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Newsletter. Issue 2002-3. Nov.29, 2002
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Letter from Goa
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ST FRANCIS XAVIER - Pearl of the Orient

"Goemcho Saib", "Apostle of the Indies", "Apostle of the East", despite the fact that of his ten years in the East, he spent just about ten months in all in Goa, and that too with his social interaction restricted largely to the city area, Francis Xavier is still revered deeply and considered as one of the important missionaries of the church. In Europe there are mortal remains of several saints but they have not merited as much respect, devotions and expositions than that bestowed on Spain-born St Francis Xavier in Goa.

Goa is preparing for the celebration of the 450th anniversary of the death of "Goemcho Saib", St Francis Xavier on December 3 at Old Goa pilgrim centre. The theme is "Francis, the path setter of building communities around Jesus". The church hasn't organised a grand celebration, preferring to lay more stress on spiritual preparation rather than on ostentatious, outward festivity.

Thousands of devotees attended the first novena on November 24. The massive shamiana erected in Bom Jesus Basilica compound was practically packed for every Mass from 6.00 am to 6.15 pm. Thousands more will attend this year's feast, to be celebrated on December 3, as ordered by Pope Alexandre VII on September 22, 1663.

Nearly 15 Archbishops and Bishops from different parts of the country will be present for the concelebrated High Mass on the day of the feast, the most patronised one in Goa. Cardinals Simon Pimenta and Ivan Dias, both from Mumbai, will be present too, while the main celebrant will be Goa's Archbishop Raul Gonsalves, for the last time because he will retire in March next on achieving the age of 75 years.

Under the guidance of Fr Delio Mendonca, the Xavier Centre of Historical Research will release a souvenir containing plenty of photographs and pictures of postage stamps issued during the Portuguese rule depicting St Francis Xavier. Moreover, a special exhibition or a museum is likely to be set up by the Jesuits at Porvorim.

A bit of his biography

Born on April 7, 1506, of aristocratic lineage in a Navare castle, Francis Xavier was the youngest child of Dom Juan de Jassu y Antondo and Donna Maria de Azpilcueta y Aznarez de Sada. He had three sisters and two brothers. At 19 he proceeded to Paris to learn Latin, Humanities, Philosophy and Theology, and bagged the coveted Magister degree from St Barbe College in Paris and subsequently lectured on Aristotle at the famed Dormans-Beauis college.

Young Francis would have been absorbed by the attractions of the Parisian lifestyle and Goa would have missed the extraordinary privilege of possessing his apostolate as well as the sacred remains. However, Ignatius Loyola's exhortation led Xavier towards priesthood. He was ordained in Venice on June 24, 1537. Historical circumstances brought him to Goa. When Vasco da Gama discovered the Eastern sea route and Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa, King John III of Portugal requested the Pope to depute six priests to the East. Xavier seized the opportunity.

The pioneer, who possessed a stupendous zeal to save souls, left Lisbon on April 7, 1541, and reached Goa on May 6, 1542. During his apostolate, Xavier covered over 100,000 miles by land and sea, from Persia to Japan, visiting places as varied as Cochin and Cannanore, Chaul and Quilon, Bassein and Diu, Travancore and Tuticorin, Cape Comorin and Coimbatore, Nagapattinam and Mylapore, Jaffna in Ceylon, Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, Malacca in the Malay Peninsula and Amboyna, Ternate and ceram in the then Spice Islands, planting the cross where he landed.

In Goa then

Xavier was the first Jesuit to reach Goa and kick-started the Jesuits' academic achievements at the College of St Paul in Old Goa, which was established on November 10, 1541.

The moral degradation prevalent in the Portuguese society and realisation that though converted the locals were left almost uninstructed, hurt him. He lived as a perfect witness of Christianity, sleeping on the bare hospital floor to reach the dying when their call came. He bore the stench and desolation of the dungeons to rescue prisoners from bitterness, comforted lepers and went around ringing a bell to collect the faithful, whom he preached. He lived austerely but spoke of the Lord joyfully.

Many attribute mass conversions to Xavier but he could not have done so because Goa at that time comprised of just the islands of Tiswadi and the adjacent islands. Goa, of course, did provide him with a take-off pad for his endeavour to usher in Christianity in the Orient.

Xavier departed to Japan. Fate foiled his attempt to reach China because he breathed his last on a Saturday night between December 2 and 3 in 1552, on the Sanchian island, 30 leagues off the Chinese coast, un-anointed and far away from the brethren he loved so dearly. Xavier was merely 46 years and 26 days old. About 10 years and 7 months of this saint's short lifespan went into the preaching the gospel in the East, and just 10 months in all in Goa.

