Prabhu Yeshu Chapel and the Prabhat Community

In the 1960s, a number of Catholics shifted on the Eastern side of the Santacruz railway station, which is now called the Prabhat Community and extended almost up to the Milan subway and were parishioners of Sacred Heart Church, Santacruz West. However, some Catholics preferred attending mass at St. Anthony’s, Vakola as it was more convenient to go to Vakola though they did attend major solemnities at Sacred Heart Church. Considering the widespread geographical area of the community with many families still living a little beyond the Santacruz Yoga Institute, Catholics found it difficult to walk quite a distance roughly around 30 to 40 minutes to reach church who could afford it, would use the taxi service reach. Many Catholics from the area also associated themselves with Vakola Chuch and built a tiny but vibrant community through their relentless efforts.

In view of these difficulties, both parish priests – Fr. Nelson Mascarenhas of St. Anthony Church and Fr. Nereus Rodrigues of Sacred Heart Church came to a consensus and re-demarcated this area as part of St. Anthony’s parish in 1970’s. To cater to the spiritual needs due to the flock being a distance away to come to church, Fr. Nelson suggested having mass celebrated at a location within the community. Thus, Mr. James Godinho with the support of (Late) Peter Casmero and (Late) John Henriques negotiated with the residents of Railway Quarters to have a Mass in their Gymkhana once a week on Sunday. Regular Eucharistic celebrations started from around 1974-76 and continued till June 1989.

The inaugural First Holy Communion Mass at St Anthony’s Church sub centre, Dec 2 1979. Rev Monsieugner Nelson Mascarenhas, Fr Allwyn Dsilva who was in charge, Sr Louisa of St Charles , Rex Fernandez Choir Master and Director of the Centre’s Choir, Sonia Fernandez , first holy communicant with her dad, mum (Hedwige) sister, Godparents and grandparents.

In the meanwhile, the active community members managed to purchase a sub-centre in Mungibai Chawl by raising funds through fund raising events, support of other Catholics in the community and with the help of Fr. Allwyn D’silva, a young priest assigned to the parish on a rotational basis. Fr. Allwyn’s efforts played a significant role in building the community and its sub-centre known as Prabhu Yeshu Samaj Seva Kendra, derived from its titular name – Christ the King. This centre was opened in September 1981 and officially blessed on 6th December 1982 by His Lordship Ferdinand Fonseca, Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay with a Mass celebrated by him. From the first Mass through the years till his last regular Eucharistic celebration, (Late) Mr. Rex Fernandez conducted the choir with his melodious instrumental accompaniment. He trained choir members to solemnly give praise to God and for this the community is ever grateful.

Christ the King Feast celebration at the St Anthony’s sub centre celebrated by Fr Octavian Diaz. Choir led by Rex Fernandez. Choir was named later as “ Jesus First” choir and trained by Rex. It’s members are today all over the world and stay true to the mission of which he started it. To keep Jesus First in their lives no matter what they do or where they go.

Christ the King Feast celebration at the St Anthony’s sub centre celebrated by Fr Octavian Diaz. Choir led by Rex Fernandez. Choir was named later as “ Jesus First” choir and trained by Rex. It’s members are today all over the world and stay true to the mission of which he started it. To keep Jesus First in their lives no matter what they do or where they go.

This community centre was used to conduct Catechism classes for children, Bible study classes for adults and as a study room for students that was supervised by trained teachers and qualified personnel as voluntary tutors. The community has also witnessed First Holy Communion Eucharistic Celebrations during the period from 1979 to 1982 at the hall in Railway Quarters. As the parish had more than 300 children receiving communion every year in those days, the community was blessed with a private Eucharistic Celebration for the children of the area where the children had better scope for involvement.

Under the leadership of Fr. Allwyn  – now better known as Bishop Allwyn D’silva, a local bulletin like the Antonian was published for around one and a half years as well. Fr. Allwyn was transferred in 1983 but he still remains in the memory and heart of those who have worked for the community with him. Sunday Masses were celebrated at Prabhu Yeshu Samaj Seva Kendra in the 90s. Later they became monthly masses until it was discontinued due to lack of priests. The community centre would undergo repairs and renovations at regular intervals to maintain the space. It became difficult to maintain though for the small community there and hence, the managing committee with the confidence of the animators and community members decided to hand over the centre back to the mother church in 2005-06. Bishop Bosco Penha who was in-charge of the SCC project in the Archdiocese of Bombay sanctioned funds for the repair and renovation of the centre which was managed by the parish. After the renovation, the centre’s keys were handed over to the then SCC Area Co-ordinator, Diana Fernandes by Fr. Agnelo Fernandes, parish priest.

The religious, parish priests, managing committee office-bearers and animators all contributed to make the Prabhat community one among the largest of Bombay SCCs in 1981 having 709 parishioners. The Sisters of St. Charles convent namely Sr. Louisa, Sr. Felcia, Sr. Preeti and Sr. Asha were actively involved in the community.  Five seminarians have lived in the community centre – two for a year each and one for 2 years – one of them being the well-known Fr. Reuben Tellis. The Seminarians also visited the families, organized walking pilgrimage to Mount Mary’s Shrine and picnics or get-togethers  to facilitate bonding and fellowship with faith formation.

Some of the parish priests who were associated with the community centre include Fr. Nelson Mascarenhas, Fr. Octavian Dias, Fr. Denis Pereira, Fr. Vernon Aguiar, Fr. Louis Pereira, Fr. Agnelo Fernandes, Fr. Seraj Pinto and presently, Fr. Felix D’souza. A managing committee took care of matters related to the centre. Some of the members over the years have been Mr. James Godinho, Charles D’souza, Allwyn D’souza, Errol Sequeira, (Late) John Henriques, Mrs. Lynette Louis, (Late) Peter Casmero, Leslie D’silva, (Late) Rex Fernandez, Reggie Mendes, Miss Brenda Fernandes, Steven Crasto, Edward Furtado and (Late) Alban Gonsalves. Many animators and area co-ordinators over the years have also contributed to conducting activities in the centre. (Late) Elliza Gonsalves and Lynette D’souza were among those committed members – besides the managing committee – who helped sustain this community.

Since 2007, the centre has been used for community meetings, activities like Children’s Day and Christmas Tree programmes, Parent’s Day, Senior Citizen’s Day celebrations, which some times included the Mass, Rosary, Way of the Cross, Prayer Services and Annual Mass celebration.  Sharmila Vaz, among the subsequent area co-ordinators carried on the baton of organizing activities at the centre with the support of other animators. The ex-PPC representative, Genevieve D’souza, since 2018 with Janet Lewis and Peter Dsouza, the present area co-ordinator and PPC representative respectively followed up with the parish regarding the centre’s repairs and maintenance. They were instrumental in the repair and renovation works being sanctioned and funded by the present Parish Priest, Fr. Felix D’souza in 2019.

We thank all the community members those mentioned and those who’ve actively supported without any recognition in building Prabhat Community and making it a vibrant Christian family. The determination of the adults, the enthusiasm of children, the support of the youth and the wisdom of the senior citizens have kept us together and going. May God continue to bless every member with the grace to take this forward.

– Compiled by Diana Fernandes with inputs from James Godinho, Edward Furtado and Lynette D’souza. Photo credits – Peter Dsouza, Hedwige Fernandez

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