From a Fides Correspondent.
Fifty-years ago large events were shaping
themselves, ecclesiastically, in India. On September I. 1886, Pope Leo XIII, by the bull Humattae Salutis. had established the Hierarchy in that great country: the transfer of the Vicars-Apostolic from titular to residential sees followed a fevii months later: and June, 1887, brought the Pope's sanction for the division of India and Ceylon into eight ecclesiastical provinces.
To appreciate fully the importance of these events, we must bear in mind the previous history of the Church in India, and note how the wisdom of Leo XIII's decision is proved by the subsequent rapie development of Catholic life in the country. The early Christian communities existing in the South of India claimed that their ancestors had first heard the Gospel message from the lips of the Apostle St. Thomas. It is at all events an established fact that whatever centres of Christian life there were in India in those days were shortly afterwards isolated from all contact with Europe, as a result of the disintegration and collapse of the Roman Em
pire. Though they dwindled steadily in importance throughout the Dark Ages, an fell under the influence of the Nestorians of Persia, they never entirely disappeared. At the close of the Middle Ages when, as a result of the discoveries of Vasco da Game. India was once more brought into direct contact with Europe, the Malabar Christians had shrunk into a small sect, exercising next to no influence on the teeming pagan masses around them.
For all practical purposes, then, it may be said that the first real attempt to evangelise India was due to the influence in those parts of the Crown of Portugal: directly. because It was the aim of the sixteenth century Portuguese to build up a Christian Empire in the Far East; indirectly, because in order to reach India it was from Lisbon in Portuguese ships that Catholic missionaries front other European lands, like Sr. Francis Xavier and Robert de Nobili, had perforce to sail.
Even after the break-up of the Portuguese overseas empire Goa still remained for long the Rome of the Far East; a centre, that is, of Catholic life from which missionary activity radiated out Teaching even to the most distant parts of India. It lost this character only during the latter half of the eighteenth century, when a crushing blow was dealt to the Catholic missions in India by the expulsion of the Jesuits, decreed by Pomba!, from all Portuguese territory.
During the nineteenth century the religious influence of Goa in India continued to wane, while in Portugal itself anti-clerical factions began to gain the upper hand. This notwithstanding, the various nineteenth century governments ruling in Portugal itself—even when frankly masonic and anti-clerical in temper--clung tenaciously to the rights and privileges granted by the Holy See during the sixteenth century to the Crown of Portugal in India. The claims put forward, however, no longer had any foundation in fact, for Portugal had long since ceased to play her former mis
sionary role in India. They nevertheless gave rise to constant difficulties in the diplomatic relations then existing between Portuguese Court and the Holy See, and considerably hampered the work of missionaries sent out to India by the Congregation of Propaganda Fide.
Leo XIII's Decision
The decision to establish the Hierarchy in India in 1886 meant the definite clearing up of a delicate situation, which could never be other than a handicap on missionary progress in the country. The Archbishop of Goa received the honorary title of Patriarch of the East Indies, besides that previously enjoyed of Primate of the East, The jurisdiction of the Crown of Portugal was restricted to the territory of Goa and one or two small areas outside it, where for historical reasons there existed Sees of definitely Portuguese origin.
In the Decree issued by .Leo XIII the Sovereign Pontiff expressed the hope that " with God's help there will follow blessings not few and not slight, and in particular an increase of charity, uniformity and steadiness of discipline, a more abiding union of the people with the Bishop and especially with the Roman Pontiff, a more rapid propagation of the Catholic name together with a wider cultivation of Christian virtues."
These hopes have been fulfilled. During the past fifty years there has been progress in every direction. The Catholic population has increased from 1,660,000 to over 4 million; jurisdictional units from 29 to 60; the number of priests from 2,100 to 4,500; religious brothers from 250 to 1.000; sisters from 900 to 9,000: seminarians from 400 to 3,500; schools from 1,850 to 6,520; and pupils receiving sound Catholic education from 75,000, to 600,000. In every field of the life of the Church; education, parish organisation, charitable works, the mission, the progress achieved is being maintained and ex tended in ever widening spheres.