Buried thrice

Francis Xavier was buried more times than any other person or saint-thrice: in Sancian, Malacca and in Goa--and exhumed as many times. Upon his death, his two faithful servants buried him on the Sanchian island in a Chinese coffin, with an excessive amount of lime for it to devour the flesh the soonest so as to leave the bones for the onward journey to Goa. Was it a miracle? When Xavier's body was exhumed two-and-a-half months later, as per his biographer Fr Jose de Lucena, SJ, the body was as fresh as ever.

Xavier's mortal remains reached Ribandar on March 15, 1554, and were carried in a solemn procession to St Paul's College at Old Goa following a night's halt at the church of Our Lady of Ajuda. After three days of public veneration, the last burial was beside the high altar in St Paul's church, from where it was retrieved in 1560. After his canonization in 1622, his body was transferred where it lies to till today, in a rich silver casket atop an alabaster and jasper mausoleum gifted by Cosmas III, Grand Duke of Tuscany.


The first ceremonial Exposition was held in 1782 from February 10 to 12 to allay the fears of the faithful because rumours persisted then that the Jesuits, while leaving after their expulsion, had whisked away the Saint's body and replaced it with that of a Goan clergyman, Canon Antonio Gomes of the Aires Gomes family from Cavelossim.

There was a grand celebration in 1952 with an international 34-day Exposition of his mortal remains from 3-12-1952 to 6-1-1953. This was an eventful occasion for the faithful to touch and kiss the feet of the saint. At that time, the skin of his feet came off. So bits of it here converted into sacred relics.

Dona Isabel Caron bit off the small toe of the right foot and lay brother Jose Bravo cut a chunk of flesh. On November 3, 1614, Provincial Francisco Vieira ordered a lay brother, Tome Dias, to cut off the entire right arm, which was despatched to Rome.

For nearly 250 years, the body had remained as fresh as on the day of death, according to the testimony of several doctors. Later, following a formal dissection, all the internal organs from the chest and the abdomen were extracted and distributed to different countries. Writes Rayanana, "the rest of the body gradually dessicated and decayed." The mortal remains were then packed in the glass contained on February 13, 1955. These are not in a fit state to be seen and hence there is no likelihood of any further exposition.

According to Carmo Azavedo, the change in terminology from "incorrupt body" to "sacred relics" was brought about by the then Patriarch, later Cardinal, Costa Nunes in June 1952 when a thorough medical examination of the uncovered as well as the covered parts, in preparation for the solemn exposition on the occasion of the Saint's fourth death centenary, revealed the real state of the saint's corpse&

Saintly presence

In 1683, when Sambhaji laid a siege on Santo Estevao threatening Goa, the panicked Viceroy Count of Alvor, beseeched St Francis Xavier to save Goa and the Maratha chief retreated. Since that day every a Portuguese Viceroy is said to have assumed or relinquished duty religiously at the foot of St Xavier's tomb. Thanks to the last Portuguese Governor General Vassalo e Silva, we still have the Saint's precious silver coffin, because Silva ignored Portuguese Dictator Dr Oliveira Salazar's orders to ship it to Portugal.

"Goa won the honour of honouring Xavier because, in all the Orient, in the sixteenth and far into the seventeenth century, there was not a place more famous&By the time St Francis was canonized in the first quarter of the seventeenth century, the city had become the scene of a magnificent competition at building more grandiosely than others," says Antonio Mascarenhas.

Looking back, we still have the sacred remains of "Goemcho Saib" amidst us four-and-a-half centuries later, and the moral degradation of our present-day society could be equal to or perhaps more than what it was at the time the Saint stepped on our red soil. And while Christians in Goa are preparing for the 450th death anniversary of "Goemcho Saib", down South at Ernakulam the Church celebrated the 1950th anniversary of the arrival of St Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ, to India, with a two-day programme.

Monthly "Goa Today" and Konkani monthly "Roti"


This is an excerpt from Mr. I.P. Newman Fernandes' book "St. Francis Xavier and Old Goa"
formerly found at: http://www.goa-interactive.com/goa/xavier/xavier1.htm, a link currently inactive. Mr. Fernandes is the Principal of Rosary College, Navelim, and his 50-page booklet St. Francis Xavier and Old Goa (A Historical Guide) (Avedem (Goa): Koinia Publications, 1974) is currently out of print. Published here with his explicit permission.


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