Relics of Saint Francis Xavier draw massive crowds

Millions of pilgrims flock to Goa by close of the 45-day exposition
Relics of Saint Francis Xavier draw massive crowds

Relics of St Francis Xavier are carried in a procession in Goa (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj)

Close to four million pilgrims turned out to view the relics of Saint Francis Xavier during a 45-day exhibition in Goa, which concluded Sunday.

The relics of the sixteenth-century missionary, presented at the “Exposition of the sacred relics of the St Francis Xavier”, are typically displayed just once a decade.

On the final day, about 10,000 people waited in line for hours to take part in the procession to transfer the relics to the sixteenth century Basilica of Bom Jesu (Good Jesus), where they are kept in a glass-paneled silver casket. During the exposition, the relics are kept in Se Cathedral, which is close to the Basilica.

Father Savio Barretto, rector and custodian of the relics in the Basilca of Bom Jesu, said that instead of holding the next decennial exposition in 2024, they are expecting to host it in 2022 to mark 400 years of the saint’s canonization. The saint was canonized in 1622.

“The response to the exposition has been tremendous. People are driven to see the relics from around the world as they feel that he is alive and not dead,” Fr Barretto told ucanews.com.

The priest said that the exposition has been a meeting point for all faiths as “a large number of people from other religions visited the exposition to pay obeisance to St Xavier”.

During the exposition, pilgrims, including children, the sick and elderly braved scorching heat and stood in line for hours to get a glimpse of the remains of the saint.

Smita Velkar, a Hindu housewife from Goa, said that she was lucky to have the chance to venerate the saint.

“I have heard a lot about St Xavier and always wanted to come here. It doesn’t matter which faith he belongs to. He is also another form of God and I believe in him,” she added.

Tukaram Pawar, who is a Hindu priest in western Indian state of Maharashtra, said he felt very calm and peaceful after seeing the relics.

“I also sat down in the Basilica and prayed for a while. It was a very good experience,” he added.

The exposition was organized in collaboration with the Goa government and Archaeological Survey of India, which takes care of the sixteenth-century buildings remaining in Old Goa, the capital of the Portuguese viceroyalty and the base of Portuguese missioners in Asia.

Government officials at a press conference held on January 3 said the exposition was organized at a cost of approximately 465 million rupees (US$7.3 million).

St Francis Xavier died on Shangchual Island near China in 1552. The body was buried on the island where he died but a year later Jesuits moved it and temporarily buried it inside a church in Malacca. At that time in February 1553, they reportedly found the body “uncorrupt”. In December of the same year, his corpse was shipped to Goa.

The first exposition took place 23 years after the Jesuits were expelled in 1759 following the suppression of their society. The 1782 exposition was intended to ally fears that the Jesuits took the uncorrupt body of the saint when they left.

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A series of expositions followed but most of them marked special occasions. Since 1964, however, the relics have been displayed for 40 days every 10 years, covering the saint’s feast day on December 3.

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