05 Jun 2022  |   06:51am IST

The Goan Cardinals I knew

Julio Ribeiro

Goa’s first Archbishop elevated to Cardinal Filipe Neri Ferrao is a close relative of my wife – the former Melba Menezes. The new Cardinal’s late mother and my wife were first cousins.

With his elevation to The Cardinalate my wife achieved parity with me in our private rankings! Why? Because my own father’s first cousin was elevated to Cardinal in 1973 the year I took over as D.I.G.P. of the C.R.P.F. in Hyderabad. Incidentally Hyderabad and the Telegus have also been honoured with the appointment of Poola Anthony, the Archbishop of Hyderabad as a Cardinal. 

The Goans have had five Archbishops so honoured earlier. The first was Valerian Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay (now Mumbai). As a small schoolboy, staying in Colaba, I served as an altar boy at some of the Masses said by the Cardinal when he was the Auxiliary Bishop. The Mass used to be said in Latin in those days! No one except the priest knew what was being said! The church has become practical now. Masses are said in native tongues! I have heard Masses in Japanese, Chinese, Romanian, German, besides most Indian languages, mainly Marathi. Every devotee understands what is said!

The second Goan Cardinal was my father’s first cousin (his mother’s youngest sister’s son) Joseph Cardinal Cordeiro. He hailed from Paitona in Salvador do Mundo but studied in Karachi as his father, Dr Peter Cordeiro had retired as the Presidency Surgeon of Karachi and settled in that city. Joseph completed his formation as a priest in Kandy (Sri Lanka) and was made Bishop of Karachi in 1958 and Cardinal in 1973, as mentioned earlier.

Ivan Cardinal Dias of Mumbai was the third Goan Cardinal. For years he served in the Vatican’s Foreign Service as the Pope’s Nuncio (Ambassador) in different lands including South Korea. I met him in Tirana capital of Albania, where he was serving as Nuncio. I, myself had been concurrently accredited to Albania from Romania which was the country I was primarily accredited to. In that capacity I used to visit Tirana thrice a year. Each time I would call on Ivan who was a most gracious host. We travelled together in Albania at times Ivan was soon back in the city of his birth, Mumbai, as its Archbishop. On the day he was informed about his elevation to the Cardinalate he and I both happened to be at the Goregaon Seminary talking to young seminarians. Ivan, of course, must have delved on matters spiritual. I spoke to them on the temporal!

Ivan was soon taken away from us Mumbaikars and transported by the Curia to Rome to preside over one of its more important departments. I was sorry to see him go. I was sorrier even more when I learnt of his illness and untimely demise while still in the saddle in Rome. Among the Goan Cardinals, including cousins, Ivan was closest to me!

Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Agra in U.P. was transferred as Archbishop of Mumbai, his native city (he was born and grew up in Mahim). In the course of time he was bestowed with the Red Hat. He is the fourth Goan to be made a Cardinal. He is greatly respected by the clergy, as well as the laity for his even-handed decisions. He often summons me for advice. I am happy to oblige.

The fifth Goan to rise to this level is less known in India. He was born in Amritsar in Punjab much before my tenure there. At some point of his priestly career he landed in Karachi, where he is at present the Cardinal-Archbishop. He hails I learn from Bardez in North Goa. His name is Joseph Coutts, which I presume was Couto at one time since all Goan Christian surnames were bestowed on our respective ancestors by Portuguese priests whose surnames were given to all families converted by them on the same day! Couto is a common Portuguese Surname, Coutts is the Anglisized form! He was bestowed the Red Hot in last year’s Consistory.

One person who would have been over-whelmed with Fillip Neri’s elevation was his youngest uncle, Sylvestre. This uncle of the new Cardinal was a genius, who settled in Germany with his German wife, Petra, and worked for years in the German Atomic field as a Scientist. He stayed in a village near Karlsruhe. Sylvestre’s 75th birthday was attended by his cousin Melba, who is my wife and myself as her spouse. 

We spent four glorious days together at Sylvestre’s house in the German village. Bishop Filip Neri said Mass in German and also delivered a sermon in that language! He was truly a versatile priest, as I found out in person.