Daman: To ‘Beautify’ a Football Ground, 400-Year-Old Church Faces Threat

There is an uneasy lull after Catholics in Daman protested the drive by authorities to acquire land on which a 400-year-old Chapel stands today.

New Delhi: A notice from the district collector for acquisition of land on which a 400-year-old church, Chapel of Our Lady of Angustias, stands in Daman had made members of the Catholic community anxious and angry.

It was in November last year that the district collector of Daman issued a notification regarding the acquisition of 980 square metres of land, which belongs to the Confraria of the Chapel of Our Lady of Angustias. “It is required for the project of acquisition of land with the existing structure for beautification of the football field,” said the notification.

The Chapel of Our Lady of Angustias. Photo: Special arrangement

There was no mention of bringing the chapel down, explicitly, but Father Anselmo D’Souza, a priest in Daman, told The Wire that they were concerned enough about things to meet the collector and the administrator of the union territory and gave him a memorandum about their concerns, highlighting the importance of the chapel and its history.

In February, the national minorities commission also asked the administrator of Dadra Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu to file a report on the matter, and is said to have given the deadline of March 21 for this. But nothing has been heard since, say sources.

“They want to acquire the chapel’s land….once they acquire the land, they can do whatever they want. And they want to expand the football field which means they want to flatten the chapel. We fully understand their intention. We are not fools,” Rui Pereira, a local Catholic leader, told Union of Catholic Asian News or UCAN.

It also reports that Pereira along with a group of Catholic leaders recently met Daman Municipal Council president Sonal Patel to express their concerns.

The Chapel of Our Lady of Angustias. Photo: Special arrangement

Father Cedric Prakash, a human rights activist, has said that “should they demolish this historical heritage of the country, it would only reiterate the fact that the ruling regime certainly cares two hoots about the sensitivities of the Christians in India today”.

Another member of the catholic community told The Wire that there is concern on similar action on other structures as “many British era churches and buildings are being eyed by state governments as the leases have run out”.

Service in the chapel is held weekly, monthly and annually, say sources. The memorandum, submitted to the authorities to make their case to not destroy a valuable and cherished piece of Indian heritage, says “the Portuguese word Angustias means anguish, in English. People who are in sorrow and anguish pray for solace and comfort to Our Lady of Angustias and believe that she has made this Chapel her abode.”

The Chapel of Our Lady of Angustias. Photo: Special arrangement