A missionary at heart like ‘St. Paul’, criss-crossing islands, and identifying with ordinary people with nothing glittering to show him up as a “His Excellency!”
Bishop Aleixo Das Neves Dias of Port Blair
Note: “Call me just Alex!” my pet name, without ‘Dias’ my Sir name! That is how simple, humble, self-effacing and ordinary with a small ‘o’ is that he is! That is what he wrote in the Indian Currents, (IC 18/3/12) some 18 years ago in an article for the Lenten season. I was then associate editor of Indian Currents (IC) Delhi and away in Chicago for a month.
The Title of his article was: “Needed: A Church Shorn of Grandeur” like of which I have never read by any bishop in India, alive or dead. It was in this article he pleaded convincingly with his brother bishops in India to give up for good the perks and pomp of the triumphant church of glory, and to tread the painful way of the cross of Jesus. Just a quote from that article from the horse’s mouth:
Jesus stripped, Bishops overdressed – jarring!
“I was watching the Installation of the New cardinals on BBC Television. The whole scene of the Cardinals in Red was jarring to my eyes and to my mind. I could not help thinking of poor Jesus stripped, bruised and bleeding, and I failed to see how that worldly grandeur could blend with the self-emptying of Jesus. I also thought of the many people who do not have a piece of cloth to cover the nakedness of their bodies, even in our own country.
“How can we, shepherds of these sheep, clothe ourselves in such grandiose outfits which, to me, seem more fitting to the ways of the world. Sometimes we tend to justify this grandeur of the Church by saying that the people like it. But are we not supposed to catechesize the people? ….Should we not lead the people and the Church to the simplicity of Jesus by our catechesis and, above all, by our example?”
Fell in Love!
That article literally made me fall in love with him and growing still, not diminished one bit. Nor have I received from any other bishop regular letters as from him, in spite of his regular apostolic journeys in the Andaman-Nicobar islands, like St. Paul. His five-page letter concludes:
“Dr. James Kottoor, 17th April, 2012,Indian Currents.
“My dear James,
Fraternal Love and Greetings to you from Port Blair! I hope you are keeping well in Chicago, the City of Lakes..……I hope you will also come to Port Blair sometime for a holiday. You are most welcome anytime, dear James…… Yes, dear James, we and the Church have a long way to go until we truly become a church worthy of Christ. Let us pray that, just like the Love of Jesus changed Saul into Paul, the same love may change the “Ecclesia Meretrix” into “Ecclesia Sancta”. (Mter et Meretrix = Mother and Prostitute, is the full phrase) Let me close this long “Epistle”, with a warm and fraternal embrace. Yours sincerely, Alex”
I too used to write from NL times, some 50 years ago against these heavenly titles of bishops, “it is blasphemy par excellence to call any human,” not because I was against any bishop or Pope, but because I was and is still convinced of it.
In response to his article I wrote in the IC another addressing him: “Dear Alex, titled: Only Remedy: Damascus treat, For Hierarchical High Horse Disease!” He continued to write to me and often reminded me not to forget to put him on my regular mailing list. When short of time, he used to write, “if you don’t get my emails often think, it was I was too busy, but I am always sending you my: KNEEMAILS (prayers)!
Never met personally!
In spite of all that I have never met him, yet he wrote, he knew me from New Leader times as its editor. But I never knew him as NL editor or after to this day, but I have too many things to write about him for everyone’s enlightenment and edification.
In the report it is said it is because he completed 75 years as reason. If so he is my dear brother, nearly 10 years younger. If so I would humbly request to continue writing for the benefit of his admirers, as he is an accomplished writer as he has more time now, unless he is too sick.
Want to read him?
If you readers are interested, I shall publish his eye-opening article of 2012: Needed: A Church Shorn of Grandeur, which is a must-read for all times, especially for the Church in India today which has lost its credibility, and also my response: Dear Alex, titled: “Only Remedy: Damascus treat, For Hierarchical High Horse Disease!” for you to read, learn and judge. james kottoor, editor ccv.
Please read below Matters India report on Bishop Alex
New Delhi, Jan. 6, 2019: Pope Francis on January 6 accepted the resignation of Bishop Aleixo Das Neves Dias of Port Blair, which covers the entire Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This was announced at 12 noon in Rome and its corresponding time (4:30 pm) in India, said a statement from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
Bishop Dias, a member of the Pilar Society and the first bishop of Port Blair, would have turned 75, the mandatory retirement age for a prelate, on September 5 this year. The prelate has suffered some health problems in the past, a source close to the Church circles told Matters India.
The CBCI statement thanked Bishop Dias for his dedicated service to the Church in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Port Blair is the capital of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a federally ruled unit comprising 672 Islands situated in the Bay of Bengal. The archipelago covers 8,073 square kilometers and is spread over about 780 km from north to south. Only 34 Islands are inhabited.
Pope John Paul II raised the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as a diocese on August 18, 1984. Bishop Dias was ordained as its first prelate on January 20, 1985.
Bishop Dias made a mark when an earthquake and tsunami on December 26, 2004, devastated the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. About 15,000 people died in the islands alone. Nearly all churches, presbyteries, convents and schools in the Southern Group of Islands were washed away. Bishop Dias is credited with leading relief and rehabilitation works and rebuilding those structures in record time.
The diocese extends from Diglipur in the North to Campbell Bay (Great Nicobar) in the extreme south. The diocese is divided into 13 full-fledged parishes.It has 23 diocesan priests, four congregations of men Religious and eight for women religious.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands recorded 380,581 people in the 2011 census. The majority of the population is Hindus, 69.44 percent, Christians 21.27 percent, Muslims 8.51 percent and others less than 1 percent. The number of the Catholics is 38,596 according to the annual returns of 2014, according to the diocesan website.
The territory is a mini India as its population comprises people from Bengal, Punjab, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Chotanagpur and from other Indian states.
According to historical records, the Catholic Church came to these Islands as early as 1690 when a Portuguese Franciscan of the Pegu Mission in South Burma landed at Car Nicobar. In 1711, two French Jesuits of the Pondicherry-Carnatic Mission settled at Car Nicobar, but were later killed. In 1780 the Barnabites of the Pegu Mission unsuccessfully tried to establish a mission on the islands.
In 1836, some Jesuits worked in Car Nicobar for some years and tried to put down their dialect in Roman Script. But the mission ended because of growing hatred toward the colonialists. At the end of the World War I, the Andaman administration recruited labourers, mostly Catholics, from Chotanagpur tribal area, through the Catholic Mission of Ranchi, present Jharkhand state.
Initially the Rangoon diocese in Myanmar looked after the islands. However in 1947, Rome transferred the territory to the archdiocese of Ranchi. Father John Decoq, a Belgian Jesuit, was the first resident Catholic priest in the territory. A new church and presbytery were blessed on December 8, 1950.
In 1964, Rome entrusted the territory with the Society of the Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier, commonly known as “Pilar Fathers,” a Goa-based congregation.