From the loss of my cell phone en route to the hold up at getting my visa at immigration in Mumbai which meant I missed my connecting flight. To my bag going missing and everyone running around until it was found and brought to me gleefully by not one but 3 porters. From everyone trying to be super helpful and authoritative in bunches of 3 or 4 at a time. To the bus driver on an almost empty path across the airport from one terminal to the other who beeped on every turn and every stone while trying to overtake or undertake anything that did manifest in his sights all at 20km per hour, I knew I was back in india.

The big difference is that this time I can laugh at it.

As I was then on a delayed/later flight I got a driver to take me to Juhu Beach, the site of my most memorably delicious meals ever in India. The drive was a miracle in accommodation, where traffic jammed at each corner devoid of traffic lights or points men. By some miracle the traffic kept moving squeezing in here and there but only just. The slums right up to the airport fence are the same, as is the authoritative assistance offered at every turn. New is the high level of security around the airport.

Then, sitting on a terrace overlooking the beach with lots of Indians fully dressed wandering up and down and even swimming. In the distance, through the 35c haze, I can see downtown. Do I dare go there or not. I think not.

The smells are the same, the riot of colour is the same, the litter is the same. The seeming chaos is the same. What is different is the impersonations of Peter Sellers playing an Indian and ATMs readily accessible on many street corners.

And so to Goa the last resting place of St Francis Xavier.

Here the vibe is more laid back, less in your face, helped by a room at an Inn, located in an 1800s building and furnished accordingly, with updated bathrooms and 70 channels of Indian TV. Bollywood at its best!

Francis started as the golden youngest son of nobility in what is now north western Spain. He was a good kid by all accounts, who lived in troubled times as seemed all times in that era. His brothers ironically were on the other side in the battle where the Basque soldier, who later became St Ignatius de Loyola, sustained the injury that ultimately led to his illumination and the mending of his laddish ways.

They unknowingly shared a mentor and met again as roommates in Paris University, a hotbed of religious and scientific innovation in its day. A twist of fate and courses taken led them deep into Catholicism. By an ever so slight twist they could have studied the new fangled Galileo findings and ended up as followers of Luther and Calvin instead of providing the nucleus for the counter-reformation within the Catholic church. However the older Ignatius, who had already undergone his deep spiritual metamorphosis, took the younger man, a lad about town, under his wing as his guide and father figure and ultimately his brother. It would appear Ignatius’ ultimate selling point to him was the oft repeated phrase “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

Anyway it was here that they sowed the seeds for their Society of Jesus, later to be known as the Jesuits, based on poverty chastity and obedience.........

Francis, supported by both the Pope and king of Portugal went off the convert the pagans in and around the Portuguese colonies and trading posts of Africa, India and later Malacca and Japan. Pretty impressive in a time before Boeing and Airbus!

The Portuguese incursions into western India had been about trade. Their methods wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny today in terms of human rights.

Methods of religious conversion weren’t always pretty. Existing indigenous temples were torn down and replaced with churches. The Inquisition had its own branch offices in Goa.

Xavier’s methods and followers however appear to be of a different ilk. He led by example of genuinely caring for the poor and infirm, whoever they happened to be, and declined any personal material benefits. His subjects for conversion were in large part the fishermen of south western India who were the vassels, alternately, of the local Hindu and Muslim war lords, Turks, Arabs, and sometimes Portuguese opportunists. These people were the subjugated backbone of the lucrative pearling industry looking for freedom from the yoke of their immediate existence. We must be mindful that our history of these times is very one sided. Anyway he converted them in the 10s of 1000s and developed benign conversion techniques that were to become the cornerstone of Jesuit later missionary work throughout the world.

He also grew a college for students from as far afield as Armenia and Mozambique in the west and Japan and Malacca in the east. A truly international college for its day.

Not content to sit on his laurels he took his energies to Japan where again he was well received in some quarters. He determined to extend to China. However he died in his mid 40s virtually alone while waiting for the opportunity to enter China.

This is where the story gets really interesting. His body was covered with lime to quicken decomposition on a beach in Japan. Later it was recovered and moved to Malacca. The surprise was that it had not decomposed at all. Within a year it was back in Goa and would still bleed fresh blood if cut according to the official reports of those who examined it.

Without any embalming it appeared to remain in this state for 150 years, with the odd piece bizarrely removed here and there to be spread around as relics as was the fashion of the intervening centuries. Remember this all took place about 500 years ago.

The body still lies in the Church of Bom Jesus, specifically constructed for the purpose, in Old Goa. The place is now a pilgrimage site for Hindu, Christians and the curious alike. It retains a very special energy and orbs to boot. An energy of extreme gentleness, peace and optimism that seem to be the characteristics of the man himself.

It seems interesting to meet him now from time to time as an Entity at the Casa de Dom Inacio in Brazil. I certainly have a lot more respect for him now, recognizing that he is still on the same mission of healing the infirm physically, emotionally, or, ultimately, on a much deeper soul level, as they arrive before him regardless of who they are or their walk of life. I suspect he still works from the perspective of “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

Church where St Francis Xavier's body lies

Church where St Francis Xavier's body lies

Going to the beach Indian style

Orb over the altar in a church in Goa

Beggar woman in Goa

Going to the beach Indian style


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