The Indian Church is in a peculiar situation. The living flame of the Gospel was brought to this country by St. Thomas, the Apostle of Christ. But for centuries it remained hidden under a bushel. With the coming of the colonial powers and the missionaries from Europe, faith began to spread slowly to different parts of India, but it still remained nothing more than a little lamp.
History has it that it is due to the relentless activity of the Portuguese; the seeds of Christianity were sown in Canara. After the martyrdom of Fr. Pedro Cabilioness, who accompanied Vasco da Gama, Fransicans and Dominicans arrived to Goa, the then headquarters of political and religious activity of the Portuguese. In 1521, Lopez de Sampio entered Canara with his soldiers and under his care Franciscan missionaries started to spread the Gospel. Three churches were built; one dedicated to Our Lady of Rosary at Mangalore; another to Our Lady of Mercy at Ullal Fajir and a third one to St. Francis of Assisi at Farangipet.
Goan Christians in Canara:
We have no evidence that Francis Xavier came to Mangalore; though he laboured in Goa. The ancestors of many Mangalore Christians are Goans who were welcomed by the Hindu rulers of Bednore for their skill in agriculture. Others came to Mangalore to escape the trials of inquisition and also to avoid the constant raids of the Marata rulers.
Padroado and Canara Christians:
The Portuguese supported the mission activity under the Paradox (Protectorate: privileges) in Canara. However the arrival of the British and the Dutch gave a blow to the activity of the Portuguese and gradually the Portuguese were unable to send the required number of missionaries to Mangalore. The appointment of the Vicar Apostolic of Mangalore was felt to be the need of the hour. Shivappa Naik, the king of Bednore, pressurized that a native priest be chosen as the Vicar Apostolic. So, Fr. Andrew Gomez was appointed as the Vicar Apostolic but before the nomination papers could reach Mangalore, Fr.Gomez died.
Bishop Thomas Castro as the Vicar Apostolic of Canara:
At the recommendation of the Vicar General of Verapoly, Msgr Sebastiani, Pope Clement X appointed Thomas de Castro, a Theatine priest, as the Vicar Apostolic of Canara on 30th August 1675 to remedy the sad state of the Canara Christians. After his consecration, he came first to Calicut and then to Mangalore (1677-84) and in 1680 he built conflict with Rome for disregarding the Padroado and so did not cede the jurisdiction to Thomas de Castro. Instead, they appointed Fr. Joseph Vas as the Vicar Forane of Canara and he was asked not to submit to Bishop Castro unless he showed the letter of appointment. Fr. Joseph Vaz was a saintly man, worked as a zealous missionary and he submitted to Bishop Castro.
Christians during the time of Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan:
In the eighteenth century when Bednore rulers became weak, Hyder Ali captured Bednore and then the factory of the Portuguese at Mangalore and renamed it as Couriel (fort of the king). Hyder Ali had respect for the Christians and Fr. Joakim Manuel Miranda was a friend of Hyder. However, Christians in general hated him for they had to pay heavy tax for king’s treasury. Later the British captured Couriel and the Christians helped the British by giving them rice, vegetables and money. When Tippu came to power, he decided to come heavily upon the Christians.
The captivity (1784-1799): During the time of Tippu there were at least 27 churches and a Seminary in Canara. Tippu ordered that all the Churches be demolished and the property of Christians be taken to Srirangapattanam. Accordingly nearly 40,000 people were taken as captives to Mysore from South Canara through the Jamalabad fort route. A number of people died on the way due to hunger, disease and ill treatment by the soldiers. Those who resisted were thrown down from the Jamalabad Islam. Those who resisted the brutish behavior of the soldiers were tortured by cutting off their noses and ears and paraded in the city. Only after the death of Tippu, in 1799, the Christians returned, only to find that their property had been confiscated. Christians started to build the churches and by 1815 most of the churches were rebuilt.
Mangalore under the Varapoly Carmelites:
When the political situation in Portugal was in turmoil, Msgr Antonio Carvalho arrived at Goa without being consecrated as Bishop. So many parishes in South Canara did not accept the leadership of Carvalho but submitted to the Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly. The parishes in Mangalore were devided into two groups. To ward off this sad state, Mangalore Christians under the leader of Fr. Joachim Pius Noronha, requested the Holy See to establish Mangalore as a separate Vicariate. Conceding to their request, Holy See appointed Rev. Hynes; a Capuchin to be the Vicar Apostolic but the Carmelites opposed this appointment. Finally, on 17th February 1845 Pope established Mangalore as a separate Vicariate and sent Msgr Bernadine, a Carmelite, as the Pro-Vicar Apostolic of Mangalore. After him, Bp Michel Antony and Bp Mary Ephrem looked after the spiritual well being of Mangalore Catholics. All the three Bishops gave special attention in training the local clergy. Mary Ephem was instrumental in bringing the Cloistered Carmel and the Tertiaries (Apostolic Carmel sisters) to Mangalore.
Jesuits in Mangalore:
During the regime of Carmelites, the Mangalorean Christians constantly sent memorandums to the Holy See to send Jesuits to Mangalore to start Institutions for higher education. So after the death of Bp Mary Elphem, Rome studied the situation and handed over the Mangalore mission to the Jesuits of Naples who reached Mangalore on 31st December 1878 under the leadership of Msgr Nicholas Pagani. Two more Jesuits from Bombay joined the original group of six among whom Bishop Pagani, Rev. Augustus Muller, Rev. Angelo Maffei and Rev. Urban Stein are famous.
Formation of the Diocese:
During the tenure of Msgr Pagani, Mangalore became the field of hectic activity. He established St.Joseph’s Seminary, St. Aloysius College, Fr. Muller’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Work Shop, Codialbail Press and orphanages. On November 25, 1885, Msgr Pagani was consecrated as Bishop at Cathedral and on January 25, 1887, Mangalore was declared an independent diocese.
Mangalore under the local Bishops:
Pope Pius XI divided the Diocese in 1923 and appointed Fr. Valerian D’Souza, one trained in St. Joseph’s Seminary, as the first native Bishop on February 28, 1928.
Bishop Victor R. Fernandes succeeded Bishop Valerian in 1931 and reigned over Mangalore for 24 years. He gave priority for the primary education and Sunday Catechism. During his tenure, religious orders of Olivet Brothers, Ursulines, and Bethany Sisters were established. He built the presbytery for the retired priests. He was succeeded by Bishop Basil Peris and Bishop Raymond D’Mello succeeded him for short periods.
Bishop Basil Salvadore D’Souza was appointed in 1965 and the Diocese is indebted to him for the present progress. Bidar was taken over by the Diocese under the leadership of Bishop Basil. He took bold steps for the renewal of liturgy and implementing the directives of Vatican 2 documents. Regular pastoral visits kept him in touch with the needs of the people in 140 parishes and 25 mission stations. He spent himself for the Diocese and went to his eternal reward on September 5, 1996. May his soul rest in peace.
Today Christianity is strongly rooted in Mangalore, and has a great influence in the socio-cultural and religious life of people. Mangalore is a center of education and people of various faiths live in harmony.