Fri, 22 Mar, 2019

Statue of Infant Jesus: A journey from Mozambique to Goa

15th October 2018, 03:09 Hrs

The famous Colva Fama traces its origin to a miraculous statue of the Infant Jesus and the devotion has continued with great fervour for 370 years, even though the original statue was relocated to the Rachol Seminary in 1834.

Colva, a picturesque village in South Goa, will come alive on Monday 15, the second Monday of October, when devotees of the miraculous statue of the Infant Jesus (Menino Jesus), irrespective of their creed, from all over Goa and beyond, flock to the Church of Our Lady of Mercy.
They will come to deepen their faith in God, to seek blessings for themselves, their families, for others and to express their gratitude to God for favours granted. This fete is an annual experience for devotees. If the second Monday falls before 12th of the month, it is pushed to the third Monday.
The feast is the Fama. The Fama is not the feast of the miraculous statue of the Menino Jesus, for the feast is celebrated after the nine-day novenas. The Fama marks the beginning of the festivities. On this day, the miraculous statue of Infant Jesus is brought down from the altar and devotees form serpentine queues to kiss the image. It is the day when the maddi (areca nut pole) containing the banner with the picture of the Infant Jesus is blessed and erected outside the Church. Then will follow the nine-day novena, culminating in the feast of the Menino Jesus.
This is the only day devotees are allowed to kiss the miraculous statue of Infant Jesus, which, otherwise, is in a triple-locked vault.
According to a legend, the statue of Menino Jesus was installed in the Church of Our Lady of Mercy, Colva, by Jesuit missionary, Fr Bento Ferreira in 1648. Fr Bento and other sailors were travelling from Mozambique to Sena in 1640, when their ship was wrecked. All sailors swam ashore at a nearby island, before continuing their journey by foot. When they reached the Sena shore, they noticed birds hovering around an object on a nearby rock. They went to the spot and found that the object was the statue of Child Jesus, which Fr Bento took with great reverence.
Fr Bento was appointed Vicar of the Church of Our Lady of Mercy, Colva, in 1648 and later, rector at the College of Rachol. He brought the statue which he had found on the rock and kept it in a niche in his room. On noticing supernatural light emitting from the statue, he realised it was a miraculous statue and installed it on the main altar of the Church for public veneration. Soon, devotion to the Menino Jesus began. People sought favours and blessings for themselves and their families. Filled with gratitude to God, the four villages of Colva, Sernabatim, Venelim and Gaundalim, belonging to the parish of Our Lady of Mercy, decided to install the miraculous statue on a special altar. They raised funds and got a magnificent altar specially prepared to keep the statue.
In 1834, the Queen of Portugal banned the Jesuits from Portugal and its provinces after the suppression of the Jesuit Order. Fr Jose Figueiredo, a Jesuit and the Vicar left the Colva Church following the ban. On September 11, the then Rector of Rachol Seminary took the statue of Menino Jesus to Rachol, on grounds that it was found by a Jesuit, late Fr Bento Ferreira. He also took along the jewellery adorning the statue and money from the collection box. It could have been the hand of God or faith of destiny that in the process of carrying the statue, a gold diamond ring adorning one finger of the statue fell into the niche of the altar and remained there.
Parishioners of Colva and surrounding villages were shocked on hearing news of their miraculous statue being taken away. They made many efforts to get it back. They wrote to the Superior of the Jesuit Order, made an appeal to the Viceroy, Francisco Jose Sampao, and even petitioned the King of Portugal Dom Joao V, but all in vain. They then collected funds, got a replica of the statue made and installed it in the Church on May 2, 1836. They placed on it the diamond ring, which had slipped from the finger of the original statue and fallen in the niche. They started novenas once again and the Fama continues till today.
People believe that though the Church does not have the original statue of Menino Jesus, the ring that adorned the finger of the original statue and now on the new statue, has miraculous powers. Such is their faith, that devotees continue to flock annually on the second Monday of October to the Colva Church, to kiss the miraculous statue of Infant Jesus. They believe their prayers will be answered, that the bentin they tie to their hand, will bring them good luck and protect them from all harm.
During the Fama, devotees who had made a vow earlier come to thank the Infant Jesus for favours received, while others seek favours. Newly married couples seek blessings on their marriage, while childless couples seek the intercession of the Infant Jesus for the gift of a child. Childless parents, who were blessed with a child, fulfil the promise they had made earlier by placing the baby on the altar in gratitude.
Others make wax offerings resembling body parts and candles in gratitude for favours received and put these in large boxes placed closeby. As souvenirs, devotees take 'bentins' (cords), touched to the miraculous statue of Infant Jesus. They tie these to their wrists or to chains or scapulars sold on this day. The cord is a sign of protection and good luck.
The solemn feast mass is celebrated early in the morning. The statue of the Infant Jesus in regal robes and jewellery is taken from the niche and taken out in procession around the Church. It is then unveiled and given a bath. The water used for bathing the statue is collected by devotees for various ailments. After the bath, the statue is exposed for public veneration. Devotees then form queues to kiss the statue. Masses continue the whole day in the church courtyard. There is a large fair around the Church, which lasts till the feast day.
(The writer is a Jesuit and director at Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr, Porvorim)