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The Good Pastor Of Saligao

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

The Goan daily newspapers of 19th March 2002 reported the death of Rev. Canon Jose Roberto Vaz, ex-Parish Priest of Saligao. He had passed away a day earlier in the village of Raia, Salcete, Goa, the village from where he hailed.

Nine years ago the news of his death filled me with remorse, but I remembered with fondness the days of my association with this noble priest of God during my youth. Whilst in that mood, I prayed for the repose of Fr. Jose’s soul and remembered his spirituality, which was based on the conviction: “We must be ready for what the Lord wants of us.” He remained true to this belief, even during the illness before his death.

Fr. Roberto came to the Saligao Church as a young assistant to the Parish Priest Monsenhor Antonio Francisco Domingos das Merces Melo (1947-1954), from Verna, Salcete, in 1947. After the transfer of Mons. Antonio das Merces Melo, he became Vicar Oeconomus of the Parish of Saligao from 4th July 1954 to 1957.

With the arrival of Fr. Roberto in 1947, the sleepy village of Saligao suddenly began to burst into activity. Mounted on his Raleigh cycle, Fr. Roberto rode around the whole village despite a rainy August and began gathering young and old for the novenas of Our Lady of Vitoria in August-September, 1947. His enchanting ways drew many to the temple of the Lord. The children, with flowers in their baskets, walked daily in procession and deposited them at the foot of our Lady during her novenas. He taught us to sing “Devache Mate”, Monti Solegini, Bodduveanchi Tum Ge Ranni” and “Argam Ditam tuka Saibinni” with the Saligao Choir in attendance under the choir-master Eustaquinho de Souza, from Pequeno Morod.

Fr Roberto was tall, thinly built, fair in complexion and full of enthusiasm. With his characteristic charm, he began to gather the children for catechism, and though each class had its own teacher, he got us all around him and gave us a solid grounding in the tenets of the Catholic faith. He knew all of us by our names. If he noticed that a particular boy or a girl had not come for Sunday classes, he was there at the home inquiring about the whereabouts. He was strict, but at the same time kind and considerate.

He saw to it that the youth of Saligao got involved in church matters. He was on constant vigil to keep them from going astray, and came down hard on the mischievous boys who were keen to pluck the coconuts from trees on the property between the church and the cemetery – Fr. Roberto would spot the rascals from the belfry of the church and one shrill whistle from him was enough to send them running helter-skelter.

Fr. Roberto was blessed with keen eyesight and sported a beard which remained with him until his death. He denounced loose morals from the pulpit and discouraged the youth from frequenting places that could spoil their character. To keep them meaningfully occupied, he staged plays in the village and selected young people to star in these teatros. These plays invariably had a moral, and Fr Roberto used them as a means to inculcate doctrine and sound morals into the youth of the village.

He used the church compound for football training, and organised day-long sports galas for children and adults during the Yuletide season. But Fr. Roberto is remembered most for his Dekhivont Tiatrs that he held every year in January and May. All the singers and actors for these dramas were from Saligao. He was present for every practice in the parochial school, and he instilled discipline in us. Periodically he held retreats for the youth at Fr. Herminio Pinto’s house behind the church. He had able Assistants in Fr. Antonio Felipe Pais and Fr. Nuno da Cruz.

To promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life from the village of Saligao, Fr. Roberto invited young seminarians from Rachol to give talks to the youngsters. Consequently, quite a few young lads and lasses showed signs of wanting to join the seminary and convent. I was one of them.

He encouraged good singing during the liturgy of that time, and also explained in detail the proceedings that were then conducted in Latin. None can forget his teaching of catechism to the elders? He used a unique method to impart sound doctrinal knowledge of faith, morals and character building to people of all ages, conducting special sessions for children around the “cadeira de estaçao” in the nave of the church. The baptismal index dating from 1900, which we nowhave in the Saligao Church, was initiated and maintained by a team under the guidance of Fr Roberto.

After being ordained priest on 26th October 1944, Fr Jose Roberto Vaz served the Church in Goa with great zeal and enthusiasm, in various capacities. He was prefect of one of the boarding houses (comensalidade) at Rachol, from June 1944 to March 1946. Later on he was assistant in Cuncolim (July1946 to January1947) and then in Saligao (January 1947 to June1954). He became the Parish Priest of Saligao (1954-1957). He was also Parish Priest of Parra (1959-1974) and of Navelim (1974-1991). He was the Spiritual Director of the Seminary of Our Lady, Saligao-Pilerne, from 1957 to1969.

After over 15 years of pastoral ministry in the populous and vast Navelim Parish, Fr. Roberto left behind a flourishing educational institution with its own buildings and all the necessary foundation for future progress. Then he retired and went to live in his native village of Raia. The Ecclesiastical authorities thanked him with deep gratitude for the services he had rendered with zeal and dedication to the Archdiocese. On 29th October1992 he was appointed Canon of the Cathedral Chapter (Cabido de Se), Old Goa.

Fr Jose Roberto Vaz passed away on 18th March 2002 at Raia. The funeral rite at his home was performed by his relative Canon Santana Faleiro, from Raia, followed by the concelebrated mass presided over by Most Rev. Raul N Gonsalves, Archbishop Patriarch, at the Raia Church. The homily at the funeral Mass was preached by Fr. Antonio Filipe Pais, his former assistant at Saligao Church. He was laid to rest at Raia Cemetery on the evening of 19th March 2002, the feast day of St. Joseph, his patron saint.

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