In the year 1541, a hermitage or a small chapel was built on the hilltop in Panaji for seeking Divine Grace. The Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception was made into a parochial Church in the year 1600, and it was rebuilt in its present architecture in 1614. It consists of a splendid double staircase, one on each wing facing the main church rising with angled planes from the main Church square which was constructed in the year 1870. The design was an architectural marvel on a very steep hill with a spiritual message of 77 steps which lead to the Church which signifies that all your sins are forgiven. The staircase is constructed on the basis of the Gospel of Mathew 18: verse 21-22.

 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but seventy times seven,

The Baroque facade with twin balustrade towers has an imposing central gable towers which carries the huge main bell, that once belonged to the Church of Our Lady of Grace of the convent of St Augustine in Old Goa. This bell is the second largest in the state of Goa after the bell of the Se Cathedral in Old Goa. Being a very popular landmark for its historical and architectural beauty, painted all in white with blue crosses on its imposing staircase, the Church is declared as a state monument by the Government of Goa and attracts a very large number of domestic and international tourists.

As Panaji was the capital city of Goa, Daman and Diu during the erstwhile Portuguese rule,  the Immaculate Conception Church was earlier declared as ‘Igreja Matriz’ or Mother Church.

It was always believed by the Roman Catholics throughout the world that the Immaculate Conception was conceived without original sin, but it was only in the year 1854, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was pronounced by Pope Pius IX.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it this way:

No. 490:  To become  the mother of the Saviour,  Mary “was enriched by  God with gifts appropriate  to such a role.” The angel  Gabriel at the moment of  the annunciation salutes  her as “full of grace”. In  fact, in order for Mary to  be able to give the free  assent of her faith to the announcement of her  vocation, it was necessary  that she be wholly borne  by God’s grace.

No. 491: Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception.

That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:

“The most Blessed Virgin  Mary was, from the first  moment of her conception,  by a singular grace and  privilege of almighty God  and by virtue of the merits  of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved  immune from all stain of  original sin.”

The feast was fixed on the 8th of December from that year onwards.

Subsequently, the Apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes in France which apparition Our Blessed  Mother proclaimed “Je suis Immaculada Concei-cao”, I am the Immaculate  Conception, confirmed the dogma in the year 1858.

The fama was held on the 28th November by the parish priest, Fr Cleto Pereira,  which was followed by the daily novenas from 29th November onwards which began with daily Rosary at 5.30 p.m
followed by the Eucharistic celebration presided over by Pilar priests on the themes dedicated to venerable Fr Agnelo. After the novena mass, the traditional bras band at the band stand at the Church Square, the fireworks, the food stalls and short Biblical plays added to the festivity of the celebrations.

The masses on the feast day, that is, the 8th of December,  are as follows:   5.30 a.m, 6.30 a.m, 7.30 a.m, 8.30 a.m and at 10 a.m. The 10 a.m mass will be presided over by Fr Henry Falcao, director of the St Joseph Vaz Spiritual Renewal Centre, Cruz dos Milagres, Old Goa and it will be followed by the traditional procession. Masses will also be celebrated at 12.30 p.m and 5.30 p.m. The 5.30 p.m mass is offered by ‘The Navhind Times’ staff.

Let us seek the grace of God through the intercession of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception. The fire works display at the church square will not be held to reduce air pollution. [NT]