Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Saint Francis Xavier – Goa’s patron saint.

Today is the 3rGoencho Saibd of December. A state holiday in Goa when Goa and most goans wake up earlier than usual to head for Old Goa in the northern part of Goa to join thousands of pilgrims who may have come from different parts of the world to pay obeisance to the patron saint of our beautiful Goa, our Goencho saib, Saint Francis Xavier.

Masses commence before dawn does and scores of people who have spent the previouBasilica of Bom Jesuss night in the tree shade, footpaths or the sides and lawns of Old Goa are pleasantly awakened by the pealing of Church bells heralding the prayer service at the Basilica of Bom Jesus. Having come from far off villages and towns of Goa, goans mingle among the thousands of pilgrims in a sea of the faithful to show veneration to the saint who made Goa his abode.

While the feast day draws the maximum pilgrims, the novenas preceding the day of the feast also draws huge crowds which only increase at the weekend.

The practice of traveling on foot from various parts of Goa and then staying overnight at Old Goa, most often in the sincere cold of Goa’s winter , huddling and cuddling within blankets and woolens is continuing since olden times when public transport was a scanty luxury . People from south Goa would set out before dawn the previous day i.e the dawn of 2nd December and would take an entire day to walk on foot to Old Goa. On the way, the customary stop would be made at Cortalim where pilgrims would eat a small meal most often the goan pez which would enable them to trudge along after crossing the Zuari river ferry to Old goa reaching there by the evening to spend the night outside the Basilica premises to attend mass next morning.

Despite public transport and personal transport having been much leisurely available, many people still walk the entire distance keeping their tradition of the respect to the patron Saint.For many, this walk right upto Old goa is of great significance and they coVeneration of St. Francis Xaviers Bodynsider the same as a penance and till this day undertake the journey on foot.

While the overnight pilgrims are fortunate to get a place to sit during mass, the continuous stream of peole who attend the service spills over to large numbers leaving them standing. For those who miss the service, or who are unable to reach Old Goa due to physical disabilities, the television media has become a godsend as live television coverage helps these people to atleast listen to the service from afar. However for some die-hard pilgrims visiting Old goa despite all odds is a necessity and venerating the relics of the saint, a must-do.

It is believed that while the whole world may burn under terror, disease or plagues, Goa can remain aloof from all such afflictions due to the generous presence of the Saints’ relics in Goa. This view is held by people across many religions. The protection extends beyond mere saving grace and people believe in a sense of peace and spiritual wisdom filling them when they go to the basilica.

Known fondly bSaint Francis Xavier's bodyy the people of Goa as “ Goencho Saib” the strong historical root of this hand of protection dates back to the times when it was first planted during the Portuguese rule in Portuguese Goa. The Portuguese are believed to have had great faith in the Saint and there has even been an instance when a Portuguese Governor placed a shield in the hands of the Saints body thereby entrusting the defence of Goa to St. Francis Xavier. This historical protection has been therefore received traditionally down the ages.

Ironically thousands of people from different faiths and religions also visit Old Goa to receive the blessing of the Saint as people from many walks of life in Goa strongly belive in the Goencho Saib.

The fest of St Francis Xavier is however not limited to Old Goa alone and is alone celebrated in the parish of our lady of Bethlehem, Chandor in South Goa where the feast is celebrated in the chapel of Guirdolim.

Although St Francis Xavier is considered the patron Saitn of Goa and has lakhs of people in Goa venerating him, the Jesuit priest had spent very little time in amchem bhangarachem Goem. In fact out of his 11 years spent in Asia, the saint spent hardly 6 months in Goa but seemed to have a strong feeling for Goa and also requested for his body to be transferred to Goa after death.

This body which the saint himself wanted to be kept here by his words” I shall not return to goa, my body though will remain here” has remained in Goa for 450 years after his death and still draws millions of devotees seeking peace and spiritual guidance.

Xittuk Goencar

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