Thursday, December 1, 2011

Capuchins in India

CAPUCHINS IN INDIA (1632-2009):
A HISTORICAL READING IN RETROSPECT

- Benedict Vadakkekara

History is, to put it simply, something more than an orderly narration of some past events. It is in fact a study of the past or is the result of our attempts at understanding the past. A survey of the nearly four centuries of pastoral and social service that the Capuchin friars have uninterruptedly been carrying out in India not only spotlights the transforming results of their presence but also reflects to a great extent the methodological and ideational principles underpinning the Church’s coeval apostolic activities. If formerly in the historical narratives of local Churches pastoral agents were the protagonists, latterly the local community and its leadership tend to occupy the centre stage. In the ultimate analysis the history of the Capuchin Order in India is very much a story of the participation of local communities, as proven by examples galore. It was the generosity and benevolence of the diocesan authorities of Mangalore that actually paved the way for the opening of the noviciate house of Monte Mariano. The same may be said of the Diocese of Kollam regarding the foundation of St Anthony’s Friary. While Amalashram of Tiruchirappalli imparted a thoroughly native colouring to the Indian Capuchins, Assisi Ashram of Bharananganam stands as a lasting monument to the goodwill of the people towards the friars. Calvary Ashram of Thrissur would not have had its identity but for its place in the hearts of the people of the locality.


However in many cases the story of the enthusiasm and initiative of the people in getting a Capuchin house erected in their midst remains unwritten. It was thanks to the munificence of the Hindu Raja of Bettiah that in 1741 Fr Joseph Mary of Brescia was able to get for the Capuchins a secure foothold in Northern India. If 1632 signals the beginning of their presence and ministry in India, it was in 1982 that their general chapter amended the Constitutions, impacting particularly the modality of the Order’s implantation in countries like India. The changeover from trail-blazing Gospel workers and pastoral assistants into founders of local Churches and implanters of the Order did call for a fundamental shift in the mindset. Indian Capuchin history lends itself to be thematically surveyed in four phases, even though in some instances the dividing lines may overlap chronologically: Capuchins in India directly under the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of Faith (1632-1887), Capuchin activities in India sponsored by overseas provinces (1887-1982), Birth of Indian Commissariat and its growth into All-India Capuchin province (1922-1963), and Consolidation and spread of Indian Capuchins in their land and beyond (1963-2009).

A. CAPUCHINS IN INDIA DIRECTLY UNDER CONGREGATION OF PROPAGATION OF FAITH (1632-1887)

The origin of the Capuchin Order in India(1) is intertwined with the opening of the French settlement in India and Rome’s innovatory strategy in the 17th century for giving a concerted thrust to the task of taking the Gospel globally. Thanks to its maritime triumphs and Padroado Rights(2), Portugal had in the 16th century broken fresh ground in sending its men into some of the then outlying areas in the African and Asian continents. Beyond a doubt, Portugal had avowedly both commercial and religious interests in carrying through its daring enterprises, and its settlements were staffed also by Franciscan friars of the Observance, Dominicans, Augustinians, Trinitarians, Jesuits, Carmelites and Franciscan Capuchos (unrelated to today’s Capuchins).

Once the initial euphoria had died down, it was all too evident that Portugal was incapable of concretising the carte blanche given to it. Nevertheless it clung doggedly to its rights and with determination pre-empted the entry of contenders into what it considered to be its apostolic reserve. Contrarily, Rome began viewing the Padroado rights more as a veritable scarecrow hoisted across the horizon than as an effective means of evangelisation. As a matter of fact it would appear that often Portugal was tending to behave like a dog in the manger as regards spreading the Gospel. To circumvent the Padroado vetoism, Rome took the calculated risk of putting together the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of Faith (SCPF) and dispatching its men far and near. This was a foresighted move aimed at carrying the war into the enemy’s camp.

After a nervous start, the SCPF launched out into the wide world in 1622, with the unstinted backing of Pope Gregory XV (1621-1623). It had various religious Orders to fall back on and in a very pragmatic manner was able to have hundreds of religious men directly under its command(3). On 12 July 1623 the Capuchin general minister Clement of Noto (1558-1631) placed the entire Order at the service of the SCPF. And subsequently the Order’s general chapter, despite its forceful reiteration of the policy of maintaining the spirit of poverty and humility even in its evangelisation commitments, decided to promote among the friars the learning of Greek, Arabic, Persian and Turkish in order to adequately equip them to go and work in distant lands. Rising to the task, the SCPF contributed effectively towards providing a specific organisation for the fledgling evangelisation activity of the Capuchins. The Capuchin friars Joseph of Paris (1577-1638), in solidum with Leonard of Paris (1566-1641), was appointed its apostolic commissary and prefect in England, Scotland, Constantinople and other regions of the Orient.

The prefects wielded ample powers and were directly answerable only to the SCPF. The centralisation of the entire enterprise in the hands of these two French friars indeed helped the Order overcome the growing pains and channelize its resources. Joseph of Paris was very much linked with the corridors of power in Paris and this capacitated his confreres to move around with relative ease and operate under un umbrella of several French royal decrees(4). But a dramatic trial of strength did unfold before the Capuchin provincial ministers were able to reacquire their jurisdictional powers from the two prefects. The success of the provincial ministers notwithstanding, gradually the administration of these evangelisation centres again gravitated towards the SCPF.

As the SCPF personnel were looked upon as intruding rivals by the Padroado authorities, they had to steer clear of the seaway to the East discovered and jealously appropriated by the Portuguese in order to reach destinations like India. Thus they had often to undergo much trials and tribulations and trek across deserts and desolate wastes of the Middle East en route from Europe to India and the Far East. By early 16th century the Capuchins sponsored by the SCPF secured a footing in the Middle East. In 1626 the French and British Capuchins opened a station at Caz-Abrak in Aleppo (Syria); in 1627 they had a base in Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey); the Persian station (Baghdad) was begun in 1628. And these outposts in their turn became new launching pads for the eastbound French friars.

Though evangelisation activities in Surat and other French colonies in India were initially started by the French province of Tours, in the course of time friars from other French provinces too were called upon to help. With the participation of other Capuchin jurisdictions in the evangelisation work in Tibet, the SCPF began overseeing it directly, despite the fact that it had been the Italian Capuchin Province of the Marche that had started it. From 1845 to 1881 all the Capuchins in India, both as religious and as pastors, came under the immediate jurisdiction of the newly-constituted apostolic vicars, who effectively functioned as points of reference for the expanding network of social and pastoral service performed by the Capuchins. In 1892 with the creation of the office of the regular superior, a neat distinction came to be made between the pastoral and religious spheres of jurisdiction, namely, between the ecclesiastical field administered by the SCPF through the Capuchin apostolic vicar and the field of jurisdiction of the Capuchin regular superior who was the delegate of the provincial minister. It was in 1858 that the Capuchins had their first general procurator for overseas evangelisation activities. All these infrastructural alterations were adequate responses to certain concrete situations. In order to avoid rivalry between the religious institutes the evangelisation fields were clearly marked out and assigned to specific religious jurisdictions.

1. Puducherry (1632), Surat (1639), Chennai (1642), Chandannagar (1706)

Commercial and religious interests had drawn the French to India; they found the sub-continental south-east coast a haven away from the Portuguese and the Dutch on the south-west. It was aboard one of the French vessels that early in 1632 a team of six Capuchins, armed with royal and papal papers, embarked at the French settlement of Puducherry. Theirs was an extension of their Levantine undertaking headquartered in Aleppo in Syria; they were the first Capuchins to set foot on Indian soil. As this station was in effect a linkup with the French settlement, it was also fated to share the political vicissitudes that awaited the French in India. Encountering insuperable hurdles, the French retreated to Madagascar from Puducherry in 1633 and their compatriot Capuchins too followed suit. In the meantime a group of Capuchins from Surat took up quarters in Chennai and it was from there that in 1677 they, after various attempts, were finally able to make their re-entry into Puducherry.

The evangelisation centre in Puducherry that Fr Cosmas of Gien now singlehandedly reopened was reinforced in 1686 with the arrival of three additional friars from Chennai. This time they stayed put, dedicating themselves actively to their work as chaplains to the French and as pastors to the natives of the town of Puducherry and its environs, a region to which the Europeans initially referred as ‘Malabar’. Accordingly these French Capuchins were known as ‘those who evangelised the Malabarians’. The ministry of Fr Cosmas of Gien found such an enthusiastic response in the local populace that the first chapel he built soon proved too small for his swelling congregation. The head of the local community, Lazar de Motta, had a larger church built at his own expense and formally handed it over to the Capuchins through a deed dated “Madraspatan, 1 October 1686”. In 1776 the superior of the station, Fr Sebastian of Nevers, was made apostolic prefect. Against all the odds, they remained faithful to the people entrusted to their care, laying in the process a solid foundation for a flourishing apostolic prefecture. The contretemps that the Church was then facing in France prevented the superiors from replenishing the thinning ranks of the friars based in Puducherry. In 1828 the Capuchins formally withdrew from Puducherry and the Holy Spirit Fathers took over the administration of the prefecture. The history of the Capuchins in Puducherry that spanned nearly a century and a half was often marred by political upheavals, petty jealousies and ceaseless bickering.

As early as 1706 the Capuchins had arrived in Chandannagar in Bengal en route for Tibet. Because of the place’s strategic importance they procured in 1710 a transit house for the friars en route for Tibet. In 1717 a church open to the public was soon attached to the hospice, as a clear sign of the direct involvement of the friars in the lives of the people. The plot for the construction of the church was bought for the friars by the local public administration. The fact that everything was done with the permission of the Mughal authorities enabled the friars to live in peace even when the governance of the city changed hands. Already towards the close of the 17th century the French had established a base in Chandannagar, and the French Jesuits were stationed there for pastoral work. But in 1776 the Capuchins from Puducherry were called upon to take the place of the Jesuits in the wake of the suppression of the Society of Jesus. It did not take long for these French friars to have their own church and residence there. Besides being pastors to the French settlers, they directed their attention to the people of the place and that of the neighbourhood. The Italian friars too collaborated with their French confreres in the apostolic field.

