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India bestows late Spanish priest with highest award for contribution to culture

Father Carlos Gonzalez Valles was a mathematician, musician, writer, mentor, spiritual guru and guide all rolled into one

The late Spanish Father Carlos Gonzalez Valles has been posthumously bestowed India’s highest civilian award for his contributions to Gujarati culture and education.

Father Valles passed away on Nov. 9 last year in Madrid, Spain. He was 95 years of age.

On the eve of the 72nd Republic Day, Jan. 26, the Indian government announced the Padma Shri award to Father Valles who came to India in 1949.

During his five-decade stay in the country he mastered the local language of the western state of Gujarat and enriched its education. The Jesuit priest translated mathematical concepts into Gujarati and authored 78 books in the language.

He taught Mathematics at St. Xavier’s College Ahmedabad from 1960 to 1982.

After Father Valles passed away Indian Prime Minister Narinder Modi, who was a three-time chief minister of Gujarat, tweeted: “Father Valles endeared himself to many, especially in Gujarat. He distinguished himself in diverse areas such as mathematics and Gujarati literature. He was also passionate about serving society. Saddened by his demise. May his soul rest in peace.”

Father Cedric Prakash, founder-director of Prashant, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, said the award should have been given much earlier. – Newsletter -Subscribe to Spotlight, our daily newsletter. 

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“He contributed a lot to Gujarat’s culture and language. Perhaps no foreigner or non-Gujarati has reached his level in this,” said Father Prakash who spent many years with Father Valles.

“[He] was a mathematician, musician, writer, mentor, spiritual guru and guide all rolled into one,” said Father Prakash.

Father P R John, principal of Jesuit-run Vidyajyoti College of Theology, New Delhi, also felt that Father Valles’ service to India should have recognized earlier when he was in the country. Father Valles returned to Spain in 1990 to look after his ailing mother.

“Better late than never. Coming in this atmosphere of hate or religious intolerance, it is great. A ray of hope that India is open to all cultures and its secular credentials are not being compromised with,” Father John said.

A prolific writer, Father Valles wrote extensively in Gujarati, English and Spanish. Many of his Gujarati books won literary prizes. He became the first foreigner to win the Ranjit Ram Gold Medal, the highest literary award in the state in 1978. He wrote a weekly column for Gujarat Samachar the main Gujarati daily.

He published over 24 books in English and 42 in Spanish. His books have been translated into Chinese and European languages.

‘Gandhi: Alternative to Violence’, ‘Life with Honor’, ‘Christian Self-Esteem’, ‘I am Collecting Rainbows’, ‘Unencumbered by Baggage — Tony De Mello: A Prophet of Our Times,’ are among some of his titles.

Father Valles was born in Logrono on Nov. 4, 1925 and joined a seminary at the age of 15. He described himself as “a cheerful student, voracious reader, passionate friend, captain of the football team, in love with Mozart, and enjoying a good appetite” in his autobiography ‘I am Collecting Rainbows’.

His passion to serve God and people are reflected in his books: ‘Sketches of God,’ ‘Praying Together’, ‘Faith for Justice’, ‘Our Lady of Joy’.

During his tenure in Gujarat, he lived for ten years among the local people and eating their vegetarian food. Every week he would knock at a different door and stay with them in a bid to understand the culture better.

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