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H I S T O R I C A L

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
IN GUJARAT 

A Historical Survey: 1934-1973

HEDWIG LEWIS SJ

 

I love the Church/Society of Jesus in Gujarat. I was only too happy to be given an opportunity to recreate a ‘picture’ of a significant period of its history. I realized it would involve researching its past, delving deep to trace the roots of our present ministries.

 

 

 

For information regarding this book CLICK HERE

 

 

Preface
 
Fr Carlos Suriá, SJ, of happy memory, was an outstanding Jesuit and an “intrepid missionary” – to borrow a phrase from his own accolade of the men in the Mission who could not contain their zeal and enthusiasm to reach out to all people and to “save” as many souls as they could. Personal care, like dress or appearance, eating routines, sleep and relaxation needs...  were not found on his list of priorities in life.
 
Fr Suriá was drawn as it were like a magnet to the heart of God and the heart of humankind, and he could not resist the call of Love and Service, night or day. He did not wait for conveyance; he used his sturdy and eventually shaky legs to get him places. He possessed the heart of an Apostle eager to reach the ends of the earth with the torch of Faith held high and his lips proclaiming the ‘good news’ of God’s Salvation. I revered Fr Suriá and felt inspired by my rare and brief encounters with him toward the last years of his earthly existence. His spirit still hovers over the Church in Kheda... and in other places where ‘his’ people ventured out to better their prospects.
 
I have been ‘in touch’ with a ‘facsimile’ of Fr Suriá as I carefully handled his dog-eared manuscripts containing the history of the Missions. This book uses them as its main source.
 
When Fr M. Díaz Gárriz, SJ, offered me the precious manuscripts he had religiously preserved, he amply warned me about what to expect. Fr Suriá wrote from his head and heart; he was involved in communicating what he had seen and heard and felt. He trusted his diary (if he had one) and his memory more than the research he did into the matter he was directly dealing with. Unfortunately, he often got so enthused about describing an event that he missed out on a very crucial cue to any historical work – the day/date.
 
Fr Suriá’s manuscripts were typed on the reverse side of an old draft of some discarded manuscript – as most of his religious contemporaries used to do in order to save paper. They are marred by corrections – typeovers, careted insertions, black-outs... and the contents appear to be like the tracings of his own life – darting from one place to another as duty calls (or memory prompts) on the drop of a hat (the British kind they used to wear), spontaneous overflow of emotions, asides, and a ‘living in the present’ (without a care to mention where and when). To use a crude example, his notes are like a jigsaw puzzle, and one gets the larger picture only when the pieces are neatly put into place.
 
But I enjoy jigsaw puzzles! And more, I love the Church/Society of Jesus in Gujarat. I was only too happy to be given an opportunity to recreate a ‘picture’ of a significant period of its history. I realized it would involve researching its past, delving deep to trace the roots of our present ministries. I believed that the process itself would be spiritually enriching, whatever the cost and outcome. I felt it would be worth my steam in spite of the physical ‘challenges’.
 
Using Fr Suriá’s yellowing, dog-eared pages as my compass, I traversed the reams of The Ahmedabad Missionary (1937 to the present), which, for all practical purposes, was my main point of reference – to cross-check names and dates and find details – and faces or facades! I fine-tuned the data with information from The Ahmedabad News Letter (which started in 1951, and is a precursor of the Gujarat Jesuit Samachar).
 
I must confess that I began the work with the intention of placing myself as the “co-author”. However, as I progressed it became apparent that the original manuscript of Fr Suriá provided the ‘direction’ but left me to fill in the content through my own research. As I went along with the research, I found myself ‘re-writing’ the old manuscript. All the “references” in this volume are, for instance, the fruit of my own labour, meant to substantiate and elaborate the points taken from Fr Suriá. So, after consulting some responsible people, I decided to take the responsibility of full authorship for this work.
 
I am not a ‘historian’ by profession. I am a painstaking, persistent and conscientious researcher, as was Fr Suriá. However, his worn-out typewriter is no match to my state-of-the-art computer. His busy schedule and the constant interruptions justify his harried inputs on paper as against my leisured pace and undisturbed music-enriched ambience.
 
