Image Courtesy: timesofindia.indiatimes.com
MUMBAI: In the last of a series of incidents of vandalism and targeting of city churches, a statue of St Anthony has been stolen from the wall of the historic Gloria Church, Byculla, TOI has reported. CCTV visuals show the thief breaking the lock of the grille door and decamping with the statue in the night of February 21, right before the start of the holy month of Lent.
Earlier, on January 7 this year, the graveyard of St Michael’s Church, Mahim, was desecrated, while on February 23, a grotto and cross near Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Orlem, Malad were stoned. After widespread mobilisation and protests by the city’s Christian community, arrests have been made in both cases. In the latest incident of theft of a statue, however, both the police authorities (Byculla) as parish priest Fr Dennis Gonsalves sought to downplay the theft at Gloria Church. In fact, the priest chose to not file a complaint.
It is reported by TOI that while activists of prominent NGOs are aware of the matter, but have stayed silent. The complainant in the Byculla church statue theft case is its caretaker, a shop owner named Baptista D’Souza whose father had gifted the statue to the Byculla church decades ago.
“I would clean the statue every day. I was shocked to find it missing. I lodged a complaint because ignoring this offence can embolden vandals to commit bigger crimes. Gloria Church has scores of beautiful, valuable statues of various saints lining its interiors. At least my complaint will be on the record as proof should something worse befall later,” said D’Souza.
He further explained why this statue was precious. “It was 50-60 years old. Ordinarily you will find St Anthony holding a Bible or lily, but here he was holding out a piece of bread. A larger version inside the church also shows the poor man who is receiving the bread,” D’Souza said.
Byculla senior police inspector Ashok Khot said that they were hopeful of a breakthrough.
However, the parish priest, Fr Dennis said, “I am not keen to pursue the matter…I will buy a new statue once the hue and cry dies down. It would not be right to catch the wrong person. And even if police do catch the real offender, there is no need for punishment. Poverty makes people do this. This seems to be a young beggar who thought he could make some quick money.”
However, Fr Nigel Barrett, spokesman for the archdiocese of Bombay, said, “…While this may be isolated cases, the fact that three such incidents have happened in a course of two months makes us concerned. They need to be investigated to rule out any individual or group being up to some mischief to sow seeds of discontentment with communal overtones.
In January 2023, over a dozen graves desecrated in Mahim’s St. Michael’s church even as BMC withdraws notices to vacate the 115 year-old Bandra cemetery. This act led to a citizens’ vigil in Bandra at the time. The Bombay Catholic Sabha along with All India Catholic Union and other like-minded organisations also organised a ‘ Candlelight Prayer Service across the city of Mumbai outside Churches.
A month later, efforts by a builder at Irla in the western suburbs of Mumbai, to allegedly block access to the Shrine of Our Lady of Velankanni, Irla were stopped after protests by alert parishioners of the said Church and the and the clear stand taken by Fr. Clement D’lima , Parish Priest . Both Watchdog Foundation and Bombay Catholic Sabha teams at the ground level were active when statement by the Parish Priest was registered with the Juhu police.
The Velankanni Shrine was established in 1967 and since than the parishioners and devotees have been peacefully using this access to the Church which the builder was attempting to block by erecting the gate.