Saturday , 20 October 2018
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Celebrating 450 years of Goa’s Christian faith

The village of Nerul houses one of Goa’s oldest churches – Our Lady of Remedios Church which was founded in 1569. As the church enters its jubilee year, NT BUZZ traces its magnificent 450-year journey and finds out more about activities lined up to commemorate this great occasion

VENITA GOMES| NT BUZZ

Famous for ‘Nirlacheo xevtalleo’, ‘tisreo’, groundnuts and water-melons, the village of Nerul is a popular tourist destination probably because of its village life and scenic views. Before the Portuguese renamed the village to ‘Nerul’, it was known as ‘Nellur’ that was taken from two words ‘nell’ (rice) and ‘ur’ (village). In 1569 the Franciscan missionaries working in parts of North Goa founded the church, and named it Our Lady of Remedios which over the years has drawn several followers and devotees.

According to a local legend it is said that the church was under serious threat and the Marathas tried to attack it. A priest averted this by playing a smart trick; he made replicas of cannons out of palm trees and placed them on the porch roof to scare off the warriors, accompanied by the loud sounds of the ‘khoznne’ (gun powder crackers). Thus the Nerulkars were able to avert an attack on the church from the Marathas.

The parish priest of Our lady of Remedios Church, Fr Bolmax Pereira says: “It is indeed a great occasion for us to celebrate the 450 years of our church. Despite all the hardships the church stands tall. People here live in harmony and love. Also, there are several people from other faiths coming to the church to seek the blessings of Our lady of Remedios.”

While there is very little reliable information available about the history, it is believed that initially the church was founded and run by the Franciscan Order and now is in the charge of the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman.

A resident of Nerul and retired teacher, Maria Eugene Pinto speaks about how one can find the Franciscan presence in the church: “It is believed that Goa was divided during the olden days and that the Franciscan priests were mostly based in North Goa while the Jesuits worked in the southern part of the state. Another instance that tells us about their presence is through the murals and paintings on the walls of the church. There is a mural on the wall that depicts St Francis of Assisi praying at the cross and also preaching to people. Another painting shows St Francis Xavier preaching the word of God to the people.”

She adds that it is not only the paintings but even the church bell speaks about Franciscan’s presence. Maria adds: “The bell was brought from Cruz Dos Milagres church in Old Goa which was also a church built by the Franciscan priests.”

She points out that the services followed predominantly now are very different from what they used to be across all the catholic churches. “We had something called ‘Communion rail’ which separated the sanctuary from the main body of the church. The women at that time were not allowed to step into the sanctuary beyond that communion-rail; even for communion you had to kneel before it and receive the communion. Also, people avoided wearing sleeveless dresses to the church and came very modestly dressed with their heads covered with a veil.”

The priest also followed a different style of celebrating the Holy Eucharist. As there was no electricity or electrical instruments, in order to be audible the priest had to stand at a height from the pulpit and recite the mass in Latin but facing his back to the congregation. “Now that there is sound system and microphones this is no longer the practice. Also around 1963 there was an order issued that the mass was to be recited in the local language and the priest had to face the congregation while saying the mass. Also, the communion-rail no longer exists and women are allowed to actively participate in the church services, read and also distribute Holy Communion as Eucharistic ministers,” says Pinto.

As the church enters into its 450th year to be completed in May 2019, the parishioners have planned year-long activities. Today marks the beginning of these celebrations. Youth will be confirmed today in the Church. “Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão will be attending the function; followed by a welcome address on the occasion of opening of 450 years. There will be unveiling of the theme –His Grace,” says Fr Bolmax.

The opening of church door by the archbishop will mark the opening of the jubilee year; after which there will be the Confirmation sacrament given to around 43 adolescents, followed by a small get-together and the cutting of the 450 years and the parish priest’s birthday cake.

Fr Bolmax will deliver a keynote speech on the 450 year jubilee and the Archbishop Ferrao will also share his message. Mementos will be presented to former sacristan, Agnelo Fernandes and other dignitaries. The function will culminate with cultural programme and dinner.

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