The manuscript came into my hands at a time when I was most susceptible to accepting such a gigantic venture. I had recently completed Profiles in Holiness, Brief Biographies of Jesuit Saints, which entailed extensive research. It prepared the ground for a similar type of work, for I hold all the Missionaries featured in this work as saintly men in their own right. Moreover, in 2002 I had compiled the obituaries of Gujarat Jesuits in Gujarat Jesuits Remembered, It had provided me powerful insights into the calibre of priests and brothers who had contributed so whole-heartedly to the growth of the Church.
 
In a nutshell: This volume is an interpretation and re-structuring of historical data based on the manuscripts of Fr Carlos Suriá [1900-1991]. It covers two eras of the Catholic Church in Gujarat. First, that of the “Ahmedabad Mission” as an Ecclesiastical Unit under the leadership of Fr Joaquin Vilallonga, SJ – 1934-1949. Second, that of the Ahmedabad Diocese under Bishop Edwin Pinto, SJ – 1949-1973. It is a continuation of the previous volume: HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN GUJARAT, [Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1990] by Fr Carlos Suriá, SJ, which deals with the beginnings of the Gujarat Mission (1891-1934), and provides a backdrop of the Church’s institutional presence in Gujarat from the 14th century on.

I undertook this historical research as a labour of love, for the Church, for the Mission in particular, and for our pioneers very specially. I hope my efforts will be a source of inspiration to many.          
Hedwig Lewis, SJ  

 

 

INTRODUCTORY  NOTE
 
Fr Hedwig Lewis has done the job! I knew he would do it. I knew that probably no one else would have been able to do it.
 
As Fr Hedwig says in his Foreword: “the original Ms of Suriá provided the direction, but left to me to fill in the content through my own research.” And he adds “I undertook this as a labour of love for the Church, for the Mission in particular and for the pioneers very specially”.
 

In this book we finally have a readable, reliable and fairly comprehensive historical narrative for the four decades running from 1934 to 1973. I hope one day Hedwig will undertake the next step: To continue the narrative for the next 3 decades, until the centenary year of 2003.
 
I had worked with Fr Suriá for almost two years (1988-89) going every month for a couple of days from Mehsana to Anand, to help him in the task of completing his first part of the history (1320-1893-1934). He was already 90 years old and was in no condition to undertake the editing of the second part, 1934 to 1973. And so he entrusted to me his manuscripts, pleading that they should be “handled” either personally by me or by some one who would be able to understand his ethos. I promised him to do so.
 

I realized however that I would not be able to undertake the work myself, as I was then a full-time PP in Mehsana. Some time later came my appointment to the Gujarat Secretariat in Spain. I was looking for someone… On two occasions some Superior had “tempted” me to hand over the Suriá Ms to NN or to XX. Finally the right man appeared.
 
Fr. Hedwig’s first spiritual best-sellers had been in the field of the Spiritual Exercises. Then he gave us his historical work “Profiles”, a real gem on its own. (Just a few days ago I received a letter from a Benedictine monk of the Abbey of San Salvador of Leyre, at Navarra, Spain, Rev Fr F.X Fortún. Fr Fortún, himself the author of several books on the spiritual life, writes in his letter: “I have read Hedwig’s Profiles in Holiness. I have richly profited by its reading. I have got the impression that the author must be a man deeply spiritual…Please convey my warmest greetings to him”). When I read “Profiles” I thought that from heaven Suriá was urging me to do something about his manuscripts…
 
And so I approached Fr Hedwig. I was confident but not sure that he would accept the work. I was in fact relieved and delighted when he sent me an e-mail: “after a preliminary perusal of the Ms, I think the task is going to be tough, but I feel that I shall be able to find my way…”
 
I have it from Fr Joseph Braganza that some years ago he gave up his efforts “to correct” an Ms of Suriá. Good Fr Joe Braganza pleaded that Suriá’s style was so complicated that trying “to correct” it would be fair neither to Suriá nor to himself. Something similar I heard also from Fr Ignacio Echaniz. So, we can fully appreciate the value of Fr Hedwig’s efforts.
 
And here we have this truly new and truly precious book of Hedwig. Suriá had provided the “direction”. Hedwig Lewis has filled the content through his own research. And I rejoice in the Lord for the inspiration I got to hand over the Suriá’s papers to him.
    
  M. Diaz Garriz s.j.


 

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