After 465 years, Goa receives its first cardinal

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The future cardinal of Goa, Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão, is described as “known and very accessible to the people of God.”

Archbishop Filipe Neri António Sebastião do Rosário Ferrão is the first archbishop in the history of the archdiocese of Goa and Daman to be elevated to the rank of cardinal. The nomination is all the more significant since the archdiocese of Goa, created in 1557, is the home from where the Christian faith radiated in India and more widely on the Asian continent. 

It was in Goa, a state on the southwestern coast of India on the Arabian Sea, that the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552) disembarked and it is there that the remains of this great evangelizer of India and Japan rest in the Basilica of Bom Jesus. Today, 465 years after the creation of the diocese during the time of the Portuguese colony, Goa will celebrate its first “Prince of the Church.” “It is surely great news […] because our Archdiocese is one of the oldest in the East,” said Fr. Aleixo Menezes, rector of the archdiocesan Rachol Seminary, interviewed by the Herald (Goa).

For the Indian Catholic dramatist Agnelo Fernandes, interviewed by the same news outlet, the future cardinal is “known and very accessible to the people of God.” The pastor, who is considered to be discreet, has not made any public statement on his appointment. 

Patriarch of the East Indies

Archbishop Filipe Neri António Sebastião do Rosário Ferrão, 59, was born on January 20, 1953 in Aldona, in the Archdiocese of Goa. After studying theology, he was ordained a priest on October 28, 1979, at the age of 26. He then specialized in biblical theology at the Urban University of Rome, and in catechesis and pastoral ministry at the Lumen Vitae International Center of the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium.

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On December 20, 1993, John Paul II appointed him auxiliary bishop of Goa and Daman. He was consecrated bishop on April 10, 1994 in his home diocese, choosing as his episcopal motto “That they may be one” (John 17:21). At the level of the Indian Bishops’ Conference of the Latin Rite, he has chaired the Commission for the Laity and has been involved in the issues of justice and development. He was also part of the team in charge of the apostolic visit requested by the Holy See to the seminaries and formation institutes in India in 1998-1999. 

On November 25, 2006, he was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Goa and Daman by Pope Benedict XVI, thereby receiving the traditional honorary title of “Patriarch of the East Indies” and Primate of India.

Bishop Filipe Neri Ferrão speaks Konkani (the language of more than 2 million people on the west coast of the Indian peninsula), English, Portuguese, Italian, French and German. 

In a country with a large Hindu majority (over 80%), Bishop Filipe Neri Ferrão is the pastor of one of the few islands of Catholicism. One quarter of the people in Goa are baptized. Over the years, the prelate has made a name for himself on several occasions by denouncing the corruption of politicians and by offering voting guidance—without naming a candidate—to Catholic citizens. 

Symbol of reconciliation between Goa and Rome

For Jason Keith Fernandes, a researcher at the Lisbon Anthropology Research Center (ISCTE), the reception of the cardinalate is “a proud moment for Goa as well, since it is one more recognition of the centuries-long, strenuous effort of Goans in evangelizing large parts of the subcontinent.” While one of Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão’s predecessors in Goa, José da Costa Nunes, was also a cardinal, he received the purple in 1962 when he had already been out of the archbishop’s office for about ten years.

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This appointment also puts an end to “the bitter experiences of the conflict between the Propaganda Fide and the Padroado,” the expert explained to the Herald. While the Portuguese colonial empire had obtained from Rome the prerogative of missions in Indian lands, its decline in the 17th and 18th centuries led to a decrease in missionaries. To meet its needs, the Holy See began to send its own missionaries independent of Portugal, and appointed apostolic vicars. Conflicts of jurisdiction arose in some places, leading to a division of the churches between the “Padroado”—from the Portuguese colony—and Propaganda Fide—the former dicastery dedicated to evangelization.

In 1838, Pope Gregory XVI suppressed all the Portuguese dioceses, with the exception of Goa, with the apostolic brief Multa praeclare. Decades later, in 1886, Leo XIII’s bull Humanae Salutatis Auctor allowed an agreement to be reached on the respective jurisdictions and to establish the Indian ecclesial hierarchy. Considered a fief of the Portuguese and heir to this historical conflict, the See of Goa never got its cardinal… until today. 

Along with the second Indian to be created a cardinal on August 27, Archbishop Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão will join three Indian cardinals under the age of 80—Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, George Alencherry and Oswald Gracias—bringing the number of Indian electors in the College of Cardinals to five.

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