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Catholic Saint’s Relic Display to be Promoted by Hindu Nationalists

Anto Akkara

Anto Akkara - published on 07/18/14

Church welcomes BJP minister's help for exposition of St. Francis Xavier.

It’s no secret that Hindu nationalists in India have a strong antipathy to Christians. Indian states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, or Indian People’s Party, have reported higher numbers of incidents of anti-Christian violence by Hindu fundamentalist groups, some even with the cooperation of the government. The BJP, which swept national elections in May, is known for its patronage of Hindu nationalism, which looks down upon both Christianity and Islam as “foreign faiths.”

So the offer of the BJP government in the west coast state of Goa to publicize the an exposition of the “incorrupt” body of St. Francis Xavier came as a surprise, and was welcomed by the Catholic Church there.

The exposition, which takes place every 10 years, opens in November.

“For us, the exposition is a celebration of faith and an occasion for renewal of faith. Different people look at it differently. We welcome the government offer to publicize the event,” Father Alfred Vaz, convenor of the Exposition Committee, told Aleteia Wednesday.

“We certainly need the wholehearted support of the government to manage the pilgrims. We are expecting not less than 5 million pilgrims this time,” said Father Vaz, who is also vicar of the cathedral in Old Goa.

Born in Spain in 1506, Jesuit Father Francis Xavier reached Goa in 1541 while the region was a Portuguese colony. After baptizing thousands, the missionary left for East Asia in 1549 and returned to India in 1551. During his second trip to China in 1552, he fell sick and died at the age of 46. After his body was found incorrupt a year later, it was brought to Goa and preserved in a glass casket at the Bom Jesus Basilica.

During the exposition it will be displayed at the nearby Se Cathedral.

Dilip Parulekar, Tourism Minister in Goa’s BJP-led government and a Hindu, declared at the end of June that the tourism department will ensure that all efforts be made to attract tourists from Europe to see the exposition. In fact, the department has launched a website for the event.

Parulekar said that the federal government, which is also led by the BJP, has also expressed interest in joining the effort.

“The department’s attempt to attract tourists through various road shows and events (in Europe) is fetching a good response. We want to take the efforts further," said the minister, who added that the government will spend $660,000 to publicise the exposition.

Manohar Parrikar, Goa chief minister, has set up a 33-member committee comprised of top bureaucrats and nearly all Catholic legislators in the state, where Catholics account for over a quarter of its 1.5 million people to monitor the government’s preparation for the exposition.

The first exposition of the saint, who was Basque,  was in 1782. Since then, his body has remained intact except for his right arm, which was taken to Rome to be displayed in the Jesuit Church of the Gesu.

The BJP-sponsored website notes that his missionary work in Asia “was commendable as he baptized more than 300,000 people in a span of 10 years.”

Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa told Aleteia that “the exposition will be completely a spiritual affair organized by the Church. The government will have no role in it.” But he added that there should be a lot of “collaboration between the government and the Church for organizing such a big event.”

Even during the 2004 exposition, he added, the BJP was in power in the state and had “facilitated” the smooth conduct of the event, attended by more than 3 million pilgrims.    

“The government will be making elaborate security and traffic management,” said Father Vaz about the preparation for the 44-day exposition, slated for Nov. 22 to Jan. 4, 2015.

Each of the 180 parishes and religious communities in the Goa archdiocese will be involved in the organization of the event, Father Vaz said. While a 300-member volunteer committee has been set up, 40 of the 65 religious congregations in Goa will put up stalls and programs at the exposition “to showcase their charism” and “to strengthen the people in faith.”

Apart from that, Father Vaz added that Catholic colleges, formation houses and a network of artists will organize special programs to focus on the faith.

Said Father Vaz, “This is an occasion to renew our faith and of all those who make the pilgrimage to see the body of a saint who died nearly 500 years ago.”

Anto Akkara writes from New Delhi, India.

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