Goa gets ready for the Exposition, millions expected

Panaji, Oct 1: Four-lane roads, bridges, hundreds of volunteers, tight security and a myriad of assorted requirements from staying facilities to toilets are all being put in place as Goa prepares for its biggest religious event of the decade - the decennial Exposition of 16th century Spanish saint Francis Xavier - that is expected to be attended by about five million Christians, including half a milllion foreign tourists, from the world over.

The feast of Xavier, the Patron Saint of Goa and the man who brought Christianity to this part of the world and is believed to have requisitioned for the Inquisition to this part of the world, will be celebrated with pomp from Nov 22 for 40 days, stretching into January 2015, thanks to elaborate arrangements by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government.

According to Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, the government has chalked out infrastructure projects worth Rs 50 crore (500 million rupees) to ensure that the event as well as the mass pilgrimage is smooth and hassle-free.

"We are making sure that before the pilgrims are here, all arrangements are in place. There will be no problems vis-a-vis their health or hygiene. Garbage (will be) managed," says Parrikar.

The government is pulling all stops to ensure that infrastructure-related works are completed by Nov 15.

Among the projects being undertaken are four-laning of a road leading to the Old Goa Church complex, home to the Church which hosts the Basque Jesuit priests' relics (mortal remains), construction of a minor bridge en route, investing in temporary residential facilities for tourists and other utilities like toilets and bathing stations.

Parrikar also said that out of the Rs.48.5 crore spent on infrastructure, only around Rs.15 crore would be spent on temporary expenses exclusively for the event. The rest would be on projects like roads and bridges that would be used in the long term.

The entire Old Goa complex, located about 10 km from Panaji, will be under surveillance thanks to over 100 CCTVs and be overseen by over 1,000 police personnel. "If need be, we will also requisition central forces," Parrikar said.

Instead of taking a road trip to the venue, pilgrims would for the first time be able to sail in a special ferry along the picturesque mangrove-lined Mandovi river from the capital Panaji to Old Goa.

Every 10 years, remains of the missionary saint are kept on public display at an event called the Exposition of St. Francis Xavier at the Old Goa Church complex.

Earlier, the body was on permanent display. However, after church authorities noticed deterioration of the corpse which was for nearly two centuries miraculously incorruptible, they decided to have it viewed only once a decade during the event popularly known as Exposition.

"Over five million devotees are expected to attend the event from Nov 22 to Jan 4 next year," Father Alfred Vaz told IANS.

Vaz has been designated the chief organizer of the event and is in-charge of liaising with the Goa government over logistical and organizational issues.

The visitors come from all over India as well as Spain, Portugal, other parts of Europe, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Africa, Brazil and North America. Parrikar claims that when he was chief minister in 2004, Brazilian pilgrims wrote to him lauding the arrangements made for the Exposition then.

"The event may see 400,000 to 500,000 foreign tourists," Parrikar said, adding the central government too had launched its own campaign promoting the event.

About a quarter of Goa's nearly two million population is Chrisitan.


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