St Francis Xavier, popularly known as Goencho Saib in Goa, was canonized on March 12, 1622, and this year, 2022, marks the fourth centenary of his canonization. The Catholic church in Goa, and the Society of Jesus (the order to which he belonged), in particular, will celebrate the occasion — the anniversary and also the last day of the traditional Novena of Grace — in a special way on March 12, 2022.
The Novena of Grace does not culminate in a feast, but the ninth day is considered a feast day.
NOVENA OF GRACE: SOME BACKGROUND
In the Catholic Church, St Francis Xavier is an acclaimed missionary, very much like St Paul in the Bible, and has been declared patron of missions, patron of institutes, chief patron and protector of the Indies. Goans, too, consider him the patron of Goa.
The Novena of Grace, in honour of St Francis Xavier, is celebrated annually from March 4 to March 12 (his sainthood day) at the Basilica of Bom Jesus, in Old Goa, where the relics of the saint have been enshrined.
St Francis Xavier is believed to have appeared, in pilgrim’s garb, to a dying young Jesuit named, Marcello Mastrilli. The latter had been supervising the renovation of the church at the Jesuit College, in Naples, on December 11, 1633, when he was hit on the head by a hammer, that slipped from the hand of a labourer, who was standing up on a ladder, 30 cubits above.
Mastrilli’s condition gradually deteriorated, and on January 3, 1634, he was administered the sacrament for the dying. That’s when St Francis Xavier is believed to have intervened and performed a miracle, and to everybody’s surprise, Mastrilli got up and had supper with his companions, at the college, and was perfectly healthy! That night, he wrote an account of his unbelievable cure. The fame of Mastrilli’s miraculous cure spread like wildfire, throughout Italy, Europe and the world.
Incidentally, the 17th century painting of St Francis Xavier, hanging above the southern door of the chapel and mausoleum of St Francis Xavier, in the Bom Jesus Basilica, Old Goa, is said to be the original (or a copy of the picture), which a Portuguese lay brother, Domingos da Cunha, painted in Lisbon. Fr Mastrilli had described to Domingos the vision in which St Francis Xavier had cured him miraculously in Naples. It is believed that Mastrilli brought the picture with him to Goa and left it at the shrine of the saint.
The novena prayer is very efficacious for two reasons. Firstly, it happens during the time of grace, the Lenten season. Secondly, because of the powerful intercession of St Francis Xavier.
When the nine-day prayer to St Francis Xavier was made to culminate on March 12, his sainthood day, it was called the Novena of Grace.
In Goa, Fr George D’Sa, SJ, (ex-chaplain at Yerwada Jail, Pune, and former Rector of Basilica of Bom Jesus, Old Goa) gave a boost to this devotion in 1967, and it has been gathering momentum ever since.
SPECIAL CELEBRATORY MASSES (2022)
On March 12, 2022, there will be a High Mass (9 am), followed by the penitential Way of the Cross. A Solemn Mass (11 am) will be celebrated by the Archbishop and Goa Jesuit Provincial, along with other priests and invitees. After the blessing and Mass, devotees can partake of the conji, emulating the example of Amcho Goemcho Pai, who identified with the poor.
On March 13, 2022, there will be a Solemn Eucharist in the Basilica of Bom Jesus, in Old Goa, at 11 am. Additionally, all parishes in Goa will commemorate 400 years of the sainthood of St Francis Xavier.