“The memory of the righteous is a blessing” (Prov. 10:7)1
His Grace António Francisco Xavier Alvares, Mar Julius I, Metropolitan of Ceylon, Goa and India, excluding Malabar, also known as Padre António Francisco Xavier Alvares, who hailed from Goa, a state of the Indian Union located on the west coast, was an editor, writer, founder of educational and social institutions, patriot and, above all, a dedicated social worker who had proved by his actions that the church was “the community of Faith, hope and charity,”2 and aspired to make the civil and ecclesiastical administration of Portuguese Goa likewise. In the pursuit of this ideal, of bringing about the spiritual and socio-political uplift of his people, Padre Alvares was branded seditious by the colonial Government of Goa and ex-communicated by the Roman Catholic Church, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Unable to see eye to eye with the Archbishop of Goa, Padre Alvares left the Roman Catholic Church in which he had been ordained to join the Syrian Orthodox Church which consecrated him Archbishop of Ceylon, Goa and India (excluding Malabar) with the title of Mar Julius I.
While working for my doctoral dissertation, several years ago, I had come across references to Padre Alvares and to the “sedition” that he was accused of by the Portuguese authorities of Goa. Since, I have researched on this priest and written about his ideology and activities.3 Last year as Goa was celebrating the Golden Jubilee of its liberation from colonial rule and integration with the Republic of India, the 175th birth anniversary of this great Goan, nay Indian, was commemorated with the majority of the celebrants hailing from the Orthodox Syrian Christian community of Goa, and India. Today, as we approach the 176th birth anniversary (on 29April 2012) of this revolutionary priest and dedicated apostle of charity, it would be pertinent to highlight his socio-political contributions in an international journal such as the Glastonbury Review.
The objective of this article is to focus on the ideology and activities of Mar Julius Alvares both before he joined the Syrian Orthodox Church and after…to present him not only as an apostle of charity, but also as a firebrand journalist and fearless patriot who used his pen and raised his voice to fight against the corruption and malpractices that prevailed in the contemporary Portuguese colonial administration of Goa, both civil and ecclesiastical. He had to pay a heavy price for the fearless stand that he took: he was accused of sedition by the colonial Government and ex-communicated by the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, he persisted to the very end setting a glorious example not only through his writings but by his deeds in service of his people, his home-land and the Syrian Orthodox Church he had embraced.
This article also focuses on the ideology of economic nationalism espoused by Padre Alvares which made him a strong advocate of consumption of local goods and development of agro-based industries for the economic development of his homeland, Goa…a first step towards economic self-reliance and eventual liberation from the colonial yoke.
Portuguese Goa: Local Resistance
Portugalwas the first European country to establish its colonial presence in Indiaand the last to leave its shores with Goaserving as the headquarters of its eastern seaborne empire for several centuries. Right from the sixteenth century when the Portuguese conquered the islands of Goa, to the twentieth century, which witnessed the territory’s struggle for freedom, the history of the Estado da Índia (thePortugueseState of India) has been studded with revolts and other examples of local resistance to colonial hegemony.
In the early centuries of their rule in Goa, the Portuguese pursued a policy of religious persecution and racial discrimination which could not but generate an oppositional discourse that included, within its repertoire, acts and attitudes of resistance, manifested through conventional conscious confrontation and in the form of everyday as well as creative resistance as also resistance of collaboration that was manifested against the alien regime.
The second decade of the nineteenth century witnessed the stormy introduction of constitutionalism in Portugal. Under the Portuguese constitutional monarchy (1820-1910) a limited right of franchise was granted to the Goans. During this period some of the educated Goans like Bernardo Peres da Silva, José Inacio de Loyola, Francisco Luís Gomes, Mons. Estevão Jeremias Mascarenhas and Padre Alvares often resorted to campaigns in the press and public protests in defence of their newly acquired political rights.4
António Francisco Xavier Alvares was born in Verna, in the Salcete taluka in South Goa, on 29 April 1836, to José Baptista Alvares and Marinha Expectação Lourenço.5 The Alvares family was hailed as “devanghar” (house of God) in acknowledgement of the many acts of charity performed by its members, especially the assistance rendered by them during natural calamities. True to the principles of his family, Padre Alvares championed the cause of the downtrodden, seeking to protect them against the oppressive rule of the colonial administrators.
