Every year in December thousands of people flock to Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa. The unique aspect of the Church is that it holds mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. The church is around 400 years old. The feast is called “Goyenche Sayabache Fest” where Goencho Sayab refers to St. Francis Xavier.
As the days of feast approaches, the media is full about SFX’s stories. The real problem however lies in the fact that there is nothing great about him when viewed from the modern values. In the Church’s standpoint SFX was an important personality because he played a major role in spreading Christianity in the eastern part of the world. But in a historical perspective, SFX was a very blind and fanatic christian who had deep hatred for paganic traditions of the Orient and used violence to force people to convert to Christianity.
SFX’s achievements in this regard are not surprising at all. In fact his career was similar to many of his contemporaries of his times. Whatever he did was perfectly well within the Roman Catholic Church’s modus operandi of that time.
In his lifetime, as part of his missionary activity, Francis Xavier used to refer to native Indians as devil-worshipers and spiritually blind, Hindu teachings as repulsive and grotesque, Vishnu’s transformation as foulest shapes, Shiva as shameless, Kali as clamoring for sacrifices, many-headed and many-armed gods and goddesses in temples as hideous forms and temples and altars as place of degrading rites. According to Rao, “St. Francis Xavier made it a point not only to convert the people but also destroy the idols and ancient places of worship.” [Wikipedia]
During those times Church took great pride in confronting pagans with violence. Hence accounts of SFX’s exploits were not just preserved but also glorified and hence it is impossible to whitewash them today.
A lot of people try to point out that SFX was not a person to be called a Saint by Indian standards but they totally forget that the Church’s standards for calling people saint are not same as the Indian standards where people like Kabir, Tukaram, Dalai Lama or even Mother Theresa are called saints because of their deeds.
Best example is the case of priests who died in revolt at Cuncolim 1583. Two priests were killed by the Hindu mob and thrown into the village because they destroyed Hindu temples and idols a few years back. These two priests were declared saints by the Church. Later in 199os the local priest and the villagers erected a plaque in the memory of those who actually killed these priests calling them “freedom fighters” and “Martyrs”. Despite this contradictory positions, people from Goa continue to visit the feast of Concolim kept in the memory of these beatified priest and yet honor the people who killed them.
The real problem is that whenever someone points out to SFX’s atrocities during the feast time, that person is looked upon as a horrible human being who does not care about the faith of well meaning Christian people in our society. Let us ignore the past, and look at the future. Some people say that talking about SFX (in negative way) is like destroying the “secular fabric” of the state.
Some people (mostly left liberal types) have found another insight into SFX’s exploits. According to them SFX was deeply hurt by the caste system and hence he was trying to bring uniformity in Hindu society by using violence against the Brahmins and love for the lower castes. This left liberal interpretation is often used for Aurangzeb and others as well. Ironically, they fail to see why using violence against even Brahmins is justified or why SFX’s own writing does not show that he understood anything about Hinduism in first place.
But are not we hurting sentiments of well meaning Christian friends around us ?
This is an interesting question. Raising facts about SFX is likely to embarrass Christians around us who probably do not think that Hindu pagans must be stoned or Hindu temples must be destroyed. But at the same time seem to have deep respect for SFX and reject his reality.
A discussion around religious ideologies and history is never a judgement on individual people belonging to that particular group. For example even a strong criticism of Christianity or SFX does not mean we are passing any judgement on Christian people around us. Also, it is not an attempt to insult any individual or to gain pleasure by disturbing someone’s faith. It is only about standing our ground to assert the history.
A honest discussion about religion in India becomes impossible for the very same reason that religion and people are not seen as two separate entities.
A note to right wing friends.
The problem with Hindu right is they behave as if they know everything and only their version of story is the truth. They will not even listen to an alternate version. The reality is SFX lived 500 years ago. If we know anything about him then it is only because of the Christian scholars taking immense pain to document everything. We should also be thankful to the Portuguese scholars of post-liberalized era who took pain to ensure that the relevant documentation gets translated or gets published in India in a way that it is easily accessible.
If you taking to these right wing gentleman you will often hear the sentences such as “it is all documentation in Portugal, MR. so and so has seen it”. None of them however have not taken the trouble of translating and publishing it for us lesser mortals.
This cry baby attitude of Hindu right wing organizations is despicable because they actually weaken the cause for which they claim to stand.
I think people are free to chose their idols and for whatever reason they want. The only way we can judge people is by their expressed opinions and their actions and not by the things they worship in their private life. History does not show SFX is good light. That is truth, but it is counter productive to use this fact to for reasons other than advancing our knowledge of our own history and history of Christianity.
1. http://voiceofdharma.org/books/hhce/index.htm [ HISTORY OF HINDU-CHRISTIAN ENCOUNTERS AD 304 TO 1996 by Sita Ram Goel.]