Presentation by Arch. Joji Marampudi Archbishop of Hyderabad
missionaries at Hyderabad:
5th June 1855
Christianity in India
The cradle of Christianity
Padroado and Propaganda
The first Telugu Christians
The missionary renaissance
The first Bishop in Hyderabad:
Daniel Murphy (1845-1869)
"The hospitality was very cordial"
"Your missionaries are a blessing"
Which language to study?
Two parts: Nizam and British Territories
New Missionaries: Bigi and Caprotti
The Bishop is worried
The tidal wave
Why Murphy left?
first PIME bishop (1870-1881)
Bishop Pietro Caprotti goes out to the Telugu (1882-1897)
Turlapadu: providential events
The Koyas: the wrong time
Gospel on the railways
Vijayawada comes up
Efforts to get local clergy
A stern saint: Fr. Giambattista Ciccolungo
Raichur and Bhir: a West too far
Fr. OpiIio Negri, an intrepid missionary
Pietro Viganò: a holy and learned bishop (1897-1908)
Missionaries die young:
Fr. Luigi Cantaluppi
Diaries of Viganò: a mine of information
The ever present caste problem
A balance sheet
The long period of Bishop Dionigi Vismara (1909-1948)
The great conversion movement
Dalit Movement part of National Movement
The "Common Letter"
Fr. Silvio Pasquali: The Friend of the Dalits
Fr. Ugo Pezzoni: The Apostle of Krishna District
Fr. Pio Tentorio: cholera or poison?
Fr. Paolo Fontana: cholera: the big killer
The person of Vismara
|A new diocese:
Vijayawada. Bishop Domenico Grassi (1939-1951)
The spadework of the Catechists
Br. Joseph Thamby
Pastoral and Sodal Work
Gunadala: An industrial school
A shrine for pilgrimage
A generous Jesuit: Fr. Pietro Caironi
Fr. Carlo Merlo: Dharmaraja
Fr. Deodato Desenzani:
Health care for the rural India
Fr. Vincenzo Pagano and the Godavari Delta
The PIME Sisters
Bishop Ambrogio De Battista(1951-1971)
A good organiser and administrator
An example for other dioceses
A vicar for all seasons: Angelo Bianchi
Fr. Giovanni Leoncini
Mario Fumagalli: the Father of handicapped children
The second partition of Hyderabad: Warangal Diocese
Bishop Alfonso Beretta (1951-1985)
Bro. Pasquale Sala: the builder of Fatimanagar
First priority: the local clergy
Beretta: a man of great culture
The Golden Missionary Age
Fr. Augusto Colombo: the volcanic man
Main purpose: promotion of the Harijans
Nalgonda diocese: a fruit of PIME's work
The other evangelizers of Andhra
The return to Hyderabad
|Fr. Umberto Colli.(1929-36)
A Father to all
Fr. Cesare Mariani (1936-47)
A referral point in the war
Fr. Paolo Arlati (1953-65) A Guardian Angel for all
Fr. Carlo Radice (1965-69) It is necessary to come out of Andhra
Fr. Bruno Venturin (1969-73) A Superior out of place
A new opening in Mumbai
Fr. Angelo Biffi (I973-79) The man able to stand
Fr. Domenico Vivenzi (I 979-86) A push for internationalization
The long march of Internationalization
the first Italian missionary institute
Lombard Seminary for Foreign Missions
Missionaries who know how to govern themselves
Missionaries of San Calocero
a good animator (1891-1901)
The Golden Jubilee
a Director form the diocese (1904-1908)
A moment of crisis
a Director from India (1909-1913)
the first elected Director (1913-1924)
The rise of Fr. Paolo Manna
the first Superior General (1924-1934)
Consolidation of the Institute in Italy
PIME: two roots, one Institute
The first visit to all the missions
The fruits of Manna's "Observations"
A prophetic vision
Regional Superiors in the missions
The PIME Sisters
The Clergy Missionary Union
The harsh years of Lorenzo Balconi, Superior General (1934-1947)
Diocesan versus Religious
a gentle General Superior (1947-1957)
the Superior who believed in India (1957-1964)
Vocations from India
Aristide Pirovano: a good manager as Superior (1965-1977)
Changing scenario in the missions
The preference for Asia
The search for new ways
"Inforpime": a tool for internal exchange
Two superiors from the far East
"Opening up to the value of internationality"
Two international seminaries
International at all levels
ANew Diocese: Vijayawada (1937) Bishop Domenico Grassi (1939-1951)
Up till now, the mission of PIME in Hyderabad had been one territory and one
juridical unit. But with the fast development of conversions in the so-called
"Telugu Region", that is the territory between Vijayawada and
Machilipatnam, a division was becoming necessary. The civil administration was
already divided: Hyderabad was under the administration of the Muslim rule of
the Nizam; Vijayawada was directly under the colonial administration of the
British Government. This difference in structure and development brought about
the partition of the diocese of Hyderabad and the establishment of Vijayawada
as a "missio sui juris" (autonomous region) in 1933 and as new
The man to whom Vijayawada was entrusted was Fr. Domenico Grassi (1887 -1951) first as Ecclesiastical Superior of the Mission (1933), and afterwards as the first bishop of Vijayawada in 1939. He was a real "gentleman", born in Milan in 1887, brought up in the city, ordained in 1911. In the same year he reached Hyderabad. He was posted in many different places: Mattampalli, Nandigama, Eluru, Singaram and then in Hyderabad as seminary Rector. He had a short trip to Italy in 1927 to be at the bedside of his dying mother. Back to India in the same year he was appointed parish priest of Vijayawada.
"A man of silence, he was held high in the esteem of his confreres who admired in him his talent, zeal and gentleness" (Leoncini, 1988, 135). So he was at the right place when, in 1933, a leader was needed for the new ecclesiastical unit. His title was "Ecclesiastical Superior" of the autonomous mission. Fr. Manna must have made the choice to present him as "Ecclesiastical Superior" in spite of the shortcomings that he noticed in his Diary during the visit of 1928. He wrote: "Fr. Grassi is also well quoted, but many say that he is slack and without initiative. His politeness and external décor seems more due to his nature than to his virtue" (Manna, 1975,27). Four years later when Vijayawada became diocese he became its bishop. He was consecrated in Milan on May 1, 1939 in his Parish Church where 52 years before he was baptized. By the end of the year he was back in his diocese.
"His innate sense of self-control, prudence and kindness made him almost an exception among his confreres, so exuberant in their Latin nature and manners. A man of apostolic zeal, he organized and intensified the conversion movement among the Harijans. During his episcopate, the number of Catholics almost tripled passing from 22,633 in 1933 to 62,709 in 1951; in spite of the odds and restrictions imposed by World War II, when several Fathers were sent to a concentration campo Bishop Grassi did everything gentry, almost diplomatically, silently. Even his death in one of the many rooms of Milan PIME Mother House passed almost unnoticed. He died in silence and humility, almost unknown and unsung, tortured by a throat cancer, and even more by nostalgia for his far away Mission" (Leoncini, 1988,137).
At the partition of the diocese of Hyderabad in 1933, the Fathers were left
free to choose either mission-field. 16 PIME Fathers chose Vijayawada
Mission together with one Indian priest, 3 Brothers of St. Gabriel, 29 Sisters
and 187 Catechists. The two mission-fields were quite different. Hyderabad
remained with the ancient caste-congregations and immigrants from other parts of
India, as we have already seen, generally self-supporting but with very few new
conversions. The standard of life in the twin cities, with their offices and
prestigious institutions, with their westernized Christians, could hardly be
compared to the camp-life of the Krishna missionaries. The majority of the young
missionaries would have opted for Vijayawada, so much so that Bishop Vismara had
to put a ceiling on the desire to migrate in order to keep with him the
necessary personnel. We have already seen that Bishop Vismara was a bit isolated
from his clergy and we can understand that many of them would have liked to go
for a change. In 1939, with the latest arrivals, 34 Fathers were in Hyderabad
and 27 in Vijayawada.
During the War, many Fathers were interned in concentration camps. So it was for the six working in the West Godavari District. Since the decision was left to the 10caI British authorities, those of the Krishna District were left free in their residences. Fortunately, during the war, the number of Indian priest went up, some priests carne to help from Guntur, Vishakhapatnam and Nellore. In the same period also the number of Catechist went up.
In 1951, the year of Msgr. Grassi death, 29 PIME Fathers were in the diocese, together with 6 Indian Fathers, 5 PIME Brothers, 65 Sisters and 318 Catechists (Leoncini, 1988, 139). The real big increase was in the number of Catechists, 131 more than in 1933.
The Spadework of The Catechists
The increased number of conversions is due particularly to the work of the Catechists. These men of the land can speak the local language; when they are rightly motivated in their faith, they can find the right arguments; they can give the good example. Msgr. Angelo Bianchi, who had been the Vicar General of the diocese for many years wrote: "The highest rate of increase in the statistics is that of 1935 and 1936, and all the senior missionaries remember that a good part of it was made up of converts in Catholic villages. Having no money to contribute to the Pontifical Works of the Propagation of Faith, it was decided to make a special effort to contribute converts, and it was in those very years that the rate of conversions per priest in Vijayawada was the highest in the missions under Propaganda Fide. Still the war years must be remembered as the most glorious years in the life of the diocese. When the rumour was spread by the Protestant Padres that all foreign missionaries were going to be expelled from the country, our Catholics refused to be alarmed. Catechists volunteered to work without salary until funds became available; and the priests never desisted from attending to the spiritual needs of the Christians and Catechumens disregarding the risk of internment" (IVC. Feb. 1961, 5).
It is right to mention here, going back in time, the names of few Catechists or laypersons who distinguished themselves in the work of evangelisation. Mr. John Hendricks, the engineer who guided Fr. Salvi among the Koyas (see p. 55); Arava Davidu who took Fr. Piatti to Vennanapudi (see p. 102); Lazarus Sanyasi and Marre Inyasi who opened the Godavari Delta to Msgr. Grassi. Another was Mr. David Harper Sr. who was honoured by Bishop Vismara with the title of "The best Catholic in the diocese of Hyderabad" on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee Celebration of Msgr. Pezzoni at Vijayawada in 1922. When Vismara proclaimed him "the best Catholic", the audience with one voice answered: "We do know it, we do know it" (Leoncini, 1988, 170). We can give here a sketch of two of them.
Lazarus Sanyasi (+ 1916)
We mentioned Lazarus Sanyasi and we think he deserves a few more words.
