The Diocese of Eluru was bifurcated from the erstwhile diocese of Vijayawada on 26th February 1977. It consists of the entire revenue district of West Godavari and the four mandals of Konaseemain East Godavari. The diocese has well defined borders all around: Bay of Bengal in the South, the river Godavari in the East, Diocese of Vijayawada on the west and the Diocese of Khammam in the north. The diocese with an extent of 10,775 sq.kms has a total population of 75, 00,000 and a Catholic population of 3,50,000 spread over 115 parishes.
THE MISSION TERRITORY OF THE DIOCESE OF ELURU was part of the Hyderabad Apostolic Vicariate, until the erection of Bezwada as “mission sui juris” in 1933. From 1933 to its bifurcation in 1977, it was part of the Diocese of Vijayawada.
THE SEEDS: The first Catholic presence in the diocese is recorded at Narsapur. Fr. Anotonio de Christo residing at Bandar in 1646 and built a church of Our Lady of Divine Providence. He made Narsapur his head-quarter for missionary activities. The first Priest to reside Eluru was the Irish Priest, Fr. Daniel Murphy, as Chaplain for the Catholic soldiers.
NEW BEGINNINGS: Eluru mission had a new beginning with the arrival of the PIME missionaries in 1864. After the sea-quake and tidal wave that almost washed away Machilipatnam killing about 20 to 30 thousand people, on 1st November 1864, Eluru became the leading Catholic community of the ‘Telugu’ districts. In 1868, the headquarters from Machilipatnam was moved to Eluru. The arrival of Fr. Silvio Pasquali, PIME, was a new beginning for the Eluru mission. He can rightly be called the Apostle of Eluru.
THE APOSTLES OF ELURU:
1. Fr. Silvio Pasquali PIME is undoubtedly the first of the Apostles of Eluru. He reached Eluru on 12 April 1917. In about five years he baptized Pedapadu, Vatluru, Denduluru, Dosapadu, Lingampadu, Bhogapuram, Chethannapadu, Agadalalanda, K.Mupparuu etc., so much so, in 1922 Bishop Vismara could administer 2000 Confirmations only around Eluru.
2. Fr. Ambrose De Battista (later elected second Bishop of Vijayawada) was the Apostle of the upland mission of Eluru. Appointed parish Priest of Eluru in 1944. Bishop Battista showed great interest in the evangelization of Eluru and Konaseema.
THE PIONEER INDIAN CLERGY: Many PIME missionaries were interned during the World War II and it served a serious blow to the growing mission. Many others followed these who have loyally served the mission side by side with the PIME Missionaries.
BARE-FOOT EVANGELIZERS: Catechists are the back-bone of the evangelization in any diocese. It’s very much true of the Eluru mission. It was these catechists and teachers, very loyal to the PIME missionaries who could not communicate well with the local people with their little knowledge of Telugu that have brought thousands of faithful to Eluru Church.
KONASEEMA: Konaseema is a delta island naturally formed between the two channels of river Godavari called Visishta and Gowthami at the merge of Godavari in Bay of Bengal. Bishop Ambrose de Battista who made a deal with Bishop Joseph Baud of Visakhapatnam and got assigned Konaaseema to the mission territory of Vijayawada. The missionaries who followed toiled hard and today Konaseema is a thriving mission land with 14 promising parishes.
Bishops who developed Eluru Mission
1. Bishop Domenico Grassi The PIME Missionaries began the evangelization work in Eluru under the guidance of Bishop Domenica Grassi.
2. Bishop Ambrose de Battista The succession of Bishop Ambrose de Battista to the See of Vijayawada has inaugurated the golden era of the mission of Eluru. A missionary himself of the Eluru mission, he took keen interest in the development of Eluru mission. He was instrumental in the foundation of many educational and health-care institutions in Eluru mission.
3. Bishop Joseph Tumma Bishop Joseph Thumma tool off from where Bishop Battista had left. He further developed the mission of Eluru. From 1971 to 1975, with a span of four years, 9 parishes were established in Eluru mission. The growth extended so much that the Holy See thought it opportune to bifurcate the diocese of Vijayawada and erect the new diocese of Eluru.
…are the three prelates of the Diocese of Vijayawada and the mission territory of Eluru diocese until its bifurcation.
THE ERECTION: The diocese of Eluru was bifurcated from the diocese of Vijayawada and was erected a new diocese on 26th February, 1977, with
• 75,927 Catholics and
• 7,720 Catechumens,
• 27 parishes,
• 624 mission-stations,
• 26 diocesan Priests and
• 12 Religious Priests,
• 5 Brothers, 140 Sisters and
• 337 Catechists.
