Christianity in Vasai : 'Longer History ; Higher Ancestry'
Does Christianity in Vasai have its own history worth talking about? How old is that history? When did it begin? The answer to these questions is given by none other than the supreme head of the largest democracy in the world - Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India. While affirming the long standing history and the higher ancestry of this land he said, “Remember, St. Thomas came to India when many of the countries of Europe had not yet become Christian. And so, those Indians who trace their Christianity to him have a longer and a higher ancestry than the Christians of many of the European countries. And it is really a matter of pride to us that it so happened……”, these were the undisputable and memorable words uttered by the highest authority in the country in the form of a glowing tribute to the longstanding continuous heritage of Christianity in India on the occasion of the 'St. Thomas Day Celebration' held in New Delhi on 18th December 1955. What the president said in reference to St. Thomas and his Christians is also true in the case of St. Bartholomew and his Christians residing along the shores of Northern Konkan. It was on these shores that probably St. Bartholomew preached the Gospel of which the Diocese of Vasai forms a part today. Little wonder then that the Catholic Bishops of India have at their C.B.C.I. meeting unanimously paid glowing tributes to both these Apostles.
The history of the journey of Christianity in Vasai can be traced from the time of the Apostle Bartholomew. When Panthenus, a scripture scholar was sent by Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria towards the end of the II century, he found the people using a copy of the Gospel of St. Mathew written in Aramaic. Around 520 the Egyptian traveler Cosmos came to this place and he found a Bishop appointed here by Persia. History unfolds to us that there was a Church at Sopara dedicated to St. Thomas with a cemetery attached to it in which the Martyrs of Thane were buried by Fr. Jordanus Catalani (o.p) in 1321 A.D. It was this Fr. Catalani who was later appointed the first Latin Rite Bishop of Quilon.
The first Church of the Latin Rite was established in Vasai Fort in 1536 when the Fort was erected in Vasai. The following year the Franciscans put up a magnificent Church in the neighbourhood dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua. In 1549, the Jesuits put up a Church of the Holy Name of Jesus in the same area. Christianity sprang up in Vasai and the Churches emerged one after the other along the western coast of Konkan in Vasai.
As the Indian hierarchy was established in 1886, Vasai was placed under Goa. Subsequently, it was under the Diocese of Damaun and from 1928 it was under the Archdiocese of Bombay till it was erected into a new Diocese in 1998. The people of Vasai witnessed a glorious ceremony of the Episcopal installation of the Most Rev. Dr. Thomas Dabre in the newly nominated Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace, Papdy. The then nine Talukas of the District of Thane were registered in the eternal city of Rome as the newly created Diocese of Vasai. The established of the new Diocese was a new Pentecost for Vasai. The people were spirit-filled. Vasai got young clergy. Enthusiastic, dedicated, committed and well qualified. The people were charmed by their charism for eloquent preaching and mastery over the local language. That revived most of the old associations and brought new waves of liturgical, catecthical and missionary revival. Thousands of sodalists came under one banner of the Diocesan Federation. Mission Mitra Mandals were started and their enthusiasms had no bounds. Charismatic movement placed Bibles in the hands of the people and the Eucharistic Chapels made the people reflect over the Bible. B.C.C. became the backbone of the Catholic revival and renewal. The Diocesan Synod held in the year 2000 gave the 'magna carta' in the hands of the laity, clergy and religious to prominently place the diocese on the map of India.
Today, trying to implement the resolutions passed at the said Synod, the diocese is making rapid progress both qualitatively and quantitatively. A Mission Congress held in 2000 made this missionary diocese re-committed to its cause, which the supreme Pontiff has placed on the shoulders of the hierarchy, the clergy, the religious and the faithful. It goes without saying that receiving inspiration from the all embracing zeal of St. Francis Xavier in this land and the blood shed by their countryman St. Gonsalo Garcia in a distant country, the 1,30,000 strong Catholics of this local Church will rise to the occasion in fulfilling the desires of the Universal Church.