Lal  Bazar  means the Red  Market. For centuries, in this ancient city of Bharuch (Broach for the British) it was the location of the Catholic Church. The ancient church has been just in front of a colourful Moslem Masjid and only few yards away from a large Hindu temple. The three together make a veritable expression of the tolerant and beautiful India. A Moslem youth remarked joyfully:”we had the mosque and the temple, and now the church has come back”!

On August 5th 2012, on the feast day of Our Lady of the Snow, I offered Holy Mass in the ancient sanctuary with a select group. Present were families of Rojan and Davis,  Malayalees,  of Kirit Bhagat, Gujarathi and of Antony Robin Das, Bengali. We missed Kanthu Master. These are the people who helped me lovingly by their guidance and labour.  I would have liked the presence of my Provincial, Rev.Fr. Jose Changnachery, my benefactors and friends,  Rev. Fr. Joseph Auer, Lorraine Czachor, both of Chicago, Rev. Deacon Raymond and Marilyn Heap of  New Orleans, and, Anibal and Natividad Rojas of Carracas. These people provided me with the finance needed for the recovery and the repairing of this most ancient foot print of the Catholic Church, not just in Bharuch, but in the whole of Gujarat!. In all it has cost us rupees worth twenty thousand dollars.

As I was offering Mass in the ancient sanctuary on a temporary altar, I was overwhelmed with the thought, that for centuries from the same sanctuary Jesuit Missionaries from various lands offered the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus to the glory of the Heavenly Father. The little group present was surprised to hear, that Bharuch has a special place in the history of Catholicism in India.  Bharuch is the only port in the list of Greek historian Ptolemy, between the Mediteranian and the Malabar coast. St. Thomas. the Apostle of India, could have very well been here before he reached the present day Kerala The first Bishop of Latin Church in India, that too in Kerala, was a Missionary in Bharuch almost eight hundred years ago. As per records in Rome, he had baptized ninety people in Bharuch!

The present structure, the church for the small number of families and the rectory, was entirely rebuilt in 1861 by Fr. Jacques S.J. chaplain of Surat, Bharuch and Baroda. I noticed that the Golden Bridge, a national heritage structure across the mighty Narmada, was built years later. As there was no possibility of expansion in the crowded ancient city, around the year 1960, Fr. Samada S.J. bought the property on the Station Road. Besides a new church, two high schools and two hostels for the tribal students, came up in the new property and all gradually forgot the existence of the old church building.   

Through a chance conversation with Kanthumaster, I came to know that the church building was still there and was rented out to a Parsi gentleman. I was excited. I had spent as seminarian three days with Fr. Samada in the old church and probably I am the only Jesuit alive who has slept in the old church. Being in the hands of a Parsi gave me great hope, as I had once received a gift of five acres of land from a Parsi to build the school in Hingoria village.

I suggested that he vacated the place and gave me some money, as he had used it for many years. I did not succeed in convincing him. I left the matter to the new parish priest Fr. Andrew Silveira and to our lawyer companion Fr. M.V. Joseph. They settled the matter for a just sum of Rupees four lakhs. I wanted to keep the building as it was. But the engineers decided that lack of maintenance during the last fifty years and the leaking roof had weakened the ancient walls and they would not be safe for the new asbestos roof. 

So the new roof has been put up on strong iron pillars. The old walls were plastered and painted anew. But the old floor was left as it was. The old building had no ceiling below the asbestos.  Now the rooms and the church have beautiful ceilings. A water tank is installed above the kitchen. The kitchen and the toilet are all beautifully made. Altogether new wiring for electricity has been installed. Tube lights and seven fans are provided. Fr. M.V. Joseph and his friends did all these jobs and presented the building back to me. On my request, the outside of the walls was left as it was.
People are asking me what am I going to do now? People of the local are expecting some new institution to come up there. I do not know anything about the future of this project. My object was to recover this oldest vestige of Catholicism in Gujarat. We know that there were Catholics in Bharuch centuries before the Western colonial era. We know that at least for a couple of centuries Worship was held in the very sanctuary of the recovered church building.  Now I hope that something beautiful will happen for the glory of God.

Immediately, I visualize a small programme.  I will spend most of my time in the Lal Bazar church. I plan to separate the sanctuary area with a curtain and keep always the Blessed Sacrament there. About ten people can pray in the sanctuary area any time undisturbed. We Jesuits are expected to pray about four hours a day. Besides, my next appointment will be, “to pray for the Church and for the Society of Jesus”. I will already start this final apostolate of long living Jesuits.  Besides I will spend time praying for Bharuch, Gujarat and for the whole world. At the same time, I will look around for opportunities for apostolic action and seek guidance for the same from the Lord and from people. I wish and hope that the project is Lord Jesus returning to the ancient port city of Bharuch on the banks of Nrmada. 
 Ad   Majoren   Dei   Gloriam 
 Anthony Moonnu S. J.
02640 – 240119  


rsmahida said...

Looking back, I remember, we were happened to go this church to pray in old church situated at lal bazzar. It is matter of great appreciation that this old worship place is remembered out and for keeping as heritage of catholism in bharuch.


anjali gupta said...

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