THE INITIAL DIFFICULTIES:
The new born child with a new and young Pastor had to face hardships in the initial stages. With no proper residence of the Bishop and no Cathedral, a lot of things had to be moved to get things right. Structural and organizational development of the mission was the need of the hour. Bishop John had come up well with the situation.
The Bishop with no residence to stay at Eluru, stayed at Nidadavole for about three months until 3 August 1977, using the presbytery as the temporary Bishop’s House. Later he stayed for about three years at the House (Deenananda Sadhan) of Mr. Domathoti Abraham (presently Executive Director of APSSS) at Eluru, until 31 December 1980. The new Bishop’s House constructed at Xavier Nagar, Eluru, was ready, Bishop John moved into it on 1 January 1981. And the Cathedral of the diocese was completed only after about a decade and was blessed by His Excellency Most Rev. Augustino Cacciavillan on 11 February, 1988. A long wait indeed for a Bishop to have a house of his own and his Cathedral.
THE TEMPLE DIOCESE OF ANDHRA:
The diocese can be called the “Temple diocese of Andhra.” Bishop John saw shrines as channels of evangelization in the diocese. And so beginning with the erection of Allipalli Matha at Allipalli in 1980, he has erected to date almost ten shrines in the diocese. These shrines have become big pilgrim centres today. Bishop John has been very selective in the locations of these shrines. They have been erected amidst lustrous greenery, on shores that had serene ambience. The top of the list stands the Nirmalagiri shrine that has been erected in 1984. With its shrine constructed in Indian style and the huge church that has almost reached completion, this is the primary pilgrim centre of the diocese of Eluru. Samaladivi Shrine on the shores of Bay of Bengal, Mahimagiri shrine at Janampet, Cathedral shrine at Eluru, Infant Jesus shrine at Dondapudi, Our Lady of Lourdes at Tadikalapudi, Siluvagiri at Chebrole and St. Anthony’s shrine at Ramannapalem are all today growing pilgrim centres in the diocese of Eluru. These pilgrim centres while they have been centres where the faith of the Catholic faithful is fortified and sustained, they have also become true channels of entry for the non-Christian flock, drawing great crowds for their annual feasts irrespective of caste and creed.
THE CENTRE OF CATHOLIC KNOWLEDGE:
Janampet has become a name for Catholic knowledge in Andhra and outside. Mariapuram Campus with the Vijnana Nilayam, the Institute of Philosophy and Theology, and the number of Religious Study Houses that have been established in the area, can truly be called the centre of Catholic Knowledge. The foundation and the development of this centre into what it has become today, is a great monument of the far-sighted vision of Bishop John Mulagada. This centre of catholic knowledge has surely shot up the number of local vocations to different Religious Congregations that have established their Study Houses in the Campus.
THE BLOOM OF THE RELIGIOUS:
With a vision to initiate various pastoral, socio-economic developmental apostolates in the diocese, Bishop John has invited many Religious Congregations to the diocese. When Bishop John took reins of the diocese, the diocese had only 12 Religious priests (10 PIME + 2 OFM Cap) and 5 Religious Brothers and 140 Sisters. Today there are 20 men Religious Congregations and 39 Women Religious Congregations engaged in different apostolates in the diocese. There are a total number of 145 Religious priests, 29 Religious Brothers and 545 Sisters working in the diocese. The number of educational, technical and health-care institutions in the diocese catering to the people of the diocese has increased by leaps and bounds.
The faithful of the diocese belonging mostly to the scheduled castes and tribes are socially the marginalized and economically poor. The Church that came to grips with the hard realities of these faithful had to take concrete steps to change their pathetic situation. The foundation of the Social Service Centre of the diocese has marked the commitment of the diocese to the development of the people. Under the able guidance of Bishop John, a man who has a kind heart for the poor, the diocese has taken great strides in the socio-economic development of its people. It has very impressively responded to the natural calamities and catastrophic cyclones and floods that often hit the diocese. It has constructed a record number of low-cost houses in the diocese with the collaboration of different funding agencies. The diocese has also achieved a remarkable social development of women. The diocese has brought about a sense of social awakening among women with the collaboration of the APSSS (Andhra Pradesh Social Service Society). Bishop John showed keen interest in these developmental programmes for women and was a constant source of strength and encouragement for the animators and co-ordinators engaged in this mission.