In an unsettling incident, the revered St. Gonsalo Garcia Church in Vasai fell victim to an act of vandalism by unidentified individuals on a Friday afternoon. The shocking act has ignited a wave of anger and distress within the local community.
The parish priest, Fr Peter Almeida, recounted the distressing turn of events, sharing that he and others were upstairs during the incident and only realized the extent of the damage upon entering the church around 5:30 pm. He revealed that books were strewn about, a cherished artwork on the altar had been ravaged, and several statues were displaced and left on the floor. Swift action was taken, and a formal complaint, known as a Non-Cognizable Report (NC), was lodged with the Vasai police station. Authorities have given their word to meticulously review CCTV footage from the vicinity to aid in the investigation. Notably, the church is now making plans to install security cameras in the wake of this disheartening event.
While initial rumors and messages circulating about the incident were disproven, it remains an unfortunate reality. Senior Inspector Ranjit Andhale from Manickpur expressed, “Contrary to the viral messages, we are actively investigating the matter. However, the absence of CCTV within the church premises poses a challenge.”
Fr Richard Dabre, acting as the secretary to the archbishop, provided reassurance amidst the turmoil. He acknowledged that the damage was limited to a minor extent and affirmed that the church has been meticulously restored to its original condition. In an effort to restore normalcy, regular masses are set to resume starting Saturday morning.
The incident has sparked widespread condemnation from notable figures within the community. Nicholas Almeida and Godfrey Pimenta of the Watchdog Foundation, alongside advisors Vivian D’Souza and Rita D’Sa, and Tulip Miranda, president of the Bombay East Indian Association, expressed deep dismay and condemnation of the act. In a joint statement, they conveyed, “The vandalism directed at the statue of St Gonsalo Garcia in Vasai has left us profoundly disheartened and aggrieved. This act extends beyond religious implications, as St Gonsalo Garcia represents unity among diverse cultures and beliefs. It is imperative that those responsible for this grievous act are held accountable for their actions.”
Adding to the unsettling atmosphere, local residents recalled a distressing incident just a week prior on August 6, when a pastor from Dhanivbagh, Nallasopara East, was brutally assaulted during a worship service by anti-social elements. Reportedly, a group of about 12 to 15 individuals forcibly entered the church, wreaking havoc and assaulting parishioners. An FIR has been registered with the Pelhar police station, while the injured pastor remains hospitalized in Vasai East, unable to walk.
As the investigation unfolds and the community seeks healing, the St Gonsalo Garcia Church stands as a symbol of resilience in the face of adversity. The shared hope is that justice will prevail, and harmony will be restored in this diverse and culturally rich region of Vasai.