued the dream of “owning its own home”. Their dreams came true on July 25, 1923, when members were told that the Liwali had offered a plot of land to the Institute as a gift in perpetuity inalienable and not to be used as living quarters. Two sites situated on the present Nyerere Avenue were offered. One site was next to the Manor Hotel and the other where the present building stands.

The foundation stone was laid on November 1, 1926, the year of the Institute’s Silver Jubilee. It would take about a year for the building to be completed. The inauguration by Sir Ali bin Salim on November 12, 1927.

The land adjoining the Institute in the East, consisting of two plots where subsequently the tennis courts were built, was taken in 1928 on a 99 year lease from Sir Ali at nominal rent which was further substantially reduced, and in 1938, after being approached by some members, Sir Ali agreed to cede the land freehold. A further small plot of land was acquired at a nominal rent.

As the membership continued to grow so did the pressures on the need for an extension to the existing premises and a Building Fund levy of Five shillings was introduced.The foundation stone to the new main hall was laid by club president Valu de Abreu MBE (he was to go on to become president 11 times, the most by a single person), on November 9, 1957. An overdraft was applied for and approved by the bank but it was not possible to collect this for want of guarantors. At the end of July, 1958, Dr E.B. Figueiredo, A.B. Rego and M.A. Vianna duly signed the requisite documents as guarantors and the money was released. During the construction, P.H. Saldanha loaned the Institute Shs 70,000. Members also subscribed for debentures in units of Shs 200 and some members became “Extension Founder Members’ by paying the fee of Shs 200.

Great difficulties were faced in meeting the payments to the contractors and club president  Valu de Abreu used to go house-to-house collecting donations and subscriptions to debentures.
On Easter Sunday, March 29, 1959, club president Mr Abreu was given the honour of officially opening the new hall because of his unstinting dedication and sacrifices to see the project to completion. More than 1000 people attended this function.

In 1976, the Institute celebrated it Platinum Jubilee with the great aplomb.

In 1979, plans were approved to convert the foyer, the bar and terraces into offices as a commercial venture and to have the bar, store and kitchen in the old building. The basement was converted to offices and boutiques with a high rental value.

In 1991, the late Franklyn Pereira, who many, many people would consider one of the greatest sons of the Institute had a vision: to move to the sports ground by building a new sports complex and have all the Institute’s activities under one roof. The old premises would be rented. The vision became a reality when Franklyn obtained 45-year leases on the sports ground which was on temporary annual lease. Soon well-known architect and Institute member, Patrick Martins, was charged with preparing the plans for the new complex.

In 1993, plans for the complex were approved and construction contract was awarded. The tennis courts were sold a company formed by members of the Institute for five million shillings and money was put into the building fund. Dr J.M.E.  Pinto was appointed chair of the development committee. Franklyn Pereira laid the foundation stone on March 5, 1993 and Dr Pinto performed the opening ceremony on April 2, 1994. The MI sporting complex and all its other property will forever remain a monument to the dedication, foresight, vision and all that Franklyn Pereira stood for in life.

The Institute continues as it is its tradition: improvement, innovation, changing to meet its members’ needs, always true to its traditions, always.

This is an edited version of a compilation by Felix Da Costa for a brochure marking the Institute’s Centenary.

Sir Ali bin Salim’s sword
The sword had been presented to him by George Acuilar Lawrence and Colonel E.T.H. Hutton in gratitude for his courage, resource and sympathy evinced when their brother Captain Frederick Eyre Lawrence of the Rifle Brigade was shot in a skirmish at a place called Mgobani on October 16, 1895 while on special service. Sir Ali was also made a patron of the Institute.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Cyprian Fernandes: The vanishing tribe: How Canada welcomed Goan refugees



Remember the burly, self-appointed African leader who gave himself a plethora of honorific titles, bedecked himself with an array of medals, and kept the severed head of an "enemy" as a prized trophy in his fridge?   Yes, he was also responsible for killing off thousands of his countrymen, including some of his well-educated Ministers who he saw as a threat to his grave educational deficiencies or to his brute power. Also, when Britain refused to pander to his wishes for financial aid, he got some naive Britishers to carry him on their shoulders in a parade, and embarrassed Britain by captioning the photo “White Man's Burden”!    In case you have forgotten, he was none other than the infamous Idi Amin of Uganda.