Fr. Umberto Colli gave a description of this apostle in Le Missioni Cattoliche in 1916 when he died. He also wrote a short biography of him at the end of his book on Fr. Opilio Negri (Colli, 1939, 134-149).
"Although poor Lazarus tried his best to hide himself, his funeral was a
real triumph. Not on[y the Christians of the city came, but also the Protestants
and the Eurasians. He was esteemed because he was a sanyasi, that is, a
celibate. Everybody knew that for him it was not a word without meaning. Here
where virginity is something unknown, he was acknowledged as an extraordinary
person. When I made his acquaintance he was already 65 years old: he
still had black hairs. Short and skinny, his ascetic face shaved clean, bent
under the weight of a shoulder bag, with a walking stick and a brass vessel in
his hands he was going on foot from village to village praying and baptizing.
One day I questioned him: "That bag is too heavy on your shoulders! What do you carry in it?"
"Swamiji, just a few medicines for the children and some books".
"All right! But I want to see everything. "
The old man obeyed and unloaded his bag. We found some medicines manufactured by himself, some small provisions, and a few books of his personal multilanguage library. Every book was wrapped in a cloth. There were 1èlugu books, his favourites in his own language; there were Tamil books, Kannada and Marathi, Hindustani and English and, would you believe it, also a booklet with Latin sentences.
"Who taught you Latin?"
"Swamiji, I don 't know Latin"
"Then, what you do with that book? Oh I know! With Fr. Ciccolungo you were trying to learn by heart some sentences in English and Latin"
"Oh yes! But I don't know Latin" he babbled in confusion.
"I will test you. Be careful! What is this "Deus creavit coelum et terram"?
"God created heaven and earth". He answered in his good Telugu.
"Very Good! Dominus vobiscum".
"The Lord be with you".
"Oh, rascal! You know better than me. Jesus Christus natus est: venite adoremus!" and the translation came out with some difficulty.
To tell the truth, our catechist did not follow the advise of Fr. Ciccolungo, his spiritual director, who discouraged him from learning Latin sentences by heart. He was admirable in his simplicity and kindness. Forty years earlier he had come from the Anglican Church. He had studied in their boarding schools and he knew Telugu perfectly. Many in his family had been educated in Protestant schools and some of them had also become Pastors. But he had always been sad that only few of them followed him into the Catholic Church. Still young, he was sent by his Pastor as a catechist to Eluru. There he came in contact with the Catholic religion and our missionaries. At that time Fr. Malberti was in Eluru, he was esteemed for his simplicity and kindness. But it was Fr. Ciccolungo who looked after Lazarus and taught him the spirit of humility and penance. The disciple could only imitate the master who did not send away any of the poor, rather he invited them to his meals.
Lazarus tried to imitate him: carrying his shoulder bag he used to visit all the villages of the Krishna district (...). As the Gospel says, he was not carrying two garments, nor gold or silver. Like Jesus, he had no fixed place to sleep during the night. He was given Rs. 10/- monthly for his living; but he gave half of it to the poor. He ate whatever people gave him. He became a legend (Piergallina, 1964, 77).
Arava Davidu (+ 1916)
Bishop Viganò, in the diary of his pastoral visit of 1905, wrote:
"I can only praise the catechists of Masulipatam district; since some of
them came recently from the Protestants and they didn't get any training for
this purpose. Among them, Davidu is outstanding; in fact he has introduced the
faith in Vennenapudy and, more or less, in all Masulipatam district.
His story is quite interesting.
He came from Madras and was Sudra by caste. He was passing through Betzwada with his father, when his father suddenly died, so he found shelter in a Protestant orphanage. He was instructed in the new religion in Madras, and afterwards he was sent to preach in the area of Masulipatam where he brought many villages into the Protestant fold.
In the mysterious plan of God, he had some misunderstanding with his minister, and separated from him, but he kept his faith and his devotion, worshiping God by himself. He became the leader of the Christians of Vennenapudy and of some other villages around there. As their leader he went so far as to celebrate also their marriage. But this was forbidden by the existing law (Christian Marriage Act) that give this right only to the ministers of the recognised denominations. He was put on trial. The judge, Thomas Gordon Mackenzie, absolutely honest, was a converted Catholic and a good friend of Fr. Piatti and Fr. Civati. In the motivation of the sentence he observed that Arava Davidu, leaving the Anglican Church, had behaved just as Henry VIII when he left the Catholic Church. Anyway Davidu was condemned to a light fine since he celebrated a marriage without being a minister of a recognised denomination. Davidu always spoke with respect of judge Mackenzie.
It was in these circumstances that he came to know of the Catholic Church and since he was no longer an Anglican he went , with his friends, to ask help from Fr. Piatti who had come from Thurlapadu to Betzwada.
Fr. Piatti did not believe him and his faithful straight away. They had to go to him several times until he was persuaded that God was working in them. He accepted as catechumens those of Vennenapudy, but later on he also accepted other villages. At present, one of our best Christian communities is there.
Davidu turned out to be a sincere and well instructed leader and thereafter he continued to be a true apostle. He was well trained in Holy Scriptures and in doctrine: with a sharp mind he preached in such a way that surprised many. He came with me during the Pastoral Visit: several times I requested him to preach. It was amazing how he was able to start from dairy circumstances or from what he was seeing around, to introduce his topic and develop it with eloquence. We have decided to send him to the villages around Masulipatam to supervise the work of the other catechists and so to relive Fr. Santambrogio's work. With so many villages to take care of and many more coming, and with the interference of the Protestants, he really needed another missionary.
The good Davidu was trustworthy and of irreprehensible moral behaviour (Brambilla, 1941, 219).
Br. Joseph Thamby (+ 1945)
It would be pro per to mention here also Br. Joseph Thamby, a still
mysterious figure, who died in 1945, and has already acquired a popular cult.
His parish priest in Avutapalli, Fr. Giovanni Calderaro, wrote about him in 1960, fifteen years after his death:
"In 1939, a certain Brother Joseph Thamby arrived in the parish
making his residence at Kesarapalli. His poor life and sincerity captivated the
Catholics of the village. One still remembers him going in the evening from
house to house to recite the Rosary with the villagers. After eight months, he
was allowed to stay in the Avutapalli Parish compound. To him are due the first
conversions of the Avutapalli Sudras. Almost all the villages were visited by
him. At that time a lot of whispering was going on about his stigmata. Some
Fathers witnessed the fact.
Three months before his death, he got a coffin ready and kept it in his room. He foresaw that, in spite on three Priests residents at Avutapalli, he would die without the last Sacraments. In fact Extreme Unction was given 'sub conditione' in the house of the first person converted by him. He died on January 15, 1945 and a big tomb conserves the remains of this mysterious Brother" (Leoncini, 1988, 167).
Fr. Leoncini acknowledges that there is a "growing popular devotion year after year". Also in the Diocesan Directory, more attention and space is given to him. Br. Thamby was going around dressed like a Franciscan friar. In 1969, the Friars Minor Capuchin (O.F.M. Cap.) took charge of Avutapalli parish. The parish priest, Fr. Avito published a short Biography of Brother Joseph Thamby in 1972, "to make known to a greater public the life of this extraordinary person". Fr. Leoncini feels that a historian, not a devotee, should do a more critical study. He also considers "this basic, primary recognition of the Church as something urgent" , since he has noticed that this veneration of Br. Thamby "leaves people indifferent to the Catholic Church" .
Pastoral And Social Work
New parishes were established or flourished in this period: Bhimavaram
was started by Fr. Angelo Mariani and consolidated by Fr. Paolo Arlati. In July,
1936, Fr. Angelo Corbani was the first parish priest of Vatlur. Sometime
new parishes were started after the conversion of big protestant congregations,
as it was the case of Bhyravapatnam. Fr. Angelo Mariani wrote in the
style of that time: "Bhyravapatnam means to us a great victory: a triumph
of the Catholic truth over the Protestant errors. Not less than 250 people have
come to us in this village after seceding from a sect that had seceded from the
Anglican Church. For some time now these conversions of Protestants to us have
become more frequent" (Brambilla, 1941, 633). He mentioned other Protestant
villages converted like Vemavarappadu and Assuaram.
Also the parish of Nawabupeta was erected in 1941; Fr. Deodato Desenzani was the first parish priest. Chintalapudi too became parish in 1945 and Fr. Ambrogio De Battista (later Bishop) became its first pastor although the first evangelizer of Chintalapudi Taluqa was Fr. Angelo Bianchi when he was residing at Eluru in the years 1933-35.
It is during the episcopate of Msgr. Grassi that medical and social work started in a very consistent way. On the medical side, three new hospitals carne up with the blessing of Bishop Grassi: l. St. Ann's Hospital by the Sisters of St. Ann, Luzern at Vijayawada, (1940); 2. St. Ann's Maternity Hospital at Jaggayyapeta, by the same congregation (1945); 3. Sacred Heart Hospital (1950) at Gudivada by the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate (MSI). On the social work side in this period we have to register the development of Gunadala Institutions as the focal centre of Vijayawada mission. This bring us to consider two important factors that influenced the work of PIME in India: I. The work of evangelisation of the PIME Lay Missionaries, the so called Brothers. 2. The foundation of the women branch of PIME, the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate (MSI).
Since the beginning of the Institute lay missionaries had been associated in
the evangelisation work. In the first group sent to Melanesia, with six priests
there was a layman, Giuseppe Corti, a catechist. He died of "fever" 18
months after his arrival. He was the first member of the Institute to die in the
missions. In 1856, in the second expedition to India, at Agra, there was also a
layman: Giuseppe Beltrami, who died there one year later. Bro. Paolo Mauri died
in Krishnagar in 1866. Another famous Brother who worked and died in Krishnagar
in 1867 was Bro. Giovanni Sesana whose biography was written by G. Scurati. But
a greater utilisation of lay missionaries started in 1934 with the arrival in
India of three Brothers: Davide Giani, an architect, Carlo Sala a civil engineer
and Luigi Crippa a skilled carpenter. These three Brothers had been called to
India to take up the work started by the Brothers of St. Gabriel in Gunadala.
Gunadala was a big plot of land (23 acres), partly donated and partly bought by Msgr. Ugo Pezzoni in 1923, and dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. At that time, it was out of the limits of the town of Vijayawada, and the idea of Msgr. Pezzoni was to open there a settlement for the Yerukula Criminal Tribe. But on finding that such a plan had been already realized by the Salvation Army at Tadepalli, he decided to shift the orphanage that he had in his parish in Vijayawada, at Gunadala. That land was very wild and inhospitable. The young Fr. Paolo Arlati had just come from Italy in 1924 and was put in charge of developing the area and supervising the orphanage.
