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FRANKEY GERARD FERNANDES reports
Hundreds of Goan-origin Christians in Australia came out to welcome an ancient relic which was brought here this month from Rome.
The relic of St Francis Xavier – an arm – has been venerated at the Church of Gesu in Rome since it was detached from the body of the saint in 1614. Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, Peter Comensoli, who coordinated the Australian leg of the tour of the relic, was quoted as saying in The Southern Cross that is “very rare” for the relic of the arm to leave Rome. It is the one with which St. Francis Xavier baptised many thousands of people.
St. Francis Xavier, despite spending only a few years of his missionary life in Goa, had great love for the land and its people.
After his death his body was brought to Goa to honour his wish to be buried in this land. Since then, Goans have reciprocated that love in abundance and his holy relics have been preserved in the mausoleum at the Bom Jesus Basilica at Old Goa. For the Catholic community of Goa, the Basilica has become a place of pilgrimage with a visit to the holy relics at Old Goa at least once a year, a must.
The Relic in Adelaide
Christians in Adelaide rejoiced as they celebrated having the relic of St. Francis Xavier amidst them, at the Saint Francis Xavier Cathedral.
The relic of the famed Jesuit missionary was in Adelaide from October 14-19, and to mark the event, the Catholic, Goan and wider Indian community marked the occasion through a special Eucharistic celebration followed by a get together. The holy mass was organized by the Indian community with Fr Antony Adimai as the main celebrant, along with five con-celebrants, and was attended by around 700 people.
The homily spoke of the life of Saint Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa and Australia. Fr Antony’s sermon was a powerful talk on the five steps involved in the Christian journey of faith, drawing analogies from St. Francis’ life whilst on his missionary services across the globe.
The five steps in the Christian faith cycle are: Faith Received, Faith Personalised, Faith Witnessed, Faith Celebrated and Faith Proclaimed.
And it was this faith that brought together people from all over Australia to pay homage to this special saint. Every person involved benefitted from knowing that they had contributed towards the making of a wonderful celebration – from the altar servers, readers, ushers, musicians and offertory bearers to every volunteer who gave freely of their time.
Families attended the service from far and wide, travelling to venerate the sacred relic of the blessing arm of Saint Francis Xavier.
People lined up in sombre reverence to touch the casket which housed the relic, seeking the Saint’s blessings and intercession.
At the end of the service, the community congregated at the Cathedral Hall to partake in a Goan meal and witness a presentation on the life of the Jesuit saint, covering his history and spirituality. Children presented a drama based on the Saint’s life – portrayed through Goan culture.
The Goan community was particularly instrumental in raising awareness of the relic in Adelaide. Bryan Fernandez of Goan origin who coordinated the event stated, “In this year of faith, may we come together as a united family in Christ and support each other through the cycle of our Christian faith, just like Saint Francis Xavier did all those years ago.”
Blaise Fernandes said, “The event is a reminder of St Francis’ life and how he left name, fame and wealth simply to serve the Lord.”
The relic next travelled to the Port Pirie Diocese in South Australia, as part of its Australia tour.
The Relic in Melbourne
The relic of St Francis Xavier was welcomed with great honour by the Konkanni Cultural Heritage Inc. Victoria, a Goan community along with the other communities at the Chapel of Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia on Sunday 7th October 2012.
The Relic was moved from the hearse to the alter with great honour by the organisers. It was greeted by the people with lit candles and a hymn played on saxophone by Derek Stuart as the procession moved to the altar.
The Mass was celebrated by five priests, Fr. Anthony, Fr. James, Fr. Eugene, Fr. Rolio and Fr. Robin being the main celebrant, whilst the eight-member choir was organised by musician Joe Fernandes.
Fr. Robin celebrated a welcoming liturgy and gave a beautiful sharing about the Relic and the life of St Francis Xavier thereby linking the Saint to our times and this Year of the Grace. 700 people of different communities including members of Goan associations attended this Eucharistic celebration which was followed by veneration of the Relic.
Generally the feeling was one of gratitude for the presence of the Relic and the work involved in bringing the Relic to Australia. One of the attendees noted, “We were grateful to be able to spend time in the presence of the Relic of St. Francis Xavier. The experience enabled us to consider prayerfully the great sacrifice he made to spread the faith and prompted us to consider our role and responsibility in sharing this great gift of God”.
It was rather special for all in the community to be able to view the relic closely and thanked the Konkanni Cultural & Heritage Inc. for making this possible – in particular Mario Carvalho and the organising committee Jude and Saroj Desa, Vernon and Corryne Da Gama, Titus andUrsula Fernandes, Simon and Nancy Mendonce, Royden and Lidia Rodrigues, and Cherylanne Carvalho, who personally thanked the Priests, the choir, Archdiocese of Evangelisation, Richard, Monash University, the sponsors, the ushers and others who helped in this great Eucharistic celebration.
Many people commented afterwards how special the evening was and how they experienced the grace and blessing of Almighty God through the life and ministry of St Francis Xavier.
The Relic had a great reception everywhere in Australia.
Centuries ago when Goa was under the Portuguese rule, Sambhaji, the Maratha chieftain from North attacked Goa and was all set to conquer the land. The then Portuguese Governor is chronicled to have visited Old Goa and prayed to St. Francis Xavier in the night, and is also supposed to have opened the coffin and picked up the saint’s sceptre.
The next morning, Sambhaji withdrew from Goa and rushed back to protect his own land which was under attack on its Northern border from the Moghal forces. This change of scenario was attributed to St Francis Xavier’s intervention, and since then he has been considered as the saviour and protector of Goa. Probably that is why he is called ‘Goencho Saib” (The man from Goa)
The novena of the feast of St. Francis Xavier during November and December is indeed a revelation to understand how much Goans venerate this saint. Not only Catholics, but all faiths including Hindus and Muslims visit Old Goa to pay obeisance to the Saint in significant numbers. The irony is that St. Francis Xavier who has been installed as the Patron of the missions, was never the Patron Saint of Goa.
However, Goans believe that he is their Patron who looks after them and protects them from all evil.