As I drove home to Vasco after visiting Old Goa the early winter night had already fallen. The newly-tarred expansive roads at Old Goa shrunk into the narrow village roads of Carambolim, Mandur, Neura emerging out on to National Highway 17 at Agaçaim. Miles away from Old Goa in pitch darkness a tall, well-built priest in cassock was cheerfully walking briskly to the Rome of the Orient, a young lad by his side brandishing a torch.
Nothing seems to have changed here at the Exposition of St. Francis Xavier. The faith of the people is so strong, it is almost as if he lives today. Perhaps more so. When he died in Shang Chuan hardly anyone followed him to the grave. Today the world venerates him as Goencho Saiba.
We had spent the day at Old Goa where our college performed a play on the life of St. Francis Xavier. There were 6 shows in all for a duration of about 35 minutes each. As I put the cast through their paces I marvelled at their commitment, and how they grew better each time they performed. Audience feedback was taken cheerfully and acted upon to rectify the faux pas. What was this unseen energy which was bringing us all together? Surely it was the spirit of St. Francis Xavier.
The most important aspect, for me, of Francisco’s life (1506-1552) was his transformation. He had money, fame, and honour – and he gave it all up. He was at the peak of his career but he put his life in the service of God. He was, as our play was titled, ‘A Man for All Seasons’ (which is also the name of a play by Robert Bolt on the life of Sir Thomas More). It was at the University of Paris that Francis met Ignatius of Loyola in 1528 who changed his life with the words, ‘What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his own soul?’
Francis was a traveller. In 1536 he left Paris for Venice and from then on to Rome to meet the Pope to receive the sacred orders. Francis Xavier set sail for Goa only in 1540 – that too in place of someone else. Just 5 years later Francis arrives in Malacca. In 1549 Francis visits Japan. His last days come as he lies in sight of China.
Everywhere he went Francis Xavier wrote. He was a writer par excellence. No less than the King of Portugal, Dom João III asked him to write to him frequently and to report to him all what was being done to spread the faith.
When Francis stepped into Goa he spent a lot of time with children. He learnt the local language.
There is so much to learn from Francis. He was a man like us. As the souvenir T-shirt at the Exhibition Hall exhorts us, ‘Follow his footsteps, live your faith.’
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 14 December 2014. Pix of cast and crew from Carmel College, Goa, on stage in the Exhibition Hall, Old Goa on 11 December 2014.