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St. Francis Xavier by Lino DaCunha Gomes

Many persons who read my article on the History of Goa, asked me as to why I had not mentioned St. Francis Xavier. First of all, my main objective was to emphasize the achievements of some noted Goans. Additionally, from what I had read about St. Francis, his activity in Goa was short-lived. The Jesuits were not the only ones who spread Christianity in Goa; there was wide activity conducted by various Religious Orders, such as Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians and Dominicans, in addition to the Jesuits, as I mentioned in my article.

However, since, St. Xavier is "Goencho Saib", I thought of writing this article for the benefit of the members of the Association and others who were not domiciled in Goa and would like to know about the life and achievements of St. Xavier whose body is enshrined in Old Goa and is the object of periodic religious Expositions.

Dom Francisco de Jasu y Xavier was born in 1506 of noble Basque parents in the family castle of Xavier located in Navarre, Spain. He obtained a degree in Arts from the Sorbonne University in Paris. He was a bright student who won the highest laurels and became a distinguished Professor at that University. He was inspired by his room-mate Ignatius de Loyola, also a Basque, and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Francis joined the Jesuit Order and together with Loyola, he went to Rome, where he was ordained as a priest in 1537.

At the request of King John III of Portugal, who desired diligent priests to evangelize the peoples of his Asian dominions, Pope Paul III selected Francis Xavier for the task. He arrived in Goa in 1542, headed the Jesuit missionaries and organized the work of Christianization. He introduced the first printing press in Asia at the College of St. Paul, where there was a Seminary. Most of the next three years, he spent on a mission on the Konkan Coast, where he traveled from village to village, teaching from a catechism book translated into the native Tamil language. He left Goa in 1547 for Malacca (located on the Southwest Coast of Malaysia, not far from Singapore). Over there, he enabled the local population to properly comprehend the faith to which they had been converted. He had the prayers translated into Malay. The following year, he returned to Goa, then left for China and Japan. Xavier remained in Japan until 1551, preaching at Hirado, Kyoto, Yamaguchi, Berugo and Kagoshima. At that time, Nagasaki was founded by the Portuguese. This city and other enclaves in Japan remained Portuguese for about one hundred years, until the Samurais took control.

Francis Xavier died in 1552 of a fever, on the Sachan Coast of China, near Macao. Three months later, the Portuguese traders, settled in the port town, exhumed his body and shipped it to Malacca. When the coffin was opened, the body was found to be incorrupt. In 1553, the body was exhumed again and shipped to Goa, in accordance to the will of Francis Xavier. It reached Goa in 1554 and was received by the Viceroy of Goa, the Archbishop and Clergy. The corpse was originally preserved at the "Collegio Populo" from where it was enshrined in the Church of Bom Jesus, built in 1605. Francis Xavier was canonized in 1662. The church was elevated to the status of a Basilica by Pope Pius XII in 1946. The body of the Saint has been recently preserved in an air-tight glass coffin which is placed inside a silver casket. This casket is contained in a marble mausoleum in a sanctuary. The silver casket was the work of a Florentine jeweler, named Giovanni Foggani. The mausoleum was a gift of the Grand Duke of Tuscan. The Chapel is adorned with bronze panels depicting scenes from the Saint's life and the miracles he performed.

Since 1553, the body of the Saint suffered several mutilations. The first was after his death, when a person, who opened the coffin for transporting the body, removed a small portion of the flesh, near the knee, to show his captain the incredible fresh condition of the body. When the corpse arrived in Malacca, it was lowered in a grave, too short in size with the result that the neck broke. For the first few years, after the canonization, the faithful were allowed to kiss the Saint's feet. During one Exposition, a Portuguese lady named, Isabel de Caron, anxious to posses a relic of the Saint, bit off a little toe. As she lay dying, she repented and returned the relic accompanied with a gift of beautiful diadem set with pearls. This toe is kept in the Sacristy of the Basilica in Old Goa. In 1916, a portion of the right arm was ordered to be cut off by Pope Paul V and sent to Rome as a precious relic, where it is venerated in the Church of Gesu. The remaining part of the right hand was severed in 1916 and sent to the Jesuits in Japan. The faithful now kiss the glass of the reliquary.

There have been fifteen ceremonial Expositions of the casket. The first was held in 1752, the next in 1860, then in 1879 and 1891. Since then, there have been regular Expositions more or less every ten years. Official records contain interesting occurrences. During the Exposition of 1879, of the fourteen miracles recorded, one reportedly relates to the Nizam of Hyderabad, a Muslim, who had personally come to Old Goa. During the novenas, in December of each year, it is common to see pilgrimages to the Shrine from various parts of Goa, some on foot from nearby places.

I wish to acknowledge that the information in this article was primarily obtained from the following sources: Old Goa by S. Rajagopalan, A Short History of Goa by C. F. Saldanha, S. J., Portugal's Sea Road to the East by the National Geographic Magazine (November 1992), Goa by Mario Cabral e Sa and the Encyclopaedia Britannica.