Gunadala: An Industrial School
In the same year he started an industrial school and accepted some other boys
brought by Bishop Vismara from Hyderabad. Many buildings carne up in this
compound, one after the other: the dormitories of the boys, large sheds for the
industrial school, a chapel, followed by the church with the parish house, the
residence for the Brothers, the dining hall, etc. In 1927 the compound wall was
built. Many PIME Fathers are buried there in the cemetery. That means that
Gunadala became the focal point of the Vijayawada Mission.
When the PIME Brothers carne in 1934, the Gunadala institutions were entrusted to them and Fr. Arlati was transferred to open a new station at Bhimavaram (West Godavari). In 1936, a new Brother carne: Carlo Bertoli. With him, and with the help of Msgr. Angelo Bianchi, who was manager at that time, the "industrial era" of Gunadala started. Welding, tube-bending and wood-working machines, donated by Br. Crippa's family, were installed. With much difficulty the power supply too was obtained from the nearby powerhouse, which had already been solemnly opened in February 1930.
That was something extraordinary for Vijayawada. "Probably this was the first time that the people of Gunadala had seen (electric) machines in operation!" (Leoncini, 1988, 157). That happened in 1940, but soon the dark shadow of World War II cast its spell on the Italian Missionaries who became overnight "enemies" of the British Authorities. Communication with Italy was difficult. For ten years the flow of personnel was stopped. When the first batch carne in 1948, Fr. Leonardo Redaelli was chosen as the new Manager of Gunadala.
A Shrine For Pilgrimage
But the importance of Gunadala is not so much in the many institutions that
have come up one after the other, as in the big feast that has become a
tradition on February 11. Indian people are very fond of pilgrimages, and Indian
Christians too are no exception. It was Fr. Arlati who also started the
tradition with the inmates of the orphanage and the local Catholics in 1926. Fr.
Arlati placed a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in a natural niche on the hill.
"That was the humble beginning of our diocesan, nay inter-diocesan Shrine
at Gunadala" (Leoncini 1988, 155). The present statue was brought from
Italy, also by Fr. Arlati, 27 years later and placed in the same niche, enlarged
by blasting the rock. In 1933, to commemorate the 19th centenary of Redemption,
a big iron cross was placed on the top of the hill it can be seen from miles and
miles away. In all this work Pr. Arlati was helped by the Brothers of St.
The feast, of February 11, became very popular particularly among the Tamil Christians. Gradually the number of devotees taking part in the feast began to swell from year to year. Side by side with popular participation in the feast of Our Lady, devotion to the Cross developed so that all pilgrims usually climb from the Grotto to the Cross on the top of the hill. To give place to the crowds and also to make the site more attractive Brs. Bertoli and Crippa enlarged the platform in front of the grotto, built the long stairway to reach the top of the hill, and constructed small chapels illustrating the Mysteries of the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross. With a powerful pump they provided water up to the hilltop. Many parishes organised special transport to carry the pilgrims from as far away as Machilipatnam.
The records say that in 1947, no less than 4000 pilgrims carne. At present the crowd is more than one lakh (a hundred thousand). "It is a beautiful sight to see at night: an unending flambeaux procession winding its path along the Grotto" (Leoncini, 1988, 167).
A Generous Jesuit: Fr. Pietro Caironi
At the end of this period of Bishop Grassi that saw an increasing building
activity, a question may come to our mind: who was providing the economic
It is very well known that the Christian people had always been generous with the missionaries. Now that economics has become so important in life and in the school curriculum, it would be very interesting to have a study on the economic history of the missions. At the beginning PIME the missionaries were struggling in dire poverty: they were living on the stipend given to them as chaplains of the British Army and on the subsidy of Propaganda Fide. Their country too, Italy, was a poor country at that time and could not spare much to support the missionaries. Things changed for better with the industrialisation of the XX century. But till the sixties, many PIME missionaries were struggling to make the ends meet. In this situation, the help given to our missionaries by a little known Jesuit Italian priest, was very providential. By chance, he carne to visit Vijayawada mission. Here is a full page about Fr. Pietro Caironi, S.J. from Fr. Leoncini (1988,171).
"He was an exceptional man or rather an extraordinary man in the most
ordinary way. For ten years (1951-'61) he, a missionary like so may
others, supported financially the missionary work of Vijayawada. These were
years of torturing poverty and privations. He came to our help as a good
Samaritan. It is our duty to record his name.
...He was born near Bergamo, Italy, and at times he showed the stubbornness of a thorough-bred. On this, his Superiors and the confreres who worked with him would have a few words to say; for instance the Bishop of Calicut, who had to moderate and direct his impetuous activity. Once, having gone to him on a pastoral visit, Bishop Patroni, instead of giving a sermon, had to hear one himself on the heat of the petrol he would have to feel in Purgatory to make up for the comfort his car afforded him! The Father used to move about on buffalo-carts and rough barges. The Bishop let the storm pass. He knew him well and even appreciated him.
... Once he was ordained a Priest, he insistent[y asked to be sent to the place where Christianity had not yet made 'inroads'. Had he been sent to teach in a school he would have died thirty years before. So Fr. Caironi was sent to work along the Malabar coast, north of Calicut, where no missionary had ever set foot. The place is inhabited by a tribe of very poor people called Pullayas. Fr. Caironi set himself to work. He at first established his headquarters at Cannanore, but later on went to live just among the Pullayas at Payyanagaddy. But how to help his poor people if he himself was poor? With the insistence of the despair he began to send his appeals to Europe and to America. Many were his disappointments, but he also found people who understood and helped him.
He thus began to buy land, to build small but neat houses, schools, dispensaries; the people understood him and followed him. But Fr. Caironi was anything but a narrow-minded, selfish man. Though overwhelmed with worries of his own, he never refused his encouraging word and financial help to many Fathers of our Mission when he came to know of the many hopes and many needs of our Diocese. By Christmas 1951 he had sent his first help; then, in 1952 he came to visit our mission. Many still remember the Franciscan poverty of this Missionary who distributed thousand of rupees to many other Missionaries. After this visit his help to the needy Fathers arrived steadily for ten years until he fell sick and had to repatriate.
To the three problems that are the constant preoccupation of the common people - eating, sleeping and clothing - Fr. Caironi never gave a thought. Wherever he went he would join his people in their meal, oblivious of flies, chillies and strong spices. When there was no more for them, there would be no more for him either. The poor Bishop spoke to the winds when he tried to persuade him otherwise. At night after his prayers he would lie down anywhere: on a bench, along a wall, under a tree or on the table on the veranda of his home. One day was found with a big cobra in his hands; it had found its way under the table in his room, but it had to taste the efficacy of Fr. Caironi's stick. The cassock of the missionary is supposed to be white but his was more often red, often with red mud or soaked with sweat.
I think it was worth mentioning this legendary figure as a sign of gratitude
not only to him but also to the thousands benefactors who continuously support
the missionary work of thousands of missionaries all over the world. He
contributed to the work of PIME missionaries and is part of PIME History.
Among the famous protagonists of this period one must remember Fr. Carlo Merlo, Fr. Deodato Desenzani, Fr. Vincenzo Pagano.
Fr. Carlo Merlo: Dharmaraja (1907 - 1957)
His biography was written by Giovanna M. Ferrario.
One of his confrere presents him like this:
"A European in his forties, bald but with a reddish thick beard, in his white cassock and colonial pith helmet, going around with bare feet, but with the shoes tied together by their laces and hanging from his shoulders. He used to go around the main thoroughfare of Madras city, with such a natural attitude, shopping for the hospital of his mission" (Ferrario, 1963, 11).
Born in Busto Arsizio in 1907, he did his studies in the PIME seminary,
became priest in 1933, and reached India and Vijayawada, in 1934, when it was
separated from Hyderabad and the movement of Dalit conversion was in full swing.
While he was studying Telugu, he didn't want to stay idle, so he supervised the
building of the bell-tower of the Cathedral and started repairing watches. By
Christmas, he was able to say Mass in Telugu and he was sent alone to nearby
villages. His first assignment was as an assistant to Fr. Paolo Arlati in
Gunadala, where there was a hostel and a school with 300 students, and an
industrial school with different workshops. Fr Merlo, a practical man, found
himself at home with the machines of the workshops.
With his inclination for mechanics, he was one of the first missionaries to use the motorbike, one year after his arrival, he got one and enjoyed riding it. But during the war, the British authorities confiscated it. Along with the Brothers Giani and Bertoli, he worked to realise the plan of Fr. Arlati for Our Lady Grotto on the slope of the mountain. The fifteen pictures of the mysteries of Rosary in painted ceramic were donated by the town of Fr. Merlo, Busto Arsizio (Leoncini, 1988, 166).
After he went to India, he couldn't bear to wear shoes anymore. Once during a solemn Mass with the Bishop of Guntur, he was moving around in discomfort on the altar till he went in a corner, removed the shoes and finished the Mass barefoot. This is not at all a scandal in 'rural India where everybody removes his or her shoes before entering the church. For the non-Christians, it is a scandal to see people entering the churches without removing their shoes. On the occasion of Easter 1935, he had the chance to assist the Bishop of Nellore, Msgr. Bouter (there was as yet no bishop in Vijayawada) administering the Baptism to 160 Dalits in the village of Telaprolu. Fr. Merlo gave a report of it in Le Missioni Cattoliche.
In 1936, he was put in charge of Nandigama district and Fr. Mario Arosio who had just arrived, was sent to him as assistant. Besides taking care of the many villages in the vast district, with the help of Bro. Pasquale Sala, he also built a Seminary in the campus of Nandigama institutions in 1938 (Leoncini, 1988, 187). In 1951, the district of Nandigama was divided into three parishes: Jaggayyapeta, Nawabupeta and Jagannadhapuram. In December 1952, he was the first parish priest of Jagannadhapuram. The Reddy community paid for the land and also built the church (Leoncini, 1988, 224). On January 1954, he arrived in the village on a cycle with the tabernacle for the chapel tied to his back. He was very much sought after by different Fathers for their practical needs. In 1955, he went to Avutapilli to do the electrical work in the church and parish house. He had a good friendship with Fr. Deodato Desenzani who was at Nawabupeta and he also looked after his parish when he was away.
