Fr. Joseph Carreno (1905 - 1986).
Don Bosco Oratory, Panjim owes its strength and stature to the man who was a pioneer and saint. Unlike how it’s normally done, Goa is lucky to have Fr. Jose Carreno, who felt that the first Salesian activity ever to begin in the region would be an ORATORY!
Jose Luis Carreno was born in Bilbao, Spain, on October 23, 1905. His father was Rogelio and his mother, Teresa. He was baptised on October 28, and was assigned a most revered teacher: his mother. "The initiation was as profound and radical as a kiss from God."
One senses the intimate friendship that united him to God from early childhood. With this spiritual grace of uninhibited surrender to God and the eyes of a poet, he was able to see constantly the beauty of God in creatures, the providence of God in every circumstance, the mercy of God in forgiveness and he was happy to be a reflection of God’s goodness and gentleness to his fellow humans.
"One morning", he recalls in his memoirs, "my mother took me to Mass. ‘Look,’ she said, ‘in a little while the priest will raise a small white round thing. That’s Jesus!’ Sure enough, shortly after, there was the sound of a small bell and in the semi darkness a small round object began to rise slowly in the hands of the priest. I must have given a sharp cry because I immediately felt a soft hand covering my mouth. That round object was forever riveted on my soul. It was the ‘personal revelation’ of the mystery of transubstantiation."
He entered the Salesian school of Santander in November 1913. "To enter the House of Don Bosco meant to settle permanently within the gravitational pull of the ‘Real Presence’." He entered the aspirantate at Campello. He recalls: "A congregation like ours, for which we were preparing ourselves at Campello, is made up of men dedicated to God to whom they are going to lead countless generations through the apostolate of christian education. Those men must then be superior in everything, especially in the refinement of the spirit. That’s why all the Campellos in the world must get the very best education."
One begins to understand his preoccupation in India and the Philippines for the establishment of high calibre centres for the formation of native vocations. From Campello he went to the novitiate at Carabanchel Alto in 1921, then made his profession on July 25,1922. After a brief military service, he made his perpetual profession in Sarria on December 11, 1928. He was rated as "an excellent young man of solid piety, bright, jovial, greatly attached to the Congregation. One can expect great things from him." He was ordained to the priesthood in Gerona on May 21, 1932. On that solemn occasion he took as his motto the words of St. Paul "Omnis Christus-Christ is All"; (Col 3:11). On the eve of his ordination he wrote to the Rector Major, Fr. Peter Ricaldone asking him to send him to the missions. "I want to offer myself unconditionally to my superiors to work in the missions in accordance with my desires and prayers during the last seven years. I only ask you that my destination be also in accordance with my weakness. I am not afraid of Bolsheviks or pirates but I am afraid of myself. Likewise I want to express my liking for the missions of Asia. I am ready, however, to go to any place on earth as obedience may dispose of me."
He spent the following year at Cowley, England, studying English. Then he set sail for India. He arrived in Bombay in 1933. At that time salesian India had only one province, the provincial house being located at Shillong, Assam. The provincial was the future bishop Mathias. In the south, in Madras, the Archbishop was the Salesian Eugene Mederlet. The following year, 1934, a second province was formed. It was established in the South with its provincial house at Vellore. At the death of Archbishop Mederlet, bishop Mathias took his place in 1935. The Provincial in the South was Fr. Eligio Cinato.
Fr. Carreno, a priest not yet 28 years old, was sent to the novitiate of Tirupattur where as the first novice master he began to form new missionaries, almost all from different European countries. From this novitiate came those who were to build the Salesian presence in India. Fr. Luigi Di Fiore, one of his novices and later the Provincial of Madras writes: "Without a doubt the most precious legacy that Fr. Carreno handed on to us was the salesian spirit in its essential characteristics: thirst for souls, fraternal charity, family spirit built on prayer, work, cheerfulness, healthy optimism, hospitality."
In August 1939, India felt the echoes of World War II. All foreigners, including missionaries who belonged to countries at war with Great Britain were taken to concentration camps in 1942. Fortunately Fr. Carreno belonged to a neutral country and was able to help and serve as an intermediary for them before the authorities. Being an authentic missionary he sensed the need to "indianize" the Salesian presence in India. Therefore he took great pains to look for and form native vocations. Furthermore due to the blocking of the Suez Canal, the flow of missionaries from Europe was even further hindered. Salesian works were in disarray. Of the 400 missionaries in prison camps, 136 were Salesians. Moreover in 1947, India proclaimed its independence from Great Britain and the new government adopted a policy of not granting visas to new foreign missionaries. God was writing straight on crooked lines.
