At one point in time, Goa was called the 'Rome of the Orient' because of the many magnificent white-washed churches, and the spread of Catholicism, which was deeply rooted in this tiny land located on the western coast of India.
Over the course of centuries, many people in Goa continue to have a deep sense of their faith, due to which, you can find Goa's Catholic community devoutly following traditional religious beliefs and customs.
SAINTS IN CATHOLICISM
Saints have long played an important role in the lives of Goa's Catholics. For the Catholic Church, saints serve as role models for people to emulate, follow in their footsteps and change their lives for the better.
The saints lived a life devoted to the service of fellow beings, and selflessly reaching out to those in need.
In Goa, you will find a mix of saints -- those who are sons of the soil as well as those who came here from foreign shores -- who are venerated.
Here's a short list of popular saints in Goa, and the places where churches are dedicated to them:
1. ST FRANCIS XAVIER - OLD GOA
St Francis Xavier, also known as Goencho Saib, is considered to be the protector of Goa. The faithful intercede through him with great devotion and faith.
His relics are kept at the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa. This beautiful basilica is constructed from laterite, and exhibits influences of various architectural styles, such as Doric, Ionic and Baroque.
In times of calamity or disaster, the faithful in Goa are confident that the saint will protect the land and keep its residents safe. It is not just the Catholics who come to the church seeking blessings, but also people of different faiths who make it a point to intercede through the saint.
The novenas are followed by the feast day on December 3, during which several people, groups and communities make a pilgrimage to the church.
Every 10 years, the body of the saint is kept for public veneration, during the exposition. The next exposition is slated to be held in 2024.
2. ST JOSEPH VAZ - SANCOALE
Born in Goa in 1651, St Joseph Vaz was canonised only recently. He lived a simple, yet an extraordinary life. He worked tirelessly in Sri Lanka, Goa and Karnataka, helping the masses in various ways.
If you visit the village of Sancoale, you will find the saint's paternal home, a shrine and church dedicated to St Joseph Vaz.
Many who visit Sancoale often seek healings for aliments and other problems. Interestingly, Friday is the day associated with the saint, and many important events and miracles in his life took place on a Friday.
Every year, his feast is celebrated on January 16. Devotees can choose to attend the novenas or witness a mass being celebrated in the ruins of a church, of which only the façade stands today.
3. ST ANTHONY - DEUSSA AND SIOLIM
A much-loved saint in Goa is St Anthony. He is known as the patron of marriages and lost items, among other things. Interestingly, when the monsoons are delayed in Goa, people often have a religious procession of the saint, with the intention of seeking showers of blessings.
Similarly, when a person loses something or is unable to locate where a particular object is kept, they generally call upon the saint, and believe beyond the shadow of a doubt that they will find the missing object.
Interestingly, St Anthony's Chapel in Deussua, South Goa, houses a relic of the tongue of the saint. Devotees make it a point to come to the chapel every Tuesday to express their devotion and seek intercession.
Several masses are held on Tuesdays. It is not uncommon to find people spending several hours at the shrine and chapel as they pray for favours.
Another place where there is great devotion towards the saint is in the village of Siolim, in Bardez. Here, the main church is dedicated to St Anthony. The unique feature of this church is that the statue of the saint is seen holding a snake in his hand, a depiction which is not seen in any other part of the world.
4. ST ANNE'S CHURCH - TALAULIM
One of the oldest churches from the colonial period is located in the village of Talaulim. It is a church dedicated to St Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary and grandmother of Jesus Christ.
People come to this church seeking blessings of a child and marriage. They offer cucumbers as they pray for the gift of a child, while singles make offerings of wooden ladles or spoons as they pray for a spouse.
Devotees of different faiths come here in the belief that they will be blessed with a child. Many also return with their children as an act of thanksgiving to the saint for granting their wishes.
The best time to visit St Anne's Church in Talaulim is the Sunday after July 26, which is when the feast is celebrated.
You are sure to be awed by the love and devotion of the people who come here to seek St Anne's blessings and intercession.
5. ST JOHN THE BAPTIST - BENAULIM AND PILERNE
In Goa, the feast of St John the Baptist is also called Sao Joao, and is a grand feast. On this day, you can find people jumping into local wells, which is not just unique, but has a religious symbolism.
These are just a few of the many saints revered with great love and devotion in Goa.