Fr Rosario Rocha SJ: A Jesuit Polyglot & Scholar of Buddhism (9 Mar 1952 -18 Oct 2021)

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Fr Rosario Rocha SJ: A Jesuit Polyglot & Scholar of Buddhism (9 Mar 1952 -18 Oct 2021)

Fr Rosario Rocha sj, a Jesuit polyglot, a scholar of Buddhism and former Provincial of Goa Province left this world on 18th October 2021 in the evening at Ruby Hall Clinic, Pune. The funeral was held at Pune on 19th October evening.

The only child of his parents Alleluia Rocha and Anjelina Rocha, Fr Rosario Rocha, popularly known as Rocha among Jesuits, was born in Benaulim, Goa on 09 March 1952. He was baptized on 19th March 1952 at St. John Baptist Church, Benaulim. He was brought up by his widowed mother Anjelina. He did his high school studies at Loyola High School, Margao, and joined the Goa-Pune Jesuit Province of the Society of Jesus on 20th June 1970 at Xavier Training College (XTC), Desur, Belgavi, Karnataka. After his two years of novitiate training (1970-72), he took his first vows on 21st June 1972 at XTC. Then he continued there, his juniorate studies of one year (1972-73). Then he proceeded to Dnyanmata High School, Sangamner, Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra to learn Marathi (1973-74).

He did his philosophy studies (1974-76) at Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth (JDV), Pune. 1976-77 he did one year of regency at Snehasadan, Pune. Here he took an interest to study the Buddhist scripture’s language Pali and also Sanskrit. Hence, he proceeded to Vadodara to do his B.A. (1977-79) in Pali and Sanskrit at Maharaja Satyajitrao University of Baroda. He completed his M.A. (1979-81) in Pali and Sanskrit from the University of Pune. After doing one more year of regency (1981-82) at St. Britto High School, Mapusa, Goa, he went to JDV to do his theology (1982-1985). Side by side of his theology he continued to do an in-depth study of Pali and Sanskrit languages. Besides his mother tongue Konknni, he was gifted with the talent of learning new languages.

He was a polyglot. He learnt and acquired mastery over English, French, Portuguese, Marathi, Hindi, German, Pali and Sanskrit. He could understand and read Gujarati, Urdu, and Latin. He was ordained as a priest at Benaulim on 01 May 1985. After his ordination, he did his MPhil and PhD degrees at the University of Delhi focusing on Buddhist studies. After his doctorate, residing at De Nobili College (DNC), Pune, in 1991 he began to teach Buddhism and Indian Philosophy at JDV for philosophy and theology students. The following year he was sent to the USA for the Post-Doctoral Research in Theology of Religion at Boston and at Harvard universities.

After his tertianship at Sadhana Institute, Lonavla, Maharashtra, on 03 December 1995, he took his Final vows at DNC. He held many important designations. He was the Secretary of the DNC Trust; Dean of Theology at JDV (1997-2000). He was appointed at the age of 59, as the Provincial of Goa Province comprising Goa and districts of Belgaum, South Kolhapur, Ratnagiri, and Sindhudurg. He held this office from 21 October 2011 to 20 October 2017. Then he took a sabbatical year (2017-2018), after which he was at Pedro Arrupe Institute (PAI), Raia, Goa doing pastoral works. As a scholar, he thought that he should go back to Pune and was at Snehasadan, Pune from 2019-20. Due to his very poor health conditions, he returned to St. Britto Mapusa. He recovered and from 2021 he was appointed as the spiritual director of Papal Seminary, Pune.

Besides his academic work, as the animator of JDV Konkan Sabha, he also tried to promote the appreciation for the Konknni language and culture among its lovers and admirers while in Pune. He was also in great demand as a spiritual guide, to give recollection talks and Ignatian retreats for religious men and women. He was a brilliant student. He always scored the second position in JDV in our philosophy batch. He excelled throughout his academic studies.

It was his desire to go deep into oriental and Indian philosophical thought. Along with Buddhist texts in Pali, he studied Vedic philosophy. The specialization that he brought to theology is pertinent today. The theology of religion, the philosophy of religion, comparative philosophy of religion is a vast field and he had a particular interest in them, especially as a Jesuit priest. He was convinced that the depth of understanding of religions is going to create, not only the Christian church of the future but also going to create a new understanding of religions in our country which has a number of major religions of the world. In the words of the journalist Newton Sequeira who wrote an article about Rocha, for the daily newspaper, Times of India, Goa edition on 6th august 2017, “Thus began his tryst with the language and a journey as a scholar addressing the relationship between Christianity and other Asian religions.

