Pilar-Goa: Close Encounters with ‘Miracle Child’ Fr Cosme Costa at Fr Agnel Monastery-Pilar
Pilar-Goa: While I was in Goa just a few days for the Goan Carnival, I also made a visit to Fr Agnel Monastery-Pilar, where I met the “Miracle Child” aka Fr Cosme Costa, whose Godfather Fr Joseph Vaz was canonized as Saint on January 14, 2015. Among the millions who attended the canonization ceremony of Fr Joseph Vaz by Pope Francis in Colombo-Sri Lanka, Fr Cosme was one among the pilgrims, who had traveled all the way from Goa to be part of the celebration. It was indeed a proud privilege for me to have close encounters with Fr Cosme, and get an exclusive interview with him on his joyous moment of witnessing his Godfather being canonized as a Saint.
I learned that it was Fr Cosme’s birth that was the only approved miracle in the path that took Joseph Vaz to sainthood. The saint also happens to be the godfather of Fr Costa. Father Costa’s 1938 birth (27 November 1938) was accepted by the Vatican as the miracle needed to beatify Blessed Vaz in 1995. Blessed Vaz, an Oratorian priest, moved to Sri Lanka in 1687 and is known as the apostle of Sri Lanka — credited with reviving almost single-handedly the Catholic Church there during severe persecution by Dutch colonial authorities in the 17th century.
The “Miracle Child” Fr Cosme J Costa, was specially invited to attend the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz in Sri Lanka. “It was the great faith of my mother that saved my life through the intercession and intervention of Fr Joseph Vaz, which led to his being on the altar. I have no words to express my joy and gratitude to God for having heard the prayers of countless Goans, Sri Lankans and devotees all over the world for the last three centuries for this great day, conferring full honours of the Altar on our great Goan missionary, Blessed Joseph Vaz. Canonization entitled him to be honoured all over the world,” said Fr Costa, who incidentally also has Joseph Vaz in his baptismal name.
Despite numerous miracles attributed to Blessed Joseph Vaz, only one miracle – the birth of Fr Costa – was officially recognized by the Vatican. It concerned the difficult pregnancy of his mother, Quiteria de Noronha e Costa, due to “Placenta Previa” in 1938. The process of a Miracle worked by the intercession of Fr Joseph Vaz was submitted to Rome by Fr Urbino Monteiro, then vice-postulator in Goa and the canonical enquiry was held in 1991 and submitted to the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, Rome, by the Postulator Fr James Fitz-Patrick.
It was studied by five eminent Medical Surgeons from Rome and England. On October 28, 1992, the Medical Council declared, “Sudden and perfect cessation of the haemorrhage’s followed by the delivery by leg of a premature child that survived: this event cannot be explained in our science. On February 19, 1993, the Congress of Theologians was held and on May 4, the session of Cardinals and Bishops and this fact was declared to be extraordinary. And so on July 6, 1993, Pope John Paul II declared this to be a real miracle. The beatification ceremony was held at Colombo, Sri Lanka, on January 21, 1995,” said Fr Costa. Father Costa, who attended Blessed Vaz’s beatification in January 1995, also attended the canonization in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 14 January 2015.
Fr. Cosme Jose Costa s.f.x., M. A., B.Ed., member of the Society of Pilar, Goa Province, is the one whose birth has been accepted as a miracle to complete the process of beatification of St. Joseph Vas, Apostle of Kanara and Sri Lanka. Born on 27th November 1938, by the leg after constant hemorrhages of his mother due to Placenta Praevia, in the 7th month, only 2.5 pounds (1 Kilo 100 gms) in weight, the boy had a difficult childhood but survived due to intercession of the Saint and became a missionary priest, ordained on 21st December 1966. Fr Cosme’s dad Joaquim Damiao da Costa died at the age of 87 in 1987); and mom Quiteria C.P. Noronha e Costa expired at the age of 94 in 1999). He had only one sister: Estefania H N Costa, married to George P.da Silva (both 77 years old in 2006 and 2009 resp.).
Fr Cosme was Vice-Principal and teacher of Fr. Agnel High School, Pilar, Goa for 10 years and then Internal Auditor (1976-1987) and General Treasurer (1987-92) of the Pilar Society. He was Professor of Church History of India and of the World in the Pilar Seminary from 1983 to 2005. He continues teaching Indian Church History to date. At the Pilar Seminary, he has set up a Museum, which projects the over 2000 years old history of the place.
He was a special invitee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka and met Pope John Paul II on 20th and 21st January 1995, at the venue of the beatification of St Joseph Vaz, in Colombo, Sri Lanka (and again for the Canonization held on 14th January 2015 by Pope Francis). On 27th April 2001, he discovered the St. Thomas Cross bearing Pahalavi script of the 7th century AD at Agasaim – Goa, thus proving that Christianity existed in Goa long before the coming of the Portuguese, as confirmed by the Arab traveler, Ibn Batuta in his writings, when the latter visited Goa in 1342 AD.
Fr Cosme was very kind enough to show me around the Fr Agnel Monastery and also furnished me with the following complete history of Society of Pilar. The Society of Pilar, a review by Fr Cosme Jose Costa
The Society of Pilar was a response to the need of indigenous missionaries and an outlet to the suppressed religious life in the Goa Archdiocese in the second half of the nineteenth century. After the Portuguese conquest of Goa in 1510, the Religious Orders of Franciscans, the Jesuits and the Dominicans had evangelized Tiswaddi, Bardez and Salcete Talukas, known as the Old Conquests of Goa, from the 16th century, under the patronage of the King of Portugal (known as the Padroado system. Goans not only received the Christian faith, but led by Blessed Joseph Vaz, the Apostle of Kanara and Sri Lanka and his Oratorians, gave the faith to others and served the Church in Sri Lanka, Kanara (Mangalore) and Goa for over 160 years (1682-`1847).
