Fr. Valentine de Souza was the quintessential Jesuit. When he died on April 6, he was 92 years old, 74 years a Jesuit. The Tribals of Gujarat, the Church and the Society have lost a legend! He was a visionary and a missionary who was totally people-centred.
Vally (as he was affectionately called) worked in the Vyara Mission from the 1960s till he breathed his last. Besides the long years there, he had brief stints at St Xavier’s in Surat, Jeevan Darshan in Vadodara (where he cared for the sick and was responsible for the construction of the Province infirmary), and a sabbatical in the US. His heart, however, was unquestionably with the Tribals of Vyara.
As a pioneer missionary, he would travel by bullock-cart or on a rented bicycle, visiting different villages. He would stay in the villages, listen to the people and learn from them. Being close to people, he got to know them well and, as a result, he had a deep and lasting relationship with them.
Vally mastered the Gamit language and spoke it with proficiency. He wrote and composed several hymns in Gamit (which are popular even today). He was sensitive to Tribal rituals and cultural practices. He adapted catechesis to their way of life.
He was convinced that the local Church would be truly empowered when the priests realised that they had to be animators, drawing the best from their people. He was part of the DELTA team and proved to be a trainer par excellence.
Besides being a polyglot, Vally was a gifted musician. He played the accordion and the guitar. He was a good singer too. Vally lived life to the fullest. In unassuming ways, he gave but did not count the cost! He loved the people and he did all he could to bring dignity, respect and self-worth into their lives. He will be greatly missed!
- Gujarat Jesuit Samachar