Pitaji Vasco do Rego: a relentless crusader of Konknni

The greatest and most valuable contribution Vasco do Rego rendered to the Church in Goa was in the fields of Liturgy in Konknni and translation and editing work of the Konknni Bible.

Pitaji Vasco do Rego: a relentless crusader of Konknni

By Fr. Pratapananda Naik S.J. 

It is a Herculean task to write the obituary of a multifaceted and multitalented personality like that of Fr. Vasco do Rego, S.J., a Jesuit priest of Goa Province. He was fondly known as “Pitaji” (means father) among his friends and followers. Born on 08th January 1925 at Panaji, Goa to Antonio Augusto do Rego and Aurora Maria Helena Correia Afonso do Rego, Vasco had a great Catholic lineage. His father was a known Doctor. He was the grandson of Roque and Claudina Correia Afonso, a couple from Benaulim who had 7 priests among their 52 grandchildren. Fr. Renato do Rego of Goa Archdiocese was his brother. 

Vasco do Rego did his early studies Primeiro and Segundo Grau in Portuguese medium at Escola Massano de Amorim at Panaji and IV to VIII standards he studied in English medium in the boarding school of St. Joseph’s High school, Arpora. From 1938-45 he continued his studies at Rachol Seminary, Goa. While doing philosophy studies, he heard an inner voice telling him, “Trust in My Heart and go.”. He listened to this voice and joined the Jesuits to begin his novitiate at Vinayalaya, Andheri East, Mumbai on 5th August 1945. After completing his novitiate (1945-47) and juniorate (1947-49) he was sent to do his Licentiate in Philosophy at Sacred Heart College, Shembaganur, Tamil Nadu. 1950-52 he did regency at St. Paul High school, Belgaum (now Belgavi)  and Loyola High School, Margao. He did his theological studies at Louvain, Belgium and was ordained there on 15th August 1955.

As part of his Jesuit formation, 1956-1957 he did his tertianship at the Institute of Bellarmine, Wépion, Belgium and returned to Pune in 1957. Being a brilliant, talented, and multifaceted Jesuit priest, his name was proposed to be at the  teaching staff of Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth (those days Papal Athenaeum), but God had other plans for him.  He served as a Student Counsellor of St. Vincent School, Pune from 1958 to 1963. Since then, he has served  the Church  in various positions such as Spiritual Father of Rachol Seminary, (1963-67), Student Counsellor (1967-68) and Rector of Loyola High School,Margao (1968-73), Rector and Novice Master at Xavier training College, Desur, Karnataka (1973-78), Director of Retreat House, Baga (1978-79), Rector of Bom Jesus Basilica, Old Goa (1979-95), Chaplain of Stella Maris Chapel, Miramar, Panaji (1995-98), Spiritual Ministries & translation of the Bible into Konknni (1998- ), Editor of  Konknni monthly “Dor Mhoineachi Rotti” (01 May 2009- 17 February 2021). 

All his activities, vision, and life were centred and focused around “Abba Father” which was a central experience for Jesus at the Jordan.Trinitarian based spirituality guided his entire life and every apostolate. Throughout his life he promoted this Trinitarian rooted spirituality in his various ministries. The greatest and most valuable contribution Vasco do Rego rendered to the Church in Goa was in the fields of Liturgy in Konknni and translation and editing work of the Konknni Bible. The reform norms of Vatican II Council demanded that the liturgy and para-liturgy be celebrated in local languages. He began translating the Ordinary of the Mass canons from Latin into Konknni at Belgaum when the bishop of the place asked him. When this news reached the church authorities of Goa,  they too  requested him to do the same in Goa.

