A Tribute to Fr.Terence Lobo
By Fr.Simon Thomas
After Martin Luther King, Jr., the Afro-American civil rights movements’ leader was assassinated on April 4, 1968; his body was kept for public homage. Thousands thronged the venue to salute their slain leader. A black woman bearing a small boy in her arms could not control her sorrow. Crying uncontrollably she said to her son, “Son, look carefully at this man. He died for you!”
Dear sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ,
Fr. Terence came in the form of that black woman, stayed with us from 1987-1998 and told us the same thing directing us to the cross, what that mother told her son, “My son, my daughter, look carefully at this man. He died for you!” Thus, he went in every street of this parish, whether sophisticated or dirty, he visited every house, from the big bungalows to the huts, he interacted with every person, from the most pious to the so called worst sinners, and directed them to Jesus telling them, “My son, my daughter, look carefully at this man. He died for you!” Because of his burning zeal to mediate and bring back the lost sheep to their beloved shepherd Jesus, he is considered as one of the most successful pastors of his time and a great spiritual guide. And we were lucky to have him here with us for almost 11 long years.
I have neither come here to give a brief history of Fr. Terence Lobo, nor have I come here to do a publicity of his achievements because I don’t know anything about him since I was too young to evaluate. Probably many of our elders in this parish will know much better than me about him. But what I have come to share with you today is my experience of Fr. Terence that led me to the Society of Jesus.
When I think of Fr. Terence I am reminded of the character of John the Baptist who saw Jesus passing by and told his disciples, “He must increase, and I must decrease and so go and follow him.” The only desire of Fr. Terence was to lead people closer to Jesus through the intercession of Mother Mary. Today this parish has 4 masses on Sunday with quite a sizable number of people attending every mass, this parish takes pride in having a very good choir, a vibrant youth group, an altar boys association, a regular Sunday catechism classes, and many other such religious activities which makes it one of the best parishes of the diocese. The Diocese of Ahmedabad and other religious congregations not only look upto this parish because of its efficient lay participation in the church activities, but also for the many vocations that this parish has given in service of the Lord. We can be proud of having send almost 7 young men and women in service of the Lord in the near past which no other parish has given; 4 in the Jesuits, 1 for the diocese, 1 for the VC, and 1 in the Congregation of St. Ann’s of Providence. Dear sisters and brothers, we are enjoying the fruit and we are proud of the rich harvest that we have at present, but mind you, the seed was laid in 1987 and Fr. Terence worked tirelessly for 11 long years in the initial growth of this parish. The one quality of Fr. Terence that inspires me a lot is that Fr. Terence never gave up for the sake of Jesus. And because he never gave up for HIS sake, Jesus continued to work in and through him. He continued to try his best in whatever ministry that was assigned to him, but simultaneously he also had the humility at the end of the day to tell Jesus, “Lord, I have tried enough, but finally not my will, but thy will be done.”
I have some very vague memories of the parish before Fr. Terence came. I am sure many of our elders seated here would agree with me that the attendance for mass in those days was less; only one mass and the church would not be packed like it is today. And Fr. Terence came, God knows how he found out all the addresses of all the Catholics in the parish, and he went in search of them the lost sheep and brought them to church. As soon as he came to know about a new Catholic family in the parish, the next day he would be there in their house, interacting with them and influencing them to come for mass. On his miserable cycle he used to visit every Catholic house, irrespective of how clean or how dirty the street may be, irrespective of how posh or how poor the house may be, irrespective of which ethnic group they belonged to, he said a short prayer in each of the houses, he ate what they gave him, he became part of their family matters, acquainted himself with all their relatives, fired them if they didn't come for mass, and finally brought a spark of smile on each of their faces and left the house to visit another house. A typical Fr. Terence indeed! Not only that, in his usual style of looking at the people a little above his specs, the next Sunday he will search whether the family has come, if yes he will go and meet them after mass, and if not the whole cycle of visit is again repeated till the family shows the face in the church. Ttell me which family will not come looking at the love and concern of their pastor. Fr. Terence never gives up for the sake of Jesus. And Jesus too never fails him for his hard work and perseverance.
Gradually since the attendance began to be more than the length of the church, he decided to build a new church and not only that we began to have more than one Eucharistic celebration on Sunday. Fr. Terence had a special love and concern for the poor belonging to any ethnic group in his parish. The Tamil Medium school that began during his time, and the financial and moral support that he was giving to the poor and downtrodden were signs of his preferential option for the poor. For me that is the most beautiful sign of incarnation: God becoming man. Fr. Terence, a well educated Goan priest from the prestigious institutions of St. Paul’s and St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, leaves his Goan culture, his affluent family, his job with a lucrative salary, and comes to Sabarmati in search of lost sheep, becomes one like us, mixes with us and accompanies us in journeying back to Jesus, our divine master. I experienced, that for this pastor there was neither any official timings nor any prior appointments that need to be taken in order to meet him. His house was always open and anybody could come into his house to see him and have a chat with him. I was amazed to see many non Christian parents of our school coming and seeing him and going away with content in their heart.
When we were altar boys, we were free to go into his house and have whatever we wanted from his kitchen. Many a times I saw Fr. Terence going into the kitchen and coming after almost half an hour. I used to wonder what this bugger is doing in the kitchen for so long time, maybe cooking something special and eating alone. One day I spied him and went after him in the kitchen, and then he opened the interior room of the kitchen which is usually a go-down, but what I saw in that go-down is that he had made it into a small chapel in which he spend hours praying and especially he had a special devotion to Our Lady. It was an inspiring scene for me and I said to myself that I wanted to become someone like him. I saw him often times sitting at the confessional listening to the confessions of so many parishioners and guiding them to experience the unsurpassing love of Christ.
Fr. Terence also never gave up in getting vocations for his Lord. As a young boy I just happened to tell him that I was interested in becoming a priest. That was it. From that day on-wards he made a special intercession to Mary about me so that she may lead me to Jesus , he used to give me books on the Jesuit lives of saints, he send me for many camps, and when I went to Loyola he already contacted a priest there who was supposed to be my spiritual guide. Dear friends, I joined because I saw the inspiring life of a priest, I saw that priest was very much interested in my life and he never gave up in leading me to Jesus, and I could see the hand of God in bringing me to the Society of Jesus through the mediation of Fr. Terence. I suppose the others who joined from this parish would also affirm what I have said about Fr. Terence.
Today we have gathered here not to mourn the death of Fr. Terence, but to thank Jesus for sending Fr. Terence in our parish, in our families, and in our lives. Fr. Terence, who never gave up, but through his untiring efforts and inspiring life led us closer and closer to Jesus. I am sure he has touched each of our lives and that’s why we have gathered here in big number to thank him for introducing us to Jesus. While going to his heavenly abode, the one message that Fr. Terence leaves for us behind is this: Never give up for the sake of Jesus. He loves you and he is with you. And always go to Jesus via Mary our mother, the first and the most beloved disciple of Jesus.
Our faith tells us that death is not the end of life, but it is the gateway to a greater life with Jesus, our master. I am sure, impressed by his pastoral work here on this earth, Jesus has invited him to be the parish priest of a greater parish in heaven, but I suppose he may not have any work there since there are no lost sheep.