In 1949 Fr. Edwin Pinto, S.J. was nominated to the newly-created See of Ahmedabad, and retained Mt. Carmel Church, Mirzapur as his official seat. Automatically Mt. Carmel Church became Mt. Carmel Cathedral, Mirzapur, Ahmedabad.
At that time, Mt. Carmel Parish had a vibrant Christian Community largely because of two schools within its territorial limits: Mt. Carmel Convent for girls, and St. Xavier’s School for boys.
The schools were owned and run by religious congregations, and were reckoned among the elite schools of Ahmedabad. Although non-Catholics students were admitted to these schools, the foremost beneficiaries were the Catholic students of Ahmedabad. Quality education helped raise their religious, social and economic status.
Mt. Carmel Convent and St. Xavier’s School closely interacted with the Parish. As time went on, more and more Catholics took up residence in the vicinity of the Cathedral: some, the Latin Catholics who were a spillover from Goa, Mangalore, and Bombay: others, the neo-Catholics, who gravitated to the metropolis from various parts of Gujarat. In spite of ethnic differences the parishioners were a close-knit Christian Community. Their pastors and assistants were equally assiduous in their concern for the spiritual needs of the parishioners, the administration of the sacraments, and the care of the sick and infirm.
This happy state of affairs continued well into the late sixties. Meanwhile the lay-out of Ahmedabad began to change. With the commissioning of Nehru bridge, the east and west banks of the Sabarmati were linked more closely. The city began very rapidly to expand westward. Housing societies and colonies sprang up overnight. Prestigious institutions were on display: the Gujarat University, The Indian Institute of Management, the Physical Research Institute, The Indian Space Research Organisation, etc. Among traditional educational institutes, St. Xavier’s College, Mt. Carmel Convent, and Loyola School competed with the best, and were in great demand by the citizens of Ahmedabad.
The new Ahmedabad was very different from the walled city east of the Sabarmati. The old city had become increasingly congested, and was often torn apart by civil and communal strife. In order to contain these, curfew was imposed on the city, imposing untold hardships on the people, filling them with fear, and making them prisoners in their own homes. To escape these hardships, and the polluted air of the city, more and more people sought refuge in the new city, in homes purchased with easily-available loans.
Catholics were not behind the rest in their quest for greener pastures. When St. Xavier’s College was established in 1956, no more than three families lived in its vicinity. By the late seventies this number had swollen to more than 300, resident in homes adjacent to Loyola Hall and St. Xavier’s College.
The largest ethnic group was the Keralites. They were part of the diaspora, resulting from a lack of jobs in their home state, and opportunities that beckoned in the middle-east, affluent Indian states, and the world at large. As a community the Keralites manifested a remarkable upward mobility and initiative. Their numbers grew rapidly, as they invited their poor relations to participate in the job market of Gujarat. The Keralites constituted about 50% of the Catholics, the Latin Catholics about 30% and the Gujarati Catholics about 20%.
In 1982 Bishop Charles Gomes validated St. Xavier’s College and Loyola Hall as Mass Centres. The Drive-in Theater Road which runs east to west was the demarcating line. Catholics living north of the line would be the concern of the Loyola Jesuit Community, those living south of it, the concern of St. Xavier’s.
Fr. Joe Braganza, S.J. was appointed as the Priest-in-charge of St. Xavier’s. As such he had no canonical status, not even that of an assistant pastor. His appointment was more in the nature of a chaplain to a community within the confines of the Cathedral parish. He kept no independent registers for baptisms, and births, and deaths. These were recorded in Mt. Carmel’s books. He provided the Faithful with the convenience of Sunday and Festive Masses, confessions, devotional practices, communion to the sick and dying, marriage counseling, training for First Communion, etc. and was authorized to raise money from the “Parishioners” for services and the upkeep of the Mass Centre. In all these services he was generously assisted by the Jesuit Communities of Premal Jyoti and St. Xavier’s College.
In 1992 Bishop Stanislaus Fernandes raised St. Xavier’s to the status of an independent parish. He appointed Fr. Francis Parmar, S.J. parish priest, and Fr. Mangalam S.J. as his assistant. The new parish did not have a church of its own, and continued to use the chapels of St. Xavier’s and Premal Jyoti for religious services.
From its inception as a Mass Centre to its elevation as a full-fledged Parish, St. Xavier’s was beset with problems. Possessing no church of its own, it had often to adjust to the two institutions which nurtured it, and while there was cooperation and trust at the highest level, church services had necessarily to take second place to the needs and obligations of the host institutions.
But a more serious problem was the interaction of the three major ethnic groups: the Keralites, Latin Catholics, and Gujarati Catholics. The culture of these groups was so diverse that there was hardly a point of contact.
Those days, a multilinguistic Christmas Mass or Easter service appeased none of the groups, and separate services for each group certainly detracted from the unicity of the Church. Language was, indeed, a problem. Gujarati should, by reason of its locality, have ceded to no other language. However, it was the mother-tongue of barely 20% of the parishioners. English, as a national language, had a measure of authenticity: but here again it was mother tongue to a minority of 30%. And Malayalam, mother tongue to 50% of the parishioners, was quite incomprehensible to the rest of the congregation. As a compromise, the spiritual needs of the Keralites were attended to by a specially appointed chaplain to the community – a kind of personal jurisdiction within the juridical confines of the parish.
