The Apostle Thomas first brought the Gospel of Christ to India, so the history of the faith here dates from way back. But in this area around Mumbai it’s the Portuguese influence that began in the 16th century that has resulted in many Catholic churches, schools, and convents. The history of Christianity in India is too vast a subject for me to delve into, much less write about, but I don’t want to leave Mumbai without mentioning a few churches I saw and my quite personal and random impressions.
I didn’t visit any of the churches in the uninterrupted line of St. Thomas, because they are not as convenient to get to, and my contact with Catholic churches was also minimal. Tom and I did see the Afghan Church briefly. Many times the old church buildings themselves are a blessing to me, when I consider all the generations of worshipers who have sung and prayed there.
On my first morning, when Tom took me on that two-hour walking tour, we visited St. Andrew’s Church, which was locked. The caretaker was glad to let us in, and we found that we were not the only visitors. A woman was sitting in a pew facing the altar. We sat in silence for a few minutes also, and then went out to see the graveyard.
The most architecturally impressive church I’ve seen was The Basilica of our Lady of the Mount at Land’s End in Bandra, Mumbai. The current church was built in the 18th century, though a chapel in this spot had been built by the Portuguese in the 1500’s.
We made the trip in one of those black-and-yellow rickshaws such as you can see in front in this picture, and we came expecting that we might have to stand outside, because services are known to be crowded. But we were able to sit in the nave on bench pews, and when we came in there was singing already filling the church, very melodic and light.
People were indeed standing outside around the tall side doors that were open wide, and maybe that’s how birds would fly in and out. For a while only rock doves swooped silently across the altar and back, but soon they were joined by a very noisy crow who made it hard to hear the scripture readings. One dove changed course and flew up and down the length of the nave many times, and the crow eventually either flew out or merely fell silent just before the homily, which was a relief.
I enjoyed the outdoorsy feeling, though, and appreciated the simple and uncushioned, beautiful wooden pews. Just outside afterward we met an acquaintance whose photo with his cute niece I’ve been waiting weeks for a chance to post.
One church we attended in the neighborhood was new to Tom and Kate, as was the Basilica. We walked about ten minutes to get to St. Anne’s, including a walk down a very long driveway to accommodate the cars that weren’t planned for. Tom liked that the church was so old that it had been built before streets were needed, and later on they were not laid out so that they passed very near.
I liked the way the windows were open to the evening (We were at 6 o’clock mass.) and to the courtyard. After the service people hung around in the balmy air (winter is still warm!) to chat.
The atmosphere and the open windows reminded me of church summer camp, especially singing the sort of choruses that hearken back to an earlier period of Christian music in the U.S. at least, such as the ones I’ve copied here, sung out of a book or projected on a screen overhead.
Kate and Tom’s usual parish down the street is newer, and even more accommodating to the weather, the extremes of which I know nothing about. The sides of the nave to a height of eight feet or so consist of louvered, unscreened windows. The louvers were completely open, and large oscillating fans set close blew the pleasantest breeze through the pews. Baby Raj was in the sling and seemed completely asleep through the whole service, but it could be he was listening with his spirit. He was blessed also by the hand of the priest.
I’ve been missing my Orthodox parish, no doubt about it. But it has been a joy to see the lasting effect of faithful witnesses down through the ages in this one community, and to receive through them gifts of grace such as I knew when I saw the sign on St. Peter’s Church here, shortly after Christmas:
JESUS THE FACE OF THE MERCIFUL GOD