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GOA, India (ChurchMilitant.com) - At an annual festival in the town of Cuncolim, Goa, Catholics in the former Portuguese colony (first evangelized by St. Francis Xavier) have joined Hindus in worshipping the goddess of destruction.
In a display of unabashed syncretism, significant numbers of Catholics are offering flowers, coconuts, fruits, rice, milk, sweetmeats and incense sticks to the idols of Shantadurga Kunkalikarin, a Hindu deity also known as Durga, the goddess of destruction.
"There is a lot of involvement of Catholics. I would say about 30–40%," said Wendy Gomes, trustee of the Cuncolim Chieftains Memorial Trust told The Times of India, detailing Catholic participation in the "umbrella" festival of Sontrio (Chatrotsav) held earlier in March.
The devotees carry a red "sacred" umbrella representing the goddess and a dozen white umbrellas for each of the 12 local clans. Dancing while carrying the umbrellas, the red-powder-smeared participants toss handfuls of powder in the air around the goddess Shantadurga's silver palanquin.
"We have two mothers, one is Shantadurga and the other is Saude Saibinn [Our Lady of Health]," Alister D'Souza, a local Catholic, told the Indian newspaper. The local parish of Our Lady of Health was first built between 1600 and 1604.
The Goan church's website puts the number of Catholics in the parish of Our Lady of Health at 10,000. The Franciscan Order of Friars Minor and the religious sisters of Maria Bambina are also located in the parish.
Retired superintendent of police, Tony Fernandes, narrates how he has always taken part in the festival as a Catholic: "We were originally Hindus and were converted (to Catholicism), so the belief (in Shantadurga) has always been strong."
As the deity's procession stops at designated places along the route, Catholics join Hindus in throwing vermillion powder and rose petals. They rush forward to the idol to make offerings and seek the goddess' blessing.
In the predominantly Catholic ward of Gotton, where the procession makes a ritual stop, Catholics don't even store meat in their refrigerators as a mark of respect to the goddess.
Prominent Catholic Neeraj Aguiar from Gotton insists that local Catholics have celebrated the goddess's arrival since "time immemorial" and "with great pomp." The Aguiars have even built a special concrete platform to rest the palanquin and allow people to worship the goddess.
"It is our belief that Shantadurga Kunkalikarin is the patron of Cuncolim. We have strong faith in that," says Aguiar. "It's not about being a Hindu or Catholic. We celebrate this together."
But the syncretism has scandalized faithful Goan Catholics who charge the hierarchy with failing to catechize or warn the laity about the dangers of idolatry.
"It is so disappointing to see such poorly catechized or ignorant Catholics speak this way and defend such behavior in the name of brotherly unity," Travis D'Souza from Guirim, Goa, told Church Militant. "They don't know the first thing about being Catholic, and I mean that quite literally."
"This is a direct rejection of the first commandment, yet the parish priest and diocesan authorities have obviously been tacitly approving this for hundreds of years," D'Souza lamented. "I wonder if they even care if such poorly formed Catholics will land in Hell because of such syncretistic practices?"
"If we don't believe in following the first commandment, then forget about following the rest of them," D'Souza said, noting that pro-lifers are making "poor headway" in Goa. "Cardinal Filipe Neri Ferrão, you are responsible for the eternal salvation of 400,000 Catholics in Goa!"
In Sept. 2022, Catholics rebuked Goa's newly created cardinal for promoting a "masonic relativism" by endorsing clergy visits to Hindu idols. Writing in the diocesan magazine Renovação, Ferrão urged Catholics to "imbibe the perennial values" that the festival of the elephant-headed deity Ganesh celebrates.
Church Militant earlier reported on several priests paying homage to Ganesh idols. The Nirmala Institute of Education run by the Daughters of the Heart of Mary even printed invitations calling for the worship of Ganesh and asked invitees to "join us to celebrate the festival and seek blessings of the lord [Ganesh]."
Irate parishioners from St. Anthony's Church in Siolim, North Goa, told Church Militant they were shocked when assistant parish priest Fr. Francisco Xavier Barretto took a youth group to several homes to pay their respects to the Ganesh idol and was photographed praying to the idol.
Church Militant also reported on Fr. Peter Cardozo, a Pilar father, leading his troupe from St. Anne's Church, Agonda, to sing bhajans (devotional songs) before the idols of Ganesh. "The aim was to sing bhajans to the Hindu deity, especially the Ganesh idol, which is revered by Hindus with great faith, pomp and gaiety," Fr. Cardozo told Goan newspaper O Heraldo.
At a July 2022 seminar at St. Joseph Vaz Spiritual Renewal Centre in Old Goa, attended by over 2,000 catechists, participants were shown a slide of the Bahāʾī doctrine explaining how religions are "different lamps" emanating from the "one light" of an "unknowable" God.
Last year, over 700 Catholics signed an online petition blasting the iconography in the diocesan magazine for downgrading the Cross of Christ "by placing it on par with the Islamic crescent, the Hindu OM, the Buddhist dharmachakra, the Sikh khaṇḍā and other symbols in the pluralist pantheon."
"The clergy in Goa are and have been complicit in the widespread syncretism by the uncatechized laity, hoping that this will earn them brownie points when the Hindu fundamentalists come for them," Valentine Coelho, a Goan expert on Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, told Church Militant. "Either they think Hell doesn't exist or that eternal damnation is preferable to martyrdom."
In his monograph Hindu–Catholic Encounters in Goa: Religion, Colonialism, and Modernity, professor Alexander Henn notes that "[s]yncretistic expressions and practices are widespread in Goa and can be found among Hindus and Catholics of all castes and classes."
"Syncretism is articulated in big public ceremonies such as the cross-religious worship that is quite regularly paid to Catholic patron saints and Hindu village gods at church and temple festivals, or the simultaneous invocation of the Christian trinity and Hindu deities in the Jagar [a folk drama form]," Henn writes.
Church Militant contacted Cuncolim's parish priest, Fr. Edmund Barreto, to ask if he approved of Catholics worshipping the Shantadurga goddess or had made any attempt to offer catechesis to address this form of syncretism, but we received no response.
Other priests in the parish, including Fr. Jude Coelho, Fr. Lourenço Rodrigues, and Fr. Alcantara Rodrigues have also failed to address the scandal.
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