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St. Gonsalo Garcia Church: A Brief History
St. Gonsalo Garcia Church is a Catholic church located in Vasai, a town in the western coast of India. The church is dedicated to St. Gonsalo Garcia, a Franciscan lay brother who was born in Vasai in 1556 and martyred in Japan in 1597. He was canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1862 along with 25 other martyrs of Japan. He is the first Indian saint and the patron of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bombay, the Indian Catholic Youth Movement and the East Indian community.
St. Gonsalo Garcia’s Journey
St. Gonsalo Garcia was born as Gundi Slavus Garcia to a Portuguese soldier and a local woman in Vasai, which was then known as Bassein and under Portuguese colonial rule. He studied at the Jesuit school of Fort Bassein for eight years and helped in their Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, now known as St. Gonsalo Garcia Church. He befriended a Jesuit priest, Sebastião Gonsalves, who became his mentor and guide throughout his life.
At the age of 15, he accompanied Fr. Gonsalves to Japan as a catechist and learned the Japanese language and culture. He later left for Macau to set up trade and became a successful businessman with branches in different parts of Southeast Asia. However, he never gave up his desire to be a missionary and joined the Franciscan Order as a lay brother in Manila, Philippines. He worked with the leprosy patients there and was ordained as a Friar Minor.
St. Gonsalo Garcia’s Martyrdom
He sailed from Manila with other Franciscan missionaries under Fr. Peter Baptista, as an envoy of the Spanish Governor to the Emperor of Japan. He preached the gospel for more than four years in Japan until the Emperor Taiko-Sama, suspecting the missionaries were plotting against his throne, ordered them to be arrested and tortured. St. Gonsalo Garcia and his companions were crucified on a hill near Nagasaki on February 5, 1597. He was 40 years old.
St. Gonsalo Garcia Church was built in 1942 and renovated in 1957. It is the tallest church in Vasai and has a Gothic style architecture. The church has a statue of St. Gonsalo Garcia holding a cross and a palm branch, symbols of his martyrdom. The church also has stained glass windows depicting scenes from his life and mission.
Celebrating St. Gonsalo Garcia
The church celebrates the feast of St. Gonsalo Garcia on February 6, along with the other martyrs of Japan, and on February 7, as a special feast for the Indian Catholic community. The church organizes a weeklong celebration with masses, processions, cultural programs and social activities. The church also serves as a center for spiritual formation and social service for the local people.
St. Gonsalo Garcia: An Inspiration to All
Fr. John D’Souza, the parish priest of St. Gonsalo Garcia Church, says that St. Gonsalo Garcia is an inspiration for all Christians, especially those who are called to be missionaries. “He left his native land to spread the gospel in foreign lands and gave his life for Christ. He was a man of faith, courage and love. He is our role model and intercessor,” he says.
Mary Fernandes, a parishioner of St. Gonsalo Garcia Church, says that she feels proud to belong to the same town where St. Gonsalo Garcia was born. “He is our pride and joy. We celebrate his feast with great devotion and enthusiasm every year. We also pray to him for our needs and intentions,” she says.
St. Gonsalo Garcia Church is a testimony to the faith and courage of St. Gonsalo Garcia, who left his native land to spread the gospel in foreign lands and gave his life for Christ. The church invites the faithful to follow his example of holiness and missionary zeal.
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