The cosmopolitan city of Surat had the good fortune to witness some eminent exemplifications of humaneness and holiness in the Capuchin friars to whom it had been playing host. On 1 March 1639 a first batch of four French friars set out for India from their Syrian their base in Aleppo. They were accompanying the newly-appointed apostolic vicar of Indalkan (Bijapur), Mgr Mathew de Castro (1594-1677), a native Indian of Navelim, near Goa. After an ill-starred voyage which gave them a bitter taste of what it was like being at the receiving end of the rivalry and antagonism of the Portuguese Padroado authorities in Goa, one of the friars, Zeno of Baugé, made his way towards Surat, then a vibrant emporium in the vast kingdom of the Great Mughal. The floating European population of Surat befriended Zeno and he was able to find favour with the Moslem governor. Without losing time he began his ministry. His meekness and ascetic lifestyle gave him easy access to the hearts of all and sundry. Soon he was sided by his confrere Ephrem of Nevers, who was going eastward to Pegu in Myanmar. Behind the shield of the patronage of the European traders in Surat the friars were able to ride out the storm arising from the opposition of the Moslem authorities. The proverbially rigorous and disciplined way of life of the French Capuchins easily won the admiration of the local populace. In 1642 as Fr Ephrem resumed his journey, other hands arrived from the Middle East to bolster the fragile evangelisation structure. Some of the friars like Peter of Piviers, Ambrose of Rennes and Aegidius of Dijon were to leave their mark on the masses of Surat.

The flock that the Capuchin friars were called upon to pastor in Surat was in fact a reflection of the condition often prevailing in an ordinary metropolitan centre towards which the waifs and strays of the world tend to gravitate. Some of the deserted Portuguese soldiery too took refuge in the anonymity of Surat. The friars devoted much time, energy and money in their efforts to ransom Christian slaves from the Moslem chieftains. With fatherly concern they interceded with the various authorities on behalf of their hapless faithful. Fr Ambrose of Rennes commanded such high moral authority that he used to be requested to arbitrate disputes and contentions between the local heavyweights. His intermission carried weight even with Chhatrapati Shivaji (1627-1680) and consequently Surat was spared. The credit for the compilation of the Thesaurus Linguae Indianae goes to Fr Francis Mary of Tours. The variegated ministry of the Capuchins began showing results among the natives too. But the idyllic situation seemed to get imperilled as other Gospel workers appeared on the scene. The Jesuits, who began making their presence felt in Surat from 1670 onwards, were finally told by the SCPF in 1698 that they needed to seek its prior permission before initiating any activity in Surat. And that sealed the issue.

But the Carmelites revealed to be a different kettle of fish. They were predominantly Italian while the Capuchins were French. National animosities too were to colour the course of events. In 1699 the Carmelite friars were entrusted with the apostolic vicariate of the empire of the Great Mughal and the first apostolic vicars chose to reside in Surat and use it as their administrative centre. In 1720 the British authorities ousted the Franciscan friars of the Padroado administration from Mumbai, and the Carmelites who represented the SCPF jurisdiction, were invited to take step into their shoes(5). The British who made no secret of their preference for the Italian Carmelites inducted them also into the areas that they annexed from the Mughals. The fluid political scenario in India induced Rome to be reluctant to intervene in favour of the Capuchins. Much wrangling, however, took place before the curtain finally was rung down on the Capuchin presence in Surat, when in 1818 the lone Capuchin who still held the fort there, breathed his last.

The Capuchin presence in Chennai came about in a purely coincidental way. Fr Ephrem of Nevers who was bound for Myanmar interrupted his journey in Surat in order to visit his confreres there. On resuming his expedition he was constrained to undertake a hazardous journey by land for fear of the Portuguese who controlled the seaway and were ever keeping their eyes peeled for encroachers into their religious-political exclusion zone. Therefore he chose to pass through the kingdom of Golconda that bordered the southern part of the Mughal territory. Here he was patronised by none other than king Abdulla Khuta Khan himself. Since Ephrem was a gifted linguist and mathematician with ease he was able to endear himself to the king and to the royal household of Bhagnagar, the capital of Golconda. His religious decorum and upright conduct commanded respect from everyone. Only on his persistent insistence did the king relent and with a heavy heart let his enlightened guest continue his journey(6). In Chennai he was warmly welcomed by the Catholic residents of Fort St George, the first British stronghold in India, founded in 1639. Here the Catholic population had no chaplain of their own and the faithful had been relying on the Padroado clergymen from the Portuguese enclave “San Thomé” on the fringe of Chennai. The Catholics, therefore, pressed Ephrem for being their priest. On being officially invited by the governor of the Fort to oblige their request, Ephrem decided to stay on in Chennai. In due course both his religious superiors and the SCPF authorities in Rome subscribed to this decision of his.

Ephrem’s roaring success in the pastoral field and the fear of the Portuguese that the French Capuchin would siphon off more of the Padroado sheep to the SCPF fold, unnerved the San Thomé clergy. They strategically trapped him into their domain, seized him and forthwith packed him off to Goa. From Surat Fr Zeno rushed to Chennai to get his confrere released. It was all in vain and at long last it was the threat wielded by king Abdulla Khuta Khan of Golconda that opened for him the gates of the dungeon of the Inquisition in Goa. During Ephrem’s imprisonment Fr Zeno stayed on in Chennai to take his place. After his acquittal, Ephrem returned to Chennai from Goa and, to the satisfaction of all, the two Capuchins between them catered to the needs of the swelling ranks of the Catholic community.

It was now the turn of the Anglicans to be alarmed. The fine spectacle of 3000 Catholics receiving the sacrament of Confirmation at a single service exasperated them. They tried in every way to harass and discredit the friars. The conquest of San Thomé by the French in 1672 turned out to be a stick with which to beat the French friars. Right opposite the Catholic church the Anglicans had an imposing edifice erected. Despite everything the ageing friars stood their ground. Zeno died in 1692 and Ephrem in 1695. The English medium school that Fr Ephrem started at Fort St George in 1642 with the wholehearted cooperation of his Catholic faithful was the first of the kind in India. History has proved that this French friar was a trail-blazer in the field of English education for which the Indian Catholic Church would with time make a name for itself on the national level(7). As more friars arrived, the local Catholic community made steady headway. The issue of the “Malabar Rites”(8) was a scourge also for the friars in Chennai. Following the dispute between the Jesuits and the Capuchins in Puducherry regarding the practical ways and means of “inculturation”, the friars in Chennai too fell victim to much mud-slinging. The French occupation of Chennai in 1746-1749 could not but render the French friars a sore point for the British. The friars were evicted and their church was demolished. In 1752 the “Vepery Chapel”, an outstation of theirs, was given over to the Anglicans. In 1756, anticipating another French assault, the British Governor expelled the friars from Chennai.

The friars were back once again in Chennai 1759; they sought legal redress for their material losses and in 1768 after protracted litigations they were compensated. While two thirds of the compensation they received went for the restoration of the church of St Mary of the Angels, the rest was deposited in the public treasury. In the long run this deposit would become a heavy liability for the friars, posing a serious threat to the very compactness of the local Catholic community. In 1787 the deposit was placed under trusteeship, as some among the laity inculpated the friars for misusing it. In order to wean the Catholic community away from the French patronage, the British authorities coerced the friars into submitting to the Padroado jurisdiction and taking the oath of loyalty to the British Crown. The story that had begun on a glorious note now reached its fag-end, with the outgrowth of internecine contestations, depositions, apostolic visitations, excommunications, lawsuits and a series of aberrations. Time and again efforts were made at uprooting the creeping malaise and setting afoot this evangelisation enterprise, but all to little avail, as the sagging morale of the friars had already incapacitated them for rising up to the occasion. Finally, in 1832 Rome made the prefecture into a vicariate and named the Benedictine monk John Pouldon as its apostolic vicar. It yet needed a long while before the vicariate was able to recover fully.

2. Hindustan-Tibet Evangelisation Project (1707)

It was in 1707 that two Capuchin friars, Joseph of Ascoli and Francis Mary of Tours, arrived in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. In order to circumvent the Portuguese strongholds on the seacoast, they too had followed the land route from Europe, passing through Aleppo, Surat and Puducherry. It was from Kathmandu in Nepal that they made their way towards Tibet. They set up base in Lhasa and eventually other friars joined them. The Tibetan Buddhist clergy did not look on these religious from an alien land with benevolent eyes; they were seen as trespassers. On occasions it seemed that the friars would be able to make some headway into the native populace. They were also able to put up intermediary stations to facilitate their movements to and fro from Lhasa. Their ministry and preaching yielded some modest results but in the process they actually stirred up a real hornets’ nest. On being served the banishment order, they retreated from the scene on 20 April 1745. They waited patiently in Nepal, the Tibetan backyard, waiting for an early opportunity to step back into Tibet; but such an opportunity never came their way. The Capuchins worked in Nepal till 1769, when from here too they were forced to quit. With a small group of their faithful they retraced their steps into Bettiah in India. The intermediary stations they had set up earlier now came in handy, and from here, instead of succumbing to self-pity and regarding themselves as despondent losers, they radiated roundabout the light of the Good News. Thus Patna (1709), Chandannagar (1710) and Bettiah (1740) where bases had been earlier established, now were humming with life.

Their enforced retreat from the Tibetan frontline and their courageous regroupment in India, were actually disposing them to gradually assume new responsibilities in “their land of exile”. Subsequent to the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV, Agra with its outstations was integrated into the apostolic vicariate of the Great Mughal, now under the charge of the Carmelite Fathers. On 17 May 1784 the northern part of the vicariate comprising the whole of Agra, was detached from it and conjoined to the prefecture of Tibet, thus, giving shape to the apostolic prefecture of Tibet-Hindustan. The newly-constituted prefecture that covered a net surface of circa three million square kilometres of the northern part of the Indian subcontinent was entrusted to the Capuchins. On 23 April 1820 the prefecture was created into an apostolic vicariate and Maria Zenobio Benucci was nominated as its first apostolic vicar. In 1845 this vicariate was divided into the vicariates of Agra and Patna, both of which remaining under the care of the Capuchins. The Venerable Anastasius Hartmann was the first apostolic vicar of Patna. The vicariates were destined to assume the role of mother cells as they grew and developed, and other religious institutes came forward to shoulder the responsibility for the work of evangelisation.

