Panjim, India, Sep 30, 2014 / 18:02 pm
Spiritual formation and catechesis are underway to prepare for the upcoming exposition in Goa of the relics of St. Francis Xavier, the "Apostle to the Far East."
The Archdiocese of Goa and Daman announced last year that the relics would be exposed at Se Cathedral from Nov. 22, 2014, until Jan. 4, 2015. The exposition, a decennial event – one that happens only once every ten years – is expected to draw millions of pilgrims to the Indian state of Goa.
"For Catholics, the exposition of St. Francis Xavier's relics is an important celebration of faith," Fr. Alfred Vaz, head of the St. Francis Xavier exposition committee and rector of Se Cathedral, told CNA Sept. 26.
"Parishes in the diocese are spiritually preparing under three sets of compiled catechesis, pointed towards faith promotion and under the footprint of the call for new evangelization following upon the Year of Faith."
The three sets of catechesis, Fr. Vaz explained, are celebration of faith, known locally as "bhavartacho sombrom"; strengthening Small Christian Communities; and communitarian aspects of the faith.
St. Francis Xavier was among the first companions of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and was one of the first members of the Society of Jesus. He evangelized in India, Indonesia, and Japan, and died in 1552 on his way to China.
His remains are normally kept at the Basilica of Bom Jesus in an elevated silver casket.
On Nov. 22, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay will celebrate a Mass to begin the exposition; the relics will be transferred in a solemn procession from the Bom Jesus basilica to Se Cathedral, both of which are in Old Goa.
St. Francis Xavier's relics will be available for public veneration, attracting millions of tourists and pilgrims from across India and the world before being solemnly transferred back to the Basilica of Bom Jesus.
Daily veneration will be held 12 hours a day, from seven to seven, with Mass and confessions offered nearly constantly and in various languages, Fr. Vaz said.
"Special counters with multimedia featuring faith formation materials will invite tourists and pilgrims of other faiths to an inter-religious dialogue, and free resource literature will be available," he added.
Fr. Vaz also recounted that the residents of Goa – irrespective of religion – hold St. Francis Xavier in high esteem, and call him "Goencho Saib", Konkani for "Sir" or "Lord." Many also believe he protects Goa from natural disasters, the priest noted.
The Goa and Daman archdiocese has squashed local rumors that Pope Francis would visit the exhibition of his fellow Jesuit's relics.
The concluding Mass will be said Jan. 4, 2015, by Archbishop Salvatore Pennachio, apostolic nuncio to India.
The last exposition of the relics, in 2004, drew more than 2.5 million pilgrims to Goa. The state's government, together with the national government, has made extensive plans for the religious tourism associated with the exhibition, adding the event to the tourism ministry's calendar.
The Goan government and local administration will also work to ensure pilgrims' safety and provide infrastructure for the exposition's success.
Fr. Anthony Dias, head of the pastoral center of the nearby Diocese of Karwar, in Karnataka state, told CNA that St. Francis Xavier "stands as an exemplary model for pursing the zeal of mission and continues to draw millions, even today after his death centuries ago."
He noted that millions of people from various religious communities come to venerate the saint in thanksgiving for fulfillment of votive prayers.
"Numerous miracles are evidences of the Spirit of God among us," Fr. Dias said.
He noted the relics' attraction of both pilgrims as tourists, as they are incorrupt.
"Interestingly, there are few who come in amazement to witness a human body that has endured against the state of decomposing without any chemical substances for centuries, who hit their guts and then acclaim that (he) is indeed a holy man."
"For Catholics, death lies in the Paschal mystery of resurrection," Fr. Dias added, "while this new life after death, and the soul returning to God, bewilders the people of other faiths."
Faiths native to India, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, believe in reincarnation, and so the veneration of relics is a notable point of dialogue between them and Catholics.
"The exposition of the mortal remains thus contributes to interreligious dialogue and theological faith sharing experiences," Fr. Dias said, recounting his experiences at the Karwar diocese's shine to St. Francis Xavier located in Chandavar.