Friday, April 21, 2006

Goa, Salesians and Sports

April 21, 2006

Salesians Highlight 60 Years Of Cultivating Sports Culture in Goa

By Bosco de Souza Eremita

PANAJI, India (UCAN) -- When three Italian Salesian priests began playing soccer with local youths in Goa 60 years ago, they did not know their sporting venture would help them achieve new goals in the western Indian state.

Archbishop Felipe Neri Ferrao of Goa and Daman compares Salesian growth in the state to a mustard seed that has become a huge tree. He says thousands of youths have been "enriched under the shade of this tree."

The prelate was speaking to about 3,000 people at the launch of a yearlong Salesian jubilee celebration. The function took place on April 4 in Panaji, Goa's capital, 1,910 kilometers southwest of New Delhi.

Salesian involvement with young Goans began at Don Bosco School, the first institution the Italian pioneers opened in Panaji. Father Giuseppe Moja, one of the pioneers, attended the jubilee launch. The 91-year-old priest pointed out that he and his confreres opened the school in 1947 with just 36 students and three teachers. The school now has 1,800 students and 52 teachers.

Former students say that, like those pioneers, today's Salesians still use sports to instill in their pupils a concern for the poor and less privileged.

One such alumnus is Victor Vaz, who promotes sports among the physically challenged. "My years in Don Bosco were the driving force for me to get involved with the physically challenged," he told UCA News. Vaz, who is vice president of the World Confederation of Don Bosco Past Pupils, also credits the priests for inspiring his efforts.

Goa performs well in Special Olympic World Summer Games for the physically challenged, he said. In the 2003 games, Goans won some medals, noted Vaz, a member of the committee that selects the Indian team for the games.

Francisco Raposo, a physical-education instructor at Don Bosco School, told UCA News the school gives its students "early exposure" to various games, especially soccer, and this has helped them join top soccer teams in India.

Vaz claims that Goa has become a leading soccer-playing state in India and he credits the Salesians for the achievement.

Using sports to reach out to young people is a special strategy of the Salesians, explains Father Ian Figueredo, vice provincial of the Konkan province of the Religious society of men. His society has inspired many Catholic societies in Goa to launch sport clubs, the priest told UCA News.

Kennedy D'Silva, who heads the special education department of Don Bosco College in Panaji, says the Salesians have now taken on other sports and other projects. Among several other establishments they currently run in Goa are special homes, animation centers, schools, training institutes and a parish.

One example of Salesian diversification is Don Bosco Farms at Sulcorna, 70 kilometers south of Panaji. The Salesians reached out to the poor by forming 35 or so self-help groups in Nunen, Cazur and Sulcorna, tribal villages spread across 3,000 hectares. The project was undertaken as a response to a water shortage caused by indiscriminate mining.

Maya Dessai, a member of a self-help group, credits Salesian Brother Philip D'Souza for teaching them how to pool resources and lend funds to one another at low rates. That system, she said, has helped them get rid of the "cutthroat interest of moneylenders." Moreover, the 29-year-old Hindu woman said, "Banks that had no faith in us are now starting to trust us and give us loans."

With such a loan, her group bought pepper-packing equipment, while other groups got financial help to develop cashew-nut processing. Dessai also pointed out that instead of depending on dealers, the people in her group now earn more income by selling their products themselves.

Salesians have also gone to the villages. In Pernem in the north, they have a school for 300 students and a hostel for 125 students from distant villages. And at Don Bosco Crafts Institute in Loutolim, a village in the south, they now train 280 school dropouts in various crafts.

The organizers told UCA News the jubilee-year program will include various competitions, spiritual activities to reinvigorate the spiritual life of the Salesians and young students, and the release of a souvenir magazine. They said also they wil set up a Corpus Fund to educate deserving Catholic youths.

The jubilee will conclude with the visit of the Salesian superior general on Feb. 6, 2007.



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