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Wonder-worker, Anthony of Padua raises a church from ashes
With the relic, today this devastated church is one of the favourite pilgrim spots for Catholics in Gujarat. Not only Catholics but people from other churches and religions also come to the saint with their supplications.
By Joe Palathunkal
Today in 2018, those who come to Naroda would never imagine that the Catholic church they see by the Kathwada road, is indeed a miracle by the most popular saint of India, especially south India where churches and shrines dot the beaches of Tamil Nadu in honour of the wonder-worker from Padua.
But exactly 20 years ago in April 1998, it was indeed darkness at noon for the Catholics of Gujarat when a mob of around 500 attacked and devastated a church awaiting completion, in honour of Saint Anthony of Padua, making the Catholics frightened and disappointed.
The year marked a starless Christmas because Christians were scared to hang stars at their homes on the thought that they would be attacked. The irate mob, as stooges of an insidious design, threw the statues of Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus on the road. The Catholics had no place to celebrate the Holy Eucharist.
“Nobody thought a church would come up here,” said some of the parishioners on Sunday (concluding day of the feast though the actual date is June 13) as they took out the procession carrying the statue of St. Anthony atop a decorated vehicle with Bishop Athanasius Rethnaswamy of Ahmedabad seated inside holding the relic of the saint, brought from Padua.
With the relic, today this devastated church is one of the favourite pilgrim spots for Catholics in Gujarat. Not only Catholics but people from other churches and religions also come to the saint with their supplications. Now with Saint Xavier’s Higher Secondary School, the church campus is very active and the students irrespective of their religious background, go to this genial saint with their needs.
It appears that the people who masterminded the attack 20 years ago, out of Hindutva frenzy, are having second thoughts now. “They have fear as they are religious-minded and we don’t know what might have happened to their personal lives,” says Fr. Arokia Selvam who had been parish priest for the last six years. But now, after the feast day celebrations on Sunday, June 10, he has left to take up his new mission as principal of an English medium school near Anand.
When the procession carrying the statue of Saint Antony was moving along the road, one could notice Hindus standing by the road and rooftops watching with respect and religiosity and some even bowing their heads devoutly.
Saint Antony of Padua who is famous for finding the lost goods and returning, has found the lost church of Naroda and has returned it with added splendor to the faithful who persisted in their faith by celebrating Mass in a broken church for eight years amidst all the hardships. Literally, the wonder-worker from Padua has raised it from the ashes. And yes, the church has come up like a phoenix with renewed vigour.
(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)
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