|By Alfie D'Souza, Illinois [ Published Date: December 1, 2014 ]|
Alfie D'Souza-Team Mangalorean
Old Goa: Expect great things and fun from Mangalorean.com team- that's right! The 2014 Exposition of Sacred Relics of St Francis Xavier (Goencho Saib) and Goa Sight Seeing Bus Tour organized by Mangaloreans favorite website "Mangalorean.com" under the able guidance/leadership of "Yours Truly" kicked off with the first batch of 22 pilgrims/devotees, all Kodialgars, boarding the Volvo AC luxury bus from Mangalore on 26th night and reaching Margao on 27th morning. The next batch of this "MCom" religious tour will be on 20th December comprising of 26 people (plus few more will be added soon) from USA, Canada and Gulf; and the final batch of 30 (few more will join in days to come) pilgrims from Gulf and local, will travel to explore Goa and also witness the Exposition.
From D'Souzas to Fernandes, Lobos, Pintos and Mudarth families who traveled on this religious and fun trip, everyone felt like one happy Mangalorean Catholic family during the two-day Exposition tour, where we all shared some fun and frolic, news and views, and also interacted with the happy and friendly 'Goenkars". Reaching Old Goa where the relics of St Francis Xavier were kept at Se Cathedral, opposite to Bom Jesus Basilica ( where the sacred relics are kept rest of the years) at around 11.15am, we were all surprised to see that the crowd was not too large as we expected.
I remember being to the Exposition in 2004 with my friends, where we stood in the queue for nearly three hours before we entered the cathedral, but this year we were quite lucky- within 40 minutes staying in the queue we were able to get into the Cathedral, kiss the casket of St Francis Xavier's relics in two-three seconds, and we were out of the Cathedral in no time. Wow-that was great, I guess St. Francis Xavier was on our side this year. "Thank you, and Dev Borem Korum, Goencho Saib!"! The exposition committee had done a great job in arrangements and security, there was no confusion and any hassles. Everything went on smoothly.
Distance, age, time- nothing was a deterrent factor for the scores of pilgrims in Old Goa on the day we were there. From foreigners crossing the seven seas to witness a miracle, to an almost 90-year-old woman making that difficult trip to see the Exposition once in her lifetime, people from all walks of life were coming together in Goa to celebrate this miracle and faith. Looking at the sea of pilgrims/devotees, one could say that the faith that Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier brought to Asia over four centuries ago is still alive and will go on till 5 January 2015 , as lakhs of pilgrims will venerate the Sacred Relics of the Goencho Saib at Old Goa. Over the next few weeks( about 35 days), the magnetic appeal of this Saint will draw Goans and outsiders of all faiths and pilgrims from various countries to his side. They will come seeking favours, giving thanks or just to be by the side of the Saint they love so much and whose relics bear witness to his divinity.
There is something about the Sacred Relics of St Francis Xavier that moves the Goan. It is an extraordinary association between the Goan and St Francis Xavier that has transcended centuries and brings Goan emigrants from across boundaries to spend those brief moments before the casket that contain the Sacred Relics of the Goencho Saib. Somewhere in the anals of history, St Francis Xavier before his last journey out of Goa, is credited with having said, “Não voltarei mais a Goa, meu corpo sim, aqui ficara,” (I shall not return to Goa, my body yes, here it shall remain). Prophetic words, for he died on a little known island of Sancian, off China, but his body did make its way back to Goa, though it was meant to go to Europe.
Since the arrival of Xavier’s body in Goa in 1554, it has been revered and so continues to be venerated, turning into a magnet that draws Goans amd others of all faiths to his feet. Since Saturday 22 November, when the Sacred Relics were brought down from the marble mausoleum it rested on in the Basilica of Bom Jesus and taken in procession to the Se Cathedral across the road for veneration, the thousands those who were present in Old Goa experienced a moment that they will treasure in their hearts for a lifetime. The moment everybody was waiting for arrived when the doors of the Basilica of Bom Jesus opened and the relics emerged into the open for the first time after ten years. And we also feel lucky and blessed that we got the chance for veneration, which we will cherish for many more years ahead.
While I was touring the Bom Jesus Basilica, Gilbert D’Mello, a Church volunteer speaking to me said, “I feel very taken up whenever there is the exposition of the Sacred Relics of St Francis Xavier. I feel that the relics have remained so many centuries is a miracle. I consider him a model for my life and I am inspired by him". D’Mello has been associated with the Expositions since 1974 and is one of the select few who have had the privilege of carrying the casket in the procession from the Basilica of Bom Jesus to the Se Cathedral. For D’Mello and many others like him, St Francis Xavier is the Saint they turn too at moments of difficulty, at moments when they need spiritual guidance, and nothing will stop them from venerating the relics, as often as possible during the next few weeks, and thank the Saint for the favours bestowed during the previous decade.
