St Francis Xavier was the first Jesuit to come to Goa; King John III of Portugal, whose naval forces had acquired certain areas of India in particular Goa (1510), was keen on promoting Christianity in them. St. Francis Xavier on a ship Santiago set sails for Goa on 7th April 1541, Xavier’s 35th birthday, but due to bad weather it was marooned in Mozambique. The Governor-Elect Martim Afonso de Sousa, who was travelling in the same ship, was in a hurry to reach Goa, so he proceeded in a smaller ship, taking Xavier along. So it was Xavier alone, the first Jesuit, who landed in Goa on 6th May 1542.
On his arrival in Goa Xavier found a Church well established. He came to know that the Holy Mass had been celebrated for the first time on the Goan soil on 25 November 1510, He also learnt that Goa had been constituted into a Diocese by Pope Clement VII already in 1533 with its jurisdiction extending from the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) to China and Japan.
Soon after his arrival in Goa, he was invited to head St Paul's College, a pioneer seminary for the education of diocesan priests, which became the first Jesuit headquarters in Asia. Gradually, more Jesuits arrived from Europe via Portugal so much so that by 1549 St Ignatius found it fitting to constitute the Jesuit Province of GOA (sometimes called Province of India) with Xavier as the first Provincial. It became the first Jesuit Province outside Europe and the third in the Society after Portugal and Spain. Its territory covered the entire area from the Southern tip of Africa until Japan in the East.
The number of Jesuits coming to India increased rather rapidly. In 1561 there were in this Province 148 members, with 79 at St Paul’s College (22 priests, 29 Scholastics and 28 Brothers) and the rest dispersed in 12 missions including Goa. Most of the Jesuit missionaries ran schools, as means of evangelization, both in Goa itself and in other stations of the Province. In Goa, they had St Paul’s College where in 1556 the first printing press with movable types of Roman script was set up, and a school in Margao (1574) which was later shifted to Rachol (present Seminary).
It was only on 5th January 1560 that Fr Pero Mascarenhas and Bro Manuel Gomes crossed the Zuari River and celebrated the first Mass in Cortalim. In 1585 the Jesuits built a residence, unique in the Society and the only one outside Europe, where Professed Fathers lived under strict rules of poverty. It was called the Casa Professa. The building that we see today is but a part of that edifice which was partly destroyed by fire in 1663. In 1594 foundation was laid of the adjoining church of Bom Jesus (Good Jesus), which was completed and consecrated on 15 May 1605.
This magnificent church, bearing many architectural similarities to the Church of Gesù in Rome, which is sometimes referred to as the ‘Mother Church’ of the Jesuits, was raised to the rank of Minor Basilica by Pope Pius XII in 1948.
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