Death caught him in the middle of work. Bishop Beretta of Warangal called him to Kazipet to fix the Seminary pump. He put his Breviary, a meditation book, an electricity manual and a blanket in his shoulder-bag. He had borrowed Rs. 15/on the previous day, as he had no money. But he had already given away Rs. 10/- for the funeral of his cook. When he died of cerebral haemorrhage two days later, they found in his pocket one and half rupees; and that too was borrowed money! (Leoncini, 1988,211). It was the January 18, 1957. In 23 years he had never gone back to Italy.
Fr. Deodato Desenzani: Health Care For Rural India
Fr. Desenzani carne to India in 1914 and he died at Nawabpet in 1960. After working in a rural area, he realised that the best way to help people was to take care of their health; he went back to Italy in 1933, and at the age of 51 he enrolled himself in a medical college and took an MBBS. He carne back in 1938 and started his own hospital in Nawabpet.
"He never thought of starting first class hospitals in the cities for rich people. Those who can pay, have plenty of possibilities to take care of their health. He wanted primary health centres with buildings that fit in with the surrounding ones. They should be clean and neat, with good hygienic conditions but in tune with the Indian villages" (MC, Oct. 1960, p. 314-317).
He was born in Verona in 1882, his family was not very religious, and he was
sent by his father for military training in the navy at La Spezia. But his inner
desire was to become priest. He finally gat permission from his father, went to
the seminary and was ordained in 1905. Two years later he met with Blessed
Giovanni Calabria and together they started the "House of Good
Children". That was the beginning of the "Opera di don
Calabria", a congregation dedicated to the education of youth.
Deodato developed a desire to go to the missions, and Don Calabria suggested that he join PIME. They always remained friends and, although they parted their ways, Fr. Deodato is remembered as co-founder of the congregation of Don Calabria. He reached Hyderabad in 1914 and, working among the poor, he realised the need for health care. With the help of the Sisters of St. Ann he trained nurses and midwives and he asked them to stay in the villages. In order to do this kind of apostolate with competence and authority he decided to become a medical doctor himself. His confreres and the Regional Superior were critical of his practicing medicine.
While he was being trained in Italy, he started an association of Christian doctors for the work in the missions called UMMI (Unione Medico Missionaria Italiana) and in this, the cooperation with the congregation of Don Calabria was also providential. It is still functioning at Negrar (Verona).
Many doctors from India and other countries have been trained there.
Back in India as full-fledged doctor, he started his own rural hospital at Nawabpet.
"Fr. Desenzani in his rural hospital of Nawabpet was always a missionary
and the practice of medicine for him was not only a profession, but a charitable
way to reach souls. His fame as doctor very soon went beyond his diocese and his
hospital; poor and rich started pouring in his rural hospital. High caste people
started coming by car on the dusty road of Nawabpet and stood in line with
Dalits in the corridors.
Very much loved by his people he has become a legend and is remembered as a saint. Fr. Desenzani had a very intense spiritual life based on sacrifice and unlimited trust in the Providence of God. He didn't limit himself to the medical work alone but he started a theatre group for evangelisation, that toured the villages and represented religious dramas" (Gheddo, 2000, 370).
Fr. Vincenzo Pagano And the Godavari Delta
The delta of the river Godavari is one of the areas where the mass conversion
movement was more active in the period after the Second World War and Fr.
Vincenzo Pagano (1914 1982) was one the protagonists. Fortunately he recorded
for posterity his progress and his daily apostolic life in a book (Pagano,
1966). Christianity was present in the Godavari delta since the time of the
establishment of the French factory in Yanam and Pondicherry but it never spread
among the Telugus. Fr. Pagano reached Vijayawada in 1937 but he had to wait till
after the war to move around freely although he was not interned. He was
introduced to the missionary life by Fr. Augusto Zanini who was parish priest at
Bhimavaram in 1944 and had already started some pioneering work in Konaseema
Lanka, the island formed by the two branches of the Godavari.
Moving from Bhimavaram with the help of the catechist Marre Inyasi, Fr Pagano laid the foundations of the Catholic Church in the Godavari delta (Leoncini, 1988, 149). He baptised some villages in 1950 and in 1953 he became de first parish priest of Amalapuram where he opened the Holy Family Maternity Hospital in 1957 and built the Parish Church in 1959. Also in Tadepalligudem he administered the first baptisms in 1951 (Leoncini, 1988, 223). Before being transferred out of the delta he had baptized a dozen villages.
In 1960 he was sent at Tiruvuru to open a new district. He built the parish house and in 1965 he could boast that he "dedicated the first church in the whole wide world to Bl. Alberico Crescitelli, proto-martyr of PIME" that was canonised in the year 2000 (Leoncini, 1988,229). He was calling himself "the Seven-Taluq parish priest" (Taluq is an administrative unit and part of a district). He surely was a frontline missionary.
The PIME Sisters
It is again during the episcopate of Bishop Grassi, in the year 1948, that the
first group of PIME Sisters came to India at Vijayawada. (See also page
The first group of six Sisters reached Vijayawada on October 30, 1948. One month later, they were already deployed in the field at Gudivada. Two of them died before the second group could come in 1951. With them the Mother Superior, Giuseppina Dones also carne to console and encourage the Sisters. Others followed in 1953 and '56. A second house and hospital was opened in Bhimavaram. Very soon the Sisters also started recruiting vocations among the Indians. Mother Clara Bellotti was the one who believed in and pursued this enterprise. At first the candidates carne from the traditional Catholic places like Kerala and Mangalore, and afterwards from among the Telugus and Tamilians. The first Novitiate was opened in Bhimavaram 1955.
BISHOP AMBROGIO DE BATTISTA (1951-1971)
In the Souvenir printed in 1952, after the death of Bishop Grassi in Milano,
a prophetic incident is recorded: "Before dosing the coffin of Msgr. Grassi,
one of his relatives took out the golden pectoral cross of the dear Bishop to
replace it with an ordinary one. Then looking around he saw a Father, the Vicar
General of the PIME. 'Father - he said to him - it is for you." And he gave
it to him almost casually, it was a kind of prophetic gesture. That Father
happened to be the successor of Bishop Grassi, Fr. Ambrogio De Battista."
Here is a full page of Fr. Leoncini (1988, 177) who was one of his dose co-operators for many years as Rector of the minor seminary.
"De Battista was 46 years old when he was nominated Bishop on December 13, 1951; he had been a priest for 23 years, Vicar General of his Congregation for four years. He had left for India with Fr. A. Ghisaura on April 24, 1932. He had joined the PIME after three years of ministry in the Diocese of Como. The eldest of eight children, he had entered the diocesan seminary of Como at the age of 12. Life in that mountainous district had been serene and peaceful, but never easy for him. As an orphan and as the eldest son, he soon became a bit more of an adult, prudent and wise; poverty taught him parsimony; the mountains where he lived and worked taught him love for silence, the habit of reflection and patience, the virtue of the humble: such rare and precious qualities in this chatty, mad world. He inherited from his parents a deep faith and love for the Church. "
The stages of his missionary life carne in quick succession: Monugodu (today Nalgonda Diocese) in 1931; Nandigama (where he extended the hostel and built the chapel) in 1932; Eluru in 1935; internment at Dehra Dun in 1942 a10ng with all the other missionaries. In 1944 he went back to Eluru (Telesomavaram); Chintalapudi in 1945; and Gunadala for a short period in 1947 until August 8, when he received a convocation to go back to lta1y to serve the Institute as Vicar General of PIME. Without finishing his term, he was consecrated Bishop in his home village on March 19, 1952 and in August he was back to his mission in Vijayawada. He didn't think twice to confirm Msgr. Angelo Bianchi as his Vicar General. The two completed each other in their different natures and in their absolute identity of views and purposes. They worked together with one mind till the end of their lives. Bianchi died only two years before De Battista.
A Good Organiser And Administrator
In the previous decades Vijayawada Diocese had grown very quickly with mass-conversions, now was in need of an organizing mind and more adequate structures. New churches, new schools, new hospitals, new congregations were the crying need of the moment. A leader was required who, besides being a true apostle of the Gospel, would also be a skilful organiser, an able administrator and a tireless builder. This role was fulfilled by Bishop De Battista "a man of intrepid faith and unshakable fortitude, wholly practical-minded, he never went in for anything spectacular, fantastic and prestigious. He never sought human glory or cheap popularity. He never indulged in flippant talk. He was sincere, honest and blunt in his speech. He appeared at times to be reserved and stem in dealing with his clergy. But that was his character, reluctant to show his innermost feelings. He tenderly loved his priests and his flock. He loved the Church immensely. He was a conservative out of love for the Church: he detested all innovations, when innovation meant danger to the faith and morals and disregard to a venerable past" (Leoncini, 1988, 179).
To mention his achievements we would need to make long lists of names and figures, here are some of those data comparing the situation in a span of 20 years:
Orphanages too had a geometrical increase from 3 to 12 and so was the social
and assistance work.
Fr. Antonio Ghisaura who in 1966 had returned to Vijayawada after an absence of about 16 years, was surprised to see the progress made by his old mission and wrote his impressions few years later in "A Souvenir, Mgr. A. De Battista, Nuzvid, 1971":
"Accompanying Bishop De Battista, as his Secretary and Personal
Assistant, I could see and admire the many new institutions which a few years
ago would have been considered childish dreams. Take for instance Eluru, with
the mighty buildings of St. Theresa's College, and two new institutions: the St.
Xavier's High School and Industrial School, and the Damian Leprosy Centre where
the poor lepers found again a reason to live and hope. And then there were the
many hospitals built already or under construction - at Gudivada,
Bhimavaram, Bhimadole, Fatimapuram, Jangareddigudem, Jaggayyapeta, Kondapalli,
Tiruvuru, Kalidindi... And then again Educational Institutions - the
three Colleges, the new Schools at Amalapuram, Nidadavole, Masulipatnam,
Gudivada and the Seminary at Nuzvid.
And along with them the old glorious schools at Gunadala and Nandigama have been vastly improved and extended. And who can count the churches, chapels and parish houses erected by Bishop De Battista in his twenty years of Episcopacy?" (IVC, Jan. '72, 9).
An Example For Other Dioceses
In spite of all these activities he never lost control of the finances. Fr.
