Tuesday, 12 April 2011

REMEMBERING 'GOENCHO SAIB'

Every year, Goans from all walks of life celebrate the feast of St. Francis Xavier with great pomp and gaiety. The Saint is revered all around the world. Pilgrims come from distant lands, some even on foot, to pay their homage to the first Apostle of the Indies. Remembered for his simple spiritual life rather than the many miracles attributed to him, his relics survive even today and remind us of the true Christian spirit and the eternal values of humility and compassion.

The body of the Saint was brought from Malacca to Goa in 1554. However, it was only in 1624 that the mortal remains were transferred from the Church of St. Paul to the Bom Jesus Basilica, which were kept in a mausoleum at the southern extremity of the transept of the church.

José Nicolau da Fonseca, in his book, ‘An Historical and Archaeological Sketch of the City of Goa’, mentions that under the principal arch of the chapel at the southern extremity, there was a raised altar supporting a graceful silver image of the Saint. The Saint was seen with a staff in each hand. One was of silver, depicting the pilgrim’s staff, and the other of Indian cane, which was taken by the Governors of Goa as an emblem of authority and to invoke the protection of the Saint.

In this book, Fonseca informs of an incident when the then Viceroy, Count of Alvor, terrified at the impending evil of Sambhaji invading Goa, and as a last resort, invoked the protection of St. Francis. Deeply absorbed in prayer and having undergone voluntary flagellation by way of penance, the Viceroy deposited his staff, the letters patent relating to his nomination to the post of Viceroy and a petition written by him, in the name of the King; imploring the Saint to protect Goa, in the coffin of the Saint. Barely was the invocation finished, a powerful army of the Moghuls was seen descending the Western Ghats. The Marathas patched up a peace and retired.

Another similar incident is also shared by Mario Cabral e Sa, in his book ‘Goa’, with lavish photographs by Frenchman Jean-Louis Nou. “When Indian Air Force planes began to reconnoitre Goa in early December 1961, preparatory to the final liberational assault (launched at midnight of December 18, 1961), the Portuguese Governor-General Manuel Antonio Vassalo e Silva and the Patriarch of the East Indies Dom Jose Vieria Alvernaz, decided that the time had come to give up all pretence of invincibility and for better or worse entrust the destiny of the land in their jurisdiction to safer and more immaculate hands. They unlocked the casket of St. Francis Xavier and deposited in his sepulchre (as other Portuguese Viceroys and Governors had done in times of grave crisis) the Governor-General’s baton. Thenceforth, the Saint would do what was best, ‘in everyone’s interest…’”

In life as in death, St. Francis Xavier continues to touch the lives of millions of people all across the globe. Rajan Narayan, in his biography of the saint, Goencho Saib: the Life and Mission of St. Francis Xavier, writes, ‘He lived a life of severe austerity. He was ever ready to relieve pain and to share it; to lighten the burden of the poor after a day of heavy toil.’

Today, when the soul is easily sold at the altar of greed and falsehood, the life and teachings of St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa, need to be inculcated in our lives. 

(A Version of this article appeared on GOA PLUS, a weekly supplement of the Times of India and the Economic Times, dt: November 30- December 6, 2007)

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