Monday, December 12, 2016

India celebrates 400 years of Christianity through thick and thin

India celebrates 400 years of Christianity through thick and thinNot every story regarding Christians in India is one of anti-Christian persecution, though those are in no short supply.  

Instead, sometimes the stories are of the longevity of India’s Christian community despite the hardships and challenges it faces.

In that vein, celebrations were held on December 4th at St. Andrew’s Church in the Bandra neighborhood of Mumbai for its 400th anniversary.

The hermitage of St. Andrew is known to have existed in 1600, and by 1616 it was functioning as a parish.

It’s withstood centuries of natural disasters, including when in 1618 a cyclone blew off the entire roof, and political and religious turmoil, such as when, after an explosion engineered by the British, St. Andrew was the only church left to administer to the spiritual needs of Catholics living in the huge area of Bandra, and stands today as a symbol of the continuity of Christians in India.

A banner near the Church’s main gate explains that when the world-famous Taj Mahal in Agra was built in 1654, “St. Andrew’s parish was already 38 years old.”

The year-long anniversary celebrations included cultural activities, inter-religious dialogues, and a historical volume documenting the growth of this parish - once dominated by Kolis, an ethnic Indian group.

In 1966, the church’s wooden portico was demolished and the building’s facade was extended. Every effort was taken to ensure that it resembled the original. Even the height of a round window was adjusted so on both solstices, the sun’s morning rays continue to hit the central point of the altar where the host is kept, just as in the original design.

Bishop Dominic Savio Fernandes encouraged the parishioners to embrace a “Renewal to harmony, tolerance and peace,” inviting people to renew relationships with God, with the family and community, and with peoples of other faiths as well as with the environment.

Fernandes emphasized that “in the 17th century, this entire locality was Catholic, and we celebrate with gratitude the 400 years of Christian faith, 400 years of Christianity, 400 years of being disciples of Christ.”

The bishop made a reference to the small round aperture in the center of the building’s front façade that on the spring and fall equinox allows the sun to shine directly on the tabernacle.  

“We await the second coming of Christ…And we need to prepare for it.”

“Twice a year we are given a time of preparation,” he said. “Once at Advent and once at Lent. Here at St. Andrew’s the rays of the sun enlighten the Church and we are called to prepare for the Son to enter into our lives.”

Father Caesar D’Mello, the parish priest, said, “St. Andrew’s has come a long way, and we are celebrating our vision of ‘Building Communities’ for 400 years.”

The 4th Centenary celebrations began on Nov. 22, 2015 on the Feast of Christ the King, which included release of a book entitled St. Andrew By-The-Sea - A Guide to The Art and Times of Church.   

Documents, old pictures, family photographs, historical materials were sourced from parishioners. 

Rome’s Jesuit Archives and St. Xavier’s College’s Heras Institute are included in this book.

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