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Saga Of Selfless Heroism

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

Roque de Mello was the brother of Anthony Stanislaus de Mello, the grand moghul of Indian sport, from Sonarbhatt in Saligao, Goa. Roque, like his brother who was born in Karachi, received good encouragement from their sports-minded father, who stressed the Latin dictum “Mens sana in corpore sano” (A sound mind in a sound body).

Roque was sent by his father to England to study for the Bar. Barely 22 years of age, fresh from a brilliant career as a barrister in London, boarded a ship bound for Bombay when tragedy suddenly struck. The ship had moved off the coast of France when what they dreaded most did happen—the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine. As the ship’s sirens blared, the clarion order of the Captain was given: “All hands to the lifeboats”. Soon there was a rush to the ship’s boat stations. It was a sad day for Roque and hundreds of European passengers aboard the S.S. Maloza during World War I.

Roque was about to fix his life jacket when he came face to face with a badly limping Englishwoman. He felt a deep compassion for her physical disability in the supreme hour of the crisis when death hovered over the ship. Instantly, he took off his life jacket and fixed it on her. Then he made a dash for another life jacket. It was too late. The ship was fast sinking and Roque went down to his watery grave. The grateful Englishwoman, as an eye-witness reported to the press later, burst into tears on seeing the youthful stranger who gave up his life for her and met his death at sea.

In England and America the press carried accounts of the great tragedy and the heroic act of Roque. On making close inquiries later in England, the Englishwoman, in a touching letter to Mrs. de Mello, quoted the consoling and noble words of the Bible: “Greater love no man hath than that he giveth his own life for another.”

This incident was narrated by Anthony de Mello to J Patrocinio de Souza & Alfred D’Cruz, and is recorded in their book Saligao: Focus on a Picturesque Goan Village [May 1973].

The saga of heroism of Roque de Mello speaks volumes of the compassion he had for people around him. Unfortunately such values of self-sacrifice without expecting anything in return are quickly fading from our midst. As we approach Holy Week during this season of Lent, it is perhaps appropriate to reflect on virtues such as those demonstrated by this brave man. May the Passion of Christ strengthen us today, as it did the young and promising Roque de Mello on that fateful day of the sinking of the steamer S.S. Maloza.

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