3. Mumbai-Pune Vicariates (1854-1858)

The Carmelite apostolic vicariate of Great Mughal came to be known as the vicariate of Mumbai, following the transfer of the apostolic vicar’s headquarters to Mumbai in 1720. But on 11 October 1849, on account of the incompatibility between the Irish apostolic vicar J.F. Whelan and his Italian confreres and the consequent stalemate in the running of the vicariate, Mgr Anastasius Hartmann, the Capuchin apostolic vicar of Patna, was called upon to personally administer the vicariate of Mumbai. In 1850 Mgr Whelan resigned from office and left for Europe. Mgr Anastasius Hartmann continued as administrator, since no lasting solution was forthcoming locally. As the Carmelite Order, which then had to furnish personnel also for its vicariates of Verapuzha (Verapoly), Kollam (Quilon) and Mangalore, found itself impeded to spare the bare number of friars for Mumbai, the Order relinquished the vicariate of Mumbai on 12 December 1853. On 16 February 1854 the vast vicariate was bifurcated, the northern part, now renamed Mumbai, was entrusted to the Capuchins and the southern part, with its headquarters in Pune, was given over to the Jesuits. And Mgr Hartmann was formally transferred from Patna and made apostolic vicar of Mumbai and apostolic administrator of Pune. His Capuchin secretary, the future cardinal Ignatius Persico, was nominated as coadjutor to him in Mumbai.

Both the vicariates continued to function under one administration as if no bifurcation had been effectuated. Hartmann’s idea of erecting a Catholic college in Mumbai and having it run by the Jesuits for the benefit of the two vicariates too found wide consensus. It was an idea that he was trying to push through ever since his arrival in Bombay, seeing the miserable plight of the Catholic youth. He found Catholics were lagging behind professionally precisely because they had little possibility of going for higher education. The denominational slant of the college curriculum then followed in the Anglican institutions did not bode well for the Catholics. Hartmann had no second thoughts about Mumbai being the right place for the establishment of the college. But his Capuchin confreres began looking askance at the prospects of having a Jesuit college in the very heart of their vicariate. At the same time the Jesuits were quite decided that the college would belong to them and that they would have also their own public chapel. While a cloud of mistrust and gloom hung over the two religious families, the crisis was aggravated by certain inopportune initiatives and reactions on the part of individual religious. If the Capuchins feared that their confrere Mgr Hartmann was playing into their rivals’ hands, the Jesuits believed that despite his good and understanding nature, the Capuchin apostolic vicar was too indecisive and soft with his capricious confreres.

Mgr. Hartmann found himself in a fix. He hoped that if he could personally represent the cause of the two vicariates before the authorities in Rome, it would conduce to the settling of the issues speedily and amicably, and thus enable the members of the two religious institutes to bury the hatchet and work together with reciprocal trust and confidence. He hoped that his stay in Europe would also provide him the occasion to receive some medical attention because a kind of chronic diarrhoea had turned out to be a constant bother for him. His request to travel to Rome was readily granted and he set sail. He arrived in Rome on 14 September 1856. In Rome after prolonged negotiations it was decided that the best way out of the impasse was to have the vicariates interchanged and a neat separation worked out between the two. And so Mumbai would finally have its Catholic college. Accordingly on 13 August 1857 Mumbai was assigned to the Jesuits and Pune to the Capuchins. However, the fastidious and onerous work of apportioning the assets induced Mgr Hartmann and the Capuchin superiors to bow out of Pune and leave both the vicariates to the Jesuits. On 13 August 1858 the Capuchins were relieved of all their commitments in the Mumbai-Pune vicariates and the two ecclesiastical units were placed under the jurisdiction of the Jesuits(9).

B. CAPUCHIN ACTIVITIES IN INDIA DIRECTED BY OVERSEAS PROVINCES (1887-1982)

The centralisation of the evangelisation activities under the patronage of the SCPF had right from the start been showing signs of dysfunction and breakup. On the one hand the provincial ministers of the friars who opted for evangelisation work now found themselves getting sidelined, while on the other the SCPF was not in a position to coordinate the functioning of the individual friars. Some of the friars proved themselves to be ill-suited for the relative autonomy found on the evangelisation scene. The ground reality in the distant lands too showed cracks. The venerable traditions particular to the home provinces of the friars, their divergent cultural and linguistic backgrounds, lack of effective coordination etc. had adverse effects on the harmonious execution of the evangelisation programme. Accordingly the Order’s general chapter of 1884 decided to abolish the office of the general procurator for coordinating the Order’s evangelisation activities and to entrust the territories to individual provinces or jointly to provinces of the same country (Ius commissionis). In the light of the decision of the chapter and with the full backing of the SCPF, the general minister Bernard Christen of Andermatt had the statute for evangelisation activities revised in order to make it fall in line with the new missionary standpoint. In the light of the new Statutum pro missionibus (1887) the territory in which the friars would be sent for evangelisation would be directly administered by their provincial minister through a regular superior and his council. In other words the statute offered the Capuchin provinces the possibility of having their own fields of evangelisation.

With this new possibility there emerged a qualitative difference in the general attitude of the provinces towards the whole work of evangelisation. Transcending the spatial distance between a province and its field of evangelisation, the friars began regarding the territory assigned to them as an extension of their province. There was greater communication between the two realities, and the provincial superiors found it easier to find the personnel and the wherewithal for their evangelisation undertaking overseas. On the one hand the new policy certainly furthered the commitment of many provinces to the development and growth of their evangelisation activities, and on the other it spurred the other jurisdictions that did not yet have such territories on to getting them. And before long the new evangelisation strategy began showing perceivable results. Thus from the close of the 19th century the northern part of the Indian subcontinent became the scene of intense pastoral and social activities on the part of several western Capuchin provinces. The creation of the Catholic Hierarchy of India in 1886 and the transformation of the evangelisation fields into dioceses gave an added impetus to the work of the Capuchin friars in India.

In 1890 the Italian Capuchins of Bologna who had been working in India for decades concentrated their activities to the expansive diocese of Allahabad, which was erected in 1886. Though thereafter Allahabad mothered several new dioceses, the namesake diocese continued to be manned by the friars of Bologna. It was in 1940 that the Bolognese friars confined themselves to the region that was created as the diocese of Lucknow(10). In the same year another chunk of Allahabad was detached and made into the apostolic prefecture of Jhansi and was entrusted to the Maltese Capuchins. Again it was from Allahabad that in 1947 the East Canadian Capuchins were assigned their apostolic prefecture of Gorakhpur(11). Way back in 1892 Bettiah had been made into an apostolic vicariate and placed under the tutelage of the Capuchins from North Tyrol. The apostolic vicariate of the Punjab was created in 1880 and raised to the ecclesiastical rank of diocese in 1886 and placed under the care the Belgian Capuchins. The origin of today’s blossoming diocese of Jalandhar goes back to the diocese of Lahore. In 1952 Jalandhar was constituted into an apostolic vicariate of the British Capuchins and in 1971 it became a diocese with the Indian Capuchin Symphorian Keeprath as its first bishop. This was indeed the crowning point of the sustained work of scores of Gospel workers. The Italian Capuchins of Tuscany assumed the responsibility for the archdiocese of Agra in 1892. The apostolic prefecture of Rajaputana also took its origin in 1892 subsequent to a bifurcation of the archdiocese of Agra in 1892 and it was assigned to the Capuchins of the province of Paris. In 1913 the internal organisation and external growth of the prefecture of Rajaputana were deemed adequate for being declared as a diocese. This is how the vibrant diocese of Ajmer came into being(12). The year 1910 saw the British Capuchins join the ranks of their confreres in northern India. The archdiocese of Shimla was carved out from the jurisdictions of Agra and Lahore and it was assigned to them as the field of their apostolic work. In 1956 Dominic Athaide of the Indian Capuchin commissariat was appointed archbishop of Agra and the Tuscan Capuchins withdrew from there and in 1956 took up their service in a fringe area of the archdiocese, which, as an ecclesiastical unit, was then constituted into the diocese of Meerut.

Without a doubt, the strategy of leaving the onus of coordinating evangelisation activities directly with the provincial superiors did give a new thrust to the whole project. In many a case, the provinces had to make great sacrifices to be par for the course. Some of the provinces gave topmost priority to building up local Churches. But there were also cases where the work of implanting the local Church was put on the back burner as the friars seemed to have been more preoccupied with the idea of not losing the control of the field of evangelisation, for which numerous confreres of theirs had sweated blood. They were genuinely convinced that they should not let their territory slip out of their province’s jurisdictional control. The fact of the matter is that its pluses notwithstanding, the policy of getting the provinces to directly take up evangelisation undertakings did not always favour the growth of the Church locally. The task of preparing the local clergy to take over the various responsibilities in the diocese did not always get the due attention. This fact has on several occasions been singled out as a corollary to the plan of attaching the project of evangelisation to the individual provinces(13).

Two global phenomena, namely, the process of decolonisation and the updating (aggiornamento) of the Church through the Vatican Council II were to determine to a great extent the future course of the Church and its evangelisation activities. If the Gospel that had taken root in the Americas, the East Indies and Africa on the heels of explorers, traders and settlers from alien lands had an ingrained mark of subservience and extraneity, it was now poised to assume a more native stamp and indigenity in the post-war years especially with the gaining of momentum of the course of decolonisation and self-determination. This political and social gear-change on the intercontinental level found an adequate response at the Vatican Council II and in its subsequent theological articulation. While pluriformity and inculturation became trendy in the post-Conciliar Church, in many regions of the Indian subcontinent where Christianity had been labelled as a colonial by-product, the faithful began to be more assertive of their national and cultural identity. “Indianisation” became all on a sudden a catchword in seminar halls. This notwithstanding, in the minds of many Indians, terms like “mission”, “missionary”, “conversion” etc continued to represent a hangover of the their country’s colonial past(14). The hasty exit from the Independent India of hundreds of foreign Church personnel, though seemingly upsetting and ill-boding initially, proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Indian Church. The void left behind turned out to be a challenge and a stimulus for the Indian Church to occupy and to consolidate itself(15).