After completing his education at the Rachol Seminary, Alvares proceeded to Bombay at the age of 22 where on 6 November 1864, he was ordained priest by Fr. Walter Estein, albeit without any demissorials from the Archbishop of Goa.6 Here, he served as an assistant priest at Bandra and in 1865 he proceeded to Belgaum in a similar posting.7 Upon his return to Goa in 1867, Padre Alvares exercised his sacerdotal functions as an apostle of charity.
Apostle of Charity
In 1871, he set up an ‘Association of Charity’ at Verna which gave alms to the poor, free medical assistance to the sick and the infirm and decent burials to solitary souls. Its success led to the establishment of similar charitable institutions in other towns and villages of Goa. For those who did not enjoy the support and companionship of a family, he founded the albergue. He also launched a determined preventive campaign against epidemics like cholera, small pox and the bubonic plague and worked hard for the recovery of the afflicted. He published a booklet, Direções para o tratamento do Cholera (Directions for Treatment for Cholera). He was particularly well known for the social service that he rendered to the bhangi (scavenger) community of Fontainhas, Panaji. On 23 July 1877, Padre Alvares founded in Panaji, the college of S. S. Corações de Jesus e Maria where the students were given instruction in Portuguese, Latin, French and Philosophy.8
This epitome of Christian charity soon developed serious differences with the Archbishop, D. António Sebastião Valente. Padre Alvares and another priest, Padre Manuel Agostinho de Carvalho, edited A Cruz (The Cross) which was started on 14 July 1867 as a fortnightly.9 This paper soon assumed a distinctly political colour, being very critical of the ecclesiastical establishment. Hence, its publication and purchase was banned in July 1882 by Archbishop Valente for being “systematically hostile to the ecclesiastical authorities, defamatory, scandalous, revolutionary and a disturber of the peace of conscience.” Padre Alvares’ quarrel with the Archbishop soon developed into a full scale war with the Padroado authorities, the Papacy and the Roman Catholic Church. In his book entitled, A Supermacia Universal na Igreja do Christo, Padre Alvares launched a tirade against the abuses of the Padroado and the Papacy.
Through the medium of his books, A Supremacia Universal na Igreja do Christo (The Universal Supremacy in the Church of Christ) and Antioch and Rome, Padre Alvares had begun a tirade against the abuses and immorality present in the Padroado authorities and in the Papacy. Alvares Mar Julius denounced the claim of the Pope as the head of all Christians in favour of the Patriarch of Antioch. The latter, being an Asian was considered by him to be the rightful head of the Church since it was in Asia that God’s revelation had taken place.10
Alvares Mar Julius
In 1887, Padre Alvares finally decided to leave the Church in which he had been ordained and joined the Syrian Orthodox Church in Ceylon. From Goa, he had proceeded to Travancore where he came in contact with the Apostolic Suryani Church of Antioch and started the “Swathantra Catholic Mission” (Independent Catholic Mission) which was critical of the Roman Catholic Church and exposed its excesses.11 He founded the Brahmavar Mission near Udupi in Karnataka in 1888 to cater to those persons from the neighbouring areas who had joined the Syrian Orthodox Church. He soon had a congregation of over 5000 who owed their allegiance to him.12
