Fr. de Souza outside his maternal grandmother’s now-abandoned home in Loutolim, Goa, India. Photo courtesy Fr. Raymond de Souza

Fr. Raymond de Souza: Discovering the roots that nurtured faith

By 
  • September 2, 2020

On Sept. 5, 1920, Laura Cardoso left the family home in which she had been born to marry Salustiano Roque de Freitas. Nearly 100 years later, I visited that home, now deserted, in her village in Goa, India.

The 100 years since my maternal grandparents married took them immediately away from that historic family home in Loutolim to Mombasa, Kenya, where my grandfather had moved to find employment. Subsequent decades saw my parents born in Kenya and, in turn, make their way to Canada as young adults, where I was born. Last December, on a visit to India, Providence unexpectedly granted me the chance to visit the family home, now abandoned, of my grandmother Laura.

I was in Goa for the patronal feast of St. Francis Xavier and after spending the feast day in Old Goa at the Bom Jesus Basilica where the body of the great missionary is preserved, I shifted to Panjim at the kind invitation of Archbishop Felipe Neri Ferrão of Goa, who also carries the impressive historic title of Patriarch of the East Indies.

The patriarch’s priest secretary, the kindly Fr. Joaquim Loiola Pereira, offered to accompany me for a day of visiting historic sites in Goa. I did not expect to learn about my particular family history.

Amongst Goans it is important to know one’s ancestral village, and when I told Fr. Loiola that my maternal grandmother was from Loutolim, he lit up with excitement. He had been the parish priest there 30 years before and there was only one Cardoso family that he remembered. He had, in fact, taken Holy Communion regularly to Alina, my grandmother’s youngest sister.

In a matter of minutes, Fr. Loiola confirmed the information on his mobile phone with relatives that I did not even know I had. With that, we were off to find my grandmother’s house. It was not easy to do. Down a narrow country road, it was situated in something of a gully below. But we managed to find it. It had been abandoned and was padlocked. Despite being in poor condition, it was evident that it had once been a grand house. There were the remnants of a family crest above the door.

I tell young couples that wedding anniversaries are feast days for families, a day to give thanks for the foundation of that family through the sacrament of marriage. As we should remember and celebrate our baptismal anniversaries, families should celebrate wedding anniversaries as the sacramental foundation of their life together.

One hundred years ago my grandparents’ wedding began an intercontinental and multigenerational adventure in family and faith. There is much for which to give thanks to God.

My grandmother lived in the Cardoso family house rather longer than would have been common at the time. She married at 25 — late in those days — and daughters remained at home until they married.

Her husband was older still. Born in 1883, Salustiano had grown up in Goa but, like many of his generation, set sail across the ocean for the land of opportunity, the British colonies in East Africa. Landing at Mombasa, he remained there and found work as an accountant. The tradition of the time was for men to establish themselves financially before seeking to marry. Once Salustiano had done so, after spending more than 10 years working in Mombasa, he sent word to his relatives in Goa that he was looking for a suitable young lady to marry. Laura was the one, evidence that many an arranged marriage has been successful.

They married a century ago and would make a happy home in Mombasa, blessed with five children. The youngest was my mother, Greta, who was taught at a convent school run by French Canadian sisters; they had little idea in the 1940s that so many of the girls they were teaching would end up in Canada! Years later my mother was able to visit her kindergarten teacher at the retirement residence in Sillery, Que.

Meanwhile, aside from a few visits, my grandmother never returned to Goa and the family home in Loutolim. Upon the death of her parents, it was left to my grandmother’s brother, a priest, Fr. Joao Cardoso, and Alina.

The home is abandoned now, and the family dispersed all over the world. But the faith that was planted and nurtured in that home has borne fruit far away. The prayers my grandmother learned in that house she taught to my mother in Mombasa, who taught them to us in Calgary.

My grandmother, born in 1895, was nearly 75 years old when instability in East Africa meant she followed her children to Canada, a new country which treated her generously in her old age. She lived to be 96 before dying in Toronto, 70 years after her wedding day in Goa. Goa’s loss — and Kenya’s — was Canada’s gain in relation to my family. One hundred years on from a family feast day, we too have much to be grateful for.

(Fr. de Souza is editor-in-chief of Convivium.ca and a pastor in the Archdiocese of Kingston.)

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