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Carmelites: On a mission to serve

Carmelites: On a mission to serve

Four centuries ago, the Carmelites laid their foundation at Old Goa for the first time. From there on, they took their missionary work across the country. Today, the Carmelites serve the state across three houses. NT BUZZ traces the history of the order

VENITA GOMES | NT BUZZ

From carrying out missionary work, reaching out to people in need of help, offering intercessory prayers, and assisting the Diocesan churches in Goa to celebrate the Eucharist, the Carmelites belonging to different congregation over the years have worked to strengthen the faith of Christians and set a living example to people of other faiths. They have not only worked towards spreading their faith, but have also worked for the benefits of the community.

 

An entry to Goa

Goa was the first place where the Carmelites set foot to take forward their mission in India. “Between the 13th and 15th century the congregation was known as ‘Order of the Carmelite’. Later around the 15th century it was reformed by two Spanish saints, Saint Teresa of Ávila and Saint John of the Cross as the ‘Discalced Carmelite’- which meant those without shoes. They are known by the initials OCD,” says superior of the Carmelite Monastery, Aquem, Fr Archibald Gonsalves, OCD.

Tracing the Discalced Carmelites footprints in Goa, he adds: “The members of the order started coming to Goa, which was known to be the ‘Rome of the East’ around 1610 and around 1619 they got the official permission to build a monastery. ‘Convento do Carmo’ at Old Goa was the first monastery to be built by them in Goa.”

The Discalced Carmelites slowly spread to different parts of the Goa. Another monastery that they built was near Cruz dos Milagres in Old Goa. Around 1709, the Carmelites had to move out of Goa due to political unrest in the then colonised state.

“They went on to Sunkeri, Karwar, while the monastery (at Cruz dos Milagres) was handed over to the Oratorian Society, to which St Joseph Vaz belonged. Today, the St Joseph Vaz Renewal Centre stands here,” says Fr Archibald who was also recently the convenor, Steering Committee, Celebration of 400 years of Carmelite presence in India.

Thereon, they moved south to Kerala and other parts of the country including Mumbai, but they didn’t stop their attempts of bringing back Carmelite missionary work to Goa.

On December 19, 1928, Fr Maxim Godinho, a Goan Diocesan priest, wrote to Fr Leandra da Anunciacao who was the founder of the Carmelite establishment in 1619 asking him to re-establish their foundation in Goa.

It was after much consideration that they came back and built the monastery in 1943 at Aquem, Margao.

 

Spreading to different parts of Goa

The monastery at Aquem is today a centre for spiritual renewal where counselling for children, youth, family, persons suffering from substance abuse and other vices is carried out. The Carmelites also run an orphanage called the ‘L’ar De Santa Terezinha’, in Margao, where they look after 50 girls. “We also have a food bank scheme for the poor and hungry. Also those senior citizens who cannot afford food are provided with food. Health care facilities are also provided by the centre. Retreats and masses are also conducted regularly. We also house the ‘Divine Mercy’ which is a centre of the diocese,” mentions Fr Archibald.

The congregation also has a centre at Xellem, Canacona called ‘Divine Springs’ wherein they provide services like contemplative prayer, youth catechism and family life. “We cater primarily to the youth of the Archdiocese of Goa and surrounding diocese. We also cater to the families especially in their faith formation and strengthening their marriage bonds. Presently we have programmes for school and college students, youth group from different parishes, and different units of the parishes,” says director and superior of the centre, Fr John Francis Sequeira, OCD.

The ‘Divine Springs’ centre was started back in 1984 under the title of ‘Fatima Retreat Centre’. But it was only in 2014 that it took a definite shape in its vision and its activity. Every Friday there is a one-day charismatic retreat from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. attended by several people. There are also programmes of contemplative nature on every second and fourth weekend for the different communities.

A training centre for the seminars is at Avila Jyoti (Carmelite Formation House, OCD) at Mapusa. “This centre is basically a renewal centre and a place where seminars are trained. The Carmelites also have a counselling centre called ‘Emmaus’ in Mapusa,” adds Fr Archibald. Besides these, there are other centres of the congregation like the Cloistered Carmel Sisters in Chicalim which is called the power house of the diocese, where the nuns are engaged in prayer all day for the goodwill of the people. The Apostolic Carmelite and the Congregation of The Carmelite Religious sisters have also diversified into the field of education.

 

What makes them different?

While Catholics may be more familiar with the activities that the Diocesan priests do in the parishes, the question that remains is what differentiates the two – a Carmelite priest and a Diocesan priest. Explaining the same, Brother John Malvino Alfonso OCD of Carmelite Monastery at Aquem says: “A Diocesan priest promises to pray daily the Liturgy of the Hours, which include passages from the psalms and scripture. This is to keep him very close to God.

Secondly, the Diocesan priest promises to obey and be loyal to his bishop. His bishop guides the priest and the priest ministers where the bishop asks him to serve. He does not represent the church differently than his bishop would.”

The Diocesan priest also chooses to live a celibate life so that he can completely give his own life to Christ, the church and the people to whom he has been called to serve. “He renders his service to the particular diocese. He does not make a promise of poverty, and usually owns a car and other possessions in order to fulfil his duties and live independently,” says Brother John.

The line of difference between the two is that a Carmelite pronounces three vows—Vow of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience to his superior. “The Carmelite Order is a fraternity Order. They live in a community. He is a missionary. He can be sent to any part of the world wherever their mission exists. His ministry is a fruit of his prayer life,” states Brother John.