For the next 35 days, lakhs of pilgrims and tourists are expected to file past the Sacred Relics of St Francis Xavier. The Church expects an average of one lakh pilgrims every day with the total figure touching 35-40 lakh by the day that the relics are taken back to the Basilica of Bom Jesus. Thousands of devotees queued up to kiss and venerate the relics of St Francis Xavier at the Se Cathedral. Masses were attended by large congregations in the pandal specially erected outside the Basilica of Bom Jesus. The masses were celebrated at 6, 7, 8, 9.15 and 11 (English) in the morning, while masses in the evening were celebrated at 4, 5 and 6 (English).
Besides the Masses, other religious services were also made available to the faithful, who have come from different parts of India and abroad. A number of priests made themselves available to administer the sacrament of Reconciliation to the devotees in the Sacristy of Bom Jesus Basilica. There was yet another lady whom I met at the religious book shop-her name was Gail Misquita who also had the privilege of carrying the relics as member of the exposition committee, during the last stop in the Se Cathedral. “While I carried the casket on my left shoulder, I got to touch the casket with my right hand and it was a special experience for me,” said Misquita. Incidentally, her mother-in-law, Silvia Misquita, had the privilege of carrying the relics during the exposition in 2004.
We also took a tour of Bom Jesus Basilica, Church of St Augustine, Church and Convent of St Monica, and Convent and Church of St Francis of Assisi. Having finished viewing the relics of St Francis Xavier, the museum and churches, and everything else that Old Goa had to offer, the next item to strike off on our lists of things to see and do at the Exposition was the Fair at the Gandhi Circle in Old Goa. With hundreds of stalls erected specially for the event, you could take home sweets like the kaadi-bodi, halwa, and varieties of ladoos, besides souvenirs, like a cross or a scapular or a photo of St Francis Xavier. Apart from local snacks, there were stalls selling the traditional Chorizo Pao (sausage with bread) wax figurines, Goan music and also tattoos.
Having spent quite some time at Old Goa, sight seeing and shopping it was time to head back to Panjim, where we had a sumptuous lunch of authentic cuisine at the famous George's Restaurant, very close to historic Panjim Church.(Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church). After taking a drive through the main streets of capital town-Panjim, we spent some time at the Miramar beach and also had a glimpse of the place where the 45th International Film Festival of India (IFFI 2014) was taking place. We also visited the other beaches namely Vagator Beach, Baga Beach, Anjuna Beach, Calangute Beach and Colva Beach.
We also visited the Dona -Paula Bay, Fort Aguada, Big Foot Museum ( Situated on a 9 acres hillock, where there are various sections with models and artifacts depicting the day-to-day activities of villages in Goa), Mansion of prominent lawyer Late Araujo Alvares, Margao Market and many other places. And one place that I never miss to visit every time I visit Goa is Longuinhos restaurant established in the 50s, and I wanted my friends to experience this unique and antique restaurant too. Longuinhos is as old as Margao and looks it too. Over the last so many years that I have been eating here on my yearly sabbaticals to Goa, nothing has changed. The chairs, the tables, the staff and the quality of food and service all remain the same. Eating in Longuinhos is not about just the food. It is about experiencing a life style uniquely Goan. Wherever you may be in Goa, a visit here is mandatory. Truly speaking, everyone of us liked this restaurant and the traditional Goan cuisine, with a touch of Goan feni.
In conclusion, all I have to say that everyone on this tour loved what Goa had to offer, from food to shopping to religious beliefs. The glorious weather. The warmth and friendliness of the people. The food, especially the sea-food. The price (even if it has gone up, everywhere has). The Shopping on the beach side and at flea markets. The beautiful beaches and the somewhat scary but fun sea (as long as they were careful). Watching friends doing wave assaults in the sea. The scenery and wildlife. The sounds and smells. The peace and tranquility or hustle and bustle of the city.
Even if they saw the best of beaches, they still had many more beaches to experience in Goa. They became a local here in a matter of a day even though they had no locals to host them. In Goa you learn on your own, fend for yourself, burn your skin in the midday heat, fall prey to touts, overpay, and yet while sipping the last drink of the day feel a gush of nostalgia, a sense of unbridled freedom. And knowing that when you've come back, you've had yet another wonderful and relaxing holiday. And you can't wait to book again for next year!
And when you were in Goa, you might have probably tried the Goan sausages aka Chorizos, the coconut or Cashew feni and the famous Goan dessert Bebinca. But to bring back all the memories of your Goan trip, it's advisable that you pack some chorizos, feni and Bebinca when you return home-like I do always. And just like me, everyone on this trip packed home a bunch of homemade Goan Chorizos, Bebincas, varieties of fenis and wines, and some traditional Goan sweets. And with hundreds of Chorizos these folks bought to take home, I wonder how the inside of the bus smelled like during the seven hours journey to Mangaluru??. I am glad that everyone enjoyed the trip and made the best use of their fun time.
And best of all, I am really touched and overwhelmed with what these Kodialgars had to say about the tour, " Alfie, you have done a marvelous job in organizing this tour. It was the best trip we ever had, felt like we were one family celebrating and having fun together. Well organized, good hospitality and arranged very systematically. Great job- we will be looking forward for such kind of fun tour from mangalorean.com". Thank you, folks- until we meet again on yet another tour- adieus and let st Francis Xavier bless you all. Viva Exposition! Viva Goa!