Not 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
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.