Instead of the above differences becoming more pronounced with time, they began to blur. An English education ironed them out. All the Keralites opted for an English education for their children, and more and more Guajrati Catholics opted for the same. The new breed of parishioners, if not equally fluent in English and Gujarati, were able to comprehend both languages, and some of the younger ones favoured English over their mother tongue.
The evolution of the Multilanguage culture may be observed in the parish choir. Earlier there used to be two, if not three, separate choirs. Now there is just one. The choristers sing Gujarati and English hymns with equal gusto and verve. And readings, whether in Gujarati or English, are comprehensible to the vast majority of the congregation.
Given the parish’s dependency on the chapels of Premal Jyoti and St. Xavier’s College as places of worship, and the inconveniences of such an arrangement, it was a priority of the newly-erected parish to have a place of worship and prayer-hall all its own. The process was set in motion when Fr. Francis Parmar, S.J. assumed charge of the parish in 1992. He was overburdened with responsibilities, and accepted the additional charge till a full-timer was found for the position. In this he had the support of the Provincial of the Gujarat Jesuits. Fr. Francis term of office lasted three years.
He was succeeded by Fr. Freddy D’Souza, S.J. who was appointed Parish Priest of St. Xavier’s in 1995. Fr. Freddy came with excellent credentials. A priest of boundless energy, he was equally fluent in English, Gujarati and Concanim. He possessed a well-modulated, resonant voice pleasant to the ears. In addition he was affable and sociable. It was during his tenure that the new parish was officially entrusted “in perpetuity” to the Jesuits.
The present prayer-hall of St. Xavier’s passed through several phases till it reached its finished form. In 1993, the Jesuit Provincial of Gujarat, formally invited Mr. Errol Reubens to be the architect of the proposed church. Originally it was planned to have a community hall in the basement with a prayer hall on the ground floor, much like that of Premal Jyoti and the Cathedral. But before the plans were finalized, stringent new building norms were enacted by the Municipal Corporation, and the plans had to be modified to meet the new requirements.
It looked like the project would never take off the ground; but persistence paid off. Under the leadership of their youthful and enthusiastic pastor and an equally enthusiastic parish council, a collection drive for the new church was initiated. The stone of the new church was laid at a simple ceremony on 3rd December, 1996. Fr. Freddy did not see the church in its present form as he was transferred in June 2001. But he had secured the goodwill of the present Jesuit Provincial who committed himself to contribute Rs.100,00,000/- for the church. He expected the parishioners to raise Rs.50,00,000/- over and above a large donation from the Gujarat Sahitya Prakash of the Rs.10,00,000/-. When Fr. Lawrence Lobo, S.J. took charge of the parish on 10-06-2001 the expected contribution of the parishioners fell short by Rs.10 lacs.
Fr. Lawrence ‘s faith in his people is unshakeable. Given the generosity of his parishioners he knows that they will keep to their share of the bargain, and that the present church will always remain a monument to the faith of his flock.
Already, parishioners, who abandoned the high-rise chapel of St. Xavier’s for reasons of health or infirmity, are back to their parent church. One can sense a new vitality; and a growth in the number of worshippers. Their number is expected to further increase as more and more Catholics abandon the Cathedral parish and head for the west bank. Already the number of families has crossed the 560 mark. This poses a new challenge. But given Fr. Lawrence’s dynamism and commitment, there is every reason to believe he will meet it head on.
|The Church Building|
"The Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her own. The art of our own times from every race and country shall also be given free scope in the Church, provided it bring to the task the reverence and honor due to the sacred buildings and rites".
- Sacrosanctum Concilium , no. 123
The principles of modern liturgical "spaces," later embodied in the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy document of 1978, is expressed in the Church of Xavier's parish. The architect, Mr Errol Reubens a native of Ahmedabad, himself a convert married to a catholic wished to express the immensity of God. He designed this Church with wide and high ceilings, soaring walls, towering windows, and a dramatic alter which dominates and catches the eye as soon as one enters through the mammoth main door. On the wall facing the main door is the crucifix. The Crucifix shows the Risen Christ - and an Indian one. With a dhoti trimmed with gold zari and a flowing angavastram around his shoulders. The face of this Risen Christ is singularly beautiful, tender, yet demanding of the viewer. The face radiates love and demands that that love should be returned.
The Crucifix was ordered from "Liturgical Images" Bandra, Mumbai. Sister Vimla was instrumental in selecting the Crucifix. The Crucifix is unique in its attractiveness. It towers above the congregation and looks down upon the celebrant and the alter.
|The Altar was sculpted and designed by Mr. Rock and Mr. Ronald Sequiera well known sculptors and wood carvers from Bhasien. The frontal face of the altar depicts the Last Supper carved delicately in wood. The Lectern also designed and sculpted by them depicts the four apostles. The base of the altar and the Lectern are of sea green marble.|
View Driving directions to Xavier's college, Ahmedabad in a larger map