KOLKATA, (C.M. Paul) –Thousands of people inBengalattended the funeral yesterday (27 September) of an Italian missionary, who provided homes for them. Salesian Fr Louis Gobetti was 91 years old when he died on 22 September, at the historic Marian shrine of Bandel 60 km north of Kolkata.
Living through 1971 Bangladesh war of liberation which caused migration from then East Pakistan to India, Fr Gobetti settled hundreds of displaced people in Nadia and Hooghly districts of Bengal. In the last 23 years working in Bandel as prior, parish priest and administrator, Fr Gobetti, an Indian citizen by choice, settled over 300 (three hundred) families in five settlements (paras) providing them a small plot of land and a house at highly subsidized price.
Before Fr Gobetti arrived in Bandel in 1988, there were about 150 Catholic families in the parish. What he did was to settle families in Christian paras (villages) and give identity to Christians in the largely Hindu area surrounding the shrine.
“This 16th century historic Marian shrine parish today has 565 Catholic families as well as another 350 Catholic families in a substation under Bandel parish some 25 km away,” says prior Salesian Fr Thomas Gomes.
He also settled three more congregations of religious Sisters (MSMHC, Adorers and Kulathuvai Sisters) other than Salesian Sisters to provide education especially of girls.
Over 4,000 people turned up at the largest funeral service held in recent memory at the Marian shrine, the oldest Church inEastern India(estd.1599), said Salesian Fr John Puthiyedathuchalil Fr Gobetti’s aide.
Some 140 priests and hundreds of religious and faithful joined the farewell Eucharist presided over by Coadjutor archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Calcutta and Salesian Bishop Joseph Gomes of Krishnagar, another of Fr Gobetti’s protégé’s from Ranaghat.
From Ranaghat parish in Nadia district where Fr Gobetti worked for 17 years before he came to Bandel, some 450 people came in six buses to bid him farewell. Besides settling people in three villages, Fr Gobetti was instrumental in the promotion of seven priestly vocations (including that of Bishop Gomes) and scores of women religious from Ranaghat parish of Krishnagar diocese.
Speaking on behalf of the people of Ranaghat Mr Dennis Gomes spoke of Fr Gobetti as a missionary who spent his energy building up Christian communities and churches, both in its material and spiritual sense.
Born on 8 January 1921 at Tarcento (Udine) in northernItaly, son of a construction engineer, Fr Gobetti arrived inIndiain 1936 and made his first profession on 8 December 1937 in Bandel.
During World War II, cleric Gobetti was interned in the concentration camp atDehra Dunwhere he pursued his theology studies and was ordained priest on 23 March 1945. After the war, he was assigned to Don Bosco Youth Centre Krishnagar as Catechist and also as the Master of Ceremonies at the Cathedral till May 1948.
As a young priest Fr Gobetti assisted the founder of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate (SMI) American born Salesian Bishop Louis L.R. Morrow of Krishnagar as his Vicar General and Secretary from 1948 to 1969 with much “constancy and altruism”. Bishop Morrow spoke of him as “alter ego” – my other self!
From 1969, Fr Gobetti became the Vicar General of the diocese of Krishnagar and assisted in the administration of the diocese, and also in the formation of the fledgling SMI congregation.
In 2005, on the occasion of the diamond jubilee of his priestly ordination, Nitika Don Bosco produced a 25 minute documentary film entitled Mosaic of a Missionary. It narrated the missionary life of Fr Gobetti who worked in Krishnagar, Ranaghat and Bandel parishes in Nadia and Hooghly districts of Bengal.
Besides two awards from Italy in 1991 (Nadal Furlan Award) and in 2007 (Chevalier of the Star of Italian Solidarity), in 2008, the Catholic Association of Bengal conferred on Fr Gobetti an award for his outstanding pastoral contribution in Bengal.
A prolific writer and editor of the religious magazine “Our Lady of Bandel” Fr Gobetti authored several books of Christian inspiration. The Indian Catholic Press Association recognized his outstanding contribution in the promotion of Christian literature during its national Convention held in Kolkata in 2004.