This shift in the evangelisation scenario in India was in fact a mirror image of what was gradually taking shape in most of the then mushrooming independent nations particularly across Asia and Africa. Instead of frowning upon the new political realities the world over, the Church had the foresight and the prophetic vision to readily accommodate itself to the birth pangs accompanying the dawn of a new era in the history of humankind. Viewed in this perspective, the historical import of the Instruction Relationes in Territories of 24 February 1969 of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples (the SCPF so renamed in 1967) formally abrogating the practice of Ius commissionis becomes evident. Accordingly, religious institutes or their jurisdictions would no longer be having their own territorial enclaves for evangelisation but would be called upon to contribute towards the birth and growth of local Churches. “A Church under foreign patronage in politically independent countries was out of place. The suppression of ‘ius commissionis’ spurred on in the same direction”(16). Now the content of the word “missionary” too got altered inasmuch as the emphasis shifted from the agent of evangelisation to the local Church in the making. Basically a minister at the service of evangelisation is, therefore, someone sent to give a helping hand to the building up a local Church in a foreign land, and it is quite different from being an emissary of a distant ecclesiastical or religious authority.

It was not easy for many to mentally leave the beaten track and take in the new missiological vision. While some spoke nostalgically about the glorious period when “our province” had “our mission” some others could not but lament over the regrettable loss of “our mission”. It is here that one understands the key role of the Plenary Council of the Capuchin Order (Mattli, 1978) and its general chapter (1982) in disseminating among the friars the post-Conciliar understanding of evangelisation. The fact that a province is called upon to undertake evangelisation activities in a foreign land does not at all imply that the said province is to open its extension counter there. What the province is expected to do is to help in the work of establishing in that particular place the local Church or founding the Order locally. In other words, if Mary Matha Capuchin province of Orissa-Andhra Pradesh were to send its friars to work in the Republic of Nepal, it would not be fully correct to say that it has opened its “mission” in Nepal. The more appropriate way to put it would be to speak in terms of collaboration with the people of Nepal in the task of establishing the Nepalese Church. Their work of implanting the Order would be the foundation of the Capuchin delegation of Nepal, which Deo volente, is to grow into the Capuchin vice province of Nepal and later into the province of Nepal(17).

However great the temptation be to weigh up in statistical terms the results of the evangelisation works in countries like India and China and compare them with those in the former Spanish colonies of the Philippines or the Americas(18), it is a futile exercise inasmuch as it is too premature to attempt it. Many of the vibrant and up-and-coming stations that today dot the immense expanse of Northern India, though often numerically and economically insignificant, owe their origin directly or indirectly to the self-sacrifice and heroism of hundreds of Capuchin friars. Does not the Gospel speak of the “leaven” or “the light on the mountain” or the “little flock” in terms of their quantitative insignificance? The rustic sheds that used to play host to the Eucharistic assemblies have functioned down through several decades as vital points of reference for tens of thousands of Christians. Some of those huts have today also got transformed into beautiful churches where lively liturgies regularly take place. In this context one can refer to the chapel that the Italian Capuchin Raphael of Leghorn (Livorno) built with his own hands in 1874 as an apt example. At a distance of over a century, that chapel has literally become the cathedral of the promising Syro-Malabar Diocese of Sagar(19).

C. BIRTH OF INDIAN COMMISSARIAT AND ITS GROWTH INTO ALL-INDIA CAPUCHIN PROVINCE (1922-1963)

It was in their capacity as chaplains to Europeans and as direct evangelisers to the natives that the Capuchins were ministering right from the beginning of their presence in India. Hence little wonder that the idea of implanting the Order was not a top priority on their agenda. However, there were a few stray cases of children of Europeans in India being sent to Europe for being received into the Order. These isolated instances do not enter into the overall strategy of establishing the Order in India. One may say that the storyline of the Order’s inception in India moves along the events related to the opening of the noviciate at Mussoorie (1880), Sardhana (1922) and Monte Mariano (1930). Inasmuch as the noviciate of Mussoorie came to a dead-end and the one of Sardhana had to be moved to Monte Mariano, the whys and the wherefores of these two episodes merit particular attention; they were to greatly determine the physiognomy of the history of the Indian Capuchins.

Noviciate of Mussoorie (1880)

In response to the pressing insistence of the SCPF on finding locally vocations to priesthood and consecrated life the Capuchin general superiors chalked out a project and forwarded it to the Capuchin apostolic vicars of Agra and Patna in 1870. According to the project, Agra was to play host to a seminary meant for young men of European origin and Patna was to have another for candidates of native origin. In its particulars the project in fact mirrored the then prevailing colonial social reality in India. Only on terminating the full curriculum could a candidate be offered the possibility of joining the ranks of the Capuchins. However, much water was to flow under the bridge before any serious step would be taken towards actualising the project. In March 1880 the general definitory resolved to recommend to the SCPF the request of Mgr Michelangelo Jacopi (1812-1891) for opening a Capuchin noviciate in his vicariate of Agra. The request was acceded to without delay and Mgr Jacopi was nominated commissary of the nascent institution. The “Noviciate of Mussoorie” was inaugurated on 8 December 1880 when four postulants were enrolled as novices. However, it came to be interrupted soon, probably due to financial stringency. What is known for certain is that it was reactivated in May 1881, and the novices began anew their one-year noviciate. The onus of responsibility for both the suspension and the reactivation was solely Mgr Jacopi’s. It was only in the beginning of January 1882 that he had a confrere of his write to Rome about this interruption. On 29 December 1881 the general definitory stipulated a list of conditions to be observed at the noviciate of Mussoorie.

Meanwhile it was also necessary to provide for the priestly formation of the professed novices. The fact that Mgr Jacopi held fast to his point that the training in Europe was unsuited for the friars who would be ministering in India induced the general superiors to grant leave to open a study also in India. In response to the general minister’s plea, two lectors - one from Italy and the other from England - separately reached Agra in March 1883. One of them, Fr Louis of Leghorn, was immediately sent to Mussoorie, where on 11 June 1883 he began teaching the five clerics. Mgr Jacopi had been very innovative in the sense that he had foreseen that the formation of the clerics would not be a financial burden on the superiors. He had made the arrangements that the clerics would also be teaching in the local St Fidelis orphanage school and would be drawing a salary for their work. The salary would enable the superiors to run the study. While the Capuchin noviciate and study were open only to the boys of European parents, Mgr Jacopi hoped later to establish a separate seminary in Sardhana where young native men and Eurasians could be trained to be secular priests.

At the same time the general superiors in Rome were becoming uneasy about the noviciate in India, as its commissary was keeping them entirely in the dark regarding its performance. Only before the threat of forced closure of the noviciate did Mgr Jacopi finally in June 1886 put pen to paper and drew up a detailed story of the noviciate and the study of Mussoorie. The general superiors in Rome had got also the lector Fr Louis to report to them. The two reports clearly showed that not everything was in order at Mussoorie: the noviciate community lacked canonicity as its strength was often below the stipulated number; the community had no proper guardian after the one in office had been transferred; there was irregularity in holding the four-monthly evaluation of the novices; the community was devoid of its own refectory; adequate freedom and privacy was wanting in the cloister. Fr Louis himself was so disillusioned with his experience in India that he expressed his desire to return to his province of Tuscany. Mgr Jacopi’s own letter only went to confirm the dismal picture painted by Fr Louis. Hence the general minister’s reply of 26 July 1886 to Mgr Jacopi was an explicit order to suspend the noviciate. The commissary was to submit to the general minister a detailed project in order to make good the deficiencies of the noviciate, if it was to be reopened. This was the second suspension of the noviciate of Mussoorie.

It was only in the ordinary course of things that a wall of mistrust should now spring up between the lector and the bishop. As Fr Louis had turned persona non grata, Mgr Jacopi asked the general minister to have him recalled from his jurisdiction. The lector left India early in 1887. It was with the constitution of the “Family of the Noviciate of Mussoorie” through the general minister’s letter of 1 January 1887 that the noviciate was reopened. But this proved to be a cosmetic arrangement because the entire archdiocese of Agra was then going through a trying period of its history, as the events that followed were to reveal. The novice master and the new lector were often at loggerheads; the lector and the preceptor seemed to have failed the test; the regular superior summarily relieved the novice master of his charge as guardian; in order to prevent the clerics from teaching in the orphanage school, moves were afoot to transfer the study to Agra; the elderly Mgr Jacopi’s dissatisfaction over the creation of the post of the regular superior only heightened the confusion. To redeem at least the noviciate, Rome appointed a general commissary in the person of Fr Mark of Faverges from the neighbouring Lahore jurisdiction. On a fact-finding visit to the noviciate, the commissary found that the regular superior had fumbled in dismissing the guardian, who on discovering that his position had been vindicated formally tendered his resignation. A new guardian had to be appointed. The lector too had to be transferred and a new one had to be found to take his place. And it was now the turn of the regular superior to resign and the whole administrative setup was placed under the general commissary. Lest the worst should come to the worst, the general superiors pre-emptively suspended the noviciate. Thus towards the close of 1889 the noviciate of Mussoorie came to be interrupted for the third time.

The messiness did not get cleared up even after the Capuchin province of Tuscany formally accepted to administer the newly-created archdiocese of Agra. The cleavage between the new archbishop and the clergy became so irreparable that the archbishop resigned. All this did not make the general superiors very enthusiastic about reopening the noviciate, even though it had already supplied the Order with eleven friars. The feelers put out to gauge the mind of the persons concerned on the restart of the noviciate, reported few encouraging signals. When the Bolognese friars in Allahabad, at the instance of the general superiors, took up with their Tuscan counterparts in Agra the issue of reopening the noviciate, they were plainly given to understand that the friary of Mussoorie was ill-suited for the noviciate precisely because of its close proximity to St George’s College. Before the option of having confreres other than Tuscans as co-workers in the archdiocese, the friars of Agra selected to work all on their own(20). The question of restarting the noviciate was shelved for good in 1916 with the declaration of the house’s unfitness. Inasmuch as the noviciate of Mussoorie had been reserved exclusively for Europeans, it stands logistically detached from the origin of the Capuchin Order in India(21).

