Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fr Gurien Jacquier of Ghogargaon - A pilgrimage

A pilgrimage to Ghogargaon

First chapter of 'Fr  Gurien Jacquier of Ghogargaon

 (Catholic mission in Aurangabad diocese - 1892  onwards)' 

By Camil Parkhe
Published by: SFS Publications, Bangalore

The year is 2005. I have reached Ghogargaon where well over a century back a French missionary, Fr Gurien Jacquier, had arrived  to make this place his permanent abode. For thousands of Christians in Marathwada region and neighbouring Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, Ghogargaon is synonymous with Fr Jacquier -  affectionately called as Jacquirbaba.
I have especially come from Chinchwad in Pune on a pilgrimage to Ghogargaon to trace the footmarks left behind by this frail, six-feet- tall Frenchman responsible for sowing the seeds of Christianity in Aurangabad district. The large number of Christians from the district, formerly belonging to the Mahar community - an untouchable caste of Hindu society - owe their religious and social transformation to this Fransalian religious congregation priest.
Of course, the travel to Ghogargaon has not been a smooth ride. As compared to any average villages in the progressive state of  Maharashtra, Ghogargaon can be rightly called as one of the most backward areas. Hundred years back, this village was the hub of missionary activities with bishops and priests from Nagpur, Aurangabad and Pune traveling there regularly on horse back and in horse carts to administer sacraments to people in neighbouring villages assembled there. Now, Ghogargaon seems to have lost its prominence and glory as it lies in a remote area, far away from the taluka or district headquarters.
Although the village is in India’s most progressive and industrial state, Maharashtra, it is not accessible by a descent  tar road. And therefore even the government-owned buses do not ply there in 2008, some six decades after India won its independence from the British regime. The 13-km muddy, dusty road  from Mahalgaon to Ghogargaon with its so many pot-holes is at most best suited for the ancient transport mode of bullock carts and the tough, heavy vehicles like trucks, tempos and jeeps and two-wheelers like motorcycles. Urban folks will be advised not to venture on this road with their cars which are best suited for smooth, tarred roads.
Before reaching here from Pune, I had gone to my home town, Shrirampur, to bring along my mother to this village. My mother, Marthabai, by now almost octogenarian hails from this village. Though all her brothers are dead now, bai  has kept in touch with her nephews residing in the village. When I decided to undertake this pilgrimage to Ghogargaon, it was most natural for me to ask Bai, my mother, to accompany me to birthplace and to meet the sons, grandchildren and even great grandchildren of her siblings there.
After traveling from Shrirampur to Vaijapur by a government transport bus, we inquire about the goods carrier tempos which leave for Ghogargaon. We are told that there is only one tempo which would leave in the evening. Three hours later, we travel in the vehicle fully packed with people carrying with them grains, vegetables and various materials purchased in Vaijapur’s weekly bazaar. There is no slightest place to move any of our limbs. I tell myself, “Ghogargaon was perhaps easily accessible three decades ago when my mother and my siblings traveled from Shrirampur to this village in bullock carts driven by my maternal uncles.”              
As the goods carrier approaches Ghogargaon, I try to search in the horizon for the tall tower of the Christ the King Church  Jacquierbaba had built on this village.
We have now reached Ghogargaon.  We have to first cross the Fatherbadi - the church complex which includes the church, the residences of the priests and the nuns, the secondary school and the hostels for the boys and girls - to reach to my uncles’ houses. My mother and all of us get out of the vehicle near the church. The church doors are closed at this hour. Bai then heads straight to a small memorial on the eastern side of the church. It houses the tombs of two former head priests of this parish. Bai adjusts her saree’s end corner over her head reverentially, makes the sign of the cross and utters a short prayer in Marathi language in front of the tomb of Fr Jacquier. The other tomb is of  Fr Jacquier’s disciple and the first son of the soil priest in Maharashtra (excluding the Mumbai and Vasai region) Fr Joseph Monteiro. After the prayer, Bai reverentially places her right hand on the tomb and then touches her head. Then she completes a Pradakshina  (circumambulation),  a local tradition of paying obeisance, around the tomb. 
I am visiting this place of my ancestors after a gap of over 30 years and I am filled with nostalgia. I understand my mother’s feelings towards Jacquierbaba. The local church records may perhaps reveal that this French missionary had baptised her in early 1930s when she was an infant. It was Fr Jacquier who had solemnised my parents’  marriage in early 1940s. Fr Jacquier is venerated by people in this region as a saint although the Catholic Church has not yet initiated the process to canonise this MSFS priest. A memorial around the tombs of the two MSFS priests was erected in 1997 on the occasion of the 50th death anniversary of Fr Jacquier. The bullock cart in which Jacquierbaba travelled to preach the gospel in nearby rural areas also been kept in the memorial. 
I have come to Ghogargaon on a pilgrimage, to pay homage to this extraordinary missionary. Jacquierbaba  had  almost single-handedly tried to transform the lives of the people in Gangapur and Vaijapur talukas of the district. After spending a few moment in silence at the monument, I am now able to recover from the fatigue of the day-long journey to this obscure village.
Not many people outside the Aurangabad diocese have heard of this missionary who almost single-handedly sowed seeds of Christianity in this region. He had also offered educational facilities to children of the Christians and non-Christians for over four decades when schools were non-existent in the rural areas in early 20th century. Like Ghogargaon, Jacquierbaba this mission centre’s parish priest for four decades, too now has moved away from the limelight and may as well soon fade into the oblivion. This book is an attempt to highlight the contribution of this pioneer missionary and social reformer belonging to the pre-Independence era.

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