OBJECTS AND STORIES – The Rosary, a gift of St. Pope Paul VI to Mount Mary, Bandra
‘As for ourself, we can only say: Here We leave our heart. We feel Ourself to share in a moral citizenship with this land, which We will ever love’ – St. Pope Paul VI farewell address at Santacruz Airport, December 5, 1964.
His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, made history when he visited India to attend the 38th International Eucharistic Congress as a ‘Pilgrim’. His three day stay, from December 2 – 5, 1964, was a witness of his abiding love for the people of all classes, creeds and communities. It was ‘the warmest, biggest and most spontaneous demonstrations of public esteem and affection ever accorded to a distinguished visitor in India’s First City.’ St. Pope Paul VI, on his departure, left behind not only his pulsating heart but also certain ‘gifts’ which continue to throb efficaciously in testimony of a memory that can never be erased from the hearts and minds of the Church in Mumbai.
Amidst the recesses of the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum lies a simple white box with the coat of arms of H.H. Pope Paul VI. Within the box is enclosed the crystal Rosary, gifted by the Pope to the Basilica of the Mount, Bandra. The rosary delicately reflects the story of how it all came to be. Every bead resounds the ‘negotiations’ that had to be gone through before the Holy Father took the decision and conveyed it to H.E. Valerian Cardinal Gracias on September 30, 1964.
In the words of the late Cardinal himself:
‘When in September, 1964, I had a long audience with the Holy Father, I could vaguely sense in which direction his mind was moving. He told me at that audience that he would give me a decisive reply before my departure to Bombay, which had been fixed either for Friday, October 2 or Sunday, October 4, depending on when I would receive a call.’
‘On Wednesday, September 30 at 8:30pm I received a call from his Private Secretary, saying that the Pope wanted to see me urgently that very night. I had dismissed my car (provided by the Vatican) for the evening. But two discreet nuns drove me to the Vatican.’
‘Waiting in the ante-chamber for quite some time I said the fifteen decades of the rosary to the Blessed Virgin, hoping for the best but summoning enough courage to face the worse. If his decision was unfavorable, I had thought of saying to him in Latin, “I have been shipwrecked in the harbor!”’
‘When I entered his study he greeted me warmly, embracing me, and said in Italian, “if it pleases the Lord, I come to India. And I come.” I knelt down, clasped his hand affectionately, kissed his ring and said in Latin – “Deo Gratias” (Thanks be to God). I was too moved to say more. That night I was seized with double feelings – one of boundless joy, not only for myself but for the people of India and, the other of the increased heavy responsibilities attached to the visit of the Pope.’
And so it came to be – the pain of suspense and the glorious affirmation. The visit of the Pope was an ‘unbelievable union of hearts’! On the last day, December 5, Pope Paul VI visited the Basilica of the Mount where he delivered the ‘Speech of Peace’. His reception is aptly described by the Examiner: “A two mile canopy, composed of festoons and garlands, long lines of coloured bunting, countless banners proclaiming Long Live the Pope, and fishermen’s nets, covered the entire stretch of the road up to the Mount. There was such tremendous excitement that day in Bandra! Men, women and children cheered wildly and nuns climbed the iron railing of their convent compounds to wave handkerchiefs at the passing Pontiff.”
On arrival, the Holy Father looked up the façade of the edifice as he entered the Basilica. He then went up the High Altar and prayed for a few minutes. From there he bestowed upon his beloved people his affectionate benediction, as also blessing a thousand rosaries held by simple outstretched hands and overwhelmed hearts. He then turned to Bishop Longinus and held forth this crystal rosary as a token of his doubtless love for India and her people.
Indeed, St. Pope Paul VI left his heart to a land he never considered foreign to his feet.
Joynel Fernandes- Ast. Director- Archdiocesan Heritage Museum