Noviciate of Sardhana (1922)

Despite the negative signals from Agra, the idea of laying the Order’s foundation in India remained very much on the agenda in Rome. Spurred on by pope Benedict XV’s apostolic letter Maximum illud of 30 November 1919 and the recommendation of the visitor to the Church in India, the general superiors finally decided to step in directly. On 18 November 1920 Fr Melchior of Benisa, the Order’s general procurator, wrote to the regular superiors of Agra, Shimla, Lahore, Allahabad and Ajmer, asking them to report back to him within three months on certain specific aspects regarding the opening a noviciate and a study for the Indo-European and native youth of India. The project had the unanimous backing of the general definitory, it was expressly stated. The regular superiors promptly met at Agra on 8-9 February 1921 and proposed “the old St John’s College building” in Sardhana for “the noviciate and the school of philosophy” and “some other place” for the theology house. They also deliberated on the nitty-gritty of the project. In due course the provincial ministers of Tuscany, Bologna, Paris, Belgium and England gave their wholehearted blessing to the idea. By and large the friars in India were enthusiastic about the project; in the light of their own experience gained in the evangelisation field in the country, some of them even advanced very illuminating suggestions.

In his letter of 25 November 1921 Fr Joseph Anthony of Persiceto, the Capuchin general minister, announced his visit to the friars in India. It was indeed an epoch-making visit as far as the Order was concerned. At a conference of the regular superiors of Agra, Ajmer, Allahabad, Lahore, Shimla and Mumbai (Damau) held in Agra in the beginning of 1922, the general minister spoke of the Order’s project for establishing a Capuchin commissariat in India with a view to giving shape eventually to an Indian Capuchin province. It was also the express wish of the SCPF, he added. This was a prophetic decision based on a vision that went quite beyond the various Capuchin jurisdictions then being manned in India by various European provinces. By then in Mumbai the Maltese friars had already established some Franciscan Third Order fraternities. And these fraternities actually would turn out to be the early recruiting ground for the embryonic Capuchin commissariat in India. As there were some postulants from Mumbai already groomed, the general minister decided to personally inaugurate the noviciate. He then formally approved the friary of Sardhana as the noviciate house. On Sunday, 26 February 1922, the general minister declared the noviciate open and on the occasion vested two young men with the religious habit. Fr John Baptist Tirannanzi of Florence, the regular superior of Agra, was appointed general commissary for the noviciate and the study; the regular superiors of Allahabad, Lahore, Shimla and Ajmer were to be his councillors. The noviciate and the study would fall directly under the general minister’s jurisdiction and in matters related thereto, the commissary was empowered with the faculties that the provincial minister exercises in the province. Fr John Capistran of Antwerp from Lahore and Fr Louis of Seggiano from Agra were nominated master and vice master respectively. The general minister contributed Rs 6,000 towards furnishing the house; and later from Aden he sent a further amount of Rs 4,000. The first year ran its course without a hitch. The newly-professed clerics stayed on in the separate quarters in the noviciate as they began attending classes in philosophy. On 9 November 1923 Fr Tirannanzi was re-confirmed as commissary but he was no longer the regular superior of Agra. In his place Fr Christopher of Castel del Piano was elected regular superior of Agra. While this change gave the commissary more room for manoeuvring, it was to render his position more vulnerable.

The general superiors stood irremovably by the noviciate and continued making generously financial contributions towards its upkeep. Even when away from Rome, the general minister kept up a steady correspondence with the commissary. It was now up to the commissary to organise the study. Without difficulty he secured the clearance from the archbishop of Agra for the use of the house of Mussoorie and with the general minister’s approval, he had the essential alterations made there for accommodating the clerics. As this house had served the friars of Agra as their summer villa, the commissary feared that the friars would read in the arrival of the clerics a sinister move to deprive them of their hill resort. To forestall their resistance, he had the study meticulously confined to the ground floor, leaving the whole first floor free for the friars of Agra, who would have there entirely for themselves “innumerable rooms”, a capacious refectory and a large kitchen. The clerics numbering ten and their director took up residence in the friary of Mussoorie in the first week of October 1924. However, it irked the friars of Agra that their former regular superior was now concerned more with the Indian commissariat than with his own jurisdiction and his confreres. The clerics and the whole idea of the Indian Capuchin commissariat became an eyesore for many of them. Though the presence of the friars of the post-noviciate on the friary of Mussoorie was only a stopgap measure, with it the cracks began showing in the design for the Order’s implantation in India.

By shrewd strategy the regular superior of Agra schemed to keep the whole house under his thumb. He, therefore, appointed a guardian for the house and demanded that the commissary, the director and the clerics bow to this disposition. What began like a storm in a teacup was to have serious repercussions on the future of the Indian Capuchin commissariat. When the regular superior of Agra remonstrated with the general minister against the presence of the young friars in the friary of Mussoorie, he was plainly told that if he could not conform with the status quo, it was enough for him to let the general minister know about it. Moreover, he was made to understand that in the noviciate and the study the commissary was to have the right of precedence not only over the guardian but also over the regular superior. In order to prevent further bickering, the director of the study had a separate kitchen and a dining hall readied for his clerics. Much to his chagrin, the commissary saw that the friars of his own jurisdiction had turned against him on account of the Indian commissariat and its young members. As if to add insult to injury, he found the other regular superiors too were becoming aloof and uncooperative. Some of them dragged their feet when it came to paying up their contributions. Because it meant shelling out money, they were not overeager to sponsor the students. He lamented that while there was no dearth of students there were too few jurisdictions willing to accept them. This was especially so in the case of those postulants who did not opt for priesthood. In many instances when candidates quitted or had to be dismissed, it appeared that the investment was going down the drain. The noviciate, though a joint-venture, now found itself more and more orphaned. It was now incumbent upon the commissary to search and find out a welcoming home for the budding Indian commissariat.

On various occasions the Capuchins had received welcoming invitation from ecclesiastical authorities to establish their Order in the central and southern regions of India; generally the friars too were favourably disposed to accepting the invitation. But the apostolic delegate’s intervention nipped the idea in the bud. He thought that the Capuchins should concentrate in their work in the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent and not think of spreading southward. Consequently the invitations were not followed up. However, now the situation had altered, as there was the pressing need to accommodate the newly-professed friars during their studies. The plans and proposals that had been floated earlier were now dusted off and weighed up. The greater possibility of tapping locally vocations tipped the scales in favour of positioning the noviciate and the study within the close proximity to the heartland of the established Catholic communities in India.

With the blessing of the general minister, the commissary and the councillors began exploring the terrain. Along with Fr Leo of Hompesch, the Maltese regular superior of Damau, the commissary went to Chennai to examine a large house at Coverlong that the diocese was ready to make available to the Capuchins. The two superiors were positively impressed by it. The commissary, however, decided to explore also the possibility of accepting the invitation extended by Mgr Paul Perini, the bishop of Mangalore. This Jesuit bishop expressed his desire to offer to the Capuchins the diocesan property of “Monte Mariano” as a gift for the jubilee year 1926, the seventh death centennial of St Francis of Assisi. “Monte Mariano” had been a friary of the Franciscan friars of the Observance over sixty years previously. For the commissary and the regular superior of Agra who visited Monte Mariano on 1 April 1926, this was indeed a tempting invitation. The two went to Kozhikode to meet Mgr Perini, who had by then assumed charge of Kozhikode, a diocese created from Mangalore. The bishop, who was now administrator of Mangalore, after having consulted the diocesan council of Mangalore, renewed the gratuitous offer of Monte Mariano to the Capuchins.

The commissary referred to the general minister the results of his soundings; he envisaged an eventual relocation of the study to Monte Mariano by October 1926. Everyone in Sardhana, excepting one of the staff members, looked forward to the prospects of moving to Monte Mariano. But for no apparent reason, the commissary’s various letters to Rome drew blank. Presuming that the general minister was unwilling to get the Order into the red as his term of office was drawing to a close the commissary thought of finding a solution in Mussoorie itself for erection of the study of the Indian commissariat. He, therefore, had the major part of his own patrimony in his native Florence sent to Delhi. It amounted to Rs 14,000 and with it he wished to have a modest house constructed on the “Fox-hill” within the vast compound of the friary of Mussoorie. As the amount could not on the spot be converted into liquid cash, the plan was put into the cold storage. At all costs the commissary was determined to safeguard the commissariat by getting its study shifted from the friary of Mussoorie.

The Commissary’s letters had remained unanswered because the Order’s general chapter was then in session. On 25 May 1926 the new general minister was elected in the person of Fr Melchior of Benisa and it was he who replied to the commissary on 14 June 1926. Without mincing matters Fr Melchior administered to the commissary a good dose of reprimand for having planned out the transfer of the study to Monte Mariano. The study was to remain within the archdiocese of Agra, he was bluntly told, and the invitation from Mangalore had straightaway to be declined. The commissary was, moreover, to ask everyone directly connected with the study of Mussoorie to write to the general minister on the pros and cons of it and to propose ways for revamping it. All this was indeed a bitter pill for the commissary to swallow and what was yet to follow told its own tale. On 13 December 1926 he was summarily relieved of his charge as commissary and the new regular superior of Agra, Fr Hyacinth of Leghorn, was asked to succeed him in office.

