Goa pilgrims required to prove credentials
Tightened security in the wake of last month's fire at the Basilica of Bom Jesus at Goa, India, has forced authorities to demand credentials from pilgrims seeking to occupy its premises overnight.
"We will grant accommodation only to those pilgrims recommended by respective parish priests or with valid identity cards", said Fr Savio Barreto, rector of Basilica of Bom Jesus. He said that despite the government recommendation against permitting devotees to reside in the Basilica, "we are allowing them because it's a church event."
The Basilica, which houses the relics of the Jesuit missionary St Francis Xavier, is scheduled for dicennential exposition between this Sunday and 2 January.
Over the years around 100 pilgrims have been occupying the corridors, some during the entire novena period, bringing along kitchen wares such as kerosene stoves, food, bedding and spare clothes. However, following the 21 October blaze, which engulfed the 1586 structure linking the Basilica, Church authorities have been warned by government security agency to ban devotees residing within the Basilica complex.
The burned portion had a private museum with antiques, including one of the early coffins in which the body of the saint was kept. Timely intervention saved the coffin from destruction, but destroyed the two-tier wooden structure.
"This is a church event and we cannot stop devotees staying at the Basilica. By seeking a recommendation from the parish priest, we can be assured of, to an extent, the sincerity of the devotee. In any case, devotees will be thoroughly screened and registered, so that there's control on them and unwanted elements are kept away", said Fr Barreto.
The blaze was attributed to a short-circuit, but some citizens claim that the opinion of the Bharatiya Janata Party politicians were aimed at misdirecting the investigating team into buttressing their suspicion that an electrical spark triggered the fire. Detractors also point out to the timeliness of the blaze and the mounting attacks on minority institutions in recent years following the BJP-led government's tenure in state politics.
St Francis Xavier came to Goa in 1542 and made Old Goa his headquaters during his 10-year stint in Asia. He died in Sancian Island off mainland China in 1552 and his body was brought to Goa in 1554.
Goa Exposition: Catholic pilgrims need to prove credentials (SAR News/Catholic Bishops Conference of India 15/11/04)
St Francis Xavier relics survive fire in Goa basilica (CathNews 25/10/04)
Fire in Bom Jesus Basilica complex spares St Francis Xavier relics (Catholic Bishops Conference of India/UCA News 21/10/04)
Churches of Old Goa (goacentral.com)
St Francis Xavier - his life and times (goa-world.net)
Feast of St Francis Xavier
St Francis Xavier (sjweb)
Nobody dares to become Christian, says Indian bishop (Catholic News Agency 16/11/04)
17 Nov 2004