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An Interview with Rev. Peter Lobo, OP

Interviewed by Mark Hoo, OP

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Providence, July 12, 2001

Could you please share a little about your background?

I was born in Bombay in February, 1946. I came to know the Order through the Dominican Friars who staffed and administered St. Charles Seminary, Nagpur, where I was studying for the Priesthood for the Archdiocese of Nagpur. I entered the Dominican Order in 1969 after my first year of theology. I joined the Order because I was attracted by the lives of the Dominicans in the Seminary and by the purpose for which the Order was founded, namely, preaching for the salvation of others. During my time as a Dominican, I have had the responsibility of being Novice Master, Vice Provincial, President of the National Conference of Major Superiors of India, Regent of Studies, and Rector of St. Charles Seminary, which has 333 students from 45 dioceses and 14 religious congregations.

When did the Dominicans establish its presence in India, and when did the Vicariate become a Province?

The first Dominican to arrive in India was Niccolo of Pistoia in 1291. He was on his way to China along with his Franciscan companions. Niccolo was asked by his companions to remain in Mylapore in Southern India, where he laboured until his death shortly after the Franciscans proceeded to China. The next Dominican to arrive in India was Jordan of Severac (Catalani). He came from Tabriz (in Persia) to Thana, near Bombay in 1328 along with four Franciscan companions. His companions were martyred by the Moors and Jordan was left alone to carry out the mission of evangelization along the west-coast of India. In 1330 he was appointed the first Latin Rite Bishop of Quilon, South India, by John XXII in Avignon. Jordan laboured for some years with great success and sent a fervent appeal to his brethren in Tabriz to come and join him in the work of evangelizing India. His Mirabilia Descripta is extant and has been studied and published both in French and in English. It demonstrates his zeal for the Gospel and also his keen sense of observation both of nature and of the customs of the people. Jordan was joined by four Dominicans from Tabriz. However, nothing is known about where these Dominicans carried out their mission work.

The next Dominicans to arrive in India were the Portuguese, who came to India in the early 16th century, after Vasco Da Gama had arrived in India in 1498. They established themselves in Goa, where in the course of time, they set up many parishes and mission stations and also the well-known College of St. Thomas Aquinas which was not unlike the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. The Dominicans in Goa grew in numbers and sent out missionaries to Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and even as far as China. At least three Dominicans were appointed Patriarch of the Indies, an office that gave them jurisdiction over a territory stretching from the East Coast of Africa to Japan. Dominicans also were bishops in the Dioceses of Cochin and Quilon. However, the Dominican presence came to an abrupt end in 1835 when Joaquim Antonio de Aguiar suppressed all religious in Portugal and expelled them from the Portuguese territories.

The Dominican presence during Portuguese times had its bright and dark sides. While some Dominicans were patriarchs of the Indies, others were also severe inquisitors. Also, it took a long time for the Order to accept half-bloods and even longer to accept Indians. Letters to Propaganda Fide are extant complaining about the slowness in accepting Indians into the Order.

In 1959, the Dominicans returned to India. This was at the invitation of Archbishop Eugene D'Souza, who succeeded in bringing the Irish Dominicans to Nagpur to run St. Charles Seminary. The Indian Vicariate of the Irish Province was constituted an independent Vice Province in 1987 and was then raised to a Province in 1998.

How many are presently part of the Dominican Province of India? Where are they located, and what are some of their present ministries?

The Indian Province has 60 priests, 32 professed students and over 100 pre-novices. It has 9 foundations, 5 of which are convents. It has 3 communities of postulants in Mangalore, Jabalpur, and Pachmarhi, the Novitiate in Goa and the Studentate in Nagpur. The students attend St. Charles Seminary which is staffed and administered by the Dominicans. About 15 Dominican friars teach at St. Charles Seminary. Besides this ministry, other friars in the Province are involved in giving retreats, working in social-justice ministries, parish ministries and inter-faith dialogue.

How do you see the Province contributing to the church and society of India? Have there been any projects at present on the part of the Province towards inter-religious dialogue with Hinduism and/or Islam? Towards the fostering of relations between Christian communities and the main religious communities of India? And, towards assuring the religious freedoms of Christian communities vis-à-vis the government at the local and/or national level?

There are friars who have been prepared for inter-faith dialogue. However, as yet, our Province has not entered into this ministry in a very forceful and effective way, largely because our men who are trained for this ministry have been absorbed into seminary formation. It is our hope and dream that some day, in the not too distant future, the Order will be able to set up a community in Varanasi, the holy city and heart of Hinduism, and would collaborate with other Christian communities engaged in inter-faith dialogue. The well-known English Provincial, Bede Jarrett, when he visited Varanasi, thought that it would be ideal for the Order to set up a community there, so as to build-up close relations with Hinduism.

It seems that the Order in general, has still to recognize the great challenge of inter-faith dialogue, which two thirds of the World places before it. Asia would seem to be the best place for the Order to take up this challenge. It is the fond hope of the Asia-Pacific region, that at this Chapter, the Order would make a bold effort to take-up interfaith dialogue as one of its important priorities.

Regarding the fostering of relations between other Christian communions, the Province of India has not done much as we do not as yet have any friar who has been specially trained in ecumenism.

In recent times, there has been an upsurge of fundamentalism in Hinduism. This has largely been due to the fact that political parties and other vested interests have been exploiting religion to achieve their own ends. Hinduism, in itself, is a very tolerant way of life. The recent violence against Christians, even though done in the name of religion, is not so much religiously motivated as socially motivated. The conscientization of the poor to their rights, which has been done by church organizations, has eroded the power of vested interests, and they have reacted by attacking church personnel and church property.

How about vocations? How many do you have in the Studentate and the Novitiate? What are some of the factors that presently serve to attract vocations to the Order in India? How do you envision their future contribution to the Order as a whole and to the Church (i.e. in terms of some of the projects and works they might likely foster in the near future)?

We have 32 students and over 100 postulants. This year we do not have any novices since we have made a change in our formation program. Philosophy is now done in the pre-novitiate, and, so, we will only have our next batch of novices next year.

Young men come to the order through vocation promotion done by friars specially appointed for this ministry.

The Order has great scope for the preaching of the Gospel in its various forms in India, both first evangelization and inter-faith dialogue, as well as building up the faith of the Christian community, are ministries that need to be engaged in by the Indian Province. Our contribution to the Church in India would be our gift of preaching in its various forms, working for the uplift of the poor through justice and peace ministries, and the training of young men for the priesthood. Besides this, the distinctive contribution that we can make through the Church in India and the whole Order, is the ministry of inter-faith dialogue and inter-cultural dialogue.

What is your sense of the Order in India for the next 20 years?

The Order has a great future in India. It is young and vibrant. In 20 years time, our numbers should have more than doubled. The Order needs to launch out into new ministries that the needs of our region raise, besides the traditional places of preaching. The Indian Province also needs to go beyond the frontiers of India so as to serve the Universal Church where the Order is most needed. puce


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