Spanish priest (90), here since 1948, wants to die an Indian
MUMBAI: A Spanish Jesuit priest, Fr Federico Sopena Gusi, who will turn 90 next March, has a strong desire “to die as an Indian citizen on Indian soil”. He visited the Mumbai suburban district collector’s office in Bandra on Thursday to complete the administrative process.
Fr Sopena has been working in India since 1948 but his only regret is that he still holds a Spanish passport. “The great Indian poet, Kabir, had once said that you will be at peace if you have repaid all your loans and die in your own motherland. Since I consider India as my own country for over six decades, I want to become an Indian to be at peace,” said the priest.
Having worked for many years among the poor and downtrodden, especially Katkari tribals in Raigad district, Fr Sopena is fluent in Hindi. Social activist Vaishali Patil told TOI: “I had first met Fr Sopena around 25 years ago, when he was working in Raigad. He had first applied for Indian citizenship in 1982, but all his documents were misplaced. So, he is once again trying, and hopes the home ministry will oblige soon.”
Vaishali Patil from Pen taluka in Raigad, who is assisting Fr Sopena with the government formalities, added that Fr Sopena had met with a serious road accident on the Mumbai-Goa highway about 20 years back while he was riding a scooter from Pen to Panvel, which led to the amputation of his left leg. “But he continued with his mission by getting a Jaipur foot. Fr Sopena is as Indian as any of us,” she asserted.
Recalling his Spanish origins, Fr Sopena said, “I was born in Barcelona, where I did my schooling and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. I volunteered to come to India when I was 22, and have simply loved doing my mission work here. Except for this one wish, I have no other regrets.”
Asked about his basic philosophy in life, Fr Sopena said, “Justice for all, love for all. What can be better than this in one’s life?”
Jairam Pawar, the deputy collector at the Bandra office, told TOI, “The Spanish priest had earlier applied online for Indian citizenship. He visited our office today for further verification. The official process is on.”