Herald: 4 centuries of Carmelite efflorescence in Goa

4 centuries of Carmelite efflorescence in Goa

10 Feb 2019 06:06am IST

Report by
Wilfred Pereira

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10 Feb 2019 06:06am IST

Report by
Wilfred Pereira

Leave a comment

For over four hundred years, the Carmelites have had a very strong presence in Goa with three centres in the state doing yeoman service. Wilfred Pereira met the Rev Dr Saverio Cannistra, OCD, the Superior General of the Carmelites, who is attending the Definitory at Old Goa. He spoke of the appeal of Goa within the order in India and the future course of action

When travelling to Vasco, we see a building with high walls in Chicalim. Ask anyone, and you will get an answer, ‘it is a place for cloistered nuns.” Go down South in Margao and enquire a way to Carmelite Monastery and you will be promptly given directions. Come north and ask the same question, and you will be told it is opposite the Mapusa Stadium. What is common in these three places? 

These centres belong to the Carmelites OCD, who are celebrating 400 years of their existence in Goa. The Carmelites marked the occasion with a three-day celebration in Goa on Feb.8 to 10. Besides the celebrations, the Carmelites have had an Extra-Ordinary Definitory at St Joseph Vaz Spiritual Centre, Old Goa, from Feb 4-11.

Herald spoke to the Rev Dr Saverio Cannistra, OCD, the Superior General of the Carmelites, who is attending the Definitory at Old Goa. With a doctorate in Dogmatic Theology from the Gregorian University of Rome Dr Cannistra is a member of the Italian Theological Conference and has participated in numerous conferences on the Carmelite order.

Served a cup of hot tea by Fr Silvestre D’Souza on arrival, I was later led to a room where the Superior General was waiting. The tete-a-tete started with a big laughter with my first question.

When told that many people are often confused about the initials the religious have after their names such as sfx, cssr, sj, sdb, ocd, fma, sfn, ofm, etc, we had a good laugh over all these abbreviated designations. The Superior General was kind enough to explain that OCD stood for “Order of Discalced Carmelites”. However, he was quick enough to add that discalced did not have a bad connotation but it rather meant “reformed”. Discalced is derived from Latin meaning ‘without shoes’....Since the life of the older Mount Carmel Group began with the hermitical life the name somehow stuck to them.

Dr Cannistra was very cool and calm when asked to explain in brief about the Carmelite order, its origin, evolution and the present state of the society.

He explained that the older Carmelites traced their roots to Mount Carmel in the Holy Land from where they were driven away sometime in the 13th century. It was St Theresa of Avila and St John of the Cross who revived the order in the 17th century and Carmelites then decided to move to Asia as missionaries. Starting from Iran and then moving on to Ormuz, they landed in Goa via Kerala.

The year 1619 marked the first establishment in India. The 400 years in the country is being celebrated under the umbrella of Inter-Provincial Conference of India of the Carmelites by its committee formed for the purpose headed by Rev Dr Archibald Gonsalves OCD who along with Rev Fr Charles Serrao, Provincial of Karnataka-Goa Province of the Carmelites welcomed their Superior at the St Joseph Vaz spirituality Centre, Old Goa.

The Superior General, Dr Cannistra, celebrated a Mass on Feb.8 at Convento do Carmo at Old Goa at the ruins of the Carmelite Monastery which was given a facelift.

“India has 1,000 friars in the seven provinces in India which are Manjummel, Malabar, Karnataka-Goa, Tamil Nadu, South Kerala, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh,” said Dr Cannistra who was elected Provincial Superior for the first time at the Provincial Chapter of Tuscany in 2008.

After being re-elected Superior General at the 91st General Chapter in May 2015 at Avila, Spain, Cannistra is busy fostering the life and development of the Order and promoting close co-operation between the provinces and the central government.

“When St Theresa of Avila was canonised by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622, there were great celebrations here in Goa,” he said. 

However, their stay in Goa, did not last for long. “Since the Portuguese ruled Goa at that time, they asked priests from other countries serving in Goa to leave. So, we handed over Convento do Carmo to the Portuguese Oratorians in 1707,” he said.

 Why Goa?

He said that Goa was chosen as the venue for the Extra-ordinary Definitory not only because it was celebrating 400 years of existence here, but “we were planning for a long time to have a meeting of all our seven provinces in India,” Dr Cannistra added.

“We are mainly a contemplative order. So, prayer and spiritual life are the centres of vocation and mission. But we go according to the needs of the church and in some places, we take up running of schools, learning centres, etc,” Dr Cannistra added.

“We have to focus more on our spiritual life despite the changing world,” he concluded.

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