With crusader’s zeal the incoming commissary, Fr Hyacinth, set about implementing his plan to free the friary of Mussoorie of the study of the Indian commissariat. He told the rector and the students to shift to Agra, where he himself would be finding out new quarters for them. But as it dawned on him that his incumbency as commissary was only provisional, he got cold feet and called off his order. It did not take long before the curtain fell on the interim situation. After an exchange of letters between the general minister and the provincial minister of Paris, the decree transferring the responsibility for the Indian commissariat’s noviciate of Sardhana and the study of Mussoorie to the province of Paris was promulgated on 19 February 1927. Accordingly the regular superior of Ajmer was appointed commissary for the noviciate and the study. The new commissary would be answerable to the provincial of Paris and would depend on him. This was corollary to the fact that the Capuchin province of Paris was responsible for the evangelisation works in Ajmer. The regular superior of Ajmer, Fr Armond of Vannes, on 3 May 1927 formally took charge from Fr Hyacinth as commissary. It had been also decided by the general superiors to have both the nuclei of the Indian commissariat transferred from their then locations because they fell within the territory assigned to the Tuscan friars of Agra. It was now at the discretion of the Parisian provincial to decide on the relocation of the noviciate and the study.

In order to calm the agitated spirits, the new superiors of the commissariat decided to shift the study urgently from Mussoorie. The decision of the provincial minister of Paris to have the Indian students continue their studies in Europe was for all practical purposes the closing down of the study of Mussoorie. Since the noviciate of Sardhana had not been an apple of discord, its shifting was not an imperative; it continued to function as before. Fr Symphorian of Paris continued as the local guardian and novice master. In December 1927 the provincial minister of Paris visited the noviciate in order to personally assess the situation. Incidentally, it was, thanks to the initiative of the first commissary, Fr John Baptist Tirannanzi, the future bishop of Aden, that the noviciate of Sardhana paved the way for the Capuchin Order to embrace more fully the universal spirit of the Catholic Church(22).

The urgency with which the province of Paris was called upon to step in and salvage the orphaned noviciate and the study had found these French friars in everyway unprepared to meet the emergency; it was impossible for them to make an alternate arrangement then and there. It now fell to the Parisian provincial superiors to find the personnel, the facilities and the wherewithal for buttressing up the Order’s crumbling project in India. Since their foundation of Ajmer was still at its nascency, it did not constitute the ideal ambience for cradling the noviciate. Thus for the third time the old permissions and invitations to open the noviciate within other ecclesiastical jurisdictions in India, were taken out of the cold storage. The locations proposed in Mumbai (Sahar and Chembur) failed to be operational on diverse grounds. The commissary continued sounding out other authorities too about their readiness to house the Capuchin foundation. The responses were prompt and encouraging. The new bishop of Mangalore, Mgr Valerian D’Souza, replied on 29 June 1929, confirming his predecessor’s invitation. From Kollam Mgr Aloysius Maria Benziger OCD once again renewed the welcome he had earlier extended.

Noviciate of Monte Mariano (1930)

The commissary dispatched his delegates to Mangalore and Kollam. Though Mgr Perini’s dream of presenting Monte Mariano to the Capuchins in the Franciscan jubilee year did not come true in the way he wished, he had every reason to rejoice when, a few years later, the Capuchin novices arrived there to continue their noviciate. The document of agreement dated 30 July 1931 between Mgr Victor Fernandes and Fr Armond of Vannes reads: “This deed of agreement showeth that the Diocese of Mangalore gives to the Commissariat of the Friars Minor Capuchins in India the Diocesan property known as ‘Monte Mariano’ in Farangipet, for the use of the noviciate and scholasticate of the same Order”. Even before the house was readied, the postulants and novices with their master were on their journey to their new abode. They reached their destination on 1 May 1930. With the noviciate’s transplantation to Monte Mariano the project of founding the Capuchin Order in India was reaching the acme of success. And finally the Indian Capuchin commissariat had found its way to an accordant domicile.

It was only a question of time before the new establishment was able to dig itself in firm ground. The warm welcome that bishop Valerian D’Souza, the clergy and the faithful of the diocese of Mangalore accorded to the Capuchins went a long way towards enabling the Order to strike deep root in the native soil of India. The green signal that the Carmelite bishop of Kollam had earlier given for the establishment of the noviciate in his diocese came handy for the superiors of the Indian commissariat when it came to planning the erection of the study. Thus in 1931, that is, a year after Fr Symphorian of Paris had accompanied his novices to the Monte Mariano, the groundwork for putting up the study was already in full swing at Tillery in Kollam. It was again Fr Symphorian who gave the lead in Kollam. The Deed of Agreement speaks volumes for the generosity shown by the diocese of Kollam to the Capuchins: “...the Diocese of Quilon in the person of His Excellency, the Most Rev. Aloysius Maria Benziger, the then Bishop of Quilon, as decided in the Diocesan Council held on the 9th October 1930, has given to the Commissariat of the Friars Minor Capuchins in India, the Diocesan Property, known as Tillery, in Quilon for the use of the same Commissariat”. In 1932 the friars took up residence in their new friary. This was the beginning of St Antony’s Friary, Kollam. The study was inaugurated in 1933, with Fr Urban of Lanarvilly as its director. According to the annual report for 1933, the strength of the Indian commissariat was 41, which breaks down as: 10 priests, 12 Lay Brothers and 19 clerics. Of the clerics, 13 were pursuing their studies in Europe: 6 in Breust, 3 in Tours, 2 in Nantes and 2 in Rome. In the course of time St Antony’s friary had the honour to play host to some of the clerics of the Maltese and Filipino Capuchin provinces.

As a matter of fact the numerical growth and territorial spread of the Indian Capuchin commissariat set the pace in the determination of its juridical status. In 1922 the general minister designated the regular superior of Agra as the general commissary for the noviciate and the study. But the outgoing friars from these centres of formation were to join one of the existing Capuchin jurisdictions then ministering in India. But in 1927 when the province of Paris was invested with the responsibility for the noviciate and the study, the friars who were trained in Sardhana were given the designation members of the Indian Commissariat. In 1930 it was further specified that those who were being trained in the Indian noviciate were not to join any other existing unit of the Order; in 1938 these Indian friars were constituted into a general commissariat; in 1951 it was raised as a provincial commissariat. To crown it all, in 1963 the general commissariat was declared as the Capuchin province of India. Fr John Berchmans Puthuparambil was its first provincial minister.

D. CONSOLIDATION AND SPREAD OF INDIAN CAPUCHINS IN THEIR LAND AND BEYOND (1963-2009)

As the various Capuchin jurisdictions in India are still in a sustained state of growth and expansion and there seems to be always on the anvil at least one new project for establishing a new house somewhere in the country, quantifying their actual growth in terms of exact figures does not appear feasible. However, the numbers that urged the general superiors in 1972 to create 3 provinces and 1 vice province from the one province then in existence speak for themselves. The proliferation of friaries that occurred between the shifting of the noviciate to South India in 1930 and the first division of the one province in 1972, testifies to the rapid strides the Order had been making in India. Some of the houses did not immediately begin as fully-fledged friaries and a few came to be wound up eventually. However, the list is, to say the least, emblematic: St Fidelis Friary, Monte Mariano (1930), St Anthony’s Friary, Kollam (1931), Sacred Heart Friary, Kunnam (1935), Assisi Friary, Aluva (1937), St Anne’s Friary, Mangalore (1937), Alverna Friary, Goa (1942), Amalashram, Srirangam (1943), The Friary, Kotagiri (1949), St Francis Friary, Kumbakonam (1950), St Ignatius Church, Mandvi (1951), Assisi Friary, Bharananganam (1952), Fatima Friary, Mumbai (1952), Calvary Friary, Thrissur (1954), Shanti Ashram, Coimbatore (1956), Holy Family Ashram, Brhamavar (1956), St Thomas Ashram, Kavalam (1957), St Bonaventure Ashram, Ernakulam (1958), Nazareth Ashram, Aluva (1960), Loreto Ashram, Muvattupuzha (1961), Villa Padua, Thiruvananthapuram (1961), St Michael’s Friary, Selangor (Malaysia, 1962), Bethlehem Ashram, Elinjipra (1963), St Jude Ashram, Mukhathala (1963), Padre Pio Friary, Goa (1965), St Peter’s Friary, Pattukottai (1965), Gethsemany Friary, Cheras (Malaysia, 1965), Deena Seva Ashram, Kengeri (1966), Hartmann Friary, Bareilly (1966), Vidya Mandir, Pune (1967), Paduai Ashram, Tiruchendur (1967), Marygiri Ashram, Thiruvananthapuram (1967), Gethsemany Ashram, Changanassery (1967), Brother Thampi’s Ashram, Avuttappally (1968), Udaya Bhavan, Bilaspur (1968), Dayal Bagh Ashram, Ujre (1969), St Theresa’s Ashram, Dhariwal (1969), St Fidelis Ashram, Lucknow (1970), Shanti Nilayam, Warangal (1970), Nirmala Ashram, Tirumangalam (1971), St Jude’s Ashram, Pathinatharpuram (1971), St Mathias Friary, Chennai (1971) and St Francis Home, Nainital (1971). The active role of the ‘local benefactors’ is very often a common denominator in the in the variegated accounts of the origin of these houses. It would not be an overstatement if one were to see in the timely interventions of the Jesuit, the Carmelite and CMI Fathers the operation of the hand of the Providence in the work of the establishment of the Capuchin Order in India. Perhaps the real strength of the Capuchin Order in India is to be sought more in its linkage with the grassroots than in the net result of its performance perceivable on the social level.

The work of consolidation and expansion, as one would only expect, consumed the time and energy of many a friar. Notwithstanding, several friars devoted themselves to vocation promotion and formation. With foresight the superiors saw to getting friars qualified especially to run the houses of formation. Despite these high priorities, many other friars involved themselves fulltime in the pastoral field, preaching mission retreats, carrying out pastoral assistance to religious institutes and college hostels, running parishes, rendering assistance to the Franciscan Third Order, administering the sacrament of reconciliation, and organizing life guidance courses. The apostolate of school education attracted the attention of some others. It also became commonplace for the Capuchin friaries to have annexed to them centres of social development. The Capuchins did not lag behind in reading the signs of the times and began making their presence felt in the cultural field too. The periodicals published by them, The Voice of Assisi, the Assisi and the Sevak in English, Malayalam and Konkani respectively, commanded comparatively wide popularity. The books they brought out in Malayalam included works on theology, spirituality and Francis of Assisi. Neither did they remain aloof from theatricals and Church music. In short, through their innovativeness and dedication, the friars had got embedded into the cultural, social and ecclesial fabric of their land.

