Fifteen years ago, 12 of them graced this city – the last Spanish priests, in St Stanislaus (Bandra), St Mary’s (Mazagaon) and St Xavier’s (Fort). Lucky to have met some of them, I stay struck by their beliefs and extraordinary dedication.
This week, a special mass at Holy Family Church, Chakala, commemorated a century since Spanish Jesuits arrived in India.
Priests planted faith along India’s west coast from across the globe. The Portuguese from 1548 to 1739, the Germans, Austrians and Swiss from 1853 to 1919 and, finally, Spaniards from 1921 to the 1950s. One group moved into rural Gujarat, the other into urban ministry in Bombay.
“I came knowing He would be with me. That gave me courage,” Fr Tony Jurschik told me. “Fortuitously sent to Bombay, I found people very accepting. All fulfilment and joy lie here,” exulted Fr Peter Ribes, who taught three student generations Latin. Learning Marathi “aapo aap” (just naturally), Fr Francis Juan informed municipal officials, “Tumchya peksha mee jaast desi aahe – I’m more Indian than you!”
Only six of these remarkable men of mission are among us today. All past 90, they remain abiding symbols of a beautiful age when Bombay was blessed with many more.