More than 350 Catholics from Pakistan to India to venerate Saint Francis Xavier
Goa (AsiaNews/UCAN) More than 350 Pakistani Catholics are leaving Karachi for Goa to see the remains of Saint Francis Xavier. The 16th solemn exposition of the Saint's remains is scheduled to run from November 21, 2004, to January 2, 2005, in Old Goa, once the capital of the former Portuguese colony of Goa on India's western coast.
Goan Catholics from all over the world revere the 16th-century Jesuit missioner as their Goencho Sahib (Goan savior). Organizers expect 3 million pilgrims to visit the site over the six-week period.
According to Fr Robert D'Silva, parish priest at St. Lawrence's Church in Karachi, a record number of pilgrims are set to go from Karachi to Goa this year. On November 7 local pilgrimage organizers gave 355 people their visa-stamped passports at the church.
Father D'Silva attributes this high number to a thaw in India-Pakistan relations. Since 1947 the two countries have fought two wars and upped the ante by testing nuclear weapons in the late 1990s. They severed all air, road and rail links after India accused Pakistan of supporting armed men, who attacked the Indian parliament on December, 13, 2001. Following that incident they came to the brink of war after mobilizing forces along their common border.
Now Indian and Pakistani leaders say they are working towards a "credible and mutually acceptable" solution to all outstanding issues.
Francis Coutinho, a frequent traveler to Goa, said the partition of the subcontinent split hundreds of Goan families. The pilgrimage becomes "the perfect excuse for a trip to our beloved land," he said, but "this does not detract from our purpose to take part wholeheartedly in the exposition."
Goans traditionally say they owe their faith to Portuguese missioners who made Goa their base after arriving there in 1510. Starting from the 1800s, many Goans who wanted to improve their lot moved first to Mumbai and later to Karachi. In 1961 India re-established its sovereignty over Goa, which a few years later became an Indian state.
Goans in Karachi have traditionally held events every year to mark the feast of Saint Francis Xavier on December 3. The century-old Karachi Goan Association observes the feast with a High Mass followed by a program celebrating Goan culture, art and music.