Domenico Vivenzi, who was his Vicar General in the last years, remembers how
meticulous he was in checking all the account books of parishes and
institutions. He said in an interview: "From different parts of India,
Church personnel were coming to Vijayawada to study our methods. Really, it was
not a "method" but a spirit. The guidelines that Msgr. De Battista was
giving to his missionaries were very simple: he wanted his missionaries to live
among the people and like the people, as much as they could. He recommended them
to visit very often the outstation villages and stay there a few days, other
than a short visit on Sundays, to listen to the people, visit the sick, solve
the family problems, and give religious instructions in the evenings. The people
should feel that the priest is with them and for them."
"Several times the civil authorities carne to thank Bishop De Battista for the remarkable contribution given by the Church to the development of the district. They acknowledged that no other agency, like the Church, had done so much for the uplifting of the Dalits" (Gheddo, 2000, 360).
He was a real leader but he had also a very good team of workers. As soon as he became bishop he made good use of six new missionaries who had just come three years before (1948), and in his time ten more carne. The PIME Sisters too were in full expansion in his time. He put all his trust and hope in the newly started minor seminary of Nuzvid, and he appointed as rector an exceptional man, Fr. Giovanni Leoncini, who really dedicated his whole life to seminaries, first in Italy and afterwards in Nuzvid till his death. The results can be seen in the number of new local priests consecrated by Bishop De Battista: around sixty. When he took over the diocese he had 6 local priests, at the moment of his death the diocese was having 62 local priests (Annuario PIME, 1973, p.64).
Another good fortune was to have in his team a very active architect, Bro. Davide Giani. Near1y all the buildings constructed in the diocese of Vijayawada in this period ha been designed by him and, many times the construction work had been supervised by him: churches, convents, schools, Bishop's houses, the Regional House in Eluru. He was so famous that he was also requested to design public buildings like cinema halls and the guest house in Tirupati Temple. One of his biggest works could be the Loyola college of the Jesuits of Vijayawada.
A Vicar For All Seasons: Angelo Bianchi
But the real asset for Bishop De Battista and his predecessor was their Vicar
General, Msgr. Angelo Bianchi (1904-1968). The historian of the diocese,
Fr. Giovanni Leoncini put their three names together, Grassi, De Battista, and
Bianchi "as the makers of the Diocese of Vijayawada" (Leoncini,
1988,215). Also after his death people were saying that Bianchi would have been
the natural choice to become bishop after Grassi but for a freak accident that
happened to him when he was at Vatlur in the first years of his missionary life
(1933-35). While he was handling and cleaning a gun used by his predecessor for
hunting and left in the house by him, an accidental shot killed one of the
children. That was a bitter experience that marked his destiny.(Gheddo, 2000,
362, n. 86).
He worked in India 41 years, and for 34 he was Vicar General of Vijayawada. Fr. Mathew Cheriankunnel (later Bishop) who wrote a commemorative note after his death, could not but associate the extraordinary development of the diocese with his memory. He carne to India at Hyderabad, in 1927, he remained in Vijayawada when it was separated from Hyderabad, and became Vicar General in 1935.
"It is an infant diocese, just 33 years old, but now it has a
Catholic population of 1,30,000 spread over 1200 villages, with about 100
priests, over 300 Sisters, 200 schools, 3 colleges, a network of
charitable institutions - orphanages, hospitals and a leprosy centre,
this is no mean achievement. These institutions that cater to the social,
educational and medical needs of the diocese are the living monuments of the
late Msgr. Bianchi. In the starting and development of these institutions, the
role played by Msgr. Bianchi was ever conspicuous. The former Internuncio
Archbishop j. R. Knox, was astonished at the rapid progress the Diocese had made
in so short time. There is no Diocese, remarked His Excellency, that has such a
record of achievements to its credit. He paid special tributes of praise and
congratulations to the Bishop and his V.G." (IVC, Sept. '68,5-6)
The missionaries, jokingly, nicknamed him "the shadow" of Bishop De Battista, since they were always planning and working together.
Msgr. Bianchi was unassuming in his manners, simple in his dress and frugal in his meals, he was friend of the poor and fond of children, but his intellectual shrewdness, his tenacity of purpose and his administrative ability were great assets for the discharge of his duties. Since the beginning of his missionary life he was very often in charge of different duties. One of his pet projects was the Industrial School of Gunadala. Fr. Leonardo Redaelli said about him:
"During the episcopates of Grassi and De Battista, Fr. Bianchi was an
exceptionally charismatic figure. The bishops did nothing without him and also
vis-à-vis the Government he was the real intermediary. He had a quick
intelligence and was the master of al! trades, taking interest in schools,
catechists, conversions, liturgy, choir singing and al! technical problems. He
was knowledgeable but humble. He knew how to work behind the scenes without
making a show. It was easy to get along with him and he was always ready to
bring peace among quarrelling catechists, teachers or Fathers. He was
instrumental in getting the Jesuits to come to Vijayawada for the Loyola College
and in getting the land free for the two colleges of the Sisters.
He was the initiator and facilitator of many institutions such as hospitals, schools and the leprosarium of Eluru. In Vijayawada diocese, he was the most influential personality in his times, without prejudice to the two bishops" (Gheddo, 2000, 362).
He died after a very short illness. He went for a few days rest in Nilgiri
where he became sick. From there he was taken to St. Martha Hospital in
Bangalore, and there he died on June 20, 1968. He was 64. At his funeral in
Vijayawada, Bishop De Battista was crying bitterly.
His friend and bishop, Costantino Caminada wrote his biography one year after his death (C. Caminada, Padre Angelino (Msgr. Angelo Bianchi), Milano, 1969).
The economic boom in Italy of those years fostered also the development of Vijayawada diocese.
Italy had been ravaged by the World War II. Mussolini had sided with Hitler and had to pay heavily for it, both with his life and with the defeat and bankruptcy of the nation. Italy was then torn asunder by civil war and was under the occupation of the German Army. The Italian economy was later rebuilt with the help of the United States, but the Italian infrastructures were poised for a quick development.
Fr Giovanni Leoncini (1926-2002)
Another man to whom the diocese of Vijayawada should always be grateful is
Fr. Giovanni Leoncini, who carne to India in 1959.
When Bishop De Battista took over, the diocese of Vijayawada in 1951 he had 35 priests: 29 of them Italian PIME Fathers and 6 Indians from other dioceses (not even one Telugu); the conversion movement was in full development with three to five thousand baptisms of adults every year (Gheddo, 2000, 363n). The hope of getting new missionaries from Italy vanished because the Government of India was not granting entry visas. In 1966 carne Fr. Bortolo Galizzi (+ 1980) followed by Fr. Maurizio Masala in 1968 and Fr. Orlando Quintabà in 1969. The last one for Vijayawada was Fr Benito Picascia in 1972. The last one for Andhra was Fr. Raco Francesco (1980). The bishop requested Archbishop Louis Mathias of Madras for help and ten of his best seminarians accepted to come to Vijayawada. In the meantime he also had reopened his own Minor Seminary. Bishop Grassi too tried it in 1938, but due to the war and the internment of many missionaries he had to close it down. De Battista reopened it at Gunadala in 1956. One year later he shifted it at Nuzvid, and in 1959 he called Fr. Leoncini as rector. He remained there all his life and died there on January 26, 2002.
Efforts were made to encourage vocations among the children of the local communities. In 1964 Leoncini started publishing a Telugu vocational magazine for children called Sneha Duta, followed by a small meditation book for students. He organised altar boys meetings, at Nuzvid, that became Summer Vocation Camps later on. In 1971, a record number of 210 children took part.
In 1965 Bishop De Battista started St. Ambrose Apostolic School when all Apostolic Schools were c10sing down in Italy. "De Battista, who had joined his diocesan Seminary at 12, believed that the Lord does not always have regard for age when He calls somebody" (Leoncini, 1988, 189). The year 1965 was also the last year of recruitment in Kerala and Leoncini wrote:
"Our Diocese owes an immense debt of gratitude mainly to the dioceses of Palai, Kothamangalam, Changanacherry and Kottayam, for giving us their best gift, their own children. We shall never be able to repay them for this" (Leoncini, 1988, 189).
But very soon the youth from Andhra started corresponding and joining the
seminary. Bishop De Battista could ordain the first Telugu speaking priest in
1964, the second in 1966, and four in 1971. The number went on increasing.
In 1999, celebrating his Golden Jubilee of Ordination and 40 years in India, Leoncini could boast of these results:
"In the forty years of my presence in the seminary of Nuzvid, 620 boys were with me. 25 per cent of them succeeded in becoming priests while 129 are still in the seminary. Out of the 112 priest who studied with me, 3 became bishops, 14 have already died (6 accidentally), 8 lift priesthood (as far as I know, since some of them went to the States and we lost contact)" (Gheddo, 2000, 363).
"The policy of Independent India towards the entry of foreign
missionaries, in a providential disguise, accelerated the movement of
Indianization, and finally of the indigenization of the missionary
churches"(Leoncini, 1988, 184).
The other great merit of Leoncini was the starting of the Diocesan Bulletin In Vinculo Christ. In it beside the chronic1e of the curia and of the parishes he collected interviews and testimonies of the veterans of the mission. I t was a very precious resource for him when, in 1988, he collected all this material in a volume: A History of the Catholic Diocese of Vijayawada, published on the occasion of the diocesan Golden Jubilee, 1937-1987.
Fr. Leoncini basically was a traditionalist, a disciplinarian; he openly regretted the innovations of the Second Vatican Council. He had his degree in Ancient Greek Literature and his heart remained always there. The few times that he went back to Italy, he was disgusted. He went for health reasons, (he was suffering of eyes problems, at the end, he was nearly blind). He was taking guidance only from the authority of the Church. For this reason he started editing (1971) another periodical, Petrus, with the purpose of making available the official documents of Rome to the c1ergy and the convents in India. In the course of time (1978) he passed this publication (readership 3,300) to the St. Paul Society in Mumbai. To print his periodicals, he set up a printing press in the Seminary. But fortunately he was al so a poet and that helped him to balance his rigorist attitude and to communicate with the youth and benefactors. Before coming to India, he had published a successful and poetic booklet Colpi d'Ala.
Nuzvid is very near to Vissannapeta, and it was there that his is best friend lived: another traditionalist, old fashioned, preVatican II, but also merciful and compassionate Fr. Mario Fumagalli. They did not come very often to the PIME Regional meetings in Eluru; but when they did they carne and went together, and always in cassock.