On 29 July 1889, Ramban Alvares was consecrated Metropolitan to the diocese of Ceylon, Goa and India (excluding Malabar), and given the title of Mar Julius I13 at the Old Seminary, Kottayam by Malankara Metropolitan Pulikkottil Mar Joseph Dionysius II and St. Geevarghese Mar Gregorios.14 Alvares Mar Julius was made in charge of the new Mangalore and Bombay dioceses. He brought Roman Catholics like himself who were dissatisfied with the working of the Roman Catholic Church into the Syrian Orthodox Church, ordained and consecrated priests. One of the priests consecrated by Archbishop Alvares Mar Julius in 1892 was an American, Joseph René Vilatte, a native from Paris, who was titled as “Mar Timotheos, Metropolitan of North America”, Archbishop for the Church of the Mother of God in Wisconsin of the Archdiocese in America, who was later excommunicated from the said Church.15 Although he had embraced the Orthodox Church, Mar Julius continued to use “the traditional Latin Rite corrected for use in Orthodoxy.”16
The ‘Swadeshi’ Ideology of Padre Alvares
The pride of Padre Alvares in Asia and the Asians, which had made him denounce the claim of the Pope as the head of all Christians in favour of the Patriarch of Antioch, assumed on several occasions a more localised, ‘swadeshi’ (national) colouring as is apparent from Padre Alvares’s strong advocacy of the use of Goan commodities in the place of their foreign substitutes.
His newspaper, which was significantly named O Brado Indiano, or The Indian Cry, contained a section in which the advantages of the “national customs” in clothes, food habits, houses and the like, were loudly lauded and the people were asked to give up the fashions and products of Portugal in favour of the former.17
Padre Alvares had also formed an ‘Association Against Luxury’ which prohibited the use of silk clothes and banned the use of fans, mirrors, velvets, feathers and other luxurious items from abroad. It also instructed members to abstain from serving foreign liquor at parties and feasts in Goa. Instead, they were asked to celebrate with either coconut or cashew feni (an indigenous intoxicating drink) and use coconut oil for the illuminations. On health grounds, Goans were strongly advised to give up the consumption of bacon, since pigs were generally reared on the contents of latrines.
Thus, years before Lokmanya Tilak and other Indian nationalists had advocated the consumption of swadeshi goods, and the boycott of foreign products was widely propagated in India, Padre Alvares had already initiated a similar plea in Goa. So absolute was his swadeshi spirit that he implored the Goans “to emigrate to any territory where everything was Indian.”18
In order to increase the income of his motherland and make it as self-sufficient as possible, Padre Alvares advocated the optimum utilisation of its existing natural resources. He also spoke of the introduction of new, high-yielding crops inGoaand at the same time called upon the people to expand and diversify the existing home-based industries.
Padre Alvares made a special appeal to the Goan youth to renounce merry-making which was indulged in on feast days in the name of saints and instead take up the laborious, yet rewarding cultivation of the crop, mandioca. Alvares felt that “This would channelise the superficial pleasures of dancing and feasting into the true joys of work, sweat and sacrifice.”19 As the yield of mandioca per acre was six times that of rice or wheat, Alvares urged the people to cultivate this crop not only to increase their personal income, but to improve the finances and food stocks of their motherland. Citing the example of Trichinopoly, whose prosperous economy had been built on its arecanut and banana plantations, this swadeshi-minded prelate censured his fellow countrymen for ignoring the lucrative commercial potential of the local coconut and mango plantations. Goans were urged to export coconuts, coconut oil, cashew nuts, jackfruits, tamarind, mango pickles and sweets to the chief metropolitan cities ofBritish India.
