Saturday, June 05, 2010

St Paul's Church & St Francis Xavier Church, Malacca

Last December 2009, on the 5th to be exact, a busload of about 42 pilgrims made a pilgrimage to the Church of St John Mary Vianney, Tampin's Pilgrim Church for the Year for Priests in the morning and later in the evening, to St Paul's Church on St Paul's Hill in Malacca in celebration of the Feast of St Francis Xavier that culminated with a candlelight procession to the Church of St Francis Xavier.

Hmm...aren't we saintly that day! A pilgrimage to three Catholic Churches in one day, travelling from Kuala Lumpur at 9 am to Negeri Sembilan and Malacca!

That wasn't all! For this pilgrimage tour, we checked into the Good Shepherd Catholic Seminary in Malacca around 3.10 pm and headed straight for its chapel to give thanks, worship God and chant the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy! Stayed at this holy ground for one night. By nightfall, you could almost see 'haloes of sainthood' on each pilgrim...haha!

The Feast of St Francis Xavier falls on December 3 each year and will be celebrated by the Church of St Francis Xavier in Malacca on the first Sunday in December. Part of the feast celebration included the Eucharistic Mass at the ruins of St Paul's Church at 6 pm on Saturday which was in our itinerary.

To get to St Paul's Church, our tour bus driver dropped us off at the Malacca Town Square (aka Dutch Square). Then, we walked along Jalan Kota until we reached Porta de Santiago and took the flight of steps that led to St Paul's hill behind it. A short arduous climb uphill to the top of St Paul's Hill where the Church's ruins is located and fronted by St Francis Xavier's statue, had us, especially the oldies, panting for breath. Fortunately, the evening was quite breezy and the view below somewhat interesting and breathtaking where we could see parts of Malacca heading towards the sea and some blossoming trees. We were rather early, 40 minutes ahead of time, so had time to survey a little and snap some photos.

Clockwise from left: John in front of St Francis Xavier's statue; inside St Paul's Church ruins;
four Priests concelebrating the evening's Eucharistic Mass;
statue of St Francis Xavier to be used for procession.

View below, from atop St Paul's Hill

By 6 pm, the crowd of worshipers was extremely large which surely included many pilgrims like us from far and near. The main celebrant for the Mass was Father ? (sorry, don't know his name) and concelebrated by 3 others. The theme for the feast was 'Faithfulness of Christ and faithfulness of Priests'.  The homily presented that evening, challenged us to be hands and feet of Christ, and be willing to evangelize as exampled by St Francis Xavier. All went so well, especially the fine weather. I can just imagine us all being drenched had it rained because the church was roofless! By God's grace, the clouds held the water and it dizzled ever so slightly only after the Eucharistic Celebration that ended almost 2 hours later. Praise and thank God.

The next event after Mass was the procession to the Church of St Xavier, situated along Jalan Laksamana. Thus, we proceeded downhill with lighted candles, preceded by the beautifully carved statue of St Francis Xavier carried by a few bearers and the monstrance by the priest, continually incensed by the altar boy. The big crowd of faithful was well-controlled by the Church's team of hospitality ministers.

From left to right: processional statue of St Francis Xavier;
worshipers with lighted candles walking downhill;
a canon at the foot of St Paul's Hill.

The procession to the gothic Church of St Francis Xavier probably took about 45 minutes in all. It was already overcrowded by the time we reached the church. Thank God, my beloved John and I were able to get seating on a crowded bench right at the back of the church. Otherwise, I would be forced to request a kind soul to vacate a seat for John who was already experiencing excruciating pain on his legs due to his lumbar spondylosis condition.

Exterior view of the Church of St Francis Xavier, Malacca

The feast celebration continued with the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament by the main celebrant and accompanied by hymns of adoration, then benediction and finally ended around 9.15 pm with exhibiting St Francis Xavier's relics (fragment of a finger bone and a piece of skin taken from the Saint's foot) for veneration.

Interior of the Church of St Francis Xavier, Malacca

Though extremely exhausted physically, mentally and spiritually, it was truly an exciting, enriching and faith-filled day for John and I. A big thank you to George Yeow for the well-organized pilgrimage.

Sharing some historical facts :

St Paul's Church, previously a small chapel known as the Chapel of the Mother of God or Our Lady of the Hill by the Portuguese, is the church's ruins located on top of St Paul's Hill. The hill itself was originally known as Malacca Hill. It was renamed Monti Ali Maria, or Mary's Hill after the Portuguese captured it.
The chapel was constructed by a Portuguese nobleman, Duarte Coelho in 1521, and was later handed to the Society of Jesus in 1548 by the Archbishop of Goa in India. Francis Xavier, who was the pioneer Catholic Missionary then and co-founder of the Jesuits received the title on their behalf. Known as the Apostle of the East, this saint was said to have spent many prayerful hours here, besides preaching the Word of God, worked miracles, raise the dead and wrote important documents/letters during his visits to Malacca from 1545-1552 while en-route to the Far East. A second storey was added to the existing chapel in 1556 and a tower added in 1590.
Almost a century later, it was renamed St Paul's Church after the Dutch siege in 1641 who used it as their place of worship and later turned into their burial ground when their own church, the Christ Church was completed in 1753. Hence, several monumental tombstones, with Dutch inscriptions can be seen to this day on the walls of the church.

Left photo marks the burial place of St Francis Xavier from March-December 1553
for 9 months before his incorruptible body was transferred to Goa; numerous Dutch
monumental tombstones line the walls of St Paul's Church as seen above.

Church of St Francis Xavier, located along Jalan Laksamana, was built on the site of an old Portuguese church by a MEP French priest, Fr Farve in 1856 in honour of St Francis Xavier, a prominent 16th-century Catholic missionary who visited Malacca on several occasions between 1545-1552. More than a century-old with construction that started in 1849, this neo-gothic-styled Church with twin spires is a sight to behold and is Malacca's heritage church.

Church of St Francis Xavier
12, Jalan Banda Kaba
Tel.: 606-2824770

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