Friday, June 30, 2006

GOA: John the Baptist Feast and Excesses

Priests In Goa Condemn Commercialization Of John The Baptist Feast

June 28, 2006

PANAJI, India (UCAN) -- A group of Catholic priests in the former Portuguese enclave of Goa have criticized growing commercialization of the feast day of Saint John the Baptist.

This year, the Goa Tourism Development Corporation made elaborate arrangements to celebrate unique local customs associated with the June 24 feast as observed by Catholics in this western coastal state.

On the feast day, local merrymakers wear a crown of leaves and flowers and jump into rivers and wells full of water from monsoon rains. This ritual, traditionally conducted in the rain, is said to symbolize Saint John's "leap of joy" in his mother Elizabeth's womb when the Blessed Mother visited her.

Revelers also wear cone-shaped hats made of leaves and flowers and go visiting, accompanied by drums. Some perform skits on decorated canoes. The festival also is linked to a marriage custom in which the groom, wearing a crown of palm fronds and flowers, is made to jump into a well after a parade through the village. Symbolism aside, liberal consumption of liquor is a standard feature of the festival.

Although the feast falls during the rainy season, the tourism department connected large pipes to wells to create artificial rain for an open-air dance floor in Dona Paula, a tourist spot near Panaji, the state capital. Panaji is 1,910 kilometers southwest of New Delhi.

Tourism department chairperson Fatima D'Sa told UCA News they arranged for artificial rain in the event that rain did not fall.

The department also organized boat cruises on the Mandovi, a major river in the state. From the boats, divers jumped into the river with cries of "Sao Joao," the Portuguese rendering of Saint John.

While the directorate of information and publicity sponsored "raindrops and music," some hotels organized dance, music, entertainment and magic shows.

Explaining why they organized the "bash," hotel manager Mohan Nair said Goa "is known as a Catholic state and tourists want to know how Catholics celebrate festivities." He added that hotels want to give tourists a chance to experience "San Joao, although it may be not in a traditional way."

Father Heniencio de Souza, a parish priest, is unhappy with this trend. In recent years, the hotel lobby has abused the feast in the name of "Catholic culture," he told UCA News, complaining that such commercialization brings various "unpalatable consequences" for society, sexual immorality among them.

Another priest, Father Eremito Rebelo, also opposes the "gross misuse" of the feast. Materialism has been substituted for spirituality, since "big money" is involved in such transformed feasts, he told UCA News.

The Church, he added, has clarified that customs such as jumping into the river have nothing to do with Christianity.

Before the feast's commercialization, people used to visit houses on the day, singing songs that befit the occasion, recalled Father Joao Roque Gonsalves, another priest. If there had been a death in the family, the visitors would pray for the deceased, and if there had been a marriage, they would indulge in merrymaking. "This fostered unity, but also good neighborly relations," because the singing helped people forget differences, he added.

In the past, Father Gonsalves continued, revelers never took advantage of people, but now they demand money during the house visits and spend it on alcohol and drugs. Some villages where older generations exert a strong influence continue the old customs, but most people now prefer to spend the day drinking while others organize night parties and indulge in "vulgar entertainment," he added.

What upsets Father Britto Furtado of Siolim parish is the wrong image such celebrations project about Christianity. "It is unfortunate that nowadays everything needs to be either commercialized or politicized. The culture today is to make money out of any possible and every thing," he told UCA News.

Goa was a Portuguese colony from 1510 until 1961, when India retook the territory.

Republished by Konkani Catholics with permission from UCAN (

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