In Goa, switch over from Latin to Konknni needed learned, talented and dedicated persons. At this critical juncture Fr. Vasco do Rego rendered his yeomen service. He was one of the members to translate, edit and publish the Roman Missal in Konknni as “Romi Misa-Gronth” (1981) and the Roman Missal as “Romi Vachpam-Gronth” (1983). Though he was brought up during his childhood, in Portuguese speaking atmosphere at home, he knew Konknni. Later he learnt Latin, Spanish, French, some Italian and Marathi. He had the working knowledge of Greek too. All these languages and his mastery over formal Konknni were his assets in his liturgical and biblical contributions. Due to his efforts emerged Konknni hymnal “Gaionacho Jhelo” with 511 hymns. It is used in Goa and elsewhere by Konknni speaking Catholics. In this volume of hymns Vasco has contributed  332 lyrics (64.97%) and music to 52 of his own hymns. Besides these, on various themes he has composed lyrics for 21 and music for 6 Konknni hymns. He has written 15 Konknni poems, 10 English hymns and  poems and 2 Portuguese poems. For different parts of the Mass, he has composed music. His lyrics are not only rich in Konknni language but they are  also based on profound modern theology and biblical themes. He worked for several years to complete his maternal uncle Mr. Pedro Correia Afonso’s translation of the Psalms in the book “Stotram ani Sevadhormik Prarthonam”. He has the lion’s share in the translation of  a few books of the Bible and  editing of the entire Bible in Konknni.  He worked on this project for several years. His St. Francis Xavier’s novena sermons of several years in Konknni have been compiled and published as “Sonvsarak Jezu diat” by Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr (TSKK), Alto Porvorim. The Devanagari version of his Konknni book “Nazaretkar Jezu” also been published by TSKK. His many articles in Konknni and English have been published in various magazines and newspapers. All his retreat and recollection talks, class notes of theology in Konknni and English remain unpublished.

 A strong protagonist of the Konknni language, Fr. Vasco do Rego SJ motivated the seminarians, priests, nuns, and lay people to use more and more Konknni in daily discourse. He was a good preacher in Konknni, English and Portuguese. He also excelled as an Ignatian retreat director and was in high demand for recollection talks, and conferences. As a spiritual guide he has directed countless seminarians, priests and religious priests and nuns. While he was the rector of Loyola High School, Margao, he introduced Konknni as the medium of instruction at Loyola school and at Fatima Convent School, Margao facing much opposition and hurdles from the natives.

 

His several years of dedicated service to standardize the Konknni language was recognized and he was awarded the first award of Dalgado Konknni Akademi, Panaji on 08 March 2005. On 06 March 2014 Dalgado Konknni Akademi conferred Award for the Goa Jesuit Province who owns the Dor Mhoineachi Rotti, of which Fr. Vasco is the Editor since May 2009. The Art and cultural Directorate of government of Goa too recognized his contribution to Konknni and selected him for the “Goa State cultural Award of 2013-2014 and it was bestowed on him on 04 January 2015. The renowned film director and screenplay writer Shyam Benegal was the Chief Guest. 

The Novenas and Feast of St. Francis Xavier is the most important event  every year in Goa. It was Fr. Vasco who restored the sanctity of the shrine and was instrumental to conduct well organized liturgy during the novenas, feast and exposition of the relics of St. Xavier.  There are no two opinions regarding his greatest contribution to this task. He cleared all the shops and vendors from the compound of the shrine. During novenas and feast, vendors and noisemakers were not allowed near the shrine. All this he achieved convincing the Panchayat members, civil authorities and various government departments. He had to pay a heavy price for this cleaning up in the form of abuses, curses, and threats that came to him. Maybe he still cherishes as a memento the big stone that was hurled and landed through the window into his room. It was meant for his head, but miraculously missed the target. During his term as the Rector of Bom Jesus Basilica many prominent global figures visited the shrine, chief among them being the Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of England Margaret Thatcher, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, President of Portugal Mario Soares, and the crown of them all Pope John Paul II.

While he was in Pune, feeling called to found a new Religious Family in the Church, Fr. Vasco founded in 1961 Ishaprema-Vinamra-Sevika (Humble Servants of God’s Love), with the collaboration of Norberta Lobo (later known as Mataji Nirmala), to make all persons, particularly the most needy, know and experience our heavenly Father’s love and concern for each one. Their homes are known as Ishaprema-Niketan (Home of God’s Love). It has branches in Asagao and Goa Velha. He continued, till the end, as its silent, humble, hidden Pitaji passing to Mataji and the Tais (sisters) the inspiration he received from his Abba. 

He was one of the founders and great supporter of Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr (TSKK), a Jesuit institute which promotes Konknni language, literature and culture through research and other activities. Though he was not a trained linguist, he had linguistic intuition of Konknni and he rendered his insights to trained Jesuit linguists of TSKK.

If one begins to count and write about Fr. Vasco do Rego SJ and his contributions, it would fill up many pages. He fully believed and lived the Jesuit motto “Ad Maiorem, Dei Gloriam”, namely, all for the Greater Glory of God. Truly, a rarest gem in the Konknni world and a treasured gift for the Society of Jesus and Church in Goa.

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