Monday, May 01, 2006

GOA: Cross-Marked Crabs Boost Faith

May 1, 2006

Cross-Marked Crabs Boost Faith For Many Along Western India's Shores

PANAJI, India (UCAN) -- Many Catholics in Goa believe an uncommon class of local crab, with a cross mark on its shell, is descendant from a crab that Francis Xavier blessed hundreds of years ago, thousands of kilometers away.

Goa, a former Portuguese colony, was the base of the Jesuit saint's mission in Asia, and several stories surrounding his life (1506-1552) can be heard here. One concerns a crab that returned his lost crucifix to him.

Some Jesuit records say that in February 1546, while voyaging in what today is eastern Indonesia, the Basque missioner was caught in a storm. In an attempt to calm the storm, he took his crucifix and dipped it into the sea, but it slipped from his grasp and fell into the water. The next morning, as he paced on the seashore of Seram Island, he saw that a crab approaching him was holding his cross. He knelt down, retrieved the cross and blessed the crab.

Now, several Catholics in this state along western India's coast believe that crabs with an imprint of a cross on their shell are actually the progeny of the crab blessed by Xavier.

Father Saturnino Mascarenhas of Goa archdiocese knows that the story about the saint losing his cross occurred in Indonesian waters, but he told UCA News that Xavier's followers in Goa do not care about the distance of seas.

"As far as our faith is concerned, people here believe the crab was blessed by St. Xavier, even though people in Indonesia may not have bothered to find its existence on its shores. Faith has no geographical limits," he said.

Selwyn Godinho, 11, told UCA News he first heard about the special crabs in a sermon in Old Goa. After that, he would look for them "whenever crabs were brought home for meals," he said, "and one day, I saw the great-great-great-grandchildren of the mother crab blessed by Saint Francis Xavier."

Goa reportedly is home to three kinds of crabs, the least common of which is the one bearing the imprint of a cross on its shell.

Anil Chateerjee, a scientist at the National Institute of Oceanography, says he has never seen the crab with a design of a cross on its shell.

"Pigmentation of the shell depends on the environment it lives in and (on) mimicry," in which the shell changes color to aid the animal's survival, he explained. "The design has nothing to do with religious myths."

However, fisherman Peter Alcantro told UCA News that he has seen and caught hundreds of "St. Xavier crabs" and sold them in the market. "I know that these are crabs blessed by Xavier, but he did not say not to eat them."

According to Father Moreno de Souza, a Jesuit historian, the story about the saint blessing the crab is not an historical event. "In all probability, the cross on the crabs existed before the event with Xavier," he told UCA News.

The priest, who is writing a set of 60 popular devotions surrounding the saint, maintains that the belief should be regarded as a "popular devotion connected with Xavier."

Nonetheless, some people still connect the crabs with the saint. Wajtyla de Sa, 18, refuses to accept the priest's argument. Even if the crabs existed before the saint blessed one of them, she told UCA News, it was God's plan. God created those crabs "in keeping with His plan of Xavier losing the cross and of it being returned by the crab." The cross on the shell is perfectly placed, "right in the center of the shell," she pointed out. "This is not an accident. Someone is responsible for making this happen."

Catechist Maria Fernandes of Our Lady of Rosary chapel on the outskirts of Panaji, the state capital, says the crabs "are a living miracle of the saint."

"When children see them, it creates a telling impact on their minds," he said. "There are so many stories of miracles in the Bible that they cannot see. Here, when they see such a crab after hearing the story behind it, it becomes a powerful instrument to strengthen their faith."

Father Mariano Dias, 78, a spiritual director, admitted to UCA News that he also believed in the story when he was a child, "but we really do not know if Xavier blessed these crabs or if his crucifix was really lost."

Father Nicholas Luis, a vocation promoter, said there are pictures and paintings, and lately even comic books, linking the crab with the saint. It is up to the believer to decide, and for scientists to further examine the alleged phenomenon of crabs bearing these cross marks, Father Luis said.



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