Diego Francis Rodrigues from Tiracol died on Monday, July 30, 2018 after a brief illness of three days or so and funeral rites took place on Tuesday, July 31, 2018 at St. Anthony’s church, Tiracol with Holy sacrifice of mass. Diego was known to me from 1992 for 25 years. I remember his active presence at several protests in Panjim and other sites in Pernem organized by Jagrut Goenkarachi Fauz (JGF) and Pernem Nagrik Vikas Samiti (PNVS). The protests were against several tourism projects proposed for Pernem coast.
Although we did not cross into Tiracol during our walking expedition and ended in Keri village Diego came to know about it after a day and was active participant in all the subsequent planned protests mainly in Panjim.
In 1993 Diego called me to visit Tiracol in my capacity as Journalist covering Pernem for Herald. I visited him and he shared threats to health faced by entire Tiracol village due to Gastroenteritis epidemic due to pollution caused by Usha Isapat steel plant across Maharashtra border at Redi. He wanted me to publish and this story did get published and authorities did act on in Tiracol people got relief.
For past few decades Diego was often elected unopposed to the Keri Panchayat and even served as a Sarpanch of Keri village Panchayat.
A decade ago when it was proposed to set up Golf Course in Tiracol and Vishwajit Rane moved application for the change in land use Diego again got into active resistence. He organized and networked with several people, petitioned several judicial courts including NGT and malatdar’s court and even scored breakthroughs in number of times putting crucial spokes in the way of Leading Hotels taking control of the village land to construct Golf Course and starred hotel.
At the Funeral several people women and men, educated and uneducated were seen weeping for the love and care of Diego was far wider and deeper than the width and depth of his grave in sandy shore of Tiracol cemetery. It is a rare sight that a lawyer would cry openly for the death of a client and it was witnessed at Diego’s funeral.
It is a rarest of the rare occasion to witness Parish Priest crying bitterly at the grave of the dead Parishioner, yet it was witnessed in Tiracol at Diego’s funeral. It is near impossible that a death of an active citizen be compared to the assassination of the Archbishop of the Catholic Church. Yet Death of Diego was compared to the Assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador in terms of the wide despair the death has caused and yearnings for new crop of leadership to emerge.
Is Archdiocese of Goa ready to nurture this Hope and a Promise? Is Leadership of the Goa Archdiocese ready to address the question of leadership crisis of the Catholic of Goa? Diego Francis Rodrigues was a great leader. He would move alone with piles of paper in his hand traveling in buses or hired bikes or hitch lifts to fulfill his mission tasks. I met him several times on the streets of Panjim moving from one office to another, always resourceful in his sharing although in his sixties.
Diego’s courage was tested in the past decade. It was tested when bouncers were stationed, trees were forcefully cut down and road construction undertaken at the middle of the night in Tiracol. Diego moved official administration and mobilized public support to condemn the predator attack.
Diego was at his courageous best when he confronted then Chief Minister Laximikant Parsekar at the bridge inauguration connecting Keri to Kiranpani just before 2017 Assembly elections. In fact Diego was one of the key persons that was responsible for the historic defeat of Parsekar in Mandrem constituency and victory of Dayanand Sopte. Diego however was upset due to BJP forming government in Goa with Defence Minister of India being sent to Goa as Chief Minister.
Diego confronted Diocesan authorities in 2010 when news broke about sale of Vanxim island. He visited Vanxim to support protesting villagers.
Even though there is so much to write about Diego, key issue of leadership needs immediate attention. Will Catholic Colleges of Goa rise to the occasion to revive AICUF to generate leadership for Justice and Peace among students to steer Goa’s future ahead?
(This is an uncensored version of article published in Herald on August 03, 2018)