He also highlighted the vast mineral potential of Goa for its people and urged them to use this raw material, not for earning a fast buck by exporting it, but to industrialise Goa. Thus, Padre Alvares presented a blue print for the development of Goa, and invited its inhabitants to avail of the benefits which nature had so bounteously endowed upon their homeland.He lamented at the easy-going, fun-loving, indolent nature of the Goans and entreated them to opt for hard work which would most certainly augment their earnings. In his writings, he made frequent appeals to his fellow country people to shed off their lethargy and unveil the hidden economic wealth of their land and thereby liberate themselves from the clutches of poverty.20
It was the considered opinion of Padre Alvares that Goawas being exploited on two fronts. On the one hand, by their lax and lazy ways, the people of Goahad failed to reap the rich harvest of nature’s bounties, and on the other, the alien government, with its grasping ways, had been draining the wealth of the land without bothering to make the economy more broad-based and productive. He further opined that what the Portuguese did not directly grab, they permitted their allies, the British, to have a free access to. The Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 187821 was regarded as an attempt on the part of the British to extend their hold overGoa by converting it into a virtual dependency of theirs. Through the cancellation of customs duties and the easy availability of railway transportation, this Treaty had resulted in the outflow of salt and other commodities from Goa intoBritish India on terms that were unfavourable to the local population.
His strong patriotism and journalistic acumen led Padre Alvares to be associated with the publication of several newspapers which served as a forum to put his views before the public. These included O Progresso de Goa (The Progress of Goa), The Times of Goa, A Cruz (The Cross), A Verdade (The Truth) and O Brado Indiano (The Indian Cry). The titles of these newspapers are by themselves a clear indication of the nature of his activities. It is quite explicit that he was interested in “the truth” and in “the progress of Goa” and that he was very much concerned about the (anguished) cry of the Portuguese Indians (Goans). It was this last-named interest of his which prompted Padre Alvares to publish a series of articles against the corrupt officials of Goa. Through his newspaper entitled, O Brado Indiano (The Indian Cry), Padre Alvares conducted a determined campaign against the corrupt and negligent officials of the Portuguese administration ofGoa. This, in turn, led to charges of sedition being levelled against him.
Right from its first issue, the newspaper, O Brado Indiano, vocalised the needs and the sentiments of the downtrodden. It criticised the bureaucrats for siphoning a large portion of the income of the state for their personal use, while the sons of the soil were compelled to emigrate in search of a decent livelihood.22 O Brado Indiano was not a lonely crusader in this campaign. It was backed by some local periodicals that frequently carried critical reports of the Portuguese administration of Goa.23 Some of these newspapers wrote open letters to the Governor-General to intervene and weed out the corruption that had become rampant in the system.24
The Portuguese officers who were sent out to Goawere little better than clerks and sergeants. When such persons were accorded top-ranking positions in the colonial administration, they acquired a highly exalted opinion of themselves and adhered to the dictum, “I want, I can and I order” (“quero, posso e mando”).25 What they lacked in superior intellect, they more than displayed in terms of unchecked tyranny and racism.
The leader of this pack of autocratic and corrupt officials was declared by O Brado Indiano to be the administrator of the concelho (taluka) of Ilhas, Manuel d’Oliveira Gomes da Costa. In the discharge of his official duties, Gomes da Costa used to behave in an extremely high-handed and cruel manner and frequently declared that he ruled with a big stick (“bambu de quatro varas”).26 He also meted out harsh treatment to the press, in particular to those newspapers that dared to criticise his administration.
In addition to this, the colour-bar that was rife in military and civil appointments now penetrated into the social field as well. The Nova Goa Club of Panaji that had previously kept its doors open to all now restricted its membership to Europeans alone.27 It was, thus, “Europeanism,” with its exploitative and arbitrary nature, that had generated critical pieces of journalism in the local press, most notably in O Brado Indiano.
Deliverance from such a miserable state of affairs was the crying need of the hour. Except for the indifference in which Goalanguished at this time, lamented O Brado Indiano, “The dawn of liberation would have taken place by this time.”28
The year 1895 was a tumultuous year in the history of Goa, for its second half witnessed three events of immense political significance, one following the other, within the space of three months. These were the ‘Sedition’ of Padre Alvares in August, the Maratha Sipai Mutiny in September and the Dada Rane Revolt in October. All the three were said to have been woven together with the nativistic spirit of ‘India for the Indians.’ The accusation of sedition was made by the Administrator of Ilhas, Captain Manuel d’Oliveira Gomes da Costa, in order to condemn Padre Alvares, who was carrying out a press campaign against him.
