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Standing taller, 400 years on

The church, one of the few that were not destroyed by the Marathas, is celebrating 400 years, reports Jyoti Shelar.

india Updated: Nov 08, 2006 01:58 IST

When the Our Lady of Egypt Church was built in 1606, leopards still roamed the area that is now called Malabar Hill. But today, it stands tall nestled among tall buildings on Kalina Church Road.

The church, one of the few that were not destroyed by the Marathas, is celebrating 400 years, and how. Dance competitions, drama, sports, prayers, talent search and quizzes comprise the year-long ceremony.

The Our Lady of Egypt Church that was built to cater to the Portuguese, now serves the East Indian community of Kalina and nearby Vakola. It derived its name from the holy family's flight to Egypt to escape from the sword of Herod, who wanted to kill baby Jesus.

"We wanted to have grand celebrations since 400 years makes the church quite special. So, we spread it throughout the year. We opened the celebrations with various programmes and activities in February and we have been hosting events for people from all age groups," said Father Adrian Ferreira, the parish priest.

A 150-member committee of parishioners was set up to chalk out plans and organise events for the celebrations that began on February 5. Moreover, it was decided that various renovations would be undertaken in order to give the church a new look.

One of the latest additions is a large statue of Mother Mary on a donkey, carrying infant Jesus. This was installed on October 13.

As the Kalina church is witness to heavy crowds—over 2,000 people attend mass on weekdays while the number touches 9,000 on Sundays—people would complain that they could not see the statue. So the priests decided to install a new one, which is six feet tall and made of fibre. The earlier, older statue was only three feet tall.

The Kalina church may be 400 years old, but it looks as good as new.

"The church has been renovated several times since it has been set up. Even as a part of the celebration we have lined up various renovations", said Father Adrian.

The celebrations will conclude with a grand closing ceremony on the church's feast day on February 7 next year.

‘There’s a special bond, it was my first parish’

"I have a special bond with the church since it was my first parish as a new priest when I started in 1985," says Father Adrian Ferreira, parish priest of the church.

Father Adrian was earlier associated with the church from 1985-89 as an assistant priest. In 2003, he returned as a parish priest and also the principal of St Mary's High School, run by the church.

"For me the basic rule is to bring the people here together and strengthen their faith in the church here", says Father Adrian. And with this aim, he initiated the huge procession in October, which was attended by over 10,000 people as a part of the centenary celebrations.

He even started a Novena on Thursdays. The Novena is along the lines of the one at Mount Mary Church in Bandra and St Michael's church in Mahim.

Parishioners’ trip to Egypt

As part of the 400-year celebrations, over 50 parishioners of the church went on a trip to Egypt, Jerusalem, Palestine and Israel.

The statue in the church depicts the holy family's flight to Egypt to escape from Herod, who wanted to kill baby Jesus. So the fourth centenary panel of the church initiated the week long trip.

"It was a significant visit for me. Being a Roman Catholic, I have always read the Bible but the trip brought the Bible live in front of me", said Ashley Francis, a resident of Kalina.

Father Adrian said the trip has played a very important role in strengthening his faith. "I have always been preaching the stories but this was the first time I experienced it", he said.

Email jyoti.shelar@hindustantimes.com