FR. CHICO MONTEIRO: The St. Anthony of Candolim . . .
by Dom Martin
To have a mortifying glimpse of the beyond, to aspire for knowledge that insulates Truth from prejudice, and to embrace existence with the compassion of conscientiousness, is to adorn the aura of self-realization. Such distinction is not there for the asking. Nor is the path to it though the academics of trial and error, or chance and inducement. One comes born into it, and that aspect is merely the preface. The consummation of that path unto that all encompassing distinction, is through a sacrificial commitment to it -- one without let, compromise, or self-adulation.
In order to grasp the essence of Fr. Chico Monteiro's life and the trajectory of his spiritual path, one needs to delve into that of Ferdinand de Bulhoes
Ferdinand de Bulhoes
Ferdinand de Bulhoes was born in Lisbon in the year 1195. His father, Martin Bulhoes, was a knight at the court of King Alfonso II. Naturally, his father aspired to groom Ferdinand into the ranks of nobility. Ferdinand, however, opted for a life of contemplative solitude and biblical poverty. At age 15, he joined the religious order of St. Augustine, where his mind was acclaimed to be a repository of excellence in the realm of reading and memorizing sacred scriptures. At age 17, Ferdinand was sent to Coimbra, where he embarked on a nine-year curriculum to study Augustinian theology.
Despite his scholastic brilliance, Ferdinand went about with a demeanor that prejudiced onlookers into thinking he was an itinerant Friar. And Ferdinand would have remained content in that mold if not for a tragic event in 1220, involving the martyrdom of five Franciscan friars in Morocco. Overnight, Ferdinand found himself ablaze with a zeal to bring such martyrdom upon himself. To ensure access to it, he asked his Abbot to promptly relieve him from the Augustinian Order and concurrent with that request, he contacted the Franciscans, expressing his intent to join their Order with a caveat that he be then sent to Morocco at daylight.
Ferdinand was admitted into the Franciscan Order, but his fanatic scheme went instantly awry. There was to be no daylight. En route to Morocco, he was struck with illness and became so debilitated that a return to Italy was not a matter of choice, but of urgency. On his return, he sought admission in the only Franciscan monastery in the area. Ferdinand's sickly appearance, regrettably, only aided the Abbot in feigning his welcome to Ferdinand -- leaving him to fret on how to go about coping with an entity he genuinely felt had no potential future in his monastery. Out of compassion, the Abbot assigned Ferdinand to the rural hospice of San Paolo near Forli, outside Bologna. There, Ferdinand lived as a hermit and was put to work in the kitchen. And Ferdinand toiled with unresenting humility amidst a group of simple, untutored monks, who had no concept of the extraordinary caliber of his meekness, or of his literary prowess, which at the time, they unwittingly associated it as being the ability to read the missal or the breviary.
One morning, when the Dominicans and the Franciscans had gathered for an ordination, it dawned on the congregation that no one had been appointed to preach. The Dominicans -- who were reputed to be prolific preachers -- came unprepared, thinking that the Franciscans had appointed one of their friars to be the homilist. A request, soliciting any one from either rank to take to the pulpit evoked mumblings of incompetence. In a desperate move to end the impasse, the Franciscan Abbot directed his finger at Ferdinand, instructing him to take charge of the pulpit and utter what ever the Holy Spirit anointed his tongue with.
Ferdinand rose from his seat and in a stuttering tone, attempted to vocalize his own incompetence: "My task, Fr. Superior, is washing dishes and scrubbing floors!" His self-effacing modesty did not read well in the Abbot's percipience, and Ferdinand was instead reminded that he was attempting to challenge the vow of obedience to which he had subscribed to at his ordination. All eyes were now bemusedly on Ferdinand, eager to ingest what hallowed insight one might have possibly imbued from an environment of washing dishes and scrubbing floors. And Ferdinand spoke, impressing none with his initial rambling, until the Holy Spirit descended upon him and anointed his tongue, transforming him into God's bandwidth.
Ferdinand had become reborn, and from that moment on, was widely sought out to preach everywhere he went, or wherever one could find him. And Ferdinand spoke fearlessly, rebuking sinners no less harshly than members of the clergy who had deviated from the path of moral righteousness.
He championed rigorously for social and economic justice, the abolishment of debtors' prisons and usury, and for the need to establish the presence of God in one's life through contemplative prayer and solitude. His last public act was an ill-advised journey to Verona in 1231, to procure the release of prisoners. That journey weighed heavily on his already emaciated body. Later that year, he became ill with dropsy. The illness prompted him to journey to a woodland retreat in Camposanpiero, where he lived in a cell that was built for him under the branches of a walnut tree. There, as in prior years, he incarcerated himself in the kind of contemplative solitude that allowed him to converse freely with God, and in the process, become immeasurably enriched with God's word and infinite wisdom.
On June 13, 1231, Ferdinand de Bulhoes died. He was 36 years old.
Fr. Chico Monteiro
Fr. Chico Monteiro - baptized as Francisco Xavier dos Remedies Monteiro - was born on Feb. 1, 1918. Like Ferdinand, his birth came bequeathed to a household of affluence, but over time, found himself veering towards a life of service to God and contemplative solitude. He joined the Rachol Seminary where his academic brilliance was such, that the Rector deemed it imperative to hold him scholastically back one year, lest he be prematurely ordained.