Sitting behind his spartan desk, softly elucidating insights gained through years of research, Rocha appears to juxtapose his deep Christian roots, a contrast exemplified by the framed image on the wall depicting Jesus Christ meditating in the mystic Buddha pose. His studies and grasp over different religious systems have brought him to a strong realization, which could explain contemporary society and religious discourse. He, however, rues the way religion and its understanding is bandied about and says that in the quest for minimalism the world has lost its essence.”

According to Rocha “If you want to get deep into philosophical systems, then you need to know languages and you need to have access to the philosophical texts. In the history of the world, religions have become institutionalized. But when it becomes an institution, there is the tendency that certain aspects are emphasized and certain aspects are allowed to lapse. There are many keen insights, but some have been kept and embellished, while others are not so well embellished.”

Rocha does not assert that religions share the same underlying belief system. However, he has said, “What is predominant in all the religions is the search for not just ordinary meaning, but the search for a deep meaning of life and also of the divine.”Rocha has challenged us by saying, “How are we looking at the world today and how are we looking at our own identity and how we need to learn to interrelate. One can go solo in many different things, but to build society today, to build communities today, one has to have a very dialogical approach. A dialogical approach does not look at the negatives of others, but looks at the positives.”

While speaking about the present Pope Francis Rocha said, “The Catholic Church is in the safe hands of the first Jesuit to ever become head of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis is a merciful Pope and a pastor at heart. His lovely sense of humour and affable demeanour makes a tremendous impact on the people he meets. He has taught us that the Church doesn’t need to be simply critical but more understanding, and his lifestyle of living and working with the people has helped the Church get comfortable with the rest of the world. The revolutionary Jesuit Pope Francis inspires me to challenge and question certain practices in the Church so that it finds its place in today’s world.”

After the Eucharistic celebration at Bom Jesus Basilica, Old Goa on the occasion of the 200th Anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus, what he said to the journalist Jonathan Rodrigues of Times of India, Goa edition, was published on 28th September 2014. I quote Jonathan “He said that the missionary nature of the Jesuits pushes them to go to different frontiers where no one wants to go, but being a religious minority in the country, it is important that the Church in India, and in Goa particularly, becomes more inclusive and extramural in its approach.

”Rocha said, “There are too many distractions and divisive agencies available, and it is indeed a challenging time for the Church in our country. Diversity is the backbone of our country’s unity. The comforting and consoling fact as religious minorities is the confidence we have in the majority of our Hindu brethren who would rather uphold the fabric of the Indian Constitution than kill its democratic spirit.”

In a word of advice for Catholics in Goa, he suggested that they be aware of the relationships they keep and make sure that they don’t compromise on the long-term vision of the Goan community for petty short-term gains. He further said, “The world of economics and politics offers many packages, and the Goan Catholic community has to discern whether what comes in the package is worth it or not. Then again, our negative attitude towards migrants needs to change. The more we offer cold resistance, the more shall our anxiety and angst overrun us. But, if we befriend and integrate, they will blend in to preserve the beauty and charm of Goan culture. If we try to preserve our unique culture by hiding it in a nutshell, it will die; if we open ourselves, we will be enriched.”

Rocha was a good thinker, scholar, and teacher. The hallmark of his life was the simplicity of life and humility which he maintained till the end. While appreciating him for his contribution, we must also avoid his drawbacks. For example, he was a poor eater, very fussy about food, and totally neglected his health. If he had only listened and cooperated with his superiors, Jesuit colleagues and medical staff, he would have continued to live till his death. Due to this negative quality of his, we Jesuits now lost a mature thinker and scholar.

As we bid him farewell, Rocha might say in the words of the Lebanese thinker and poet Khalil Gibran,

“Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.
It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my loneliness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn.
The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to a fuller day, and we must part.
If in the twilight of memory, we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.
And if our hands should meet in another dream, we shall build another tower in the sky.”

Adeus amigo Rocha.

Submitted by : Pratapananda Naik sj
Loyola Hall
Near Salgaonkar Law College
Miramar, Panaji, Goa

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1 Comment

  1. Respectful farewell to Reverend Rocha. Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord and let your perpetual light shine upon the departed soul. Strength and courage to all his loved ones. God bless.
    In Paradisum deducant te angeli

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