An Enriching Trip to India
The Lonely Planet Guide Book tells us that of the 1.34 million people living in Goa in 2001, just under 30 per cent are Christian and 65 per cent are Hindus. As anyone who has visited Goa and observed the wonderful, kind and courteous people of that State will know, they all appear to co-exist happily alongside each other and even share, to a degree, the same festivals. This is evident at Mapusa where the Church of Our Lady of Miracles ( St Jerome's ) was founded by the Portuguese on the site of an old Hindu temple which the Hindu community still holds sacred. On the 16th day after Easter, the church's annual feast day, the feast is celebrated by both Hindus and Christians.
We were two couples from Lanchester, first time journeying to India, to join a party who have been going for many years. The party included Canon Robert Spence and was led by a Goan surgeon who lives in the UK but who visits his family home every year.
During our two week holiday we were fortunate to attend Masses concelabrated by Canon Spence on four occasions. The first was in the beautiful church at Saligao just a few miles from Calangute where we were staying. This church, unlike the majority of the Christian Churches, which were built by the Portuguese in the mid to late 1500s, was built in the Gothic style about 150 years ago. Like almost every church we saw, it sparkled white against the clear blue skies. Throughout Goa, many Masses are celebrated in English and the large Church was packed as Father Spence celebrated a beautifully sung Mass. Friendly smiling faces greeted and chatted to us as we left.
A couple of days later we travelled about an hour north of Calangute to the picturesque village of Arambol where we had the joy of meeting up again with Father Alex D'souza, a young Goan priest who had spent three months in the Summer of 2004 in our parish here in Lanchester. He and his Parish Priest Father Andrew, run a beautiful Portuguese built church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and adjacent school and every day 200 people attend mass at 7 a.m. before going about their business. Eight of us plus our two Christian taxi drivers, John and Xavier, attended a lovely Mass concelebrated in English by Father Alex and Canon Spence.
On the 26th January, ( Republic Day ) during our second week, it was the Patronal Festival of St Anthony in Calangute, the town where we were staying and where very conveniently for us, one of Father Alex's brothers owned a restaurant serving delicious food very close to our hotel. In the centre of the main road which runs through Calangute stands the beautiful Chapel of St. Anthony. On the Feast Day, Mass was celebrated in Konkani, the local language, Father Alex came down from Arambol and concelebrated. There was a tremendous atmosphere all around the church with stalls selling fruits and nuts and confectionery, beautifully dressed ladies offering flower garlands as we went into Mass, a New Orleans style jazz band playing nearby and firecrackers were exploding all around. We couldn't understand a word of the Mass yet we understood everything...afterwards Father Alex very kindly invited our party of 16 to join him and his family for a Patronal Lunch at his family's restaurant.
Surely, however, the most memorable Mass of all was that celebrated by Canon Spence in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa at the tomb of St. Francis Xavier. Every 10 years an Exposition is held there when the glass coffin bearing the body of St. Francis Xavier is brought into the main aisle of the Church. For a month, pilgrims from all over India travel to see and touch the coffin. The most recent Exposition ended in early January shortly before we arrived in India. Our party, which again included our two taxi drivers, John and Xavier, felt extremely blessed to be able to hear Mass, celebrated by our own Canon Spence, at the Altar above which the coffin sits.
This holiday, with its personal involvement with the wonderful churches of Goa, including the Se Cathedral and St. Fancis of Assisi in Old Goa, will stay forever in my heart, and we pray that we'll be able to return to the warmth and friendliness of the people of Goa, Christians, Hindus and Muslims alike.