In the footsteps of Ferdinand, Fr. Chico similarly did not let his academic brilliance overshadow his fervent quest to serve God and his fellowbeings. When he was conferred the title of Monsignor by Pope Pius XII, he reluctantly accepted the honor, but never manifested either the title or the habit. When asked if he would consent to his name being proposed for the title of Bishop, he gestured to the contrary. On two other occasions, he declined the offer to be Rector of the Saligao Seminary, opting rather for a much lowly assignment as Director of Lar dos Estudantes.
Whether by coincidence or divine intervention, life is continually assailed by events we do not fully comprehend, are unprepared for, or cannot diligently overcome. Such events earnestly confront the essence of our objective zeal, at times, challenging us for the better or worse. For Ferdinand, the turning point in his life came following the martyrdom of five Franciscan friars in Morocco. For Fr. Chico, the turning point came in 1961, when Goa was annexed to India, and he was left with the option of either registering with the Indian authorities as a Portuguese subject, surrendering his Portuguese passport, or emigrating to Portugal. Fr. Chico declined to subscribe himself to any of the proffered obligations on the grounds that he was born in Goa, and lived all his 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 legality of his defense notwithstanding, Fr. Chico was arrested and detained in a local prison, but when his trial gained international notoriety, he was transferred to an undisclosed location outside Goa.
Distraught over the state-decreed secrecy of his whereabouts, his brother, Dr. Gustavo Monteiro, invoked the intercession of St. Anthony, pledging to celebrate his feast that year at the very site that Fr. Chico - prior to being hauled away and imprisoned - had held novenas every Tuesday. The site consisted of an altar, which was dedicated to St. Anthony, and was earlier an integral part of a residential home. Narration states that when the house collapsed, only the altar was spared from destruction. Taking it as a divine manifestation, Fr. Chico adopted the altar, holding services in honor of St. Anthony, unfailingly, every Tuesday.
On St. Anthony's feast day, as if on cue, Fr. Chico's whereabouts were confirmed by way of his release from the Patiala jail where he had been held in solitary confinement for about a year. Upon his return, the altar - under the charismatic aura of Fr. Chico - took a divinity of its own. It attracted the faithful from all venues of life to the weekly novenas, not only because they had needs that needed to be interceded through St. Anthony, but because Fr. Chico himself was fondly looked upon as St. Anthony's living confidant and intercessor. In a conniving sense, the two were inseparable in their estimation for each other and in their exemplary devotion to God, to the extent, there was no knowing at which unguarded moment or Tuesday, St. Anthony might have switched places with Fr. Chico -- allowing the overworked padre a moment of repose.
Transiting back to the corollary between Ferdinand and Fr. Chico -- If one is to question the Hand of Omniscience, what script might be revealed so that we may understand Ferdinand's motive for martyrdom and Fr. Chico's stand against the edict of the Indian Government? Yet, if Fr. Chico's political stand is to be perceived as an act of suicide in the scope of sanctity, then so must that of Ferdinand's failed quest for martyrdom in Morocco. What is glaringly apparent is that both events were crucial turning points, enabling each to further strengthen their spiritual ties and quests.
On his return to Goa, Fr. Chico was placed under house arrest and his activities closely monitored. This psychological fetter did not deter Fr. Chico's resolve to seek the poor, nurse the sick back to health, and spread the wisdom of the scriptures wherever the opportunity availed itself. Like Ferdinand, contemplative solitude in a world otherwise bustling with material chaos, became his innermost sanctuary, his friary. The rosary was his conduit to God. He recited it several times a day, and in the still hours of the night, one would find him impeccably awake - consumed in prayer.
In 1975, Fr. Chico was appointed Director of the Clergy Home in Alto Porvorim. The Clergy Home was an asylum for aged and retired priests. To Fr. Chico, it provided the kind of subservient service -- glorying God -- that Ferdinand had sought and found at the hospice of San Paolo, except that in Fr. Chico's instance, it became the testing ground for the resilience of his priestly vows, as well as a deviation from it in terms of extending himself unconditionally to the needy, the sick and the downtrodden.
On October 29, 1990, Fr. Chico began his customary day taking one priest to a medical facility, washing the wounds of another, and distributing medication to the sick. He then stepped into the dining hall and earnestly asked one of the priests present there to bless him, saying, he was going to die. In a brief matter of time, Fr. Chico left his body -- uttering the name of Jesus -- in seeming acknowledgment of having gloriously reunited with the Lord!
Several centuries before, Ferdinand - sensing his hour had come -- went to confession, sang a hymn to the Blessed Mother and was anointed. When his fellow friars observed him looking upwards with a smile on his countenance, he was asked, "Do you see anything?" Ferdinand responded: "I see My Lord."
Although Ferdinand and Fr. Chico lived several centuries apart, their lives exhibited a common, spiritual-axis: an unrelenting pledge to a life of gospel poverty, abstinence and service to others, and their existence as such, itself, continually evolving on the fringes of cataclysmic fatigue. They both died in the conscious presence of the Lord, one becoming canonized a year after his death, and the other awaiting his turn in the Judgment of God.
[For those who have been deliberately led astray: Ferdinand de Bulhoes is none other than St. Anthony of Padua.]
July 21, 2003