By Tony Martin
The most important thing about any parish is not a majestic church or a famous choir, but the warmth, solidarity and devotion of the families who make up the congregation. It is this spirit of kinship that sets apart the St Anthony’s Parish in distant Galgibaga, Canacona.
The Parish, located in a coastal hamlet in Canacona and divided in two by the Galgibaga River, is one of the earliest four parishes of the taluka created on April 3, 1824. Originally a chapel, filial to the Mission of Sivansor (North Kanara), it was built in 1807. The government repaired the church in 1878. The spacious new building housing the church and the Parochial house was completed in 1997 under the then Parish Priest Fr Assis Dourado.
With an empty beach - that has been freely explored for centuries only by the Olive Ridley turtles - forming the backdrop, the new look church stands out in all its solemnity amidst swaying palms and casuarinas. Life for the 2000-odd parishioners is as beautiful as the place itselfas the two communities lead their life in an enviable display of communal harmony while the rest of India continues to plunge itself from one cataclysm to another and at a terrible human cost.
“Amidst all the limitations of a rural village, Galgibaga is a wondrous parish with wonderful people. It’s a place and people you can easily fall in love with,” says Fr Simon Fernandes, who took over as parish priest a few years back.
The economic well being of the parishioners that reflects in their beautiful houses is largely due to the fact that every family has at least one member working abroad – in the Middle East, Europe, America, Australia or even in South Africa. The parish, which comprises about 350 families, truly comes alive during the festive December-January period when most of the parishioners get home from abroad for a vacation. The feast of St Anthony is celebrated here traditionally on the third Sunday of the New Year although it is actually on June 13.
The parish was in the news a few years back for vigorously pursuing a movement for the protection of the threatened Olive Ridley Turtles under the leadership of former parish priest Fr Mariano Goes Proenca. The turtle protection movement was initiated by Anthony M Barreto along with Harvey D’Souza of Southern Bird Wing.
The Patron Saint of the parish St Anthony of Lisbon, also venerated as St Anthony of Padua, was well known for his connection with fish that were believed to get out of water to listen to him. Galgibaga also loves fish – to catch as much as to eat.
A word with the parish priest
What is your vision for your parish?
Ours is a small parish. We would be happy to make it an ideal one in every respect.
What is it that you feel is special to your parish?
There is an enviable spirit of kinship among parishioners here. The parishioners are also very open-minded. For instance, traditionally on the chapel feast of our Lady of Perpetual Succour at Maxem the procession used to wind through the NH-17 hindering the smooth flow of traffic at least for a good twenty minutes. This year when I suggested that we hold it within the chapel premises the people were sensible to give up a long cherished tradition.
What is it that you would like changed about your parishioners?
As in many other places in Goa the people lack political maturity.
What are some of the problems faced by the parishioners?
The long overdue bridge on River Galgibaga would have helped. Crossing the river on a tiny canoe to attend daily mass is not seen as a very sporting adventure particularly in Sunday clothes.
Has the formation of the small communities (somudhais) helped?
Well a lot of youth and others are coming together to promote church activities. It has also provided them opportunities to be a part of a team. Small communities have promoted initiative among youth in a big way.
Have you been able to effectively implement the Synod recommendations in your Parish?
The Synod recommendations are being implemented but complete implementation is a gradual process.