Mario Fumagalli: The Father of Handicapped Children
It is always a difficult choice to single out one missionary among so many
that spent their full life in the missions as simple parish priests. Only God,
who does not need to make choices, but knows the merits of all and of each one,
can reward all of them. But for a small book like this one, a selection is
Mario Fumagalli too was always an ordinary parish priest, but in his own village at Vissannapeta he started collecting around himself some of the so many polio-affected children that you find begging in any bus stop or railway station in India. He was the first parish priest when Vissannapeta was made parish in 1955. Earlier it had been taken care of by the Frs. De Battista and De Paoli who used to come from Eluru.
Fr. Mario was coming from Avutapalli and in October 1954 he started living there in a hut. Whatever was accomplished in Vissannapeta was don e by him since he remained there ali his life. He started building the Parish house (1955) the church ( l 959) and the "Divine Providence Home" for the handicapped children living with him in 1967. Then he realised the need to have a congregation of Sisters to look after the children, so he prepared a convent and called the Catechist Sisters of St. Ann (Nandanam). Two of the many substations (sixty according to Gheddo, 2000, 371) were prepared by him to become parishes: Chatrai and Tsanubanda. To his credit there are also two local priests (Leoncini, 1988,226).
Fr. Mario was born in Cinisello Balsamo in 1923 and he died in Rancio (Lecco) on the May IO, 1998. His work for the handicapped was taken over by the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception and the parish was renovated by Pr. George Puthempuram, PIME.
The Second Partition of Hyderabad:
THE DIOCESE OF WARANGAL
We have seen that in 1933 Vijayawada was made autonomous territory (missio
sui juris) and was separated from the diocese of Hyderabad, then in 1937 it
became diocese. We have also described the development under bishops Grassi and
But what happened to Hyderabad and the territories that remained under Bishop Vismara?
The Christian communities of Hyderabad diocese were either composed of Christians of different origin and language, particularly the communities along the railway, or they were caste-communities that had migrated from the South. The statistics of 1939 state that the inhabitants were 7 millions. There were 34,410 Catholics with 24 PIME missionaries and 10 local priests, 7 seminarians, 153 catechists and a good number of Sisters. The St. Ann of Turin had 8 houses with 48 Sisters; the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary had 4 houses and 28 Sisters; the Telugu Catechist Sisters of St. Ann of Providence (under the supervision of the Italian Sisters of St. Ann) had 5 houses with 12 Sisters and 14 Novices; the Sisters of Charity of Maria Bambina, had 3 houses with 24 Sisters; the Telugu catechist Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi: had 4 houses with 15 Sisters; the Little Sisters of the Poor had 6 Sisters. Ali together there were 130 Sisters (Brambilla, 1941, 587).
This quite remarkable list of personnel gives us the idea that Hyderabad was a very well established diocese, ready, might be, for a second partition, but under the shadow of World War II every decision was postponed. The conversions were not a big number: only 762, in 1938, compared with 2000 in Vijayawada.
The episcopate of Bishop Vismara was the longest in PIME history; from 1909 to 1948. In that year, at the age of 81 he resigned, to spend his last years as a Chaplain of the home for the aged in Secunderabad. He died at the ripe old age of 86 on October 13, 1953. "The Nizam of Hyderabad would call him 'my old friend' and Card. Fumasoni Biondi, Apostolic Delegate in India, called him 'a man of God' ". (Leoncini, 1988, 93). Before dying he was already called 'the Father of Vijayawada', and he had the consolation to see the birth of a second diocese, Warangal ( December 22, 1952) as well as the elevation of Hyderabad to Metropolitan See (September 19, 1953).
Bishop Alfonso Beretta (1951-1985)
The man Vismara prepared for the succession and for the new partition of the diocese was his Capitular Vicar, Msgr. Alfonso Beretta. He was to take up the idea of dividing the diocese. In 1996, recalling the events in an interview, he said:
"Since the time of Bishop Vismara, proposals had been made to divide the
diocese of Hyderabad, but the bishop was very old and the times not propitious.
When I became administrator of the diocese in 1948, after the resignation
of Bishop Vismara, I wrote to Fr. Augusto Lombardi, who, at that time, was
Secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature, in New Delhi, requesting him to ventilate
Afterwards he became PIME Superior General. Later when I was ordained Bishop of Hyderabad (April 8, 1951, consecrated in Brugherio, my native village)I officially made a request to Rome and two years later, the new diocese of Warangal was erected" (Interview with Fr. Francesco Rapacioli, November 3, 1996).
The old Hyderabad diocese, the first field of PIME missionary work, was left
in the hands of the local clergy and Bishop Marc Gopu, the newly ordained local
The territory of the new diocese of Warangal included the districts of Warangal, Nalgonda, Khammam and Karimnagar including 20 parishes. The oldest parishes were: Kazipet (1887), Bayyaram (190 I), Bhimaram (1905) and Mattampalli (1908). (see M, 2003, 19).
The main group of Catholics was really in Kazipet, an important railway junction, but Warangal, a few kilometres away from Kazipet, was the district headquarter and a town of ancient history and so it was chosen as the see of the new diocese. But in Warangal there was not even a decent parish house, everything had to be bought and to be built from the ground. Fr. Angelo Mariani was put in charge of scouting for a suitable land for the future diocesan headquarters Seventy-one acres of forestland was bought on the outskirts of the city. The land they bought was just jungle and needed to be cleared, a well had to be sunk to get water. For this pioneering work Msgr. Beretta relied on Bro. Pasquale Sala, fondly called Pasqualino because of his small size.
Bro. Pasquale Sala: The Builder Of Fatimanagar
Brother Pasquale was a hard and ingenious worker and was able to train people
and get their compliance. Bro. Sala, on August 18, 1948, pitched his tent in the
jungle outside Warangal and with a band of his workers, he started clearing the
forest. But later on, they carne to know that the Government had already
earmarked that land for other projects. Msgr. Beretta went in all possible
Government offices up till the Chief Minister to get his plan approved, but the
permission for construction was not coming.
In 1950, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima was taken around in all the Indian dioceses. When it was in Hyderabad, Msgr. Beretta prayed and invited the Catholics to make novenas to our Lady of Fatima. Miraculous things were happening that were reported also in the local press. But the real miracle for the Msgr. Beretta was that the permission finally came, and he, as an act of gratitude, called the new place to be developed Fatimanagar, the city of Our Lady of Fatima, as suggested by Bro. Pasqualino. To Her, he dedicated also the diocese of Warangal.
On the January 3, 1951 the foundation stone of the Bishop's House and St. Ann's Hospital was laid by Msgr. Beretta who, a few days later, could go to Italy and be consecrated.
Bro. Pasqualino was also a good hunter and always kept a double-barrelled gun with him. Snakes and wild animals were still in the area. Even years later, when he had a hostel full of children to be fed, when there was some feast and he wanted to give a special meal to them, he would go out in the forest at night and bring home some wild boar or deer. Before joining PIME, he worked as a civil engineer; although his formal education stopped at third standard, he picked up the skill while working, and he built the bell-tower of the church in his village of Curno near Bergamo. PIME also gave to him a good training in medicine as was customary at that time for all the missionaries.
He reached India in 1938 and was posted in different mission stations: Kanchanapally, Reddipalem, Bramanapally, and Silveru where he established his reputation as a good "village doctor" and builder. For this reason, he was the one chosen to develop Fatimanagar. He remained there till the end of his life, putting up one building after the other: the Bishop's House, a hospital, the Cathedral (1962), an industrial school, a convent for the sisters, and a school and hostel for the girls, a social centre, etc. The cathedral of Warangal is surely not a masterpiece of Italian architecture and it does not have the fine lines and proportions of the buildings of Bro. Giani, the other PIME Brother and architect, who worked mainly in Vijayawada, but Fatimanagar is, in the words of Bishop Beretta, "the fruit of the work of a humble lay brother and...the demonstration of the usefulness and preciousness of lay vocations" (Sala, 1967, 8). He died in Italy at Rancio on February 9, 1977. But while he was retired at Rancio, he wrote his autobiography that was published in Italy with the title: The Man of Fatimanagar (Sala, 1967).
Bro. Pasqualino is also an example of how formal education and seminary formation have a limited value for a good and determined missionary. In his autobiography he wrote: "After thirteen years far away from books, they reappeared in front of me when I joined PIME (...) thanks to my cheerful character, I accepted without dejection the fact that I had the lowest marks in the class (...) only three marks over ten in Religion Education. According to the rules, I should have been dismissed" (Sala, 1967, 17). But, fortunately, the Rector understood what kind of man he was.
First Priority: Local Clergy
On May 4, 1953, as soon as the basic structures were ready in Fatimanagar,
Bishop Beretta moved out of Hyderabad and put his headquarters in the newly
erected diocese of Warangal. The 21 PIME fathers who went with him in their new
field of work, beside taking care of 20 old parishes with 28,000 Catholics, (AA,
2003, 19) they could start again the out-reach to non-Christian villages (Gheddo,
Bishop Beretta was a great missionary. With a clear vision and a deep spiritual foundation, he gave dynamic leadership to the new diocese. His first aim was the formation of the local clergy. He was very much aware of the importance of the local clergy particularly at a time when the new Indian Government was not allowing new foreign missionaries to come to India. Moreover those who remained were always fearing a deportation order, as had happened in China and in Burma. Before leaving Hyderabad, he bought a big plot of land in Ramanthapur, where the Regional Theological Seminary for all the dioceses of Andhra Pradesh was built later on, and in Warangal, his first priority was to open a diocesan seminary.
To make up for the lack of priests, in the early years he took some priests from Kerala, but very soon he had his own. In his lifetime, about hundred priests carne from his seminary and three of them became bishops: one of Guntur, one of Nalgonda and his own successor in Warangal (Gheddo, 2000, 348).
In the introduction to the book of Bro. Sala "L'Uomo di Fatimanagar" his first thought is about his local priests. He wrote: ''After only fourteen years of hard missionary work the Christians are now 52,000 and the indigenous priests are sixteen and four more will be added on December this year, 1967" (Sala, 1967,7).
Beretta: A Man Of Great Culture
Bishop Beretta is remembered as a man of great culture: he read a lot and kept himself updated listening punctually to the daily BBC news bulletins. He spoke a high literary Telugu and Tamil (he had also learned the latter and he used it particularly in Secunderabad). He could also speak Hindi and Urdu, besides, naturally, English. When he was giving a speech in Telugu, educated people wandered how a foreigner could pick up their language so fluently. But besides being a learned man he was also known as "the Bishop of the poor", not only because he gave a great impetus to uplifting of the Dalits but also because of his austere style of living and his ability to mix and talk with simple, common people. Here is what he said in an interview:
"I tried my best to live among the poor people, going very often to their villages, attending to their needs and always being available when requested by them" This was very much appreciated by the Dalits because, in India, traditional high caste and educated people, do not even go through Dalit villages. Instead he said: "our apostolic work was particularly aiming at the Pariah" (Gheddo, 2000, 349).
