Gujarat Jesuits Pioneer in Print Media

It would be no exaggeration, I believe, to state that the pioneers in the print media in Gujarat have been the Jesuits. Protestant missionaries, of course, had been active in Gujarat much before the Catholics, and they had even set up the first printing press in Surat in 1820 and started publishing biblical and educational literature in Gujarati. But Surat then belonged to the BombayPresidency.

The first Jesuit priest Fr. Augustine Martin, SJ came to Gujarat on Dec.16, 1894 as a missionary to work among the local people. But the first trail blazer Catholic Missionary was Fr. Manuel Gomes of Bombay archdiocese. He reached Gujarat in 1893 and in the same year he baptized 18 candidates from Mogari, a village near Anand and received them into Catholic faith.

The first Jesuit missionary Fr. Augustine Martin after studying Gujarati for one full yea r took up residence at Anand, the cradle of Church in Gujarat and also started simultaneously Vadtal mission. Soon many other Jesuits followed him in the course of time.From the beginning of Jesuit missionary apostolatein Gujarat, one of their priorities was to produce appropriate literature. According to Carlos Suria, SJ in “History of the Catholic Church in Gujarat”, Jesuit pioneers published several books with many editions between 1903 and 1911.

Fr. Suria quoting earlier historians like Vath says that “Stories of Old Testament” and “Stories of New Testament” by Fr, Aloysius Gyr were published in 1903 in 1904 respectively. “History of the Church” (Katholic Shrisabhano Itihas) by Fr.
Constantin Einsiedler, SJ and a prayer book “Way to Heaven” (Swargno Rasto) by Fr. Josef Umbricht, SJ were also published in 1903. The two books saw many editions. Fr. Umbricht, also authored “Major Catechism” with 358 pages in 1904 and “Bibliographic Profile of Saints” in 1905 (History of the Catholic Church in Gujarat by Fr. Carlos Suria, SJ, p.127).

The pioneer Jesuits shortly after their arrival in Gujarat planned to launch a magazine. The plan materialized in January 1911 with the launching of the monthly The Messenger of Sacred Heart,DOOT in short, in Gujarati. The total numbers of
Gujarati Catholics in 1911 were less than two thousand! The vast majority of them were illiterate! With different Protestant denominations the total Christian populations then were less than 20,000 in Gujarat.

The Jesuits even without the mastery of the Gujarati language brought out DOOT month after month. The editor’s name is not printed in DOOT from 1911 to 1926. History points out to Fr.Umbricht, as the editor of DOOT from 1915 till his death in 1922. Then, there was an interruption in the monthly publication of DOOT at his death in 1922.

Navajuni (NJ-Things Old & New) No.2 of June 1973 describing Fr. Umbricht’s responsibilities says, “Another job that kept him busy was writing and publishing the Messenger of Sacred Heart, (DOOT) and his books and booklets of apologetics against the assault of the non-Catholics on unguarded villages. My impression is that some of the booklets were far above the
heard of the would-be readers, Catholics or otherwise. But his booklet on contribution was agem”.

Jesuit missionaries who knew some Gujarati and the Catechists helped the Jesuit editors both with the content and with the distribution of the magazine to those who knew to read. The Catechists and school teachers them selves gathered the village people and read the articles in the magazine and instructed the people in faith.For the first 15 years from January 1911 to October 1926 DOOT was printed at the Examiner Press, Bombay. A land-mark in the Jesuit media pioneering is the starting of Anand Mission Press in 1926 and printing DOOT and other Christian literature from November 1926 onwards to promote faith formation of Christians and evangelization.

Another landmark in the print media ministry was the launching of Gujarat Catholic Truth Society (GCTS) by Fr. Charles Gomes, SJ in 1938. The Ahmedabad Missionary (TAM) has quoted Fr. Gomes about the origin of GCTS. “The very first donation I got as a Priest when I preached a mission in Bhavnagar was Rs.75/-(quite an amount in 1938!) And I got the Superior’s permission to creditit to GCTS! And a good old French Missionary sent me, I think,Rs.100/- or so for the same purpose and that is how the Gujarat Catholic Truth Society was born”.

From the beginning, as Fr. Hedwig Lewis in his book has quoted from TAM August 1974, GCTS carried on “Slowly but steadily its work of editing and propagating Catholic literature. After one and half year’s work by several Missionaries, the
sixth edition of the Gujarati Catechism was published in December 1942, wholly renewed in style and Indian nomen clature”.

“With Anand as its centre, the Gujarati Catholic Truth Society (GCTS) published a good number of Gujarati pamphlets and books and helped the clergy to build up their personal libraries with the best and latest publications.(The Catholic Church in Gujarat, A Historical Survey 1934-1973, Hedwig Lewis, SJ, p.107).Then, Fr. Joseph More, SJ, an erudite scholar and linguist was appointedas the Director of GCTS in 1957. He set up a GCTS bookstores at An and not only with liturgical, catechetical and other spiritual books in Gujarati but he also made it a real bookshop for missionaries and educationists and others religious men and women with books in English on a variety of topics like scripture, theology, spirituality, psychology,etc. On my visits to Anand while I was the editor of DOOT in 1970-73, I had the opportunity to keep into his bookstore.

Fr. Javier Diaz del Rio, SJ, while he was still the parish priest of Karamsad Mission parish was appointed to take over GCTS in 1972. He closed down the GCTS bookstores at Anand and rechristened GCTS with the name Gujarat Sahitya Prakash (GSP) and continued publishing liturgical and biblical literature in Gujarati.An outstanding contribution of the Jesuits to the people in Gujarat is the translation of the whole Bible into Gujarati by Fr. Isudas Cueli, SJ in collaboration with an eminent Gujarati translator.