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Goa: State of Catholic Pilgrimage

Cross is the most hallowed symbol of Christianity and its proliferation definitely gives Goa a Christian aura and since this tiniest state was under the major Catholic power Portuguese, every cross and every church proclaims that Goa with 3702 square kilometre is undoubtedly a Catholic region and thus it qualifies itself as a state of Catholic pilgrimage.

Goa: State of Catholic Pilgrimage

By Joe Palathunkal
When you visit Goa in the western India, unlike any other Indian state, what catches your attention is the sight of crosses and churches everywhere and anywhere. We can easily assume at least 100 concrete crosses in every village of Goa which has a total of 334 villages that house nearly two million people and the crosses may number above 30000.

Cross is the most hallowed symbol of Christianity and its proliferation definitely gives Goa a Christian aura and since this tiniest state was under the major Catholic power Portuguese, every cross and every church proclaims that Goa with 3702 square kilometre is undoubtedly a Catholic region and thus it qualifies itself as a state of Catholic pilgrimage.

As I stood on the pedestrian track of the wide and smooth road that skirts the Bom Jesu (Infant Jesus) Basilica where Goa’s most celebrated historical personality Saint Francis Xavier resides, I was amazed to see the incessant flow of visitors coming to the church on an ordinary November Wednesday of 2018, and wondered what could be the crowd on Sundays and special days.

The elaborate preparations going on in the campus of the Basilica was indication enough of the formidable crowd of pilgrims that would gather on December 3rdthe feast day of Saint Francis Xavier, the Lord of Goa or Goencho Saiba as he is known in local parlance and for the public veneration of his incorrupt body on every tenth year the crowd is almost unmanageable.

The last exposition of the saint’s body was on 22 November 2014 and the exposition closed on 4 January 2015 and the next exposition will be only in 2024. Goans of all faiths believe that Goa will be protected as long as this great Jesuit saint is with them in Bom Jesus. Says Saddam, a taxi driver: “I visit the church once a month to pray to Goencho Saiba. We all believe that as long as he is there, no storm or rains can do any harm to Goa.”

Bom Jesu Basilica designed by Juliao Simao and Domingos Fernandes took ten years for construction and it was inaugurated on 15 May 1605 though the body of Francis Xavier had reached Goa in 1554. It is indeed poetry in Baroque architecture.

President Kovind visits and pays his respects at spiritual landmarks of Goa, the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa. (Picture Credit: Twitter)

Several heads of states have visited Bom Jesu to pay their respects to this great Spanish Jesuit saint. President Ram Nath Kovind and the First Lady Savita Kovind visited the Basilica in July 2018.

Just opposite is Se Cathedral, another architectural wonder built to celebrate the victory of Portuguese ruler Afonso de Albuquerque in 1510 with the capturing of a Goan city and since the day was the feast of Saint Catherine the church in Portuguese-Manueline architectural style is dedicated to this saint.

The church with Tuscan exteriors and Corinthian interiors is one of the largest in India and the Golden Bell inside is indeed a point of attraction.

This Se Cathedral in Velha Goa has daily Eucharistic services and on week days the Mass is celebrated in a minor chapel or Altar within the church which has more than a dozen such altars besides the main one where Mass is celebrated on Sundays.

English Mass is celebrated only on Saturdays and Sundays, Konkani being the language in other days. As I attended a Konkani Mass here with the help of Living in Faith, I was really fascinated by the marvellous artistic creations inside this great Goan church.

Though Goa is identified with Saint Francis Xavier, the greatest Francis whose name Pope Francis adopted is also a great presence in Goa. Built in Barque and Corinthian architecture, Church of Saint Francis of Assisi has finely laid interiors with two statues on both sides of the tabernacle – one of Jesus Christ and the other one of Francis of Assisi known as the second Christ. The exquisite woodworks and frescos are a feast to the eyes.

As a typical Catholic state, Goa has not ignored the central inspiration of all the saints – Mother Mary, the most acclaimed mother of the world.Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is one of the oldest and most famous churches of Goa built in 17th century; it has two altars – one dedicated to Our Lady of Rosary and the other to Saint Peter on whom Jesus founded the Church with a promise that since Peter is rock no forces of hell can prevail upon the Church. The elegant exterior and the well maintained interiors do appeal to every connoisseur of art and the artistic.

There is a very beautiful church named after Saint Cajetan (1480 – 1547), Italian Catholic priest born in Vicenza and died in Naples and whose name is a popular name among the Catholics of Goan origin. Though small it is unique as a Christian ecclesiastical church and the first one of the kind to be built in Goa by a Portuguese governor in 1510 and was rebuilt in 1952.

Saint Alex church built by the local village communities in 1741 andNossaSenhora de Penha de Franca church built in gratitude for averting a dangerous situation for the Portuguese sailors on their voyage to India are the other pilgrim spots for the tourists and the Catholic faithful.

There are other spots which the church and state together can develop as pilgrim and tourist attractions in this beach rich and green rich Indian state. What about developing Conculim where Jesuit Rudolf Aquaviva and his companions were martyred on 25 July 1583 while attempting to erect a cross in the village!

Though not a pilgrimage centre, the state and the church in collaboration can develop places related Fr. Dr. Richard D’Souza SJ, the greatest scientist of Goa and also the greatest son of Goa which will definitely have a tourist attraction for all those who are interested in science. The state can take it as its part of the promotion of science for the aspiring young scientists.

This Goan with the Michigan University has revealed to us the unknown cannibalism in the galaxy by proving that Galaxy Andromeda cannibalised and destroyed the M32p galaxy, a sibling of Milky Way. There must be an institute for astronomy in the name of Richard D’Souza under the Goa University to promote this branch of science.

With all these exquisite ancient churches and other potential pilgrim centres Goa is indeed the state of Catholic pilgrimage and it can definitely be called the pilgrim capital of India. After being in Goa for a week with my family, I will say with Pope Francis that pilgrimage indeed is “the most eloquent expression of the faith of God’s people”.

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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