A BRIEF HISTORICAL SKETCH OF THE DIOCESE OF VIJAYAWADA
The Sower sows the seed:
The mission story of the Diocese of Vijayawada had its remote beginnings in1646 at Bandar with an Augustinian Friar. It is believed that Franciscan Friars had worked at Bandar already at the beginning of the 16th century. However the mission owes its faith and growth to the PIME Missionaries, with whose arrival in 1855 the story of the Vijayawada Church began taking shape. Bandar dominated to be the main centre of
Catholic activity until 1864, when the tidal wave destroyed Bandar and the missionaries made Eluru as their centre. From 1882, with the construction of the barrage and railway bridges over river Krishna linking Chennai and Calcutta, Bezwada began to develop into a mission centre. Thanks to the efforts of the veteran missionaries such as Msgr. Pezzoni PIME, Frs. Pasquali PIME, Santambrogio PIME. Etc, Vijayawada mission made as impressive growth and was erected a “misssio sui juris” on 10 Jan 1933. And it was soon erected into a Diocese on 13 April, 1937, with Msgr. Domenico Grassi PIME as the first Bishop.
The foreign and native missionaries:
Many Italian missionaries were interned and sent to concentration camp during the World War II. And this was the beginning of the flow of Indian missionaries from Kerala who came into substitute the interned missionaries. The forerunners among the missionaries from Kerala were Frs. George Kudilingal, Jacob Medayil, Thomas Thonakara, etc. these missionaries from Kerala are the mainstay of the Diocese who form the bulk of the clergy with 55 priests working in the diocese currently. At the death of Bishop of Grassi, in 1951, Msgr. Ambrose De Battista was elected the second bishop of Vijayawada on 13th December. He has rightly been called the Builder of the diocese of Vijayawada, and the achievements during his nearly 25-year long episcopate amply justify this title. Msgr. Bianchi as his Vicar General greatly assisted him in the able administration of the diocese. Bishop Battista fostered the native vocations through the relentless efforts of Fr. John Leoncini. He could see six local candidates ordained priests just the day before he died on 15th December, 1971.
Bishop Joseph Thumma was nominated co-adjutor Bishop on 2nd January 1970 and took charge as the third Bishop of the Diocese on 30th January, 1972. Msgr. Domenic Vivenzi PIME was his Vicar General and was later succeed by Msgr. Jacob Kanjirathinkal in October, 1973. Thus the direction of the Diocese after 116 years had passed into Indian hands. The ten year period that followed has been hailed as the golden age of the diocese with a steady progress in the work of consolidation and extension.
1977: A year of joys and sorrows:
The year 1977 is a very special year for the diocese of Vijayawada, with sweet and tragic memories. It has the happy memory of the bifurcation of the diocese and erection of the new diocese of Eluru and election of a member of its clergy Bishop Matthew Cheriankunnel PIME as the Bishop of Nalgonda on 26th February. And sad memory is the catastrophic killer tidal wave that hit the coastal belt of the diocese, especially the low land area, called as Diviseema. The diocese plunged in to the relief and rehabilitation of the devastation and worked hard in rebuilding from the rumble. Here also began the process of self reliance for the diocese.
50 purposeful years:
Thanks to the hard work of our priests and religious and greater participation of the laity, the tempo of the progress has been maintained also in the 80s and 90s. a five-year spiritual renewal programme was launched in 1983 in preparation for the golden jubilee celebration of the Diocese in 1987. The Pro-Nuncio, Most. Rev. Agostino Cacciavillan presiding over the celebration, the Golden Jubilee of the diocese was observed grandly on 11th February, 1988 at Gunadala. “The history of the Diocese of Vijayawada” authored by Fr. John Leoncini PIME was released on the occasion to mark the event. In 1990 the mission had to face yet another catastrophic cyclone and floods that devastated many parts of the diocese.
The diocese that celebrated 50 years of existence, proved more fruitful in the vineyard of the Lord, when it gave two more Bishops to the Andhra Church. On 31st January, 1992, Bishop Marampudi Joji was elected the Bishop of Khammam and Bishop Johannes Gorantla was elected the Bishop of Kurnool in December, 1993. This was indeed a memorable culmination of the process of indigenization of the local church that has been going on for the past few decades.