That the Capuchin Order was a fast growing reality in the countries of Africa and Asia, particularly in India was then something for all to see. The Order’s general chapter of 1976 deemed it opportune to have an Indian friar to serve on the general definitory in order to effectively coordinate the Capuchin presence and ministries in these countries. Accordingly, the chapter elected Fr Jacob Acharuparampil as definitor. But he remained in office only for three years as in 1979 the Holy See chose him to serve as bishop of Thiruvananthapuram in his native Kerala. Fr Claude Ollukaran was nominated as his successor. In the meantime the general chapter of 1982 had a twofold bearing especially on the Indian friars. First of all, it revised the Order’s Constitutions in the light of the post-Conciliar norms and guidelines for the reorganisation of evangelisation activities. Secondly, new provisions were written into the Constitutions in order to enable the Order to get fully implanted into the particular Churches in the world. It was thanks to the amendments proposed by Fr Raymond Kavumpuram, the provincial minister of St Joseph province and Fr Stephen Jairaj Koonthamattam, the delegate of the same province to the chapter, that the Capuchin Order has been able to establish jurisdictions in the Oriental Churches in India. The first beneficiary of this constitutional provision was the St Joseph of province of Kerala, which on 25 March 1988 was declared by the Holy See to be de jure belonging to the Syro-Malabar Church, though since its inception in 1972 it had de facto been a jurisdiction of the same Church.

A quick survey of the diffusion of the Capuchin Order in India between 1922 and 1982 clearly demonstrates that the history of the Indian Capuchins was fast coming full circle. During this period the Order, which had initially struck root in Northern India, has in these sixty years effectively carved out for itself a solid base in the southern part of the country and was well poised for expanding into other parts of India and beyond. The opening of a few stations in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and the Punjab in the sixties and the seventies of the 20th century was indeed a trail-blazing undertaking. Thereafter at a good pace the Indian Capuchins have been picking up the threads precisely from where their European confreres had earlier got through to. The material structures that the friars from Europe had erected in centres like Lucknow, Bareilly, Nainital, Bilaspur and Mussoorie now proved to be strategically situated steppingstones for their Indian confreres to enter into the very heart of Northern India. History today shows that those of the Indian friars who went overseas to lend a helping hand to their confreres in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Malaysia and Indonesia have actually become torchbearers of the many others who would later move out to various parts of the world. In the same way the few friars called upon to help out in the Order’s central institutions in Rome too have proved to be pioneers for many others. These sixty years also saw several occasions when in a self-confident manner these Indian friars were able to respond generously to several exigent situations. Way back in 1942 when the Indian commissariat was still a measly fledgling, it had the courage to vacate its Assisi Friary in Aluva in favour of the homeless Poor Clares from the war-torn Myanmar. In the same way the friars of the Krist Jyoti province surrendered to the diocese of Jalandhar their patrimonial house in Dhariwal. Counting their blessings, they have kept looking forward to the future with hope.

The years subsequent to the revision of the Constitutions (1982-2009) saw several indications that the Capuchin Order in India was fast coming of age. The provinces continued to give the topmost priority to bettering the initial formation of the friars. This meant in practice establishing more formation houses. If in 1982 there were just one institute of philosophy and another of theology for the entire Capuchin jurisdictions in India, in 2009 there are 5 institutes of philosophy and 5 of theology. As far as the individual provinces are concerned the increase in these figures represents enormous sacrifice and expenses in terms of labour, personnel and money. The need to staff these institutes with adequately qualified friars keeps the superiors ever vigilant to get enough friars trained in the various academic branches. It also needs to be mentioned that the visible presence in the provinces of a sizeable number of friars with degrees of specialisation has into the bargain contributed towards raising the cultural level of the friars in general, thus equipping them with the competence to better respond to the various exigencies of the society at large. Exchange of formation personnel between the provinces too is an effective means of promoting the fraternal spirit among the Indian Capuchins.

The extent of the all-round growth of the Order in India in less than a century seems to be unparalleled in the Capuchin history. If the Indian Capuchin commissariat in 1933 consisted of 41 young friars, in 2009 the strength of the Capuchin provinces exceeded 1400. They were distributed across the land in over 200 fraternities. The numerical growth of friars in the period between 1982 and 2009 naturally led to the creation of new jurisdictions, which today total 9 provinces, 2 vice provinces and 3 custodies within India. More than the actual number, it is the futuristic vision that underpins the establishment of the new jurisdictions that is relevant to our context. The fact that the origin of the province of St Fidelis or that of Mary Matha goes immediately back to initiatives and endeavours of the province of the Holy Trinity or St Joseph province clearly brings out the role of a mother province in the birth, growth and maturation of other units of the Order. Now that these units have become autonomous it is in the nature of things that the founding friars of the mother province merge into the new reality or go elsewhere to start other units. That the friars of a custody opt in the course of time to become a province on their own does not at all have the implication that they are unthankful or ill-disposed towards the mother province. While it is for the St Fidelis and Mary Matha provinces to start the Order in other areas, their mother provinces rest content that they have fulfilled their task. With the abolition of the jus commissionis the emphasis is on helping in the creation of local Churches and autonomous provinces. It is often gratifying to hear former European Gospel workers speak with pride about their role in the creation of local Churches or units of their religious institutes in Asia, Africa or Latin America. In the Indian Capuchin history one finds manifestly verified the full evolution of missiological understanding of the Church and the religious institutes. If the noviciate of Mussoorie (1880) was reserved for Europeans, that of Sardhana (1922) was meant more for preparing Indians especially for work as chaplains to the British. It was finally the noviciate of Monte Mariano (1930) that set the stage for giving a thrust to the development of a more native identity to the Indian Capuchins.

Consequent upon the application of the jus commissionis at the close of the 19th century several Capuchin provinces established their own jurisdictions in India. Now a century after, one sees in action a complete role reversal. Scores of Indian Capuchins are found today in all the continents, working shoulder to shoulder with the local confreres and being at the service of the Gospel. While they work on their own in half a dozen countries in Africa, elsewhere they collaborate with others. To facilitate greater inculturation some of the Indian friars in the initial stage formation are sent to other countries, just as the last century saw batches of young friars from Europe arrive in India to continue their formation in situ. Only history can tell how far these forms of personnel solidarity are in the right direction. Certainly there are several aspects of solidarity that call for verification. How effective will be those who are uprooted from their own cultural milieu and are transplanted into alien pastoral environments? Is this expression of solidarity a mere sign of the times, as the world is become ever more networked and globalised? Will this bleeding of the Indian jurisdictions make them anaemic in their fraternal and pastoral life?

The formal merging of the CCMSSI (Capuchin Conference of Major Superiors in South India) and the CCSRI (Capuchin Conference of Superiors Regular in India) into the CCMSI (Conference of Capuchin Major Superiors of India) was emblematic of the maturation of the Capuchin presence and establishment in India. In fact this merging marks a watershed in the evolution of the Capuchin identity in India. The CCMSSI represented what the Indian commissariat had evolved into, while the CCSRI stood for what still remained of the institutional Capuchin presence of overseas friars as well as the new structures created by the Indian friars. Therefore the CCMSI incorporates within itself directly and indirectly the fruit of the toils of generations of friars in India, beginning from 1632. However, as things stand today’s CCMSI is intrinsically flawed inasmuch as it is incapable of responding to the exigencies from the diverse realities of the whole Church in India. In its present format the CCMSI is able to be at the service of only 13 of the 26 Syro-Malabar dioceses. In other words, the existing three Syro-Malabar Capuchin jurisdictions of the CCMSI are competent to minister only to the 13 Syro-Malabar dioceses of Kerala, while the other 13 are off-limits to them. The fact of the matter is that at the time of the constitution of the CCMSI, the creation of Syro-Malabar dioceses in the various parts of India was foreseen. The present reality of the Indian Catholic Church calls for an urgent updating of the statutes of the CCMSI so as to enable the three Syro-Malabar Capuchin jurisdictions to plan out a pastoral and evangelization strategy for the entire Syro-Malabar Church, including the 13 dioceses that are at present deprived of their services. This would be nothing but the logical conclusion of what the Capuchin Constitutions declare about ‘the transmission and expression’ of ‘the form of our life and the spiritual heritage of our Order’ ‘according to the unique character of each particular Church’ (see Const OFM Cap, 177, 3). The restriction currently in force on the Syro-Malabar Capuchins goes against the underlying spirit of the Constitutions and is to be read as a mere hangover from the colonial past of the Indian Church. In order to be fully implanted ‘according to the unique character’ of their Church, the Syro-Malabar Capuchin jurisdictions need to adapt their Order’s Constitutions to the Code of Oriental Canon Law and the particular laws of their Church.

The ever increasing understanding and collaboration among the various jurisdictions of the CCSMI notwithstanding, there is still room for greater teamwork and partnership particularly in areas like formation, preaching, evangelisation and publication. A case in point is the FISI. It could effectively become a point of reference for the whole Capuchin Conference and the entire Franciscan Family in India if it is further helped to function to its full potentiality. Doubtlessly, it is in a privileged position to develop a Franciscanism with a distinct Indian stamp, as the one envisaged by Fr Nithya Sagayam. The Franciscan model of interreligious dialogue conceived and translated into reality by Fr Augustine Deenabandhu has not lost any of its relevance today and it needs to be revalued and reactivated with the necessary adaptation. The provision made by St Fidelis Province for its students in Bangalore can serve as a practical solution for other provinces too. The collaboration between St Joseph and Mary Matha provinces regarding the running of the Vijnananilayam is a good start but has to be pursued still further, and possibly widened to include the collaboration of other provinces too. Further Inter-provincial cooperation in proposing as examples of holy life the members of the Franciscan family like Anastasius Hartmann, Brother Thampi, Theophane Kudalloor, John Berchmans Puthuparambil, Rani Maria and Armond Madhavoth has much evangelisation potential.

