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Indian Catholics oppose resort near heritage chapel

Planned project falls in ‘no development zone’ of 16th-century Capela da Nossa Senhora do Monte, they say
Capela da Nossa Senhora do Monte, popularly known as the Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount, is located on a hill overlooking the Mandovi river in Se Old Goa village in the western Indian state of Goa

Capela da Nossa Senhora do Monte, popularly known as the Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount, is located on a hill overlooking the Mandovi river in Se Old Goa village in the western Indian state of Goa. (Photo: vpse-old-goa.com)

Published: November 13, 2023 08:29 AM GMT
Updated: November 13, 2023 11:33 AM GMT

Church leaders and lay people in the western Indian state of Goa have demanded the scrapping of a luxury eco-resort project planned in the close vicinity of a 16th-century Portuguese heritage chapel.

They said the proposed project falls within a 100-meter “no development zone” around the Capela da Nossa Senhora do Monte, popularly known as the Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount located on a hill overlooking the Mandovi River in Se Old Goa village.

Last month, the Goa Investment and Promotion Board gave an "in-principle" nod to Laterite Resorts for its high-end luxury eco-resort and notified a draft proposal for allocating 10,356 square meters of land for the project.

“The government should shift this eco-resort project from Old Goa as it poses a threat to the 16th-century state-protected heritage monument,” Father Alfred Vaz, president of the Cathedral Chapter of the Archdiocese of Goa and former parish priest of Se Cathedral at Old Goa, told UCA News on Nov. 12.

The priest said the chapel, built with laterite stone in the Baroque style, stands on one of the few remaining green patches in Old Goa. It is home to wild boar, peacock and a variety of migratory birds.

The eco-resort will end up destroying the ecology, disturbing the wildlife, and giving rise to human-animal conflict. “It is not acceptable,” Vaz added.

"We have already submitted to the state government over 15,000 individual petitions (collected from parishes) seeking to cancel the project, which says enough is enough,” the priest said.

Jesuit Father Patricio Fernandes, rector of Bom Jesus Basilica said the commercialization of Old Goa would destroy its sanctity and sacredness.

“It is not just about Catholic spiritual heritage. People of all faiths come here as pilgrims to seek God’s blessings with deep faith and we need to preserve it for the next generations,” he said.

John Marshal, a lay hermit and doctoral researcher at Goa University is documenting the religious heritage of Old Goa “which is called the Rome of the East and a Holy City.”

“If this resort is allowed to operate, Old Goa will cease to be a pilgrimage center,” he said.

The chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary is among the oldest structures in Goa. Its construction was ordered by Afonso de Albuquerque, the first governor-general of Portuguese India, immediately after the conquest of Goa in 1510. It was completed in 1519.

The chapel was not easily accessible and was in ruins until 2001. A restoration project was then planned and funded by Fundação Oriente, an organization that maintains cultural links of Goa, Daman and Diu with Portugal, in association with the state government.

“We fear for the structural stability of the chapel, as excavations to build the resort can threaten the old structure,” said Glen Cabral, a Catholic leader from Se Old Goa village.

Every year in November, the courtyard of the historical chapel plays host to the popular Festival de Música de Monte, a classical music festival that has been held for more than two decades.

“The green patch visible from the chapel forms a natural backdrop for the music festival and provides an unobstructed aerial view of the main Old Goa church complex,” Cabral pointed out.

The Se Old Goa village council on Oct. 29 adopted a resolution opposing the project.

“After discussing the project, the entire village [of nearly 1,000 people] unanimously decided to call for revoking permission,” said Vishwas Kuttikar, the elected sarpanch or village chief.

He said it was shocking that the village council was not even consulted before the project was given the green light.

“The government is breaking its own rules which say that no development work can be carried out within 100 meters radius of the chapel,” Peter Viegas, convenor of the Save Old Goa Action Committee, told UCA News.

Meanwhile, sensing public opposition to the project, the Goa Industrial Development Corporation chairman, Aleiso Lourenco, has withdrawn his approval for the project.

“I didn’t think much about [allowing] the resort because the proposal came from a reputed name in the construction sector. However, due to opposition from people, I think we should not continue with the project,” he said.

“I have given my reasons for withdrawing approval in writing to the government,” Lourenco added.

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