Bishop Thumma: The visionary:
Bishop Joseph Thumma was a great visionary. The diocese under his leadership flourished in leaps and bounds. His 27 long years of Episcopate has truly placed the diocese at the forefronts of development in the Andhra Church. Bishop Thumma retired from office on 18th December, 1996, and rested in peace on 18th August 1997. Bishop leaves an indelible mark in the annals of the diocese of Vijayawada.
The new era of the Diocese:
The transfer of Bishop Marampudi Joji from Khammam to Vijayawada as the fourth Bishop of Vijayawada, on 18th December, 1996, inaugurated the new era of history of the Diocese of Vijayawada. The leadership of the Diocese has finally passed into the hands of a priest of its ministry in the Diocese in different responsible offices; make him an able pastor of the Diocese of Vijayawada.
The new thrusts:
Under the able guidance of Bishop Joji, who has served the diocese as a priest for two decades in the past, the diocese has been making a steady and subtle growth. The number of Catholics crossed the mark of 2lakhs and today has 2, 14,343 spread out in 76 parishes (about 1000 mission stations). The Bishop’s House has been extended in 1998 to facilitate better administration. St. Peter’s Cathedral and the Diocesan cemetery have been renovated in 1998 to stand as eternal tributes to the bygone missionaries who toiled in the soil. The Diocese has placed a special focus on the education of the poor and unprivileged children. The Diocesan Adoptions Desk set up in 1998 has been making many efforts to raise funds in order to assist the poor children in their education. Deepa Nivas, A home for the rehabilitation of street children, set in 1999, is committed to change the future of the street children. The spacious Animation Centre annexed to the Social Service Centre, set up at the close of 1999, and intensified the animation of the weaker section of the society. The Diocese has reached out to the fisher men of the Yesupuram Island Mission in the educational and health fields. The launching of the Island Mobile Dispensary in 1999 is indeed a land mark in the health ministry of the dioceses. As the great Jubilee 2000 memorials, the dioceses has set up St. Joseph’s Pastoral Centre (Pastoral Ecumenical Inter –Faith Dialogue Centre) and St. Joseph’s Major Seminary (An Institute of Theology by the Heralds of Good News) at Chinnavutapalli on the high between Gannawaram and Avutapalli. These two institutes are destined to animate and train the Clergy, Religious and other pastoral agents of the Dioceses in the Third Millennium making our ministries more effective in the region. The Diocese has opened its doors to many new Religious Congregations to collaborate in different apostolates and ministries for the people of God.
The Pride of the Diocese: Archbishop Joji
The appointment of Most. Rev. Marampudi Joji as the Archbishop of Hyderabad on 17th March 2000, is a great pride for the Clergy and Religious and Laity of the Diocese of Vijayawada. It is the highest ecclesiastical office, which a priest of the Diocese of Vijayawada has ever been elevated to. The mission of Vijayawada that took birth from Hyderabad Mission in 1933, is able to offer its son now to the Mother Mission of Hyderabad as Archbishop. Archbishop Marampudi Joji, the youngest Archbishop of India and the first ever Archbishop from Coastal Andhra, is truly a great pride and honor to the diocese of Vijayawada. In the elevation of Archbishop Marampudi Joji to the See of Hyderabad, we can behold the growth and the development of the Vijayawada Mission.
The Great Jubilee:
The diocese has travelled through a period of spiritual renewal and invigorated evangelization during past three years as part of the Evangelization 2000 programme and in preparation of Yesu Kristu Jayanthi-2000. The great Jubilee has been inaugurated solemnly in the Diocese and the jubilee spirit pervades the whole region.
The diocese is privileged to host the Regional Great Jubilee-2000 celebration on 26th March, 2000, officiated by the Most Rev. Lorenzo Baldisseri, Apostolic Nuncio and Rev. Msgr. Bernard Prince, Secretary General of Pontifical Mission Aid Societies, Rome. This day is to be recorded with red-letters in the history of the diocese for the great reason that on this day, two of our great missionaries were conferred with special ecclesiastical honors by the Vatican. Msgr. Jacob Kanjirathinkal was conferred the official title of “Monsignor” while Fr. John Leoncini PIME was conferred the official title “La Croce Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” by the Apostolic Nuncio.
May this Jubilee Year inaugurate a new era in the history of the Diocese of Vijayawada, an era in which “liberty is proclaimed to the captives, good news is preached to the poor” (Lk.4:16-20).