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In devotion to St Francis Xavier

Also known as ‘Goencho Saib’ and the protector of Goa, the feast of Saint Francis Xavier is celebrated with much fervour today. It is not only Goans but also people from various places outside the State who come to seek blessings of Saint Francis Xavier. NT BUZZ gets you
the details

Annoushka Fernandes| NT BUZZ

Born in Navarre, Spain, on April 7, 1506, Francis Xavier travelled to Paris at the age of 19 and studied at Collège de Sainte-Barbe. While studying in Paris he met and befriended Peter Faber and Ignatius Loyola. He later joined the formation of the Society of Jesus with Faber, Loyola and other companions and professed vows of poverty and chastity in Montmartre in 1534. After the completion of his studies, he left for Venice with his companions and attended to the sick at hospitals. St Francis was ordained as a priest in the year 1534.

He sailed to India and reached Goa in May 1542, and spent the first five months preaching, teaching catechism to young children and taking care of the sick. Leaving Goa in 1552, he went on to the western parts of India, Malacca, Malaysia and Japan to preach the Gospel and spread Christianity.

St Francis Xavier decided to return to Goa after preaching for nearly two years in Japan but then planned an expedition to China. He arrived at Shangchuan, China where he was struck with illness and passed away on December 3, 1552. Thus, to honour his death the feast is held on this day.

However, according to a legend it is believed that Portuguese merchants found him just before he breathed his last and performed his last rite. He was buried in a box partly filled with unslaked lime. Months later a Jesuit brother discovered that the body had not decomposed. After cutting a finger he was astonished to see blood oozing out. When this was reported to the Vatican, the title of Saint was conferred upon St Francis Xavier.

At the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a mausoleum holding the remains of the Saint was designed by sculptor, Giovanni Battista Foggini which took 10 years to complete. It has been 400 years since St Francis Xavier breathed his last but his relics still remain, mostly-incorruptible. And every 10 years his relics are brought out for exposition as devotees seek his blessings, pray to him and renew their faith.

Every year, today, December 3, people from Goa and its neighbouring states flock to Old Goa to celebrate the feast of Goa’s beloved saint, St Francis Xavier fondly known as ‘Goencho Saib’ (Lord of Goa).

The theme for this year’s novena and feast is ‘Rooted in Christ like St Francis Xavier, go and do likewise’. Rector, Basilica of Bom Jesus, Fr Patricio Fernandes explains the reason for this. “The reasons are two. One is the missionary that is given by the pope for the month of October in order to proclaim the love of God and the archbishop was given in his pastoral letter ‘who is my neighbour? My neighbour is anyone who is in need of mercy and compassion’. And one must help others like a Good Samaritan. So this is the combination of the two strands that make up the theme for this year’s novena and feast,” he said.

Celebrated with much fervour, the feast takes place at the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Old Goa where one witnesses lakhs of devotees attending the novenas and the feast from the first mass that starts at 6 a.m. until 6:15 p.m. People rush in and out seeking his blessing and attending the various services held for nine days prior to the feast.

On the days prior to the feat, Old Goa witnesses an influx of pilgrims who travel on foot. Special arrangements are made for these pilgrims who sing and play traditional instruments and return home after the feast mass.

Joanna D’Souza from Mandrem makes it a point to attend the feast each year and she believes that the younger generation does not look forward to celebrating the feast like it was enthusiastically looked forward to decades ago. “My family and I make it a point to attend the feast mass every year. Years ago it was different, we were more excited to go to Old Goa and made preparations way ahead of the mass, now it has decreased. Attending mass is one thing, but it is the fair that draws all the attention. People prefer roaming around in the fair and buying things available there, so personally I feel that it’s become more of that,” says D’Souza. 

In fact, D’Souza further states that even though the enthusiasm may have dimmed a little, there are certain people whose devotion still remains strong and this is proved when they come walking from their homes to attend the masses or don’t mind the hurdles that come in between while on the way to Old Goa.

“I leave my home at 7 a.m. after preparing breakfast for the family and use public transport. If I am lucky and the buses aren’t too slow, I would make it in time for the 9:30 a.m. novena, if not I wait for the next novena and by the time I reach home its way past 12:30 in the afternoon. But it’s all worth it for the nine days,” says Justina Nathan, from Bardez who has been attending all nine novenas for the past few years.

It was in the year 2014 that St Francis Xavier’s relics were brought down for the exposition, and devotes will have to wait till 2024 for the next exposition, but this doesn’t deter people from flocking to the revered Old Goa during this time. 

D’Souza says the exposition that takes place once is 10 years is absolutely fine as she believes this will lessen the danger to people and the relics. “In one way it’s good, because there’s less fear of any mishaps happening with his relics that have stood the test of time. Even though it is under high security, you never know what can happen,” she adds.

Celeste Fernandes from Merces says that it does not matter if the relics are brought down for exposition. “Since we know his relics are present in the Church, it is a place of sanctity and holiness, we can pray to him and we will continue to do so,” she says.

Fernandes adds that the highlight for her during the feast is the high mass that is followed by a mini family get-together. “It’s a yearly affair going for the feast with my family, including cousins and aunts. My family gets very excited and begins cooking for the feast a night before as we have to leave early. After attending the mass and having a great time at the fair and we look forward to this day,” adds Fernandes.

However, Ignatius Souz from Anjuna, having attended the novenas will not attend the feast mass because of the place being over crowded. “I will be praying at home as it better to do that and go there on some other day because of the rush. Also on the feast day people from outside Goa should be given preference as Goans can visit Old Goa anytime,” says Souz. He adds that one can take one’s time and pray instead of rushing through the crowd on the feast day.

Echoing his statement is Glendica Noronha from Mapusa, who will also not be attending the feast mass, having already attended the novenas. “It is my birthday so I will seek the blessings of Goencho Saib by attending mass in my parish,” says Noronha.

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