By Br John Malvino Alfonso, Pics Joseph Fernandes
Old Goa, Dec 4: We need to experience Jesus, through prayer and become instruments of Unity Peace, love and forgiveness.” Said Bishop Sebastião Mascarenhas, Bishop of Baroda Diocese while delivering homily on the theme “Like St. Francis Xavier, Let us do what Jesus did.” for the feast mass of St. Francis Xavier at Old Goa on 4th December 2023.
The celebration takes place adjacent to the Basilica of Bom Jesus within a grandly erected Pandal. The Basilica of Bom Jesus is located in Old Goa, the former capital of Portuguese, India and holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier.
This year the feast of St. Francis Xavier, lovingly called as Gõycho Saib or protector of Goa, is celebrated on December 4; 3rd December being a First Sunday of Advent. The devotion to this saint is beyond linguistic and religious boundaries.
Expositon of the Sacred relics of St Francis Xavier will be held from November 21, 2024 to January 5, 2025 at Old Goa.
Bishop Sebastião Mascarenhas, Bishop of Baroda presided over the eucharistic celebration along with Archbishop Filipe Neri Cardinal Ferrão, Archbishop of Goa and Daman, Bishop Alwyn Barretto, Bishop of the Diocese of Sindhudurg, Bishop Alex Dias Sfx, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Port Blair, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas Sfx., Newly appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Daltonganj, Fr Jose Remedios Fernandes, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman, Fr Rosario Oliveira, Parish Priest of Se Cathedral Church, Old Goa, Fr Patricio Fernandes, Rector of Bom Jesus Basilica, Old Goa, Fr. Pio Fernandes, Parish Priest of Our Lady of Rosary Church, Caranzalem, Fr Valeriano Andrade Chaplain of, Our Lady of Candelaria Chapel, Porvorim, Fr. Reagan Fernandes, Assistant to the Parish Priest of Saviour of the World Church, Lotoulim, Fr. Lester Cardozo OFM Cap, Deacon Venancio Fernandes, Deacon Dezil Fernades and 42 priests as concelebrants.
Bishop Sebastião said that St. Francis Xavier, left everything and served the needy and the sick and also focussed on education in Old Goa
Bishop Mascarenhas underscored how St. Francis Xavier's remarkable life mirrored Jesus' actions of compassion, service, and forgiveness, urging everyone to embrace this heritage of Goa by fostering peace, unity, serving the needy and the poor and forgiveness in families and communities.
He highlighted the universal message of Jesus, emphasizing the importance of seeing beyond differences in culture, language, or background, echoing Jesus' mission to unite all people. The Bishop stressed the essence of Jesus' selflessness, citing examples of forgiveness, even in the face of persecution, and urged the congregation to witness Jesus by experiencing his presence within themselves.
“ It’s possible to witness Jesus only when we experience him as he dwells in us.” Said the Prelate. Drawing parallels from the lives of Prophet Jeremiah, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Apostles, the Bishop underlined the transformative power of experiencing God, indicating that true change and fulfillment of one's purpose stem from this profound connection. He emphasized the need for the Holy Spirit within us, emphasizing that our theology revolves around the belief that God dwells within us.
Bishop Mascarenhas highlighted the transformative impact of the Holy Spirit on the lives of the Apostles who had walked with Jesus. He emphasized the pressing need in today's world to emulate Jesus' character in order to share his message globally. Drawing examples from the lives of St. Francis Xavier, St. Joseph Vaz, St. Teresa of Kolkata, Ven. Agnelo De Souza, and others, the Bishop underlined how Jesus' influence extends into every family and individual.
He conveyed that when individuals experience Jesus' touch, it empowers them immensely. He lamented the disconnect often present in maintaining a connection with Jesus, asserting that when people remain in touch with his teachings and spirit, they become unstoppable forces for good. The Bishop emphasized that Jesus transcends social and economic boundaries, reaching and inspiring everyone, regardless of their status or background.
The Bishop concluded by invoking hope through Jesus, citing St. Francis Xavier as an example of someone who embodied this belief. He emphasized that embracing Jesus' teachings and staying connected to his spirit allows for profound and transformative experiences, reaching and touching every individual, regardless of their background or circumstances.
