THE BOMBAY SEMINARY: The Perfect Prefect
Gregory Peter Cardinal Agagianian, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith and Patriarch Cilicia of the Armenians was born in 1895 in present-day Georgia. He was a member of the Uniate group of Armenian Christians He attended the Russian Orthodox Tiflis Seminary and then in 1906, the Pontifical Urban University in Rome. His outstanding performance at a young age was noted by St. Pope Pius X himself. The Pope is said to have noticed him at a group audience and remarked to the young Agagianian – ‘You will be a priest, a bishop, and a patriarch.’
Decades later, the now Cardinal Prefect, steps onto the Indian shores to bless and inaugurate the Archdiocesan Seminary dedicated to Pope Pius X. Indeed! Life does come a full circle. In this article, we will journey through the events of the Cardinal’s visit to Bombay and his hand (literally) in inaugurating the Goregaon Seminary.
The Cardinal Prefect arrived on the morning of October 4, 1960, at Santa Cruz airport from Poona in a special plane placed at disposal by the Government of Maharashtra. As His Eminence alighted from the plane, he was met on the tarmac by His Eminence Valerian Cardinal Gracias, His Eminence Cardinal Santos of Manila of the Philippines, His Grace Dr. Thomas D. Roberts, S.J. and the A.D.C. to the Governor.
Scouts and guides formed a guard of honor for the distinguished visitor as he walked up the steps of the terminal building to the main hall where a very cosmopolitan gathering, including several priests and seminarians, had gathered to bid him welcome. His Eminence passed through their midst, smiling and blessing as he went. School-boys and schoolgirls, dressed in their uniforms, lined a very large stretch of the fifteen-mile route from the airport to Archbishop’s House…The Cardinal Perfect’s car reached its destination and then the bells of the Pro-Cathedral pealed loud and long, announcing the arrival of the representative of the Supreme Pontiff.
Three receptions were given in the Cardinal Prefect’s honor that evening, one by the Governor, Sri Prakasa, at Raj Bhavan, another by the Mayor, Mr. V. N. Desai, on behalf of the Municipal Corporation and a third by His Eminence Valerian Cardinal Gracias in the brightly colored Ball Room of the Taj Mahal Hotel. This last (reception) was attended by a distinguished gathering of about five hundred people, including high church dignitaries as well as high ranking State officials.
On the morning of October 5, a gathering of three Cardinals, around fifteen Archbishops, and thirty Bishops assembled in the Aula Magna of the Seminary. Here the Cardinal Prefect delivered an exhortation encouraging the clergy to be true to the ideals of the priestly holiness which the patron of the Seminary, St. Pius X, outlined in his encyclical ‘Haerent Animo’. After that, a grand luncheon was held in the new Seminary Hall dedicated to St. Pope John XXIII.
During the President’s Address in the evening, the Cardinal Prefect expressed his deep admiration for the Seminary. He said ‘The Seminary itself is beautiful beyond anything we could have expected but even our gathering this evening which inaugurated the institution is a glorious occasion to remember.’ Further, the Cardinal Prefect wholeheartedly acknowledged and praised the Bombay Cardinal saying,
‘…Cardinal Gracias (is) so much loved at home, so much admired abroad – how he has lived and labored to see this day. From one end of the Catholic world to the other he has pleaded for the missions of India and from his sacrifices, this monument rises before our eyes today. Some time ago I heard one of your Indian ambassadors say of Cardinal Gracias: He is our country’s greatest ambassador of goodwill for the Catholic Church in India, for he has told the story of our Catholic missions in every land that he has visited.’
As a representative of the Holy Father, the Cardinal Prefect exhorted the young seminarians, priests, and religious saying ‘When I left Rome some weeks ago, The Holy Father presented me with a Golden Monstrance to be brought to India for the new Seminary…I cannot fail to see here a lesson for the young priest who will be blessed again and again with this gift of the Holy Father. Just as the Monstrance carries in golden splendor the Sacred Eucharist, so the young priest as he becomes another Christ is ever a monstrance bearing the Lord before the world. ’
The Cardinal Prefect surely had a special place for Bombay in his heart for four years later he stepped onto the Indian shores once more ‘in the name of the Pope’. Cardinal Agagianian was chosen as the Papal Legate during the 38th International Eucharistic Congress hosted by Bombay from November 28th – December 6th, 1964. The announcement was hailed as a happy choice for India, as the Cardinal was well-known and loved. Undoubtedly, the Archdiocese of Bombay, in gratitude and love, will hold the memory of this Perfect Prefect ever close to its heart.
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