Article published in 'Citadel' monthly, December 2012 issue
Photographs: Shrirang Godbole
Followers of Christ
With the Christmas spirit already in the air, Citadel thinks it the perfect time to take a look at the Christian community in the city.
By Prajakta Pandhare
It’s that time of the year when people gear up for the festivities that line up the season. Christmas is indeed just around the corner, and what better time to take a closer look at the Christian community in Pune?
The most important aspect regarding this community in the city is that it is not a homogenous group. The Christian community in Pune is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual group. There are many different groups within the community, such as Marathi Christians, Goan Christians, Mangalorean Christians, Tamil Christians and others. But here’s a glimpse into the community as a whole...
Christianity as a religion came to India around 400 years ago, for the first time in Goa. But the first converts are said to have existed as far back as around 2000 years ago. That was the time when the disciple of Jesus Christ, St Thomas, came to Kerala in the first century. Later, in 14th century, Christianity was again introduced in the country by the Portuguese in places like Vasai and Goa. It’s believed that these Portuguese were religious fanatics. This was the beginning of Christianity in India; it gradually spread all across the country.
The British had conquered Pune in 1818. During this time, there were no local Christians. There were no conversions in Pune. It was mostly the migratory Christian population that set up their community here. Many Goan Christian soldiers were part of the Peshwa army. Since there were many Christian soldiers in the city by this time, there was a need for a church. In the year 1792, Madhavrao Peshwa gave some land to the Christians to build a church. It was thus that the City Church aka the Immaculate Conception Church was built as the first church in Pune. Later in 1859, St Patrick’s Cathedral came into existence.
The Church as a Religious Institution Churches were primarily built for the soldiers and officers who were Goans, British, Irish and other Europeans, who were part of either the Maratha or British army. The British army headquarters in Pune were in the Khadki and Camp areas; thus many churches were built in these areas.
Shifting focus towards the church as an institution, Rt Rev Thomas Dabre, Bishop of Poona, says, “The church is not a club. It’s neither a cultural association nor a non- governmental philanthropic social organisation.
The church is essentially a community of the disciples of Jesus. It’s a community in which there’s no caste system, no gender discrimination and no social divide and stratification.” He adds that through this community of the disciples of Jesus Christ, the church expresses its faith through service and compassion, for which Mother Teresa is a world acclaimed icon.
Worship: Christians consider Jesus as Christ or the Messiah. For them, the Bible is their holy book. The two major groups of Christianity are Catholics and Protestants; another such group is the Eastern Orthodox Church. Worldwide, Catholics form the biggest group, except in England and The United States. In India, Christians are basically the converts. They are either old converts or new converts. Rt Rev Thomas Dabre puts forth a few principles of Christianity: l To love God and to love your fellowmen: the greatest commandment by Jesus Christ; l This love of God and love of fellowmen should be manifested through service of people in difficulty, in need and in deprivation, as exemplified in the story of the ‘Parable of the Good Samaritan’; l Jesus taught us that we must forgive one another and there should be no revenge, retaliation, violence and terrorism. So even when He was killed on the cross, he forgave the perpetrators who put him through Crucifixion.
Holy Mass : A Mass is placed by the Christians at the centre of their faith. For them, Mass
implies a deeper meaning. In simple words, may it be a Sunday Mass or weekday Mass, it is an important aspect of Christianity. Rt Rev Thomas Dabre explains, “Jesus celebrated the last supper with
his apostles. For the wellbeing and salvation of all humanity, Jesus sacrificed himself
on the cross. These two are the most fundamental events of Christianity. These are remembered and made present in the Holy Mass.
” Though it’s a heterogeneous mix of Christian community in Pune, for a Mass they all come together. Camil Parkhe, journalist and author, says, “For English Mass, all the Christians come together. Thus English Mass binds all the people together. But you will find a Mass in almost all other languages too, like Tamil, Marathi, Konkani, etc.”
Sneha Sadan in Pune is the House of Dialogue of religion and culture. It was started around 40 years ago by the Society of Jesus (SJ). Fr Joe Gaikwad, SJ Trustee, Sneha Sadan, says, “In 1962-65, there was a worldwide conference in Rome, called the Vatican II. In this conference, inter-religious dialogue came up; the awareness that we should interact with people of other faiths. This council opened the doors
to approach other people, and take good teachings from other religions; and thus bridges were built.” He adds that as a follow-up of this conference, Sneha Sadan was made the centre for inter-religious dialogue in the city. Thus, for non-Christians in the city, this was a new experience altogether. The basic idea was to give and take and clarify misunderstandings of the past regarding a religion. The House was open for satsang and prayers, for people who wanted counselling, and for those who had spiritual quests. The hall of the House was used for religious programmes, meditation, cultural programmes such as experimental theatre,
etc; that too for a minimal rate. There’s a library too, which has several books on religion, philosophy, and sociology.
Fr Gaikwad goes on to say, “For the first 20 years, the House was very active; there were a lot of activities happening. But since the last few years, the frequency of these activities has become less. Nowadays, people are less interested in religion; so very few people come here.”
But in spite of all this, celebrations like Christmas and Good Friday are still undertaken with utter zeal. Now, college students come to the House to study at the study hall.
Celebrations: For Christians, their main festivals are Christmas, Easter, Good Friday and Mother
Mary’s birthday. Christmas is celebrated in honour of the birth of Jesus Christ, on December 25. Good Friday marks the death of Christ on the cross, a Friday in April. Easter is the third day after Christ’s death, ie, a Sunday. This was when Jesus Christ rose again from death, also called the resurrection. Mother Mary’s birthday is celebrated on September 8.
Rt Rev Thomas Dabre says about Christmas, “For us Christians, Christmas is primarily a spiritual celebration, and not cultural or narrowly social. There’s a growing commercialisation of Christmas. There’s also what I would call reduction of Christmas to fun and fanfare. But these are not so important. Christmas is a commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, God has become man. So for us, Christmas
is a time to encounter and experience God and to affirm the need of God in our lives.”
The happiness and celebration of the community is expressed through worship, prayers, church visits, the making of a replica of the birth of Jesus Christ in a manger.