Fr. Augusto Colombo, who had been very close to Bishop Beretta, said:
"Bishop Beretta embodied well the PIME tradition of going to work and
starting the Church where it does not exists. He was the first Bishop of
Warangal and prepared the birth of two other dioceses: Nalgonda (1976) and
Khammam (1988). For Beretta, the mission was essentially giving the first
good news to the non-Christians. Beretta was one of the protagonists of the mass
conversion movement already when he was parish priest in Dornakal.
"The mass movement of the pariah towards the Church happened only in Andhra and is characteristic only of PIME missions. A phenomenon like this didn't happen in any other part of India. Although other social and political reasons contributed to it, the insistence of Bishop Beretta on going first to the poor to give them 'the good news' was the main factor (as it was in Vijayawada with Bishop De Battista). Beretta was in favour of social work and education, but he insisted that the priests should go to non-Christian villages, should train and assist the catechists, and should build chapels. He was always repeating that when a village accepted Christ, then its social advance was beginning" (Gheddo, 2000, 349).
Along with pastoral ministry, socio-economic development became imperative.
In 1966 the Lodi Social Service Society was founded at Khammam with the help of
Mani Tese (an Italian NGO) and the city of Lodi (Italy). In 1978 the Fatima
Charitable Trust was started. The brain behind these two societies was Fr.
Augusto Colombo; he was also the one who continued the building construction
activity in the diocese after the retirement and death (1977) of Bro. Sala.
The tireless efforts of the missionaries are seen in the steep growth of the Catholic population from 28,000 in 1953 to 88,663 in 1976, when it was decided to divide the diocese and the new Nalgonda diocese was born. By 1988, when Khammam diocese was carved off, the Catholics were 1,09,260.
The main actors of this development were: Fr. Carlo Silva (1905-1973), Fr. Albino Bortolato (1912-1964), Fr. Giannino Politi (1914-1995), Fr. Carlo Radice (1914-1980), Fr. Antonello Florindo (1920-200 l) and Fr. Luigi Delissamdri at present Parish Priest at Appannapeta.
The Golden Missionary Age
Msgr. D. Raja calls the episcopate of Bishop Beretta "the Golden
Missionary Age" (AA, 2003, 20). Beretta was the last foreign-born bishop in
India. He tried several times to offer his resignation, but, on the advice of
the other Andhra Bishops, it was never been accepted. Only when he reached the
canonical limit of 75 years, in 1985 his resignation was accepted by Rome. Then
he retired and lived the last 13 years of his life as chaplain of the Leprosy
Home in Pedda Pendial. He started going around again by cycle, confessing
priests and Sisters, and celebrating Mass in nearby villages. He died on May 23,
1998, aged 87, having lived 64 years in India.
The successor of Bishop Beretta was one of his priests, Bishop Thumma Bala. His attention was more on consolidation, particularly of the educational structures. "Education for all became a priority for Bishop Thumma Bala. This concept led to the establishment of many schools and colleges across the diocese" (AA, 2003, 19). In fact looking at the "Statistical Digest", published in the special issue: Warangal Diocese, 1953/2003, 50 Golden Years, p.18, we can see that, between 1987 and 2003, the number of Catholics (59,860) remained half of the combined dioceses of Warangal and Khammam (1,09,260) while all the schools taken together (Primary, Middle, High) doubled: 76 in 1987; 144 in 2003 with the addition of 12 colleges. Consequently, the number of teachers has more than doubled from 632 (for two dioceses) to 1,088 only for Warangal. Another index of consolidation is the number of diocesan priests (33 for both dioceses to 70 for Warangal alone) and Seminarians (39 for both dioceses, to 60 for Warangal alone). Once again, the financial engine behind this growth was Fr. Augusto Colombo: "Opening new horizons of higher education for the Catholic youth, Rev. Fr. A. Colombo, PIME, pioneered the establishment of several educational institutions, culminating in the opening of Christu Jyoti Institute of Technology & Science" (AA. 2003, 20). This was possible with scholarships system from abroad (Adozioni a distanza) for 10,000 students.
FR. AUGUSTO COLOMBO: The Volcanic Man
Fr. Augusto Colombo surely deserves a chapter by himself in the history of
PIME and of Warangal Diocese. Being a hard worker with public relations skill,
not only did he realize innumerable works (new parishes, chapels and churches,
schools and colleges, dispensaries and hospitals) but he was one of, or really,
the main protagonist of the mass conversion movement in the diocese and he was
also a good writer, so occasionally we have also a description and
interpretation of his work.
Born in Cantù on March 15, 1927, he made good use of this connection. Cantù is a small town of Brianza in the province of Corno, and it is famous for its traditional lace handicraft work and silk production. When Fr. Colombo was working in the villages, he saw the need of incrementing the family income of poor farmers, so he decided first to teach silk production, but that was not very successful; then he started teaching the women lace handicraft work in the Cantù tradition. For this reason he gathered ladies teachers from his town and started a school and a production centre. At present this kind of handicraft work is no more profitable if made in Italy; nearly the whole production sold in Italy comes now from the villages of Fr. Colombo in Andhra.
He reached India in 1952 and was posted at Khammam in 1953. About the work of conversion, he stated in an interview: "I was posted at Khammam: from 1953 till 1980 the number of baptized people grew from 3,000 to 80.000 (Gheddo, 2000, 352). That is why in 1988 the district of Khammam became an independent diocese. In Khammam, Colombo started the Lodi Social Service Society, later on its compound became the centre of the diocese. His goal was to give a well to every Harijan village. With the "Food for Work" programme of the Catholic Relief Service he undertook many public works, like building roads and water sheds, housing schemes and village schools. In a report written in "Missionari del PIME" (MdP, 1999, Jan, 3) about the beginning of his work, he wrote;
'At that time there were no roads and no electricity in the villages. To go
there you had to use the bullock cart. It was a miserable and burdensome life...
Our work was mainly among the outcaste who were living at the margin of the
society, and in our area there was a good number. Our intention was to make them
feel human and important.
The first conversions started among them. They were feeling appreciated and protected in becoming Christians. This is the reason why the four original parishes became ten after about fifteen years and the diocesan community became outstanding. My parishioners were all labourers illiterate people. Good people, but very poor. The Andhra Pradesh Government was doing absolutely nothing to change this situation. The old and tested rule was: "It is easier to rule over ignorant and poor people". So there were no schools, no hospitals, no social security for Pariahs.
Fr. Colombo, who underwent nursing training in Italy, started putting in practice his medical knowledge in Khammam. When visiting remote villages, he always carried with him a box of pills and ointments. Before Mass he would teach catechism, and afterwards he would attend to those who had fever, scabies and other ailments. Very soon, with the help of Sisters, he started a hospital, some regular dispensaries and a leprosy control program.
"The leprosy patients are the most forgotten human beings. For them there is no admission or assistance in general hospitals. I approached the proper authority that allotted for us an area of control under the National Leprosy Eradication Program. We had to pay for the structures, personnel and medicines. Fortunately AIFO (Amici di Raoul Follerau) of Bologna came to our help. At the beginning in our control area we were having 3000 leprosy patients. Now there are only 300 because we have organised an efficient monitoring system. Leprosy is completely curable if detected at the early stage... "
After the leprosy patients, Fr. Colombo shifted his attention to those affected by cataracts.
"Every year in India, four million people lose their sight because of cataracts. With the help of an Italian eye specialist who motivated a team of oculists to come down to Warangal for fifteen days sessions, for eight consecutive years, hundreds of poor people have been cured. They also brought the proper equipment for an eye hospital that is now functioning regular[y with local doctors. Four/five cases of cataract are treated daily in Navadristi Hospital.
Main Purpose: Promotion Of The Harijans
All these institutions, together with the convents of the Sisters and houses
for the Fathers who look after them, had been built on a big plot of land that
now bears the name of Karunapuram. The foresight of Fr. Colombo, following the
example of Fatimanagar first and that of Lodi Farm, second, in Khammam, he
bought a very large and barren plot of land, outside of town. Since it was
isolated, he started using it for housing leprosy patients and planted hundreds
and thousands trees. When the area was developed and the landscape changed,
other congregations carne asking to put up schools and houses. Finally Fr.
Colombo built an engineering college for the diocese: the Christu Jyoti
Institute of Technology and Science. This is the crown of the entire educational
program pursued by the new local Bishop, Bala Thumma. This is also the vision
always pursued by Fr. Colombo: to give a chance to thousand of poor Harijan
children to have an education from the Primary level to College. With the rush
for education existing at present in India, it is very difficult for poor
Harijans children to get admission. In the 12 Christian colleges now established
in the diocese, half of the seats are reserved for our poor Harijans.
During the annual meetings of PIME Fathers, jokingly we refer to Karunapuram as "Columbia" Le. the kingdom of Colombo, the local people call it Colombonagar. Fr. Augusto does not resent it, but smiles and privately and confidentially says: "We must all be thankful to the leprosy patients in whose name the land was first bought".
In the narration of the history of PIME in India, up till now, we followed
the line of Bishops and dioceses. From the first PIME Bishop of Hyderabad,
Barbero, the line came down through Caprotti, Viganò and Vismara. Vijayawada
was detached from Hyderabad in 1933 and Grassi became bishop followed by
Warangal was divided from Hyderabad in 1953; Bishop Beretta was the first bishop.
With his resignation this line of PIME Italian Bishops comes to its end.
But PIME had also the joy of an Indian Bishop, namely Bishop Matthew Cheriankunnel.
NALGONDA DIOCESE: A Fruit Of PIME's Work
We have seen that under the leadership of Bishop Alfonso Beretta, the diocese
of Warangal had grown from 28.000 Catholics in 1953 to 88,663 in 1976. This
increment was the happy cause of the first partition of the diocese. The
district of Nalgonda in 1977 was separated from Warangal and, together with the
district of Mahabubnagar of Hyderabad archdiocese, became a new diocese; the new
bishop was one of the first Indian PIME fathers: Matthew Cheriankunnel.
