Panaji, Oct 4 (IANS) Sports and religion share a strong bond. The pressure of performing on the big stage in front of thousands of passionate, screaming fans often prompts players and coaches to turn to the divine in order to find strength and solace.
Indian Super League (ISL) side FC Goa are no different. For the Spanish flavoured side, praying comes before practice.
A day before their first full-fledged practice session on October 2, the team got into a huddle and prayed before the former colonial state’s patron saint, St. Francis Xavier, in a quiet ceremony at the heritage Old Goa church complex, where the relics of the 16th century Spanish-born Catholic priest still rest.
It perhaps makes sense for the team to draw on the miraculous powers of the saint born in the Basque region of Navarre, considering that six players in the FC Goa squad hail from Spain and so does the coach, 40-year-old Sergio Lobera Rodrigues.
On Sunday, at a solemn ceremony at the 16th century-built Basilica of Bom Jesus, the head-priest offered a moving sermon to the team in preparation for the season ahead.
Speaking to IANS, Rodriguez said the blessings would help bring positivity among the team, even as the Indian Super League (ISL) season begins next month.
“It was a lovely experience for all of us to see the whole team come together — players, support staff and the management — to seek blessings and begin this season on a positive note,” the Spanish head coach said.
For former Real Zaragoza mid-fielder Edu Bedia, it was a replication of a Spanish rite of passage and the fact that the patron saint, Xavier, was Spanish only added to the experience.
“Well, to be honest, even back in Spain we have this habit of going to church before we embark on an important project. Every team has that one specific church that they visit before the season. St. Francis Xavier is revered in Spain as well,” he said.
Ferrao Corominas, a former Espanyol forward also liked the magnificent churches at Old Goa as well as the live music and choir.
“It was a very meaningful experience to do something like this before the team began the training and the season,” he said.
The Spanish saint was sent as an Apostolic Nuncio by the Pope in 1541 to Goa at the request of the King of Portugal, soon after explorer-soldier Afonso de Albuquerque captured the region of Goa.
Xavier was incidentally also responsible for initiating the process of the brutal Inquisition in Goa, which saw tenets of the Christian religion imposed by force and violence on Goan subjects.
After his death in 1552 in Shanchuan, China, his body was first ferried to the territory of Portuguese Malacca — in modern day Malaysia — where it was stored in 1553 and later in 1637 placed in the newly built Basilica of Bom Jesus, built by the Jesuits, in Goa.
The feast is celebrated every year on December 3, with nearly million believers paying a visit, some even walking hundreds of kilometres to the Church complex in Old Goa.
That team FC Goa is aware of Xavier’s looming shadow over the region is evident in assistant coach Derrick Pereira sentiment.
“Faith is when one believes that the talent you have is God given, you have to just work hard, prepare well and leave it up to the Lord to do the rest… St. Francis Xavier is the Patron saint and protector of Goa, hence the decision,” Pereira said.
The team invoked the blessings of the almighty, even as they got an official jersey and a football blessed in order to help and guide FC Goa through the season ahead.
For others in the team like midfielder Mandar Rao Sardessai, blessings were necessary at the beginning of the season, in order to push the team’s success further, especially when the team has come close to clinching the league in the past.
“We need blessings before we start our new season. So all the players visited the church yesterday. FC Goa came close to winning in earlier seasons. All of us are looking forward to the new season and will give our best,” he said.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at [email protected])