Thousands throng Goa for St. Fracis Xavier’s feast


Panaji : Faith overrode terror, fear and insecurity as thousands of Goans, Maharashtrians and Kannadigas thronged Goa over the last nine days to offer prayers on occasion of the feast of St. Francis Xavier. The event culminated Wednesday.

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The prayer sessions or novenas, which also attract some foreigners, started Nov 24 at the Basilica in the church complex at Old Goa, about 12 km from capital Panaji.

The body of the Spanish saint St. Francis Xavier or Goencho Saheb is exhibited to the devotees once every 10 years – an event popularly called the Exposition.

For 35-year-old Savio D’Sa, who was one of the hundreds of devotees who walked all the way from Belgaum in Karnataka to Old Goa – a distance of approximately 120 km, it was a matter of commitment.

“I promised a couple of years ago that I would come here on a pilgrimage if I was blessed with a child,” D’Sa told IANS. His prayers were answered a few months ago.

Leila D’Souza, who hails from Mumbai, comes to the Basilica at this time every year.

“I used to live in Goa before I got married. I come here for the peace it gives me,” D’Souza said.

Ankur Naik’s family runs a stall that sells kadyo-bodyo, a traditional sweet meat associated with feasts in Goa that comprises jagged, uneven sticks of hard pressed flour coated with jaggery spiced with a dash of ginger. He’s been coming to Old Goa almost every year since he was born and it’s not for business alone.

“Its more of a way of life for us now,” the 24-year-old devotee said. “This year the number of devotees seem to have dropped a bit. There are more security personnel this year.”

The shadow of the Mumbai terror attacks loomed large over the festival. With additional security personnel, installation of CCTV cameras all around the church complex and an onsite police control centre in place to handle the crowd, the police left no stone unturned to ensure that the event passes without any untoward incident.

The chief minister too held a security review meeting at the site with police, administration and church officials to ensure smooth passage of the feast day.

“We decided to install watch-towers as an extra measure of security,” Superintendent of Police Bosco George told reporters.