Remembering Fr. Chico

Goan Overseas Digest (Jan-Mar 2001 issue)


Editorial by Dr. Eddie D’Sa


The Monteiro Family
Monsignor Francisco ‘Chico’ Monteiro was born in 1918, the youngest son of Mr. Jose Bonifacio Monteiro and Maria-Helena Sequeira e Monteiro. He had three sisters and a brother, Dr. Gustavo Monteiro.


     The family house is about 400 years old and located in Candolim, Goa. In the compound is a family chapel (page 9) dedicated to Our Lady of Remedios. Both the house and chapel feature in the book,"PALACIOS DE GOA" The family was presented with a "Brazao" (Coat of Arms) in 1802 by the Portuguese King, Dom Joao VI,  for dedicated service by members of this family for three generations. This brazao is recorded in the book, "Tesouro de nobreza" kept in Lisbon's "Tourro de Tombo". It is fixed at the main entrance of the house and the chapel.


Fr. Chico defies the government
     Soon after the Liberation of Goa in 1961, the Indian Government decreed that all persons born in Goa (formerly Portuguese citizens) would automatically become Indian citizens by virtue of the take-over. However, any one wishing to retain Portuguese citizenship was required to register his/her name in Panjim. Given the family long historic ties with Portugal, Fr Chico chose to identify himself with the Portuguese and got himself registered as a Portuguese citizen.


     In March 1962, the teachers at the Lyceum (where Fr Chico taught Religion & Morals) had to swear their loyalty to the Indian State. As Fr. Chico could not do so, he was forced to resign from the Lyceum and leave the Lar dos Estudantes (Students Home/Hostel) where he was Director. He returned home to Candolim where went about his work as a priest, involved himself in social work and in training the village youths in football and volleyball.


     In October 1962, Fr. Chico was summoned to the Police station in Panjim and interrogated. A month later, he received a notice from the Police Inspector asking him to leave Goa. He did not obey the order and a second notice was served by the Governor. Again Fr. Chico did not comply. Instead he issued a statement that "Goa is my birthplace and hence I will not leave Goa."        


In December 1962, Fr Chico was arrested and sentenced to 30 days detention at the Mapusa jail and a fine of Rs 1000. He refused to pay the fine and was detained a further 7 days. In 1963, he was again served notice to leave Goa. Following non-compliance, he was arrested and imprisoned at the Reis Magos jail for 6 months.


     The Indian Government now sought to deport Fr. Chico to Portugal. However, this was not possible as  Fr. Chico’s Portuguese passport had expired. He was ordered to apply for a new passport which he refused to do. He kept arguing that "I was born and brought up in Goa and refuse to leave Goa just because the Portuguese are no longer here. I am born a Goan and will remain in Goa till I die."


      In 1965, the case was transferred to the Judicial Commissioner's Court. The Portugal under Salazar (which did not recognize India’s takeover of Goa) arranged for one Edward Gardener (Queen's Counsel from London) to defend Fr Chico. Mr. Gardener was surprised to find "a small framed person fighting the Government of India." However, little came of his efforts. The previous decision stood: Fr. Chico must leave Goa.


     In October 1968, Fr. Chico was arrested and whisked away to an unknown destination. Subsequently, the family learnt that he had been imprisoned in Patiala (Punjab). Fr. Chico was confined in a solitary cell and not allowed to communicate with the family. The only way he survived was through prayer. He kept his mind alert by reciting poetry from memory. It was a terrible time for both Fr. Chico and his family in the absence of any communication.


Release & Return to Goa
Eventually, Fr. Chico was released by Indira Gandhi, PM of India after intervention by the Holy See. An agreement was reached between the Governments of India and Portugal that Fr. Chico would be released in exchange for an Indian nationalist Mr. Telo Mascarenhas languishing in a Portuguese jail.


     Fr Chico was released in May 1969. He was allowed to return to Goa on condition that he would not leave Goa. From time to time, Fr. Chico was visited by the police (even shortly before he died). In Goa, Fr. Chico continued the good work he always did --teaching catechism, visiting the sick and the old, training the youth in football and volleyball.


     In 1975, Fr. Chico was appointed Director of Clergy Home in Porvorim ---an asylum for aged and retired priests in Goa. He continued in this post until his death on 29 October 1990. The following year, he was posthumously conferred the Vincent Xavier Verodiano Award. It was to be the only civic recognition ascribed to his name.


     While Fr. Chico never regretted what happened believing that he fought for a principle, the family in retrospect wondered whether it was worth going through all that he went through.


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