In its issue dated 27 July 1895, O Brado Indiano had carried an article entitled “Enigma para Adivinhação” (“A Riddle to be Solved”) which invited its readers to identify the corrupt officer described by it. Gomes da Costa promptly accused the newspaper of slander29 and set himself on the trail of the “native sedition” (“sedição nativista”) with Padre Alvares as his principal target.
Three weeks later, on 19 August 1895, Padre Alvares was charged with “inciting the people to fight for liberation,” “discrediting the Portuguese” and insulting government officials.30 He was arbitrarily arrested and locked up in a filthy, ill-lit and poorly ventilated cell – “a modern Bastille”31 – for the night. Padre Alvares was presented before the Judge, albeit without the filing of a First Information Report. The Judge censured the failure on the part of the police to adopt the correct procedure, and after questioning the accused, released him from custody.32
However, the following evening, Alvares was once again arrested, this time for violating sections 130, 134, 135 and 235 of the Portuguese Penal Code. These sections sought to punish those Catholics who either publicly denounced or showed disrespect to the Roman Catholic religion or wore the robes or ensigns of other religions when they were not entitled to do so.33 Although Alvares Mar Julius did not fall under any of these categories, the charges were pressed upon him because the Roman Catholic Church of Goa had refused to accept his Syrian connections. To them, he was a rebellious priest whose ordination had been cancelled. It was for this reason that during the proceedings of the case, Alvares Mar Julius was always referred to as an ex-priest. Despite a previous acquittal in 1890, when the court had permitted him to use his Syrian episcopal dress,34 Alvares Mar Julius was tried for the same ‘crime’ twice. The next day, he was subjected to the humiliation of being stripped of his episcopal habit and ensigns and taken to the lock-up of the court in his underclothes. He was followed by a crowd of about five hundred people, cheering him and denouncing Gomes da Costa.
In the court an attempt was made to revive the charges of sedition and high treason. The case was dismissed for want of evidence of sedition. In his ruling, the judge stated that although sedition was said to be in the air, he had not smelt it, most probably because he was suffering from chronic coryza. He further stated that the charges may get a conviction under the press law, but certainly not for the crime of treason.35
Padre Alvares was primarily a social reformer and an economic thinker who sought to make the Church a veritable mother of the people, the economy more diversified and productive and the administration more in tune with the needs of the general public. Alvares attacked, not so much the concept of Portuguese rule in Goaas the malpractices committed by the local administrators. In the nineteenth century there was no question of broadening and politicising this spirit of swadeshi to mean a merger of Goa with India, nor was an independent existence for Goa possible because of its economic dependence on others, military weakness and the covetousness with which Britain had been regarding it. Hence, his ‘swadeshi’ spirit was more economic than political in nature for it was basically aimed at generating employment, improving upon the agricultural and industrial production locally and consequently bringing about an increase in the income of his compatriots and the revenue of his homeland.
On account of his single-minded dedication to truth, his vehement abhorrence of corruption and wastage of public funds, his deep-seated interest in the amelioration of the conditions of the poor and the downtrodden, his consequent intolerance of the oppressive colonial administration, and his fiery speeches and writings, Alvares Mar Julius faced a number of adversities in public life, be it as a priest or as a journalist. His life has been described in words borrowed from Eschrich as “a prison formed of many links of pain and very little of pleasure” (“…uma cadeia formada de muitos elos de dor, e mui poucos de prazer!”).36 Even in death he was not allowed to rest in peace. In 1923, he was buried in a secluded part of the public cemetery at St. Inez, Panaji, as a religious outcast, amidst great controversy, deprived of a funeral befitting an Archbishop.
