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by FR. FELIX RAJ, SJ, DIRECTOR |  « back

Jesuit Letters from Bengal, 1599-1600
(Translated by Fr. Hosten, S.J.)

..... As I wrote to your Paternity, Fr. Francis Fernandez, Dominic Sosa, Melchoir Fonseca and John Andrew Boves were sent to Bengala to open the door to the preaching of the Gospel among those nations and help the Portuguese settled there and greatly in need of our ministrations, by saying Mass, preaching and administering the sacraments. It pleased God in his immeasurable goodness that, from the very start the members of our society should win the graces of the princes of those nations, so that they gave them not unwillingly what they required, even granting them leave to build Churches and houses, to preach the law of God, and to convert to the Christian faith those who are willing.

The instructions given to ours are to establish themselves permanently as soon as possible in some suitable place, where two cm live together, while at regular intervals two about in quest of souls. If God sends more helpers, I think more residences can be established, such is the piety of the Portuguese, such the eagerness of Gentiles and the great opinion all have of our Order. But to make this clearer by entering into details, I shall tell you what I have learned from the Fathers' own letters.

Fr. Melchior Fonseca, S.J.

(Below is an extract from the Second Letter referred to above)

"I reached Chandecan (Chandecan was situated South of Khulna) on the 12th day before the Kalends of December [November 20, 1599]. The welcome from Fr. Dominic Sosa and all the Portuguese was most joyful. What added to their joy was that my arrival was unexpected, as they had heard I had gone to Arracan. The next day I went on a visit to the King, and offered him (what gave him no small pleasure) some fine Biringian oranges, which I had brought on purpose. He received me very kindly; my present gave him joy, as there are no fruits of that kind in his country. He asked me my name, and repeated the question two or three times. I thanked him for this mark of affection towards us, since he was so anxious not to forget my name. He treats us most politely; as soon as we come into his presence, he rises and salutes us with great respect; he does the same when we go away. We attribute this respect to this reason only that he hears we observe perfect chastity, which they have the greatest reverence for and extol to the skies. We asked him for a large piece of ground near our house, so that the Neophytes might live conveniently near the Church. He granted it easily, and the diploma [of concession] was drawn up; he also ordered that the Pagans living there should pay [to the Fathers] the tribute which they owed to the King. As I had learned from Fr. Francis Fernandez that Your Reverence wished that the first Church to he built in Bengala should be dedicated to the Most Holy Name of Jesus, we tried hard to get it finished that day. (Inauguration of the First Church in Bengal on 1st January, 1600, by the Jesuits.)

"Although the Church is such only as we could make it in a hurry, according to circumstances and our poverty, it is however sufficiently spacious, and not less pretty. We adorned it all over with different precious curtains for which the Portuguese gave us much help. In fact, they are very fond of us and confess that our arrival is to them a very great blessing. We promulgated the Jubilee, according to our privilege for India All who could approached the Sacraments of Penance and of the Holy Eucharist. We had to try our very best to make the feast as solemn as possible, both because this feast was for the first time celebrated in Bengala, and to make the Pagans who witnessed it ashamed of their misery.

"On the eve, and on the morning of the feast, there were illuminations everywhere and a general firing of guns, as we had had on the eve of St. Thomas' feast, when we planted the first Cross in the cemetery. The King sent us word that we should not set foot in the new ground before his arrival, as he wished for the sake of greater solemnity to put us himself in possession of it. In the evening, therefore, that day having been fixed for the ceremony, he came with all the gentlemen of his household to the settlement of the Christians, a distance of four hours by sea, and at once enquired where the Fathers were, Hearing [Fol. 64 recto] that they were busy decorating the Church, he directed his course at once towards the Church. We went to meet him as he landed. He received us kindly and joyfully, and. as out of politeness we had to go in front of him, he followed us up to the Church. He entered the Church with much respect: before setting foot in the chapel he took off his shoes, and he could not be persuaded to sit on a chair or on the carpet, he would sit only on the border of the mats. He enquired into the meaning and use of the things he saw on the altar. It was a good occasion, and we discoursed about God. Raising his hand to his beard, he promised to build a Church which would eclipse in beauty all those to be built in Bengala. We wait to see whether he will make the promise good. The next day, the Prince came to see the Church and its decorations, and it gave him no less pleasure than to his father. I forgot to say that, when his father went away, he wished to see the house. On going up the steps, we went first, at his request, and he came behind. When he took leave, he turned to the Portuguese present and said: “What more do you want? I have become a Padre already," which loving expression surprised all very much. We pray to God that the sequel may correspond to these beginnings. Every day, during about sixteen days, an incredible number of people of all ages and conditions came to see the Church, out of so many thousands hardly one Pagan in the whole of the country was found who stayed at home. While they came neat while they examined, they would say: People who do these things are not men. but Gods. Others exclaimed: 'Lord, thou art the true God'. There were not wanting some who prayed for the recovery of their sick. On their knees, or prostrate on the ground, they manifested their worship and veneration to the unknown God, whom we beg and beseech kindly to reveal himself and make himself known to them. We are instructing some Catechumens for the reception of Baptism, and we shall soon, with God's help, build a hospital, in order to entice many unto Christ with this bait. Our house is suited to the requirements of the Society and removed from all intercourse. The whole ground is surrounded by a wall twenty-five feet high, it had been commenced before, and we completed it not without expense. The house, in addition to this excellent ground and the most pleasant site I have seen in India, has other advantages in keeping with the religious life, which the Fathers whom we expect from Your Reverence will be able to enjoy. We apply ourselves diligently to prayer and the examination of conscience at the proper times, so that by means of these exercises God may make of us worthy labourers in this Mission. This is about all I intended to write to Your Reverence. I end by commanding myself earnestly to your sacrifices and prayers. Chandecan, the 13th before the Kalends of February 1600".

From Bengal Past and Present, Vol. 30, 1925


This extract is from a letter of Fr. Melchoir Fonseca, SJ, which was included in the annual letter of Goa (Dec 1, 1600) dated Sept. 8, 1602 written by Fr. Nicholas Pumenta, SJ (As visitor) to the Jesuit General, Fr. Claude Axquaviva, SJ]



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