Two lines from the chapter of Mark that truly had an impact on the life of St Francis Xavier are –
Goa protected from calamities Goans share a strong belief that the state is protected from all calamities due to the presence of the saint’s relics, with huge numbers thronging the church during novenas and on the feast day. St Francis Xavier is the patron saint of Goa and protects Goa and its people from any harm. Interestingly, there are people from across state borders, who joyfully traverse the distance, sometimes barefooted, to give their praise.
Pilgrim’s progress The pilgrim mass was held on Monday and the groups arrived just on time. Two groups from Azra and Kolhapur travelled and stayed in Bicholim before making their way to Old Goa. Fr Adolf Alvares, Parish Priest of Our Lady of Grace Church, Bicholim, was the perfect host, catering to 250 pilgrims at the Our Lady of Grace school premises. “The pilgrims were first served tea and snacks by the parishioners when they arrived in the evening. They have priests and nuns accompanying them and they celebrated mass in the evening before dinner. The pilgrims come every year to Old Goa and this has been their stop for many years. The group comprises Catholics and non-Catholics. They walk for penance and just like St Francis Xavier travelled to different countries by sea, they are making this journey walking. They left the premises at 5:30am as they had to reach Old Goa in time for the pilgrim mass with the provincial at 12.30pm,” says Fr Adolf.
Devotees across all faiths Ashutosh Naik from Carambolim has been visiting and praying to St Francis Xavier since his childhood. A practice started by his grandparents, he continues visiting Old Goa throughout the year. “Earlier as a family, we used to go whenever we felt like going. We used to attend one novena, light candles and offer garlands. We have faith in him and whatever we pray through him, we are granted without fail. We have a lot of Catholic neighbours and we even attend Saibinn in the ward,” says Ashutosh. Vishal Goankar from Sanguem comes every year along with his friends from his village to pay his respects. “It has been a tradition with friends to travel to Old Goa and to pray to him. He has never failed us. It is the same devotion that keeps us coming back every year to Old Goa. St Francis Xavier is very dear to Goans. We first go to pray and give thanks for all our intentions and then we go to the fair. We don’t attend a Novena but we visit the relics,” says Vishal. Siddesh Naik from Mapusa, says, “The huge numbers that attend the feast are indication enough of the immense devotion the people have in the saint. The church is always full throughout the year and I make it a point to attend at least one novena of the feast,” says Siddesh. As the lyrics of the hymn for St Francis Xavier or ‘Goencho Saib’ say, “Besanv ghal, Saiba xharar Gõychea, Samballun sodankal gopant tujea…” without referring to any creed, we implore the saint to protect the whole of Goa in his embrace.