Indian Cardinal’s Elevation Reflects Portuguese Goa’s Contribution to the Catholic Faith
COMMENTARY: With the creation of Cardinal Filipe Neri António Sebastião do Rosário Ferrão, there will be five Indian cardinal electors, a sign of the rising importance of the Church in India.
When Pope Francis creates cardinals there are always some firsts for certain places — this time, the first cardinals from Singapore, East Timor and Ulaanbaatar. The Holy Father speaks of the “peripheries,” yet this time there also is a first cardinal for Goa, India. Far from the peripheries, Goa is one of the most important and historic sees in Asia.
So why only a cardinal now? It’s a fascinating tale in the history of evangelization and the struggle between Church and state. That history is reflected in the various titles associated with Goa. The Catholic Church does not lack for sonorous appellations, but it would be hard to match this:
The Most Rev. Filipe Neri António Sebastião do Rosário Ferrão, archbishop of Goa and Daman, titular archbishop of Cranganore, Primate of the East and Patriarch of the East Indies. And that’s before he is made a cardinal. The protocol officials will have to figure out how “Eminence” goes along with “Beatitude,” the address for patriarchs.
Archbishop Ferrão, a prominent Indian prelate of great personal kindness, will be the first archbishop-patriarch created a cardinal since the Diocese of Goa was erected nearly five centuries ago in 1533. (José da Costa Nunes had been archbishop-patriarch of Goa until 1953, but then resigned and was transferred to Rome, where he was created a cardinal in 1962.)
Goa is the famous resting place of the incorrupt body of St. Francis Xavier, the great missionary of the east. He landed in Goa, on the southwestern coast of India, in 1542 before venturing further east to Japan. The faith had arrived on the subcontinent earlier; the “St. Thomas Christians” attribute their evangelization to the Apostle Thomas himself. Yet it was from Goa that another evangelical push radiated out in the east.
As the European powers began to voyage across the oceans, the Church was faced with an immense challenge. How to provide for the sacramental life and pastoral formation of European settlements overseas, and how to propose the gospel to the peoples already living there? It was an enormously complicated matter, given that the Church herself had few, if any, institutional resources in the far-flung territories.
The solution was to entrust Catholic monarchs, who did have resources overseas, to provide for pastoral care and even ecclesial governance. The Holy See thus concluded the “Padroado” agreement with the Portuguese crown.
This “patronage” over its overseas territories meant that the Portuguese crown had certain rights, including the erection of ecclesial structures, the appointment of bishops and vicars and some claim on ecclesiastical revenues. In return, the crown was to provide able missionaries to provide for pastoral care and evangelization. It was thus that St. Francis Xavier and others arrived in Goa with state authority and support.
The Padroado — like similar agreements with other European royal houses — did bear fruit, as Pope Francis and others demonstrated. But it was always a second-best arrangement and difficulties eventually developed.
As the Portuguese crown itself weakened in the 17th and 18th centuries, its ability to fulfill its duties was reduced. This led to friction with the Holy See, which objected that Portugal was not providing the missionaries and support which the Padroado required. Into the gap stepped the Vatican’s own Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda Fide), founded in 1622 and now the Dicastery for Evangelization.
As Propaganda Fide began to send its own bishops and priests, and issue its own instructions for India, conflict with the Portuguese soon followed. Across the seas, there was bitter Padroado-Propaganda conflict, resulting even in excommunications by bishops appointed by different authorities.
St. Joseph Vaz, the Goan missionary to Sri Lanka — and now patron saint of the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman — experienced that first hand. Sent out by the Padroado to southern India, he encountered opposition from the Propaganda Fide-appointed bishop in that territory. The conflict was scandalous.
“Many in fact believe that the Catholic Church is divided, and that we and the bishop’s priests are not children of the same Mother Church; and that our doctrines and our sacraments are different; and what ones does, the others destroy,” Father Vaz lamented in 1681. “Thus the Catholic Church is much despised and is not acceptable.”
The Padroado agreement, meant to further the Church’s mission, had become a source of disedifying conflict. Despite the historic significance of Goa — with its lofty titles — its status as a Padroado see meant tensions with Rome.
In 1838, Pope Gregory XVI effectively gutted the Padroado by suppressing all the Portuguese dioceses in India with the exception of Goa. Fifty years later, Pope Leo XIII was able to establish an agreement resolving the conflicting Padroado-Propaganda jurisdictions and opening the possibility of establishing an Indian hierarchy.
Goa remained a Portuguese colony, even after Indian independence in 1947. So even as the sacred college became more international in the 20th century, cardinals were created in other Indian sees. Goa was burdened, as it were, by the weight of its glorious but heavy history.
With the creation of Cardinal Ferrão, that long history is recognized now as having been resolved, and Goa receives what is fitting given her signal contribution to the faith throughout Asia. Now, with the Indian diaspora increasingly important to global Catholicism, Goan Catholics are making their contributions worldwide. The new bishop of Columbus, Ohio, Earl Fernandes, is from a Goan family which immigrated to the United States.
The consistory includes a second Indian, Archbishop Anthony Poola of Hyderabad. There will be five Indian cardinal electors, a sign of the rising importance of the Church in India.
- Cardinal Filipe Neri António Sebastião do Rosário Ferrão
- consistory of cardinals
- beatific eminence