While the district of Khammam, that also became diocese in 1988, was developed particularly by work of Fr. Augusto Colombo, the district of Nalgonda was developed by Fr. Carlo Bonvini, Fr. Luigi Pezzoni and Fr. Giuseppe Romano, who had been Vicar General for some time.
Fr. Carlo Bonvini (1923-1994) was a real pioneer and opened up one mission after another. When he carne from Italy in the last big group of 1952, Bishop Beretta sent him to Monugodu, a village of caste - Christians, whose district centre was Nalgonda, a Muslim town with very few Christians. In Monugodu Bonvini established his credentials as a good builder. He was like a building contractor with his own crew of masons and labourers, a tractor, a mixer and a brick making machine. After he developed a mission, complete with the school, the Sisters' Convent, the dispensary or hospital, the church, the parish house, etc, the Bishop routinely shifted him to another new place, generally at the centre of a district or a taluka, and he would start from zero, building everything. He was going around with his own crew of faithful workers and their families. From Monugodu he went to Suryapet where he built the hospital, the church, etc. When the new diocese of Nalgonda was erected, he finished building the Cathedral, and after that the Bishop sent him to Mahabubnagar, a new district acquired from the Archdiocese of Hyderabad, which nobody in Nalgonda was familiar with.
The bishop rarely gave him any financia1 he1p; Bonvini wou1d spend from his own resources. He was from a poor family of Caste1nuovo Bocca d'Adda (Lodi) but he had a very active group supporting him and some substantia1 donations from Italian politicians. One prime minister of Italy, Mr. Goria, carne to see him in India. He was a tireless worker of exceptional physical strength; he went around always with his white cassock, on his Guzzi motorbike. During the meetings of the missionaries, he was famous for his strong singing voice, and his favourite was the missionary hymn: Gesù lo sguardo amabile.
He used to boast that, as young missionary in Monugodu, he became famous when he bet and won one thousand rupees for going, by cycle, from Monugodu to Nalgonda faster than the State bus, which, of course, had to make stops at every village. Another of his feats was during one rainy season when he came by motorbike to one swollen river where people were waiting on the banks to cross when the water receded. Being in hurry, he lifted up the motorbike on his shoulders and waded the river. "This event, he wrote, made me very famous..." (Gheddo. 2000, 372).
In January 1975, my mother and elder brother, Eugenio, came to visit me in India. They were in a group made up of friends and benefactors of Fr. Bonvini. I accompanied them from New De1hi to Andhra Pradesh, and we were all guests in the school of Fr Bonvini. On that occasion he had prepared the baptism of a new village. In all my missionary life I have never ministered so many baptisms.
Another founder of Nalgonda diocese is Fr. Luigi Pezzoni; he was born at Palosco (Bergamo) in 1931; it was a poor family with seven children: three became priests, three religious sisters and one got married. He reached India in 1966 with a visa for leprosy control. Sent to Nalgonda as first resident priest, he is still there now. He started with a dispensary, and he became famous as a doctor. At his arrival in Nalgonda district he found just five Christian villages with 2000 faithful; in ten years of work, the Christian villages become sixty, and the faithful 10.000 (Gheddo, 2000, 372). He also took care of their development; for this he started the "Rural and Social Association"; under its banner he dug hundreds of borewells and started a number of "food for work projects .
While he was in Italy for holidays, some anonymous letters to the Bishop spread rumours and spoiled his good name. He became another of the countless victims of the vulnerability of priests because of the law of celibacy. He succeeded in going back to his missions with the support of the civil authorities and he limited himself to the assistance of leprosy patients. At the beginning, he was in charge of leprosy control of the entire district, with a big staff of paramedical and doctors. Later on, he confined his work to a leprosy colony in his new foundation, the "Leprosy Health Centre" with a hospital he built with 200 beds, that. He provides houses for the families of leprosy patients; workshops for rehabilitation work and for manufacturing wheelchairs for polio and handicapped people and a farm with cattle and cultivations. He also opened a boarding school for 300 children of leprosy patients.
In all this work he is he1ped by the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate of Valencia (Spain) he called them to India where they now are well established.
When Fr. Mathew Chariankunne1 became the first bishop of Nalgonda in 1977 he could count on 6 PIME missionaries and some local priests and on the pioneering work done by Bonvini, Pezzoni and also by Fr. Giuseppe Romano who later on became also Vicar General.
Bishop Mathew, born 1930 and ordained priest for Vijayawada diocese in 1962, has shown his apostolic zeal working with Fr. Venturin in Machilipatnam and with Fr. Vivenzi in Kamavarapukota. "The lives of these veteran missionaries, he wrote, encouraged me to join PIME". While he was parish priest in Myalavaram he was appointed first bishops of Nalgonda. During his ten years as Bishop of Nalgonda he was blessed with a good number of vocations to the priesthood and he could ordained an average of five new priests every year. The diocese was made up of communities of ancient caste Catholics, the main one being Mattampalli where Fr. Silvio Pasquali worked and Vengamarti. New communities of Dalit Christians were converted mainly by Fr. Carlo Bonvini and Fr. Luigi Pezzoni. In 1988 Bishop Mathew was called to sort out a difficult situation in the diocese of Kurnool. After four years there, he retired and spent his time at the service of the Institute, helping as assistant in the parish of Irla in Mumbai and afterwards in the seminary of Eluru and again as assistant to Fr. Augustine Mundupalakal in the newly started parish of Bhadrachalam in 1998.
The Other Evangelizers of Andhra
At this moment of our story, after we have seen the birth of the seventh
diocese, Nalgonda, from the territory evangelised by PIME Fathers, we must be
aware that PIME had evangelised only one part of the Telugu Desa. The other two
partners who have taken care of the other districts are: the Fransalians for the
north-east and the Mill Hill for the south.
Going back to the beginning of 19th century, in South India, beside the four dioceses in Portuguese hands, there was the Vicariate of Madras, created by Propaganda in 1832, from which great part of our territory was depending. In 1845 again Propaganda decreed the erection of others vicariates like Mangalore and Coimbatore and in our territories, Hyderabad and Vishakhapatnam; the first was given to Bishop Daniel Murphy and the second was entrusted to the newly established religious Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (MSFS). This congregation had been started by Fr. Peter Mermier (1790-1862) in Annecy, few years early, in 1838. Vishakhapatnam has always been administered by the Fransalians till the present days. From their territory carne also the diocese of Nagpur in Maharashtra and Srikakulam in Andhra.
The territories to the south of the river Krishna were part of the Vicariate of Madras till Bishop Stephen Fennely, in 1875, invited the missionaries of Mill Hill to take care of them. Mill Hill missionaries had been founded a few years early, in 1866 in London, by Cardinal Herbert Vaughan with the name of "St. Joseph's Society of the Sacred Heart for Foreign Missions" and this was their first mission. They worked in the Telugu districts of the diocese of Madras, that is mainly Tamil speaking, for many years, under different bishops not always sympathetic to them, till the creation of the diocese of Nellore entrusted to them in 1928. From Nellore three other dioceses carne out: Guntur, Cuddappah and Kurnool.
The Church in Andhra Pradesh is having at present twelve dioceses: 6 have come out of the territories entrusted to PIME: Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Warangal, Eluru, Nalgonda and Khammam; 4 have come out from the territories entrusted to Mill Hill: Nellore, Guntur, Cuddappah and Kurnool; 2 from the territories entrusted to the Fransalians: Vishakhapatnam and Srikakulam.
The Return to Hyderabad
As we have seen, the first two PIME missionaries started in Hyderabad, and
five PIME bishops had been pastors of the Vicariate/Diocese of Hyderabad.
According to the style and charisma of PIME Bishop Beretta and all the PIME
missionaries left Hyderabad, in 1953, and moved out to Warangal leaving every
thing in the hands of the local Bishop, Msgr. Marc Gopu, and the local clergy.
Twenty missionaries left and twenty local priests remained.
But Hyderabad is the State Capital and the Metropolitan See. Although PIME had given up Hyderabad city and diocese, it remains in the hearts of everybody and at the centre of all attention. The desire to return sometime was always present. Every time there was a need to go to Hyderabad for shopping, for official work, for taking a train or a flight, for receiving a visitor, for meeting the Archbishop or a Government Minister, the desire was growing.
Archbishop Arulappa several times speaking with our superiors in Rome or in Hyderabad, requested several times the PIME Fathers to come back to the centre and take up some work. The desire and the proposal were taken up in 1975. A group of young missionaries was put together in Italy; Fr. Alessandro Sacchi, who had been professor of Scripture in our Theologate in Milan, was the leader, and his idea was to put together a witnessing group of missionaries, with different functions and ministries, but living together. With him there was a layman, Dr. Antonio Grugni, a cardiologist with five years experience in his home town, Legnano, and two young newly ordained priests: Fr. Renato Tagliabue and Fr. Augustin Mundupalakal, the latest of the first group of Indian PIME members.
The experiment lasted six years. Fr. Sacchi was teaching in the seminary and trying different channels of dialogue; he also published two books (together with Fr. Pushpanadan) on the Gospel and the Old Testament. Dr. Grugni opened a dispensary in front of St. Joseph Cathedral in Gunfoundry and went weekly to villages outside the city for medical work; he also published a book on preparation for marriage. Fr Renato and Fr. Augustine were trying a missionary approach in pastoral work. The experiment didn't last more than six years. The last to leave Hyderabad was Dr. Grugni; in 1983 he went to Mumbai to work with Fr. Carlo Torriani in Lok Seva Sangam, an organisation for leprosy control. Fr. Augustine was the first to leave, going to Eluru. Fr. Renato went to Thailand and Fr. Sacchi went back to Italy.
In 1976 Fr. Carlo Rimondi from Vijayawada carne to work for a few years in the Pastoral Centre at Gunfoundry. At the time of Fr. Domenico Vivenzi, Regional Superior, a small house was bought at Padmarao Nagar, near the house of PIME Sisters. But beyond the desire to return to Hyderabad, there was no real project and the house was re-sold.
On the other hand, the Archbishop of Hyderabad and all the Bishops of Andhra always had a standing invitation for PIME to return to the centre. For this purpose Andhra Bishop Conference, gave to PIME a plot of land near the Seminary at Ramantapuram.
Only in 2004, a formation community with Fr. Robert Pallichankudy as rector assisted by Fr. Rupak Lokhande, started staying in Ramanthapur in the Salesian compound in a building rented to house the PIME students of Intermediate.
It is the desire of all that PIME should come back to Hyderabad for good on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary.