Fr Cosme Jose Costa sfx documents the tense days prior to Goa’s Liberation in 1961.
I was a student of 3rd year of Philosophy at the Mission Seminary at Pilar, when the Liberation of Goa took place on December 19, 1961. The memories of the events are still deeply rooted in my mind. From December 14, conflicting and contradictory reports were being aired by the Emissora de Goa as well as by the All India Radio: one, assuring the Goans that the Portuguese army was well equipped and would defend Goa at all cost; and the other, promising that Goa would be liberated from the clutches of the colonial rule and would have the sons of the soil ruling the liberated territory soon; and that its uniqueness and identity would be maintained at all cost, as promised by the Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
We could feel that the Portuguese assurances were flimsy. We could rather see panic on the soldiers’ faces, as military trucks began moving, almost aimlessly, transporting soldiers, guns and ammunition through the roads of Goa. The news made rounds that the Portuguese authorities, in their panic, had quietly brought down the casket containing the relics of St Francis Xavier and were thinking of transporting it to Portugal. This is supposed to have been the XIth Exposition of St Francis Xavier’s relics starting on December 14, 1961, though few people knew about it.
The Portuguese soldiers had also started planting mines around the Churches and monuments in Old Goa, as orders had come from Salazar, the Prime Minister of Portugal to Vassalo e Silva, the last Governor General of Goa, not to surrender but to fight to the last man. Later on we came to know, that Salazar had also sent reinforcements but the ships had to turn back, as Nasser, the then President of Egypt, refused to allow their passage through the Suez Canal.
From the dawn of December 18 our sleep was constantly interrupted with the roar of explosions going off on all sides, in far off places. Truckloads of ammunition had been detonated by the Portuguese to break the Borim and the Banastarim bridges as well as the smaller ones as in Assonora, Mapusa and other places, in order to forestall the advance of the Indian troops. The last explosion had resulted in the roof of the Milagres Church, (Mapusa) being blown off. As we got up in the morning, the sound of the explosions drew nearer and nearer.
We had our meditation in the morning and started our daily Mass at 6.45 am. By 7.10 am, as the celebration of the Mass was in progress, we began to hear the roar of Indian fighter jets above our heads. We had never heard or seen fighter jets before! In a few moments, all of a sudden, there was such a deafening explosion that the windows of our Chapel rattled and some of the glasses broke. There was panic everywhere. As soon as the Mass was over, we rushed to the terrace of the Seminary, to see a big black cloud of smoke rising from the radio station at Bambolim. The Indian jets had thus cut off radio communication between Goa and Portugal. And the Emissora de Goa was silenced.
A naval battle followed, almost at midday, off the coast of Marmagoa. A few of us who had gone, once again, to the Seminary terrace, witnessed it. We saw a Portuguese cruiser surrounded by a few Indian frigates and a jet bomber above. The cruiser put up a brave fight, firing left, right and centre, with the Indian ships retaliating. It was only about half an hour later that a bomb from the fighter jet struck the Portuguese ship and silenced it. It was said that the Portuguese soldier operating the ship’s anti-aircraft gun lost his hand in the maneuvers.
By 19th morning the Indian army had advanced into Panjim and the Portuguese surrendered at Fort Aguada. General Kandeth accepted the surrender, as Commander of the Indian Armrd Forces. The Indian army immediately took pains to remove and diffuse all the mines that had been planted around the Old Goa Churches. The XIth Exposition of St Francis Xavier’s relics continued till December 31, 1961, to assure Goans that the relics would continue to be in the possession of the Church in Goa.
Only later did we come to know that the plan for the destruction of the Old Goa Churches and monuments had been in place and the Governor General had only to press a button to carry it out. Goa owes a debt of gratitude to the last Portuguese Archbishop-Patriarch, D. Jose Vieira de Alvernaz, who, at the risk of his life, went to meet the Governor General and convinced him not to carry out the orders of Salazar. Accepting his advice and convinced that he was doing the right thing, the Governor General is said to have thrown into the river the document with the Order of the Portuguese dictator and sought safety among his army men. Goa was thus spared from destruction.
The Portuguese soldiery remained in concentration camps for about five months, until they were all sent back to Portugal. On his return to his homeland, General Vassalo e Silva was summarily stripped of his rank and dismissed from the army as well as deprived of his service pension. When Salazar was toppled in a 1974 armed forces coup, Vassalo e Silva was reinstated as an army General and highly acclaimed for his moral courage in defying the dictator. In 1980, the Indian Government invited him to Goa and honoured him befittingly.
By September 1962, the Portuguese Archbishop-Patriarch Alvernaz left for Portugal and retired to his home in Azores. He remained the Patriarch of Goa till his resignation in 1975. Meanwhile from December 1963 the Archdiocese of Goa was governed by its first Indian Bishop, Msgr. Francisco da Piedade Rebello, as an Apostolic Administrator; he was ably assisted from 1967 by Auxiliary Bishop Raul Nicolau Gonsalves. Bishop Gonsalves eventually succeeded him as an Apostolic Administrator in 1972. It was only after 1975, when Portugal recognised the independence of Goa, that the way was paved for Bishop Gonsalves to become the first Goan and Indian citizen to be the Archbishop-Patriarch of Goa in the year 1978. Since 1994, he was assisted by his Auxiliary who since January 2004 succeeded him as the present Archbishop-Patriarch, Msgr. Filipe Neri Ferrao.