Fr. Dindayanand Espasa: A Missionary par excellence!

Thanks to Fr. Espasa's all the efforts, the Sabarkantha-Aravalli Mission has grown tremendously these past fifty eight years which is evident from the abundance of fruits: several mission centres, convents, dispensaries, schools and hostels.

Fr. Dindayanand Espasa: A Missionary par excellence!

By Archbishop Thomas Macwan, Gandhinagar, Gujarat

Fr. Luis Maria (Dindayanand) Espasa SJ (1912-1988), a missionary ‘par excellence’, was a pioneer visionary of the Church in Gujarat who radiated a deep compassion for the poor and the marginalised throughout his life. He did all he could to bring the person and message of Jesus into their lives.

Dindayanand Espasa spent an important phase of his life in Gomtipur helping to build the Christian community there; however, his zeal to reach out to the poorest of the poor took him also to the slums of Shankar Bhavan on the banks of the River Sabarmati in Ahmedabad where he reached out to the people in several different phases!

But at heart and in spirit he was a pioneer who wanted to move to areas where one easily did not dare to go! Fr Espasa’s relentless pursuit to tread the unbeaten path brought him to Bhiloda in Sabarkantha; first he made a few forays from Gomtipur on his motorbike, staying in a little rented room. In 1962 he finally settled down in the little village of Mankroda, just outside Bhiloda and catered to the Dungari Garasiya Adivasis who inhabited the villages in the North-Eastern areas of Sabarkantha District.

From then on, there was no looking back and gave himself totally to the people in every possible way. He organized food-for-work programmes for them and other developmental projects. As a visionary he understood that education would be an important dimension for their empowerment, so he started hostels for boys and girls and entrusted those hostels to the SMMI sisters. Above all, through preaching and witnessing he brought Jesus to the people in a very profound way.

Fr. Espasa then ventured into the Nana Kantharia area living in Hansol for some time. Ultimately, he moved further north to Vijayanagar where he established another mission station in November 1976. Thanks to all his efforts, the Sabarkantha-Aravalli Mission has grown tremendously these past fifty eight years which is evident from the abundance of fruits: several mission centres, convents, dispensaries, schools and hostels; many other initiatives for the holistic development of people; and even several vocations to the priesthood and religious life! Later, he spent the twilight years of his life establishing the Mehmdabad mission near Ahmedabad, where he breathed his last and where his mortal remains lie today!

In keeping with the post- Vatican II Church, he strongly believed in inculturation: he changed his name to Swami Dindayanand that signified Christian mercy and joy. He adopted a special dress typical of some clergy of the Eastern Churches and mastered not only Gujarati but also the Garasiya tribal dialect!

In this month of September 2020 on the anniversary of his thirty-second entry into heaven (Fr. Espasa died on 19 September 1988), we thank God immensely for the gift of Fr Luis Maria Dindayanand Espasa SJ to the Church and to India and especially for being one of the great pioneers of the Church of Gujarat and particularly the Archdiocese of Gandhinagar.

This towering missionary born far away in Spain, following the Ignatian spirituality of Saint Ignatius Loyola “gave and did not count the cost!” Today, we also need to pray to him, asking him to intercede with God for each one of us and for our mission here, and more than ever for the grace that we may all learn to be a missionary and pioneer like him, so that we may be the Lord’s effective word and witness in Gujarat today!

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