Archbishop Filipe Neri Cardinal Ferrão welcomed Bishop Sebastiao Mascarenhas Sfx, other Bishops priests and religious, ministers, MLAs, government and civil officials and pilgrims from Sindhudurg, Kolhapur, Belgaum, different parts of Goa and thousands of faithful who participated in the feast mass.
Rhea Dias, from Santacruz led the liturgical singing for a meaningful liturgy with the parishioners of Santacruz and surrounding parishes.
For the convenience of the hearing impaired, there was interpretation by the interpreter in sign language.
Fr Afonso Mendonça, Director of Diocesan Liturgical Centre, animated the liturgy and Deacon Rayan D’Souza was the liturgical commentator. Fr Patricio Fernandes, proposed a vote of thanks.
Archbishop Filipe Neri Cardinal Ferrão appreciated Fr Patricio and his collaborators for organising the Novena ana feast of St Francis Xavier in a prayerful atmosphere and expressed his sentiments of gratitude to all those present for the solemn feast Mass.
The Solemn feast mass was graced by a distinguished gathering, including Dr. Pramod Sawant, the Chief Minister of Goa, along with a cohort of Ministers, MLAs, representatives from multiple political parties, and esteemed bureaucrats.
There were twelve masses celebrated on the feast day presided over by Fr. Kelwin Monteiro SJ., Fr. Leonardo Pegado Souza, Fr. Cristo Menezes, Fr. Simon B. Fernandes, Fr. Milton Rodrigues Sfx, Fr. Frank Pinto SAC, Fr. Peter Martin Fernandes, Fr. Mervin D’Souza S.J., Fr. Randal Barretto Sfx, Fr. Eremito Rebelo and Fr. Roland Coelho S.J. Provincial, Society of Jesus( S.J.)
Notably, pilgrims journeyed on foot from Kolhapur, Belgaum, and Sindhudurg to partake in the Novena and St. Francis Xavier's feast. Numerous devotees from Goa also made the pilgrimage to old Goa for the feast celebrations.
"Since my XI std, I've been part of this padyatra, and this marks my 32nd year walking to Old Goa," shared Remeth Dias from Kolhapur. "We had three groups from Kolhapur journeying for the feast, commencing on November 29th and culminating on December 3rd."
"This Walking Pilgrimage allows us to set aside our daily routines and immerse ourselves in the spiritual journey of Jesus to Calvary. Across our three groups, we traversed 145 kilometers, dedicating ourselves to reciting rosaries, singing hymns, and glorifying God. It was an authentic encounter with the divine," expressed Remeth. "I feel blessed by God, and I attribute it to the intercession of St. Francis Xavier."
Rhea Dias from Santacruz, reflecting on leading the liturgical singing for the feast mass, shared, "Though initially nervous about conducting the Choir for the first time for the main feast mass, Fr. Romeo Monteiro, my mentor, instilled confidence in me. I'm grateful for his guidance, which made this experience possible and fulfilling." Rhea emphasized the collaborative spirit, stating, "It was a collective effort where each member contributed wholeheartedly." She regarded the occasion as a platform to showcase her talent in glorifying God, expressing gratitude for divine blessings channelled through the intercession of St. Francis Xavier.
Novena in preparation to the feast began on November 25 wherein each day was dedicated for the intention of Biblical Apostolate, Social Apostolate, Youth Apostolate, Lay Apostolate, Family and the Sick, Priest and all Consecrated Men, Faith Formation, All Consecrated women and Liturgical Apostolate of the Archdiocese of Goa Daman There were masses in Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi, Kannada, Portuguese, and English apart from Konkani during the days of Novena. Priests and faithful from 19 deaneries of the Archdiocese celebrated 8.30 am and 9.45 am, 11.00a.m. and 5.00pm. masses during the days of novena. Different Choirs from the Parishes of the Archdiocese and religious groups and the Basilica Choir led the liturgical singing during the days of novena.
An inter-religious prayer meet was also organised in the main pandal on 30th November, one of the days of Novena. Everyday adoration to the Blessed Sacrament was conducted in the evening during the days of Novena. Priests were available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Men religious congregations also celebrated evening mass during the days of the novena.
Due to certain global tensions and wars, measures were taken to provide adequate safety to pilgrims and devotees visiting Old Goa.