Friday, February 09, 2007

GOA: Navy Obstructs Anjediva Church Feast Again

Navy Bars Entry To Island Church Again

February 7, 2007

PANAJI, India (UCAN) -- For the third year running, the Indian navy has denied pilgrims access to a church on Anjediva, an island off the coast of Goa state.

Some 40 people from the western state who turned up outside a naval project on Feb. 2 seeking access to the island eventually left disappointed.

Anjediva, in the Arabian Sea about 2,030 kilometers southwest of New Delhi, houses the Church of Our Lady of Springs, which the Portuguese built 10 years before they conquered Goa in 1510. Goa remained a Portuguese colony until 1961. Many Catholics in Goa consider the church their "mother church."

In 1991, the Goa government donated the 370,032-hectare island to the navy to build a 13 billion-rupee (US$268 million) naval base. But it donated the island on the condition that civilians would be allowed access to the church twice annually, for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2 and the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4.

In 2002, however, the navy announced it would halt civilian access to the island, leading to a dispute between the navy and Goan Catholics.

This year, the navy informed the Goa archbishop's house, through a fax message on the eve of the Feb. 2 feast, that as a major defense exercise was underway, allowing access to the island was not feasible. Archdiocesan spokesperson Father Joaquim Loiola Pereira told UCA News the navy's local commanding officer, K.P. Ramachandran, also had telephoned him to say some 2,000 naval cadets from all over India were on the island for the exercise.

In late January, Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa and Daman and others asked naval authorities to allow pilgrims on the island for the feast.

In a letter to Ramachandran, Archbishop Ferrao urged the navy not to view the traditional celebration as a threat to the naval base. He said the navy's security department could easily handle pilgrims and drew parallels to the annual Navy Week, when the navy allows civilians on the island.

The prelate assured the navy the celebration would not overcrowd the island, as only a few hundred pilgrims would visit it. A positive response from the navy, the prelate added, would affirm its commitment to honor the religious needs and legitimate sentiments of Goa's Catholics.

Godfrey Gonsalves, who campaigns for celebrating the feast at the island church, said the navy's denial was an annual excuse "to keep us" away from the island. The navy will "push us around" if Catholics do not "fight for our rights," he told UCA News Feb. 3. The previous day he had visited the mainland naval base connected to Anjediva to register a protest against the navy's "highhandedness."

Previously, some right-wing Hindu groups opposed Catholic access to the island. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (world council of Hindus) claims a temple existed there before the Portuguese captured it.

However, Gonsalves told a press conference on Feb. 2 that local Hindus no longer opposed Catholics going to the island. He said many Hindus also visit the island church, since they believe the Blessed Mother protects their fishing expeditions.

"The only people who are creating problems are the navy," he lamented.

Antonio Barreto, a Catholic layman who tried to visit the church this year, told UCA News the police stopped his taxi at the Goa-Karnataka border. The town closest to the island is Karwar in Karnataka, about 120 kilometers south of the Goa capital of Panaji.

Father Pereira asserted the Church would not take things lying down. "Right now, we will keep quiet. But we will definitely take it up with the higher authorities in the government," he said.
Reproduced by Konkani Catholics with permission from UCA News (

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