Bp Peter Sebastian Goveas, Bettiah
When do you plan to have your Episcopal ordination?
The date for my Episcopal ordination has not yet been fixed. It will most probably be on 19th October in the Cathedral compound of Bettiah.
What motto you have chosen as a bishop?
I have taken ‘Teach and Live the Life of Christ’ as my motto.
What prompted you to chose it?
I have been working with that vision as a pastor from the very day of my ordination. I teach people the life of Christ. I first live the life of Christ and then teach it to them. As a pastor that is the work I have done. What I practise I offer to my people.
Can you describe the Catholic population of Bettiah diocese?
It is an entirely new diocese to me. I have not even gone there. Although fifteen days have passed since I was made bishop elect, I am still staying in Bhagalpur. I have little idea about the diocese except that it has some six thousand Catholics.
To which diocese do you belong?
I belong to Bhagalpur diocese.
Bettiah diocese has been without a bishop since 2013. Why did it not have a bishop for so long?
I have no much idea about that. I only know that they have been waiting for a bishop for quite long.
How would you generally describe the people of Bettiah diocese?
They belong mostly to the middle class. The Catholics residing in Bettiah proper are baptized semi-Anglo Indians who belong to the upper class. In the villages we have people who belong to the middle class.
What will be the priority of your ministry in Bettiah?
I will first go and study the situation there, know the people, meet the priests and visit all the parishes. I will not jump into anything. I will go about my ministry slowly.
What is the general standard of education in the new diocese?
We have our own schools, but they are mainly run by the religious. My motto of teaching is not related to school education. It is teaching the life of Christ by living it. It is a pastorally oriented motto.
But education is the ladder by which you climb in the society, isn’t it?
Education is also one of the apostolates of teaching.
What is the level of people’s education there?
In Bhettiah proper, people are educated, but in interior villages many parishes do not have education facilities.
What category of people have you there?
We do not have tribals. Our Catholics belong to scheduled castes.
What about the Anglo Indians of Bhettiah proper?
They are educated and remain a separate group.
Bihar is a less developed State; what kind of development would you like to bring to the diocese?
I will go and see what has to be done. We will have to start one or two schools to uplift the diocese educationally. The diocese is very poor. These days I am gathering information about the diocese from various priests. Only later can I chart out a clear program for the diocese.
Is Bettiah part of the Ranchi belt?
Earlier it was a part of the Ranchi belt, but it is attached to Patna Archdiocese now.
You have served many parishes and managed many schools. What do you prefer to do, to work as a parish priest or to work as a manager of educational institutions?
I like both equally.
Both go hand in hand. At present I have started two English medium schools and a Hindi medium school.
According to you, what should be the first priority for a parish priest?
It is to know the people of the parish. For that I have to visit them and gather direct knowledge of local conditions. That is what I do wherever I am sent. During the first two or three months I visit all the parishioners. In the villages we have regular Holy Masses. I use them as an opportunity to meet people. We teach them through participation in the Eucharist.
Why do you centre your parish ministry on the Eucharist?
Because we cannot live without the Eucharist. They should know the Eucharist is the centre of our life. Without the Eucharist we have no life or strength.
How do you explain that?
Jesus has given the Eucharist telling us to do it in His memory till the last day. So without it we have no strength, no blessings and no development. If the Eucharist is there everything will come with it. Ups and downs will always be there in life, but then God will give us the strength and grace to manage the downs.
At present in Bihar as in the rest of North India, the Christian community is facing the serious problem of fundamentalism. Your Chief Minister has aligned himself with the BJP. How do you see the Hindutva movement affecting mission work?
We are going to watch and see the situation as it unfolds in the state. We will continue our normal family visits. There are so many Christu Bhaktas who are not baptized but come to churches, listen to the Word of God and take part in the Eucharist. We have got the custom of satsang or retreats for a day or two. The Christu Bhaktas get a lot of peace and joy in their life by participating in them. Though they are not baptized, they are faithful followers of Christ. If the government puts some roadblock to their participation, then we will have to watch carefully and plan a strategy to react effectively. We hope that the work of the Church will continue without any hassle.
How do you relate to non-Christians around you?
We maintain a very nice and cordial relationship with them. But, with the government moving to pass the anti-conversion bill, we expect some problems to arise.
How do you explain the Hindus suddenly becoming very organized, fundamentalistic, militant?
In Bihar it has not happened much. There may be some minor incidents in one or two places. In Jharkhand we enjoy a friendly relationship with Hindus. I cannot say for certain it will continue to be so in the future.
Jesus has commanded us to go and preach. Do you think we enjoy the freedom now to do it all over North India?
We have to both preach the Word of God to the people and take care of our Catholic population. When the situation returns to normalcy, then we will preach the Word of God to others. It is not necessary that we have to preach the Word of God in the literal sense. If you live the life of Christ, people will get a lot of inspiration from you. We give them our love. Maintain a cordial relationship and don’t talk ill of their religion.
You have been a priest for a long time; what is it in the life of Christ that is very dear to you?
What attracts me in the life of Jesus is His love for us. He loved till the last moment, and that love we have to experience in our life. If we don’t experience His love, I don’t think we will be able to share it with the people. Teaching means not just school education; it is also sharing our experience of love of Jesus with others.
You have been managing many schools. Did you ever have the experience of children from high castes and low castes fighting on the basis of caste?
No, I have never experienced it. In the classes all children sit together, talk to each other and there is no expression of any such hatred or enmity.
Does caste discrimination still exist in Bihar?
Yeah, it is still prevalent in Bihar.
Why is it not going away?
People belong to a particular caste and it will be so forever. It is not easy to remove caste differences.
But can’t they respect people of other castes?
I think slowly respect and concern for each other will become a reality. We do not any more come across caste discrimination among the children attending our many schools in Patna.
How did you find your parish ministry as an ennobling experience?
I have actually experienced the love of people. I first live Christ and then help them to experience it in their lives.
Tell me something about your prayer life?
Without prayer, there is no life. Prayer is the fundamental aspect of our life. If we don’t pray, we have no strength, we have no blessings and we have no grace. Actually, prayer gives clarity to our life. See the life of John Mary Vianney. What was he? He was a man of prayer. He was actually sent to the parish where people were deadly against him. How popular he became and what a saint he became? It all happened because of his prayer, his simplicity and his burning love for the people. If we have them in our lives, I think we will be very successful. Even when we face a lot of problems and difficulties, God will not abandon us. Jesus has promised that He will be with us till the end of times.
What for you pray?
I pray for myself, for others, for the diocese in which I am working and for the new diocese I have been entrusted with.
Jesus has taught us many things through parables, stories etc. Which among them has inspired you most in life?
What teaching of Jesus has influenced you most?
It is these last words of Jesus appearing in the Gospel of St Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
What have you achieved through preaching until now?
I am very glad to have been a pastor. Wherever I worked hard for the people, they have received Christ. That has been my experience.
Have you ever come across cases of conversion?
Yes, I have. There have been so many conversions, but we don’t give publicity to it. We used to do it quietly. Unnecessary publicity will create problems, and now the government has put a ban on conversions.
Do you think India is going to make progress by banning cow slaughter?
It will not aid progress in any way. Due to the ban on cow slaughter, many people have lost their jobs and livelihood.
Because slaughtering houses have shut down and they have lost crores of rupees of income.
Many of the big meat factories are owned by Brahmins, isn’t that true?
Yes, it is true.
But it is the Brahmins and the high caste people who are campaigning against cow slaughter?
They don’t do the slaughtering; they make others do it.
Why are the BJP banning cow slaughter?
Because they believe cow is a goddess.