Panaji: Goa’s largest church was packed to capacity on Monday afternoon as hundreds of mourners thronged the four-century-old Se Cathedral to bid farewell to longtime Archbishop Raul Gonsalves of Goa and the first son of the soil to lead the historic archdiocese.
Six Bishops and several other high ranking Church dignitaries from all over India concelebrated the funeral Mass. It was a sea of white as priests from all over Goa – many of whom were ordained by Gonsalves himself during his 37-year episcopate – filled the pews before praying for his eternal rest.
On a day when the heavens opened and the state experienced its rainiest day of the year so far, thousands more followed the funeral on the internet. Earlier in the day, a cavalcade of worshipers accompanied his remains from the home of the Archbishop of Altinho to Se, the seat he once held as head of the Catholic Church in Goa.
Current Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao, the main celebrant, said his predecessor was a courageous person who was always ready to meet the challenges thrown at him. The cardinal-elect also said Gonsalves had carefully planned the financial reorganization of the archdiocese and ensured that the needs of priests in their old age and at the time of illness were taken care of.
Archbishop of Delhi Anil Couto has said that with the death of Gonsalves an era has ended. “Although trained in the tradition and theology of the pre-Vatican II Council, he quickly adapted to the renewal brought by Vatican-II and implemented it in the Archdiocese of Goa, whose faithful are experiencing today the fruit today,” Couto said.
In a moving eulogy he said: “He was known for his clarity of thought and neatness in canon law, and also for his theological depth, although in a lighter vein we used to say that he liked to speak in subordinate clauses, and we were always looking for the main clause. I know that main clause was his deep and unshakable faith in Jesus Christ”.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Bombay Cardinal Oswald Gracias, and the Apostolic Nuncio to India, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, also sent their condolences, which were read out in absentia.
Gracias called Gonsalves “an ecclesiastical pillar of India” and a “renowned canonist”, whose opinion was often sought on different canonical issues at conferences. “He was known for speaking his mind quite strongly,” Gracias said. “He had a strong voice as well, which added to the emphasis. The biggest thing…was that the difference of opinion never spilled over into personal relationships.
The priests of the Archdiocese of Goa, represented by Father Alfred Vaz, said Gonsalves played an important role in the education of the state. At a time when much of the population lacked formal education, and in order to uplift the poor, Gonsalves facilitated the opening of diocesan schools and colleges and welcomed students of all religions into diocesan institutes , did he declare.
At the end of the ceremony, in a ritual not seen in Goa for decades, Gonsalves’ pectoral cross and ring were removed, and six priests carried it behind the majestic cathedral altar, where it was deposited in an inner tomb reserved for the Archbishops of Goa.