Tuesday, July 11, 2006

OLD GOA: Guides Banned Inside Basilica

Guided Tours Banned From Xavier Basilica, Guides Upset

July 10, 2006

OLD GOA, India (UCAN) -- A recent ban on tour guides inside Bom Jesus Basilica in Old Goa, which holds the relics of Saint Francis Xavier, has brought relief to some people but dismay to guides and others.

The basilica rector maintains that the ban, which took effect July 2, will help maintain decorum and a sense of reverence inside the 401-year-old church, but guides, tourists and even some priests say the decision is unfair.

The historic church, a World Heritage monument located in the one-time capital of the former Portuguese colony of Goa, 1,910 kilometers southwest of New Delhi, attracts hundreds of tourists and pilgrims daily.

Jesuit Father Savio Baretto, the rector, said basilica authorities decided to keep the guides out following complaints from local devotees that tourists behave disrespectfully in the building.

The priest recounted that not long ago a guide picked a fight with a local devotee who resented the commotion tourists were creating. That incident started him thinking, he said, and "after a month we decided to ban entry of guided tours." The new rule allows guides to speak to their tour groups outside the basilica or in the foyer, but not beyond that.

Father Baretto also lamented that tourists often would barge into the basilica during religious services. Some visitors of other religions also would queue up for Communion, he added. Catholic Church rules allow only baptized Catholics to receive the Eucharist.

The Archeological Survey of India (ASI), which oversees the maintenance of the building, agreed to the ban and will prepare signboards asking visitors to maintain silence and decorum inside, according to the rector.

Father Almir de Souza, who previously worked at the basilica, welcomed the ban. "It's a sacred place," he explained, adding that tourist guides "tell a lot of rubbish." He suggested the Church train Religious and priests to be "tour guides" so they can explain the significance of the various objects inside the basilica while maintaining a sense of sacredness within the church.

Father Moreno D'Souza, a senior priest attached to the basilica, acknowledges that the number of tourists has increased significantly over the years. "At any given time, there are at least two or three groups of over a hundred each" inside the basilica, and "the end result is a shouting match," said the Jesuit priest, who was basilica rector for several years.

He also said tourists often rush to receive Communion out of great devotion, but do not necessarily know what the Sacrament really means. In one instance a local devotee discovered a tourist trying to take "the consecrated host home as a relic," but the matter ended without incident "after the consecrated host reached the priest, who consumed it."

Nonetheless, the former rector and his confrere Father Verissimo Coutinho feel the ban is harsh.

Father D'Souza maintained authorities should allow the guides inside the basilica, since it is a national monument. Father Coutinho described the ban as "going a bit too far" and indicative of "our conservative" background. In his observation tourist guides "know they are approaching the Blessed Sacrament" and behave appropriately. "I do not see anything wrong for guides having tours in the basilica, provided they provide correct information."

Catholic pilgrim Avelin Sebastian told UCA News the ban is unfair. "We have traveled distant lands and come to see this great place of Christianity, and now we have to leave without a proper explanation of the things we have seen. It's unfortunate," said Sebastian, who came from Pondicherry, a federally ruled territory on India's southeastern coast.

Santosh Naik, a government-approved guide, said the ban "has equated them with touts," or unscrupulous salesmen. "We know the sanctity of the place has to be maintained and we tell the tourists the rules and regulations before entering the basilica," the Hindu guide explained to UCA News. But because of language problems, he continued, some tourists fail to follow the instructions. "We are now penalized for no fault of ours," he complained.

Narayan Sawant, another Hindu guide, pointed out that it is difficult to explain everything to a hundred people in the foyer. He said tourists want a guide to explain the significance of an object when they come to it.

Republished by Konkani Catholics with permission from UCAN (www.ucanews.com )

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