The penitential procession of saints at Goa-Velha is world famous and involves a grand procession of saints. This event will be celebrated this year on March 22, the fifth Monday of the season of Lent. ROSARIO F RODRIGUES, the author of the two books on the study of the procession of saints ‘The World’s Grand Procession of Saints in India -2007’ and the ‘Holy Face and the Procession of Saints – 2009’ writes more on this feast.
On the fifth Monday of Lent, every year thousands of people flock from different parts of Goa and the world to the village of Goa-Velha to take part in the ‘world famous penitential procession of Saints’. The procession is lead by the ‘Tau’ and the crossed arms- symbol of the Franciscan order followed by all other images. The procession ends with the ‘Veil of Veronica’ that is carried by the priest in his hands and covered by a canopy and guarded by the confraria members.
It is a penitential procession and is not a festival of funfair. To know more about this penitential procession one has to go through its history and find the facts why the Franciscans started this penitential procession in this historic village.
On November 25, 1510, the feast of St Catherine, the first Catholic procession on the soil of Goa was held led by Affonso de Albuquerque with his army along with some Franciscan and Dominican friars. This sowed the seed of the Catholic processions in Goa. The Franciscans were the first religious Order to arrive in Goa in 1517, building their first Church at Old-Goa which was completed in 1527 and dedicated to their founder St Francis of Assisi.
When Dom Rui Lourence De Tavora was the Viceroy of Portuguese Goa, he handed the abandoned hillock of Govapuri (present day Pilar) over to the reformed Franciscans; there they established themselves in 1613. The Franciscans built their Monastery on the hill dedicated to Our Lady of Pilar and set up a University. The Franciscans (Capuchins) started a penitential procession of their Third Order as a practice of penance for the Lenten period. The procession was from Pilar hillock to surrounding streets including Malwara in Agassaim village, probably in the forn of the ‘Stations of the Cross’, during the Lent season to venerate the ‘Veil of Veronica’ which they brought from Rome.
The Franciscan Friars used to carry the Holy Face of Jesus in the procession; as the neighbouring Jesuit parish churches celebrated Lent services in their parish on each Sunday, the Franciscan scheduled their Procession on Monday and they included the image of Jesus in front of Pilate ‘Ecce Homo’ as the theme.
At the Vatican, the traditional Veronica Blessing takes place on the fifth Sunday of Lent. The Franciscan Friars started the procession of the Holy Face at the Pilar hillock based on the Vatican’s annual blessings of the ‘Veil of Veronica’. The procession started from Pilar hillock between the years 1614 and 1617.
Romeis the home for processions; however, there is no ‘Procession of Saints’ in Rome .
The Franciscans went on adding the images of the Saints of their Order and other Orders. Therefore, towards the end of the 17th century the Franciscans instituted a penitential ‘procession of Saints’ and presented as models for imitation in which 65 life size images were taken in procession from their Monastery at Pilar hillock through the neighbouring streets.
The procession of Saints saw a pause from 1836 to 1867 due to a decree issued by Queen Maria II of Portugal in 1835, decreeing the expulsion of all religious orders in Portugal and her colonies. During this period, many images and vestment were left uncared, vandalised and destroyed.
Meanwhile, the new Church of St Andrew was completed around January 1868. The Franciscan Third Order (Laymen) started functioning in that Church; the belongings were kept in the Pilar Monastery, which was in the possession of the Carmelites. These were shifted to the new Church under the guidance of Fr Cyrilo de Anunciação. Therefore, the penitential procession of Saints with the residual of about 25 charols (tableaux) re-started from the new Church of St Andrew Goa-Velha during the Lent of 1868. New images kept adding to the collection and the image of Bl Joseph Vaz was added as recently as in 2009.