After the ‘sedition’ controversy, Alvares Mar Julius had returned to Brahmavar where he remained till 1913 when he returned to the land of his birth. Here, he chose to serve the poor and the needy, especially the lepers and the bhangi (scavenger) community of Fontainhas in the capital city ofPortuguese Goa, Panaji. He would literally move from house to house in tattered black robes and a bowl, collecting alms for the people he had chosen to minister. This great social worker died on 23 September 1923, battling dysentery, in the hospital at Ribandar.
A life dedicated to the selfless service of the poor and downtrodden had earned for Padre Alvares the admiration of some of his fellow Goans who formed a citizens’ committee under the leadership of the Chief Justice to take care of the funeral arrangements. His body was kept in state at the municipal hall for 24 hours to enable the public to pay their last respects to this great son of the soil. The local newspapers carried obit articles recalling the social work of Padre Alvares. And the Portuguese governor-general sent his representative to the funeral.
The funeral procession was taken through the streets of Panaji and the burial took place in a secluded corner of the St. Inez cemetery in Panaji. Being a Syrian Orthodox to the very end, there was opposition to his burial in the St. InezcemeteryofPanaji. However, sincePortugalhad become a secular Republic in 1910, all the cemeteries had been brought under the jurisdiction of the civil administration, the Panaji municipality in the case of the St. Ines cemetery, and hence Alvares Mar Julius could not be denied a burial within its precincts.
Four years later, on 23 September 1927, his bones were collected by his friends and admirers, placed in a lead box and buried in the same grave with a marble slab that contained the inscription, “Em Memória de Padre António Francisco Xavier Alvares, Dieu Foimui Humanitário Missionario e Um Grande Patriota” (Padre Alvares a great Humanitarian Missionary and a Great Patriot). In 1967, the tomb was discovered by the Syrian Orthodox Church and subsequently, the St. Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church was built at Ribandar where the holy relics of H.G. António Francisco Xavier Alvares, Mar Julius I, Metropolitan of Ceylon, Goa and India (excluding Malabar), were shifted on 5 October 1979. After the renovation of this church, the holy relics were kept in its present kabar (sepulchre) in 2001.37
After his demise, the Brahmavar mission suffered a decline, but did not cease to exist. Due to the dedicated efforts of Fr. Roche Lopez Nuronah (Noronha), who had been received into Orthodoxy with Alvares Mar Julius only the church in Brahamvar, St. Mary’s Cathedral, survived. Today, located on a 250 acre site, with its faithful drawn from 850 families, the Brahmavar mission of Alvares Mar Julius is centred on St. Mary’s Cathedral with five chapels attached to it and congregations located in Mumbai, Banglore, Mandya, Kuwaitand the UAE. The liturgical services were held in the Latin Rite with its Konkani (local language) and Kannada (regional language) translations. It runs a college and other educational institutions. Amongst other feasts, the Brahmavar Orthodox Christians celebrate the memorial feast (Shradha Perunnal) of Metropolitan Julius Alvares on 23 September every year and as a part of the traditional Latin rite, they include All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) in their ritual calendar.38
The celebration of the 175th birth anniversary and 88th death anniversary of Padre Alvares in the Golden Jubilee year of Goa’s Liberation is an apt occasion to recall the socio-political ideology of this “great humanitarian missionary and patriot”39, which continues to have meaning in our lives today, especially his determined crusade against corruption and discriminatory practices, his stress on economic self-reliance, and to reiterate the call that this great apostle of “Faith, Hope and Charity” gave to his fellow Goans, especially the youth: “Povo de Goa: Surge e Trabalha”40 (People of Goa: Rise and Work)!
“I have fought the Good Fight I have finished the race I have kept the faith.”41
Notes and References
Also see, http://syrianchurch.org/StGG/the_administrator.htm#Fr. Alwarez of Roman Catholic Church joins the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch.
Dr. Pratima P. Kamat
Professor of History, Goa University [email@example.com]