He is remembered for other atrocities too. In 1972, by means of Decree No.17 he summarily expelled some 60,000 Asian civil servants, businessmen and their families from Uganda.    These people had been there all their lives and well before Uganda gained independence from Britain in 1962.    Indeed, the civil servants, and many of their parents before them, were engaged by the British Government and continued to serve the African Government, loyally, after the British relinquished the Protectorate.   Internationally, it was recognised that this small Asian population was the backbone of the country in more ways than one.   Although less than half of 1% of the population of 15 million, they contributed about 70% of the annual revenue.    The post-expulsion chaos was palpable and swift.   The public purse was looted by the new custodians and the country's infrastructure slid into ruin.

But what about the obverse side of the coin?    The spotlight revealed the panic-stricken expellees scrambling to find a safe haven just about anywhere.    Homes, personal effects, cars and businesses were abandoned.    Or, army personnel and the locals simply helped themselves to anything they fancied, right in front of the bewildered owners.   Some Asians buried their valuables in the hope of going back some day to retrieve them.   It was common knowledge that outward bound refugees would be roughed up by the army and be relieved of all valuables, including funds.   Women were subjected to intrusive, body searches.   Uganda, which was a model of civil rectitude, and was described by Winston Churchill as the Pearl of Africa, had succumbed to the whims of a single ingrate.   Destiny had dealt the Asians a very cruel blow.   They scattered in all directions out of Uganda.

To their credit, the Government of Canada reacted in a very timely manner, agreed to accept

A significant number of the refugees, mobilised forces, and mounted an immediate rescue mission.   The key players of the day were Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the Prime Minister, Bryce Mackersy, and Minister for Immigration, and the Aga Khan, a personal friend of Trudeau's.     In Uganda, Roger St. Vincent was the Charge de Affaires for Canada.   The cause was purely humanitarian.    Logistics were soon in place and ‘planes were dispatched from Canada to pick up the hapless refugees from Entebbe airport, for direct flights back.   This was a precedent-setting chapter in Canada's history.    It was the first operation of its kind to rescue non-European refugees.

Elaborate reception and re-settlement plans were put in place, post-haste, by Canada.    In Toronto, a special Immigration kiosk was set up at the Toronto Dominion Centre, downtown.   Similar arrangements were made in Montreal.    Some 9,000 refugees ended up in Canada.

Winter clothing and boots, plus anything else needed to start from scratch, was provided or made available on a "help yourself" basis at a convenient depot.   People could literally have come with nothing but the shirt on their backs.   Everything else had been anticipated.   Based on regional employment needs, people were matched to jobs in cities where they had the best chance of being successfully absorbed, and were earmarked for those cities, Accommodation and school admissions were also arranged and monetary allowances provided until people were back on their feet in the workforce.

Employers welcomed the refugees with open arms and, in a matter of weeks; the refugees were weaned of Government handouts.    It was recognised that because of their Western orientation and English language skills, the refugees took to Canada like "ducks to water".  This was especially true of the Goans, who benefited from the lengthy Portuguese presence in their motherland since 1510, and who had thus become the first in the East to come under the New World order.

More importantly, Canada benefited too.   The refugees --- both, men and women --- came with an English education, exemplary work ethics, and years of valuable professional experience, that had not been acquired at Canada's expense.    Qualitatively, Canada had never before accepted a better group of refugees.    There was a strong perception of success in the endeavour and re-settlement process, shared by the refugees and Government.

Detached from their blighted past and their harrowing experiences, the Ugandans showed intestinal fortitude and dug in with renewed hope for  themselves and their children.    Many upgraded their academic qualifications if only for the mythical Canadian content.   Their quality of life kept getting better by the day and before long they were firmly on their feet and pulling their weight as full contributing citizens in the land of their adoption.    Nearly all bought homes as soon as they could scrape enough funds together to make a down-payment.     After all, they were used to a very comfortable lifestyle, with the added advantage of domestics, until they were rudely uprooted.

The refugees have reason to count their blessings in the comparative tranquility of their adoptive land, and to regard the Uganda "stopover" as a closed chapter in their lives. They are proud to be Canadian.


  This invaluable collection of photos was sent to me by David Mungai. He says it is “for the acknowledgement of Kenyan History, the celebra...