Fr. Carreno would go around schools and talk about Don Bosco. He would make everyone enthusiastic with the ideal of saving souls and would attract them with his simplicity and his cheerfulness. Meanwhile in the midst of the war, Vatican Radio sent a message ordering Fr. Carreno to take charge of the Salesian Province of South India. He had to take the place of the Provincial, Fr. Eligio Cinato, and was given the faculties of a Provincial. Bishop Louis Mathias invited him to be the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Madras thus conferring on him the title of "Monsignor".
His workload doubled and so did the presences in the Province: Kotagiri (1946), Poonamallee (1947), Nagercoil (1947). He travelled to several countries in Europe asking for help for his apostolic works. He even communicated his message in songs. He would ask for three things: prayers, sacrifices and material help. He even got certain banks to fund donations and scholarships for missionary undertakings under the title MISALMA (Salesian Missions of Madras).
In a report to the Rector Major, which was mandatory for all provincials, on the state of their provinces, Fr. Carreno writes of the development in his province and especially in Bombay: "In Bombay the progress has been almost miraculous. The land there is the most expensive in India but, in spite of difficulties, Fr. Maschio has been able to buy land and build a magnificent modern two-storey building which has drawn the attention and the esteem of the people for the work of Don Bosco in India." He was then asked by the Rector Major to put the Cooperator’s movement back on its feet in Spain.
Later, after the war, in October 1952, he was sent to Goa. "Goa was love at first sight" wrote Fr. Carreno in his "Warp in the Loom." At the end of World war II, after years in concentration camps, most missionaries were allowed to return to their work. The more troublesome ones were forced to return to their countries.
Fr. Carreno flew to New Delhi to talk to the Viceroy but His Majesty’s Government did not listen. "Very well, then" he said, "those men have come to India to serve Christ. If you don’t want them in British India they’ll go to Portuguese India." And so, seven of those missionaries went to Goa and began to work among the children.
On the night of April 4, 1946, this band of Salesian reached Goa and began the first oratory the very morning, (April 5). Memories of his experience, hardwork and tremendous sacrifice are still recounted by the numerous local people who knew him personally. His presence among the youth was enlightening, and his numerous talks to the religious and diocesan clergy were highly appreciated. It was his dedicated service that laid the foundations of the Don Bosco Oratory, Panjim, that has gradually grown today to be a Primary School, High School, Higher Secondary, Degree College, Post Graduate college, Shrine, Aspirantate, Night School, Hostel and counseling centre.
Fr.Carreno stayed there eight years. This is how he summarized the work being done there: "Two technical schools; a high and elementary school; two public churches, one built in Panjim to the Pilgrim Virgin; the care of more then 600 poor boys provided for with the help of the Patriarch and the Portuguese Government; the publications that came out from our presses; the "Catholic Hour’ over the government radio station; and above all, the work for vocations of which God was a real mine."
Soon after, the Indian Government broke diplomatic relations with the Portuguese Government and Fr. Carreno was called by Pandit Nehru as an intermediary in the liberation of Indian prisoners in Goa. At the end of the interview Fr. Carreno confided to Nehru: "Mr. Prime Minister, I’m not being very diplomatic." "No Father," replied Nehru, "but you are a sincere man."
Four months later Goa granted amnesty to the Indian prisoners through the mediation of the Church. The Indian Government did not give anything in exchange. Later Indian troops occupied Goa.
The Portuguese Salesians expressed their gratitude and admiration for Fr. Carreno: "The Oratory at Panjim, with its high school, technical school and Youth Centre and the Oratories; the start of the aspirantate next to the boarding school for abandoned youth; the spread of the devotion to Mary Help of Christians and devotion to Don Bosco; the collaboration with the native clergy and the prestige of the salesian work, are sufficient proof of the real worth of Fr. Carreno."
At the end of his term as rector of Panjim in 1960, as he was about to leave for Europe, the students told him: "If we knew you wouldn’t come back, we wouldn’t have let you go to the airport."
A proof of his dedication and achievement was the medal given to him by the Portuguese Government.
Between Madras and Goa Fr. Carreno had spent almost thirty years in India. The Salesians loved him dearly. In him they found the best and most complete replica of Don Bosco: a loving father with a big heart, a man of initiative, always smiling, highly intelligent, a man with his eyes on the future.
From Goa he was assigned to work in the Philippines and later back again in Spain where he lived till his death. He departed for his heavenly home on the feast of Corpus Christi, on May 29, 1986. More than fifty concelebrants attended the funeral mass. All were convinced that Fr. Carreno had attained Eternal Life.
On his golden jubilee of priestly ordination he wrote on his souvenir card "If fifty years ago my motto as a young priest was ‘Christ is All’ today, old and overwhelmed by his love, I would write it in solid gold because in reality CHRIST IS ALL."