There is something special about St Francis Xavier of Old Goa whose death anniversary is celebrated on December 3. He is revered not only by Catholics but also by non-Christians.While thousands of the faithful make vows to the Saint to change their lives, others seek favours and undertake a 200 to 300 km walking pilgrimage to the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa, a Unesco world heritage site and reach there on December 3. On this grand feast day, thousands of people gather. The basilica holds the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier, a Spanish Jesuit.
This year over 850 pilgrims, including 250 non-Christians, walked from Kolhapur in Maharashtra and Belgaum in Karnataka to Old Goa. A mother who accompanied the group and prayed to St Francis Xavier for the safe return of her kidnapped son was overjoyed at the end of the journey. Her son Manuel Bardeskar from Ajra in Kolhapur district, who was kidnapped by a group for over six months, reached Goa and joined his mother.
“The pilgrims had been praying for his safe return and it was a real miracle when we came to know he had reached Mapusa city, from where we brought him to Old Goa,” Guru Santaji Lobo, director of Prarthana Kendra in Belewadi, Kolhapur told me. Bardeskar, who was promised a good job in Mumbai, was taken to Alibaug, a coastal town, south of Mumbai. He was forced to work on a big farm.
Lobo, who undertook his 38th padayatra or pilgrimage to Old Goa this year, has many touching tales of miracles to share. Now 69, he was one of the seven pilgrims who first set out on foot in 1980, led by the late Fr Prabhudar, a Jesuit priest, who revived the age-old tradition. The tradition was first revitalised with Prabhudar’s mother, who did not conceive for many years. But when she made a vow to St Francis Xavier and conceived and delivered a baby boy, she carried her one-year-old son on foot to Old Goa. Years later, when Prabhudar was a parish priest at Our Lady of Rosary Church, Ajra, Kolhapur, a watchman of the boarding school suffered an asthmatic attack. He made a vow and walked to Old Goa. On the second day he threw away both his walking sticks and the day he reached Old Goa, he was completely healed, Lobo recounted.
— Michael Gonsalves