Security Tightened for Exposition of Francis Xavier's Relics

Basilica in India Will Ask Pilgrims for Identification

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GOA, India, NOV. 18, 2004 ( In the wake of violence by Hindu extremists and a recent fire at a basilica, security measures have been stepped up for the imminent exposition of St. Francis Xavier’s relics.

The exposition, from Nov. 21 to Jan. 2, is expected to attract 3 million pilgrims to the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa.

The basilica, which houses the relics of the Spanish Jesuit missionary, will expose for veneration the remains of the great apostle of the East.

St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552) is sometimes described as the greatest figure of Christianity in Asia after St. Thomas the Apostle.

In 1542, Xavier arrived in Goa, capital of the Portuguese empire in the East Indies. From here, he began his great work of evangelization in the country and in the Far East.

The first exposition of the saint’s relics took place in 1782. For a time, his body was exposed for veneration every year on his feast day, Dec. 3.

From 1864 on, expositions were less frequent for security reasons. Later, the event was fixed once every 10 years. The relics were last exposed for veneration from Nov. 21, 1994, to Jan. 7, 1995.

After a fire in the basilica last Oct. 21 (it appears to have been accidental), authorities decided for the first time to request credentials from visitors, even from «traditional devotees» seeking to occupy the premises overnight.

«We will grant accommodation only to those pilgrims recommended by respective parish priests or with valid identity cards,» explained Father Savio Barreto, rector of the Basilica of Bom Jesus, as quoted by the Indian bishops’ conference and reported by SAR News.

Over the years, hundreds of devotees have occupied the corridors, some during the entire novena period, bringing along kitchenwares such as kerosene stoves, food, bedding and spare clothes.

However, after the recent fire — thought to have been caused by a short-circuit — the government security agency has urged the ecclesial authorities to prohibit the devotees from residing within the basilica complex.

«This is a church event and we cannot stop devotees staying at the basilica,» said Father Barreto.

«By seeking a recommendation from the parish priest, we can be assured of, to an extent, the sincerity of the devotees,» he added. «In any case, devotees will be thoroughly screened and registered, so that there is control on them and unwanted elements are kept away.»

The basilica has been equipped with closed-circuit TV cameras, with every pilgrim entering the cathedral expected to be frisked before entry. Ten companies from the Central Police Force have been summoned to buttress security in and around the complex.

Plainclothes policemen and private church security volunteers will also be posted within and outside the cathedral.

The district magistrate has prohibited entry of general traffic within the Old Goa Church complex during the exposition, with residents issued with passes for movement of their vehicles.

Outside the church, pilgrims will find a variety of services in six buildings and tents. The Goa Tourism Office has organized accommodation in the Old City where the basilica is located.

The local Church, led by Archbishop Filippo Neri Ferrao, has planned an intense program of liturgical and cultural events.

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