Pilgrims, including Hindus and Muslims from villages in Kolhapur district in Maharashtra, are seen walking to the Basilica of Bom Jesu in Old Goa, some 250 kilometers away, for the exposition of the relics of St. Francis Xavier in this 2014 file photo.
Goa archdiocese has announced that the next decennial exposition of the sacred relics of St. Francis Xavier, which draws millions of people of all faiths from across the world, will commence on Nov 21, 2024.
Cardinal Filipe Neri Ferrao, Archbishop of Goa and Daman, issued a special decree on Nov 5 announcing the seven-week-long exposition of the sacred relics of the 16th century Spanish Jesuit saint and co-founder of the Society of Jesus, one of the largest priestly congregations in the Church.
The body of Saint Francis Xavier, which was considered incorrupt until three decades ago, is placed in a silver casket in the Basilica of Bom Jesu in Old Goa, the capital of the then-Portuguese rulers.
During the exposition that takes place every ten years, the body — now seen only as relics — will be lowered and placed on a podium to allow pilgrims to come near and seek the saint’s intercession.
"It is only a personal encounter with Christ that makes us his true disciples"
Close to 4 million people visited the relics during the last exposition, which concluded in January 2015.
Francis Xavier was born on April 7, 1506, in Javier, Spain and died as a missionary on Dec. 3, 1552 on Shangchuan Island, Jiangmen, China.
“In conformity with long-standing practice ... we determine that the Solemn Exposition be held in 2024, beginning on Thursday, 21 November 2024, and ending on Sunday, 5 January 2025,” the decree said.
The cardinal said a special committee to deal with matters concerning the exposition has also been appointed, consisting of lay men and women, religious sisters and priests.
“The decennial spiritual event gives the faithful an opportunity to reflect on the ‘faith journey’ of St. Francis Xavier and to emulate his zeal for the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Father Barry Cardoza, director of Diocesan Centre for Social Communication Media, said in a statement.
He said St. Francis' "noble life and his abiding presence among us are an aide-memoire that it is only a personal encounter with Christ that makes us his true disciples,” Father Cardoza said.
He said the cardinal has announced the exposition two years in advance, firstly to step up the renewal of Christian life at all levels in the archdiocese and secondly to give sufficient time for pilgrims to plan their journey.
"It is not only the event but the journey leading to the event that is important"
The exposition "will be the culmination of a spiritual journey, a journey of renewal and of hope to be undertaken by every individual, every family, every parish and the entire archdiocese of Goa and Daman. It is not only the event but the journey leading to the event that is important,” Father Cardoza stressed.
The two years of spiritual preparation leading to the exposition will focus on walking with the poor and the marginalized, walking with people of all faiths and cultures and walking in harmony with creation, he said.
“This year too, like previous years, about 1,000 pilgrims, mostly Hindus and Muslims, will march in padayatra [pilgrimage on foot] for eight days from Maharashtra and Karnataka to reach Old Goa for a spiritual encounter with the saint,” Catholic Guru Santaji, co-founder of the Old Goa Padayatra along with late Jesuit missioner Swami Prabhudhar, told UCA News.
The lay spiritual leader, who has led the pilgrimage for the last 40 years to celebrate the feast of St. Francis Xavier on Dec. 3, said people join it because of their faith. "Many men and women have been healed of their various diseases through the intercession of the saint," he said.
Santaji, who runs the Prarthana Kendra Seva ashram in Maharashtra, said generally a group of Catholic priests and nuns also join the pilgrimage.
On their way, pilgrims make nightly halts in mostly Hindu villages, where they are welcomed with refreshments and dinner and they resume their journey on foot early the next morning.
"I was touched by the sea of humanity"
“The interesting part is that the entire village joins in our prayers and hymns session with musical instruments and everybody is uplifted in prayers,” he said.
Salvador Pinto, a father of two grown-up daughters, said the decennial exposition attracts thousands of people of various faiths every day during the event and one has to see it to believe.
“During the 1994 exposition, I was chosen as a commentator in English when the relic was taken in a solemn procession from the Basilica of Bom Jesu to nearby Se Cathedral for veneration and I was touched by the sea of humanity and the faith reverberating in the campus,” the former banker recalled.
He said he looks forward to the event to renew and strengthen his faith.