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Church Unhappy With Archaeology Work In Goa Monuments

Updated: March 25, 2007 05:00 PM GMT
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Church officials in Goa say the federal archaeological department is threatening Church monuments in the western Indian state by working haphazardly and secretively.

As an example, they cite the accidental discovery of a crypt at the Se Cathedral complex in Old Goa. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) staff who made the discovery on Feb. 26 did not inform the church´s priests of the find.

"I came to know about it almost five days later" when some people complained of dusty benches in the cathedral, Father Leonardo Correia, parish priest of Old Goa, 1,910 kilometers southwest of New Delhi, told UCA News.

The priest explained that a government employee working on underground electrical wiring accidentally broke a stone, revealing a 2.1-meter deep vault. The crypt, with a cross mounted on its wall, contained bones that the priest said may belong to a Portuguese viceroy, governor or bishop.

Goa, a Portuguese colony for more than four centuries from 1510, has several 16-century churches and convents. The ASI has taken over several of them, but some of these, such as Se Cathedral, continue as active churches under Goa archdiocese.

"This is the bishop´s church, a live parish church. This is not a museum," Father Correia asserted. He added that ASI "ought to have the courtesy" to inform him about the works it undertakes within the cathedral.

According to Father Correia, ASI also has interfered in parish affairs. Its officials asked him to remove the donation box he had placed in the cathedral, but he said they later relented when told about the Catholic religious practice of making donations during Lent.

In another instance, the parish priest recalled that termites had infested a statue of Christ but ASI stopped him from dealing with the problem, saying its workers would do the job. "By the time they attended to it a month had passed by," and later they explained their staff were on holiday, he said.

Father Correia is not alone in complaining. Father Savio Baretto, rector of nearby Basilica of Bom Jesus, which houses the relics of Saint Francis Xavier, says an illegal temple was allowed to come up just behind his church, in violation of heritage-preservation norms.

Construction activity permitted by ASI near other historical landmarks also is a matter of concern. Near Our Lady of Rosary Church, built in 1526, a two-story concrete structure is being built.

Father Baretto said that when he asked ASI officials the reasons for granting permission for that construction, they said the application had been pending a long time. "Is this any justification?" he asked.

Jesuit Father Moreno de Souza, a member of the basilica staff, admits the Church would have "never been able to maintain the churches on its own." But he condemned ASI for ignoring Church authorities. "Even for the underground electrical wiring they have not sought permission from us," he said.

According to reports, ASI now plans to cover the exposed side of the crypt with a transparent fiberglass sheet, illuminating it from inside with an electric light so "hordes of visitors" can see it.

Godfrey Gonsalves is among Catholics worried by the agency´s behavior. "Is ASI a competent authority to decide on these matters? How can the ASI intervene in religious sentiments of a community with utter disregard for (its leadership)?" he asked while speaking with UCA News.

M.K. Jos, who campaigns for social justice, noted that the ASI-Church tussle has lasted for some time. ASI argues that when it took over these monuments in 1965, four years after Goa was liberated from Portuguese colonial rule, the plan was published in the government gazette, giving people a chance to express objections. But no objections were raised.

"At that time who read the gazette? And where was it available in Goa?" Jos asked, noting that Goa was then under federal rule, not a state.

Countering the various criticisms, N. Taher, ASI deputy superintending archaeologist, said some people are trying to create a wedge between the Church and ASI. "We have no problem with the Church authorities," he told UCA News.

"After all, the ASI, the Church and all are stakeholders in our work. Our job is to enhance the conservation of monuments," he said. "If we do not work, the monuments deteriorate. If we work, there are complaints."


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