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Pilgrims’ progress

John Pinto looks like any other Goan youngster, down to the pencil thin beard that’s the latest trend. But, at the rave party he attend...

Written by NADIA MENEZES | Panjim |
December 6, 2004

John Pinto looks like any other Goan youngster, down to the pencil thin beard that’s the latest trend. But, at the rave party he attended last night, in a black full-sleeves shirt and black jeans, the 22-year-old felt ‘‘overdressed’’. ‘‘When we go partying in Pakistan,’’ says the office administrator, ‘‘we dress up’’. The shorts-and-tee attire he encountered, he says, was an ‘‘unforgettable experience’’.

On November 28, 180 Pakistanis of Goan origin arrived in the state to participate in the ongoing decennial celebrations of St Francis Xavier, at Old Goa. For many, like Pinto, the pilgrimage meant a chance to visit the birthplace of their forefathers and the country they call neighbour for the first time.

‘‘I’ve been trying to arrange this pilgrimage for a long time,’’ says Fr Robert D’Silva, parish priest of St Lawrence Church, Karachi, over telephone. Severe visa restrictions, he says, meant he could bring just 10 to 15 Goan Catholics annually for the St Francis Xavier feast on December 3. With 20,000 Goan Catholics settled in Pakistan, most in Karachi, the peace talks between India and Pakistan have ‘‘definitely helped’’, adds D’Silva, who was born in Pakistan but studies theology in Shillong in 1934.

‘‘Both sides (embassies) were extremely cooperative about the pilgrimage,’’ he says. And visas to ‘‘400 eager pilgrims’’ – the pilgrimage was advertised in the community mouthpiece Christian Voice – were issued within 15 days in August. While Pakistan International Airlines offered a ‘‘concession’’ on the tickets, ‘‘the Indian side made the flight arrangements.’’

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Accommodation was the only hitch, says Fr D’Silva. ‘‘Not really,’’ says Hilary Telis (63) unwinding on a wooden bench in his grandfather’s century-old home by the Mandovi river in Brittona village. He’s come to Goa ‘‘four to five times since 1949’’ and ‘‘loves’’ staying at his ancestral home, ‘‘since I get to be with relatives.’’

For first cousin, retired bank employee Jane Francis (63), whose father Francis Xavier (named after the saint) settled in Pakistan in the 1930’s ‘‘because he couldn’t get a job in Goa’’, the trip — her fourth one – is all about the pilgrimage. Blue rosary around her neck, she lets a smile break through the solemnity, ‘‘and yes, the peace and quiet of this lovely state.’’

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