While I was assigned in Cebu I worked with two Goanese trainers. Both devout Catholics and both possess sonorous Portuguese names.
The guy, Savio, went on expeditions, visiting several old churches, reaching as far as Argao and Boljoon during his 2 month stint with us. That he traveled alone made his trips more impressive.
Before he left Cebu, he extended an invitation for me to visit his native Goa and see the Bom Jesus Basilica where St. Francis Xavier was laid to rest. I’ve been trying to save up for the trip. While I feel that it won’t happen anytime soon, I know I’ll get there someday.
Now that’s what you call faith, my friends.
I went to Malacca a few years back to see where Xavier was temporarily buried. He died in China and was brought to Malaysia, then Goa. Somewhere along the way, one of his hand ended up in Gesu, a humerus in Macao. When it comes to Saints, all Catholics wants a piece – literally.
This tradition is one those things that freaks out people. Of course, they have spiritual meaning for us Catholics but just imagine the shock for a person seeing bodies and body parts in reliquaries for the first time!
Tamil Catholics are some of the most devoted Catholics in the island. They reminds me of Savio’s story about the Paravar. An entire caste that converted to Catholicism during Xavier’s days in Goa.
I was told that majority of Catholic Indians here are of Goan or Portuguese-Indian descent. If they are, then what I’m seeing are the direct descendants of the people Francis Xavier had converted.
I found out that it wasn’t until 1888 that a church dedicated to the Catholic Tamil community was established. The founder, Bishop Garnier, hails from France, as most of the missionaries that first came here. He decided that Tamil’s deserve to have a church of their own.
If it was indeed fashioned after Lourdes, the architect, believed to be a priest, considerably contracted the dimensions of the church to match the size of the congregation, the land’s limited space and construction funds.
Aside from its wonderful Europeanesque facade, the interior is modest in design and scale. If you’re to bring this church in Philippine soil, people would call it a capilla. It’s far from the intricately design and chatoyant Indian temples you’ll find here. It has this canonic charm which is rather uncommon for 19th century churches.
The church is located along Ophir Road, not far from Sim Lim Square (their version of Greenhills). The church of Our Lady of Lourdes completes my list of must-visit 19th century Catholic churches in this island.