Thousands of pilgrims arrived in the former capital for the feast of Goa’s patron saint, St Francis Xavier on December 3, as the nine-day novena attended by more than 3.5 lakh devotees ended on Sunday night.
The church authorities said the pilgrims have arrived from different parts of the country and even abroad. “There were a number of pilgrims from Ahmednagar in Maharashtra some of whom have come for the first time,” Fr Savio Barreto, rector Bom Jesus Basilica said.
The pilgrims who arrived on Sunday night and thronged the church premises and spilled into the streets and lawns attended the first mass on the feast day at 4am. ”An old pilgrim, who had started one month ahead of the feast day, has walked all the way from Ahmednagar,” Fr Barreto said. The pandal with a capacity to seat 10,000 pilgrims, was packed during most of the services.
The rush of pilgrims forced authorities to keep the Basilica open till midnight on Sunday to allow them to kiss the relics of Goa’s patron saint. But it was to be opened again at 2.30am on Monday morning after just two hours.
The theme this year is “By faith, like St Francis Xavier, to life in abundance”.