Fr. Chico Monteiro: A
Seed in Oblivion . . .
by Dom Martin
[ TGF Foreword:
Those who remember the affable but firm Goan director of the Lar dos
Estudantes, will be glad to see his warm smile, but saddened by what the
Indian Government aided and abetted by the anti-Catholic Bandodkar Goa
Government did to this delightful Son of the Soil. In fact, the very
same people who "socialized" with . and greased the Portuguese
dictator Salazar, assisted in this unnecessary act of hypocrisy and mental
quintessential scope of existence is often times camouflaged by the
complex nature of our purpose in it. Therefore heroes and villains among
us, as also saints and pagans, idealists and charlatans. Even infidels!
One effects the other or becomes affected by the other. And once in every
while, someone comes into being, culls through humanity's pile of
discarded hopes and aspirations, and departs living us with a renewed
sense of what existence is all about. Fr. Chico Monteiro was one such
sentient being, whose contribution in this regard was slighted by the fact
that he was a priest, not an activist. Had he been the latter, his
name, unquestionably, would have been paralleled with greatness.
It was the mid 1960's when the State -- following Goa's liberation --
issued an edict to Goans holding Portuguese passports to surrender
them, or in the alternative, emigrate to Portugal. Fr. Chico, who was
a conservative in the material and theological sense, opted for defiance.
He declined to surrender his Portuguese passport and challenged
the State's order of deportation. His defiant stand startled the Goan
community and practically overnight, found himself entrapped in the arena
of political contempt, social ridicule and alienation.
At this point, it is necessary to recount that Catholicism was not
indigenous to the land; it was brought in by the Portuguese. With
Catholicism, as with any other religion, cultural prejudice and political
affiliation became bred. And it was not Fr. Chico's elaborate scheme to
come born into a Catholic fold. It was a fact of fate. The consequences,
however, were unpredictable and inevitable. Almost tantamount to being
asked to alter the color of one's skin upon being subjected to a whole new
Arrested and placed in judicial custody, Fr. Chico summed up his defense
with a single line:
"I was born in Goa, and lived all my life peacefully in Goa."
Unbeknownst to Fr. Chico, his layman's version of defense resonated the
very essence of the
One's place of birth
conclusively determines one's nationality, and it is against all statutory
and constitutional law and principles to denationalize one's nationality.
The trial gained notoriety, and it was the Indian Government which
suddenly found itself coming under judicial scrutiny and going on the
defensive. The trial also aroused Salazar's interest. The result? Portugal
appointed Queen Elizabeth's personal counsel to represent Fr. Chico. Such
notoriety, however, was not without its price. Fr. Chico was
transferred from the Aguada jail in Goa to a maximum security jail in
Patiala, where he remained incarcerated in solitary confinement
for about a year, and subjected to psychological abuse. The attempt
by authorities to fragment his spirit only led to the realization that
they were dealing with one whose spiritual temperament was impervious to
When the matter wended its way to the Supreme Court, the Justices muffled
a brief admonishment. It was to be the last gavel, directing Fr. Chico
back to jail in Patiala, not to freedom. It wasn't the end of hope.
Whether by coincidence or divine prompting, the Holy See decided to
intervene, successfully negotiating the release of Fr. Chico for that of
Dr. Telo de Mascarenhas, a freedom fighter who was serving a life term in
Portugal. Fr. Chico's release, however, was to be conditional. Upon his
return to Goa, he was placed under house arrest in his ancestral home
in Candolim and barred from holding any official position. A decade
later, the terms of the house-arrest were relaxed to where he was able to
walk within the confines of his village. Subsequently, he was allowed to
once again travel freely within the territory of Goa.
It is unclear if the judicial curfew was ever lifted, or if Fr. Chico ever
set foot outside Goa. An avid traveler in his prior days, he appeared to
graciously resign himself to a life of judicial exile. As a priest, his
allegiance to the Divine was of an uncommon grain and stature. As a man,
he was genuinely attracted to all people as human beings. Despite been
consecrated a Monsignor, he continued to don the cassock of a habitual
priest. It was his way of affirming his disinclination for any position in
the patriarchal hierarchy of the Church. In general, he had an unbiased
enthusiasm for life and an untiring work ethic. As for his smiles, they
were a trademark of his effulgent demeanor. They were vibrant with
sincerity, and ungrudgingly impartial.
"Bloom where you have been planted!", urged the late music maestro, Fr.
Lourdino Barreto, to his students. A stalwart in his own controversial
right, he was also a close friend and admirer of Fr. Chico. And bloom they
did, without being uprooted from their deep convictions. On October 30,
1990, Fr. Chico was laid to rest in the soil he was planted in seven
decades before. The following year, he was posthumously conferred the
Vincent Xavier Verodiano Award. It was to be the only civic recognition
ascribed to his name.
If life is an intended conflict between the material and the spiritual,
Fr. Chico proffered no treatise or comment. At least, he left no known
written account of his crusade, and his grave mentions nothing beyond his
name and the statistics of his life-span. Yet through it all, he held his
head in a dignified rather than arrogant manner, exhibiting no scars of
bitterness or intonations of having privately argued with God. Had his act
of defiance occurred a decade later, he would in all likelihood have been
hailed a ‘conscientious objector', and spared from being hauled away and
treated as a traitor. Instead, he became a prisoner of his conscience, and
remained one to the end of his tenancy.
In summary, there's no mathematical distinction between what's justly
right and what's unjustly right. It's all simply a matter of subjective
rationale, reinforced by prevailing laws. Hopefully someday, time will
reorient itself and manifest the extent to which Fr. Chico's fight for
human rights in a remote part of the world, in the mid-sixties, might have
influenced other human rights activists elsewhere. Like a seed that was
sowed and drifted into oblivion, and found its prodigious sprout some
place else . . . !
Permission to publish this
article was granted by author on June 25, 2003
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