The success story of the Indian Capuchins results not from the virtues and geniuses of certain uncommon men but from the wholehearted dedication and generosity of some very ordinary men who strove to respond with love to the charism of St Francis first communicated to them by their confreres from Europe. The fruit of the labour of some of them may seem today to be all water under the bridge, but in fact remain significant in the eyes of the Lord of history. The years of sweat and toil that many a friar spent in the middle of nowhere in the vast expanse of Northern India are certainly yet to bear fruit. “As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return till they have watered the earth, making it yield seed for the sower and food for the eater, so is my word that goes forth out of my mouth: it will not return to me idle, but it shall accomplish my will, the purpose for which it has been sent” (Is. 55, 10-11).

Footnotes:

1. In keeping with its scope this essay offers only a rationalised bibliography: Clemente da Terzorio, Le missioni dei minori cappuccini. Sunto storico, VIII: Indie Orientali, I: Surate, Chennai, Pondichery, Tibet, Roma 1932; Clemente da Terzorio, Le missioni dei minori cappuccini. Sunto storico, IX: Indie Orientali, II: 1745-1935. Nepal, Bengala, Indostan. Missioni: Agra, Patna, Allahabad, Lahore, Ajmer, Shimla, Bettiah, Roma 1935; Melchior a Pobladura, Historia generalis Ordinis fratrum minorum capuccinorum, II-III, Romae 1948-1951; Adolph of Mattakara-Fortunatus of Korlai, A compilation of sources for the history of the Indian Capuchin Province of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Coimbatore 1972; P. Celestine [Elampassery], Early Capuchin Missions in India. Pondicherry, Surat, Madras: 1632-1834, Sahibabad 1982; D. D’Souza, Capuchin Missions in India, Brahmavar [s.a.]; B. Vadakkekara, Die Indienmission der Kapuziner, in Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft und Religionswissenschaft 92 (2008) 380-392.

2. The remote origin of the Padroado (Patronage) Rights is traceable to the 5th century AD when, in return for certain rights, it used to be the wont of ecclesiastical authorities to enlist the help of lay persons in the promotion and expansion of the Church’s services in places where Christianity was rapidly striking root. From its pockets in the urban centres, Christianity was then spreading out to rural areas. With time the system of patronage got cemented in the Church; resultantly the patronal rights that included the nomination of bishops and abbots, and the claim to the accruing revenues, were steadily codified. With Alexander VI’s Inter caetera and Eximiae devotionis, both dated 4 May 1493, these rights acquired monstrous dimensions; they turned out to be virtual blank cheques accorded to Spain and Portugal vis-à-vis the lands already “discovered” or “to be discovered”. Practically, from the Eurocentric perspective the world was apportioned between these two Iberian powers; the part lying westward was assigned to Spain while Portugal received the one eastward.

3. Callistus a Geispolsheim, Dilucidationes in Statutum pro missionibus Ordinis FF. Minorum Capuccinorum anno 1938 approbatum, Romae 1949, 11: “Ratio Sacrae Congregationis de Propaganda Fide semper fuit missionarios – qua religiosos – dependere a Superioribus Ordinis et – qua missionarios – a Superioribus ecclesiasticis”.

4. Hilaire de Barenton, La France catholique en Orient, d’après des documents inédits, Paris 1902, 69. The first of such decrees was the one by King Louis XIII dated 30 January 1626, instructing his subjects in the Orient to assist the Capuchins in all their needs.

5. The de facto extension of the jurisdiction of the apostolic vicar of the Great Mughal over Mumbai eventually led to the change of the name of the vicariate itself. The headquarters of the vicariate was in due course transferred to Mumbai and the jurisdiction came to be known as the “apostolic vicariate of Bombay”.

6. It would be this friendship with the king that would later on save him from the clutches of the Padroado Inquisition in Goa, when even the intervention of the ecclesiastical high-ups was ineffectual to get him out of the damp dungeon.

7. For more details on the activities of these French Capuchins, see B. Vadakkekara, I cappuccini nel Levante e in India nel sec. XVII, in L’Europa e l’evangelizzazione delle Indie Orientali, a cura di L. Vaccaro (Europa ricerche, 10), Milano 2005, 465-492.

8. The specific qualification “Malabar” in the present context goes back to the “Malabar Province” of the Jesuits that comprised much of today’s Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The controversy of the “Malabar Rites” resulted from what one might today describe as “attempts at inculturation” that the Jesuits were then carrying out in their Malabar Province. The Capuchins too were willy-nilly party to this controversy.

9. For an in-depth study on this part of the Capuchin history, see B. Vadakkekara, Capuchins in the Bombay-Poona Vicariates: their entrance and exit (1854-1858), in Collectanea Franciscana 62 (1992) 249-294.

10. For a glimpse of the evangelisation activities of today’s Capuchin Province of Emilia-Romagna, see B. Vadakkekara, Le missioni estere dei cappuccini emiliani e romagnoli, in I Cappuccini in Emilia-Romagna. Storia di una presenza, a cura di G. Pozzi – P. Prodi, Bologna 2002, 624-667.

11. G.-C. Devost, Les capucins canadiens en Inde. Fondation du diocèse de Varanasi, Montréal 1999, is a well-documented history of this diocese. If in 1947 the prefecture was a network of isolated and out-of-the-way stations, in 1970 it had matured to become a fully-fledged diocese with a native bishop and clergy. In 511 pages Fr Devost documents admirably this success story, tracing the development of the apostolic prefecture of Gorakhpur into today’s flourishing diocese of Varanasi.

12. Bishop Ignatius Menezes makes a personal observation about the diocese of Ajmer, its clergy and its bishops emeriti in the Foreword to R.H. Lesser, The Rajputana Mission. Pioneers and shepherds, Ajmer 1989, I-II: “When I was sent here as the Bishop of Ajmer-Jaipur diocese in February 1979, as the fifth bishop and shepherd, I did no take too long to realize that this diocese has a beautiful history and a spirit of its own. Who have been responsible for this vigour and dynamism? The answer naturally is the Pioneers and Founders, namely the French Capuchins who entered into this territory of Rajputana with a firm intention to conquer it for Christ. They had a definite purpose, they had the will to conquer, they had their bodies to subdue so that they might get spiritual strength to win souls for Christ. They left Rajasthan in 1949, handing over the fruit of their labour and toil to the indigenous clergy.”

13. This observation holds good also in the case of other religious Orders, as the Epilogue, in The Friars Minor in China (1894-1955), especially the years 1925-55, based on the research of Friars Bernard Willeke and Domenico Gandolfi, by A. Camps – P. McCloskey, Rome 1995, 262, sums up the centuries of sustained hard work by hundreds of Franciscan friars in China: “… it seems to have been impossible to do away with the ideology of ‘our mission’, with the pride of non-Chinese provinces in their Chinese mission.”

14. R.E. Frykenberg, Gospel, globalization, and Hindutva: The politics of ‘Conversion’ in India, in Christianity reborn. The global expansion of Evangelicalism in the twentieth century, ed. D.M. Lewis (Studies in the history of Christian Missions), Grand Rapids – Cambridge 2004, 119: “Conversion, understandably, has become a bone of contention in India. For many Hindus, it is a ‘bogey’ – a cause for ‘national’ concern and a fear or threat. It represents something alien and hostile: a malignant and polluting virus from ‘outside’ India; a ‘foreign hand’ disrupting and destroying the achievements and benefits refined by a great and ancient civilization”.



15. Frykenberg, Gospel, globalization, and Hindutva, 118: “The Partition of the Old Raj, in 1947, into the successor states of India and Pakistan also brought a simultaneous end to many forms of Euro-Christian dominance. Thereafter, despite the gradual decline and disappearance of almost all Western missionaries, various radical movements of conversion and cross-cultural transformations within a multiplicity of local ‘Hindu-Muslim’ (or ‘Indian’) environments, both urban and rural, continued to accelerate.”

16. F. Lenaerts, La situazione missionaria dell’Ordine dei cappuccini, in Missione nuova in un mondo nuovo. Un Ordine missionario si interroga sul suo avvenire, a cura di W. Bühlmann, Bologna 1978, 97; Metodio da Nembro, L’attività missionaria nel decreto “Ad Gentes”, Roma 1971, 51.

17. Metodio da Nembro, L’attività missionaria, 51: Where forms of religious life are already in existence among people of other faiths, an effective way of evangelisation is to implant there consecrated life.

18. P. Bruno, Le missioni francescane nello spirito del Concilio e della storia dell’Ordine, in Vita Minorum 43 (1972) 17, the baptismal register alone should not be the criterion for categorising an evangelisation project as success or failure.

19. G. Carlini, Raffaele Mecchi da Livorno (1827-1894). Missionario in India, Firenze 1995. Bruno, Le missioni francescane, 18, as a minister given to the realisation of God’s Kingdom, the person who evangelises sees his or her task as something that goes beyond the level of sentimentalism and triumphalism.

20. For a documented elaboration of the history of the Noviciate of Mussoorie, see B. Vadakkekara, Establishment of Capuchin Order in India. I: A travailous inception (1869-1916), in Collectanea Franciscana 66 (1996) 195-244.

21. This section is a rehash of the present writer’s study Establishment of Capuchin Order in India. II: Breaking the deadlock and striking root (1916-1926), in Collectanea Franciscana 67 (1997) 501-564.

22. See Const. OFM Cap, 177, 3. It was a remote preparation for the Capuchin Order, born and developed in the bosom of the Latin Church, to get identified also with the other Churches of the Catholic Church. On 18 May 1925 the commissary informed the general minister that one Fr Zacharias TOCD of St Sebastian’s Monastery of Pulinkunnu, Kerala, was in a position to send promising candidates from the Syro-Malabar Church to the Capuchins, provided the Capuchin superiors would get the required written permission from the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches for accepting such candidates. The permission was promptly procured. The first novice from the Syro-Malabar Church was E. J. John, who, under the name “Br Philip of Changanassery” entered the noviciate on 9 November 1926. He did not remain to make the profession. See B. Vadakkekara, Franciscan charism and spirituality of Oriental Churches, 219-259.

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