quintessential scope of existence is often times camouflaged
by the complex nature of our purpose in it. Therefore heroes
and villains among us, as also saints and pagans, idealists and
charlatans. Even infidels! One effects the other or becomes affected
by the other. And once in every while, someone comes into being,
culls through humanity's pile of discarded hopes and aspirations,
and departs leaving us with a renewed sense of what existence
is all about. Fr. Chico Monteiro was one such sentient being,
whose contribution in this regard was slighted by the fact that
he was a priest, not an activist. Had he been the latter, his
name, unquestionably, would have been paralleled with greatness.
It was the mid 1960's when the State -- following Goa's liberation
-- issued an edict to Goans holding Portuguese passports to surrender
them, or in the alternative, emigrate to Portugal. Fr. Chico,
who was a conservative in the material and theological sense,
opted for defiance. He declined to surrender his Portuguese passport
and challenged the State's order of deportation. His defiant
stand startled the Goan community and practically overnight,
found himself entrapped in the arena of political contempt, social
ridicule and alienation.
At this point, it is necessary to recount that Catholicism
was not indigenous to the land; it was brought in by the Portuguese.
With Catholicism, as with any other religion, cultural prejudice
and political affiliation became bred. And it was not Fr. Chico's
elaborate scheme to come born into a Catholic fold. It was a
fact of fate. The consequences, however, were unpredictable and
inevitable. Almost tantamount to being asked to alter the color
of one's skin upon being subjected to a whole new political climate.
Arrested and placed in judicial custody, Fr. Chico summed
up his defense with a single line: "I was born in Goa, and
lived all my life peacefully in Goa." Unbeknownst to Fr.
Chico, his layman's version of defense resonated the very essence
of the Geneva convention: One's place of birth conclusively determines
one's nationality, and it is against all statutory and constitutional
law and principles to denationalize one's nationality.
The trial gained notoriety, and it was the Indian Government
which suddenly found itself coming under judicial scrutiny and
going on the defensive. The trial also aroused Salazar's interest.
The result? Portugal appointed Queen Elizabeth's personal counsel
to represent Fr. Chico. Such notoriety, however, was not without
its price. Fr. Chico was transferred from the Aguada jail in
Goa to a maximum security jail in Patiala, where he remained
incarcerated in solitary confinement for about a year, and subjected
to psychological abuse. The attempt by authorities to fragment
his spirit only led to the realization that they were dealing
with one whose spiritual temperament was impervious to human
When the matter wended its way to the Supreme Court, the Justices
muffled a brief admonishment. It was to be the last gavel, directing
Fr. Chico back to jail in Patiala, not to freedom. It wasn't
the end of hope. Whether by coincidence or divine prompting,
the Holy See decided to intervene, successfully negotiating the
release of Fr. Chico for that of Dr. Telo de Mascarenhas, a freedom
fighter who was serving a life term in Portugal. Fr. Chico's
release, however, was to be conditional. Upon his return to Goa,
he was placed under house arrest in his ancestral home in Candolim
and barred from holding any official position. A decade later,
the terms of the house-arrest were relaxed to where he was able
to walk within the confines of his village. Subsequently, he
was allowed to once again travel freely within the territory
It is unclear if the judicial curfew was ever lifted, or if
Fr. Chico ever set foot outside Goa. An avid traveler in his
prior days, he appeared to graciously resign himself to a life
of judicial exile. As a priest, his allegiance to the Divine
was of an uncommon grain and stature. As a man, he was genuinely
attracted to all people as human beings. Despite been consecrated
a Monsignor, he continued to don the cassock of a habitual priest.
It was his way of affirming his disinclination for any position
in the patriarchal hierarchy of the Church. In general, he had
an unbiased enthusiasm for life and an untiring work ethic. As
for his smiles, they were a trademark of his effulgent demeanor.
They were vibrant with sincerity, and ungrudgingly impartial.
"Bloom where you have been planted!", urged the late
music maestro, Fr. Lourdino Barreto, to his students. A stalwart
in his own controversial right, he was also a close friend and
admirer of Fr. Chico. And bloom they did, without being uprooted
from their deep convictions. On October 30, 1990, Fr. Chico was
laid to rest in the soil he was planted in seven decades before.
The following year, he was posthumously conferred the Vincent
Xavier Verodiano Award. It was to be the only civic recognition
ascribed to his name.
If life is an intended conflict between the material and the
spiritual, Fr. Chico proffered no treatise or comment. At least,
he left no known written account of his crusade, and his grave
mentions nothing beyond his name and the statistics of his life-span.
Yet through it all, he held his head in a dignified rather than
arrogant manner, exhibiting no scars of bitterness or intonations
of having privately argued with God. Had his act of defiance
occurred a decade later, he would in all likelihood have been
hailed a conscientious objector', and spared from being
hauled away and treated as a traitor. Instead, he became a prisoner
of his conscience, and remained one to the end of his tenancy.
In summary, there's no mathematical distinction between what's
justly right and what's unjustly right. It's all simply a matter
of subjective rationale, reinforced by prevailing laws. Hopefully
someday, time will reorient itself and manifest the extent to
which Fr. Chico's fight for human rights in a remote part of
the world, in the mid-sixties, might have influenced other human
rights activists elsewhere. Like a seed that was sowed and drifted
into oblivion, and found its prodigious sprout some place else
. . . !
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