275 years after the Portuguese stepped in, the Goa territory was enlarged by 1781, with the conquest of more territory, called the New Conquests, which a century later, in 1881, was civilly re-organized into 7 Talukas, namely Pernem, Sanquelim, Satari, Ponda, Sanguem, Kepem and Canacona. Before that, however, the Portuguese Government had fallen in the hands of Free-Masons who were atheists. They banned the Jesuits from Goa from 1759, and then, all the other Religious Orders from 1835. There were no Religious Orders to evangelize the New Conquests. Secular priests, who had taken over the established parishes of the Old Conquests from the Religious, could not ensure continuity as their work, if undertaken, in the New Conquests, would die out with their death. The New Conquests were a challenge to the Goan missionary zeal.
In 1873 a secular priest, Fr.Caetano Custodio do Rosario Barreto, attempted in vain to start an Association of Secular Missionaries and went to work in the New Conquests, in Uguem, then a remote village in the jungles of Sanguem Taluka, with 2 companions, both of whom left him shortly afterwards. He coached 3 others to join him but they also left him one by one, and within ten years by 1883, the Association died a natural death. One of these last three was Fr. J. M. C. Bento Martins from Orlim, Salcete, born in 1848, who had joined Fr. Barreto in 1877 as a Deacon and started a school at Tilamola (KepemTaluka) in 1878 with ecclesiastical permission. He was ordained priest in February 1879, and put in charge of the area around, covering Tilamola, Rivona, and Sanvordem (today well developed, at that time a jungle). Afire with zeal, Fr. Bento Martins penetrated these jungles, in search of souls, preaching and conferring the sacraments on the abandoned Christians, who had no priest to care for them. In former times, these had run away from the Old Conquests to these jungles: to escape Portuguese laws or punishments or for better prospects.
Activities in Pilar Complex:
The hillock of Pilar has grown into a large complex. A Pilgrims House started in 1945, has evolved into a sprawling structure called Retreat Centre for the Pilgrims as well as for Retreats, Seminars and Conferences. In 1998 a new wing was added to the Pilar Monastery as the St Joseph’s Home to take care of the aged and sick members.
On 3/10/1944 the Konkani Weekly “Vavraddeancho Ixtt” with its printing machine was entrusted to the Society by the Patriarch D Jose da Costa Nunes and remained in the Pilar Monastery till its new premises were put up at the slope of the Pilar hillock, and inaugurated by the Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, during his visit to Goa in May 1963. In August 1961, its publication was suspended for three months by the Portuguese Government for flimsy political reasons, before Goa’s liberation. An English monthly magazine “India” was published by the Society from 1950 to 1975; and the “Fr Agnelo’s Call” Magazine started in March 1967 continues at present; also by publishing books, the Society helps in providing media education to its well-wishers; from 1990 the institution has been named as Amrutsthan-Pilar ITI and conducts Computer Training and Printing Technology courses to students under R.D.A.
In 1944, the Society started a small Museum in the Pilar Monastery to save and preserve for the education and knowledge of posterity, some of the paintings and old wooden and metal artefacts found in Pilar. As the years passed new stone antiquities, ivory and wooden images, postage stamps and coin collections, came to be added. Since these required bigger premises, the Museum was shifted to the entrance of the Mission Seminary in 1973. Together with the stunning stained glass windows in the Seminary Chapel, the Museum is visited by School students and is a tourist attraction.
Orphanage & Music School:
In June 1978, as a remembrance of the Golden Jubilee of Ven Fr. Agnelo’s death (1927- 1977), the Society started the Bal Niketan (orphanage) in the old Pilgrim’s House and later it was shifted to its new premises at the foot of the hillock in 1979. In July 1979, to tap the musical talent of the youth, the Pilar Music School was opened. It has been training students to appear for the examinations of the Trinity College of Music, London. It teaches the following instruments: Key Board, Guitar, Violin, Drums, Piano, Trumpet, Tabla, Harmonium, and Sitar; It also trains the students in Hindustani vocals, and Bharat Natyam.
Fr Agnel Education Complex:
In 1953, the Society started Escola Pe. Agnelo for Portuguese primary classes and added classes in English for the benefit of candidates for the Seminary, especially those who were coming from outside Goa, as well as for day scholars. Due to political pressure from the Portuguese government, the school was closed from 1960. It was re-opened in June 1962, after the liberation of Goa, as an English school and upgraded year by year, till its first batch appeared for the SSC Board exams in March 1966. The new High School building at the foot of the hillock was put up in 1966, a Boarding in 1969 and Apostolic School in 1973. The Boarding continued till 1978 when the upgrading of the School to a Higher Secondary, made it necessary to use the existing premises for it. Fr. Agnel Degree College was started from 1991 in the premises of the Higher Secondary in shifts and in 2000 it was shifted to the premises of the Apostolic School and the latter was shifted to a new building in Batim in the year 2002.
Fr Agnel Central School:
Though the Society runs elsewhere about 14 Central Schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, (C.B.S.E.), New Delhi, among those listed in the Provinces mentioned above, the latest addition to the Educational Complex in Pilar is the Fr. Agnel Central School of the Goa Province, to be affiliated to the same C.B.S.E., New Delhi. It started with K.G. classes from June 2008 and has been adding more classes every year, by putting up a new building.