The season of Lent holds a special significance in every Goan rooted to the Catholic faith. An important part of Lent is the Santos Passos, which has been traditionally observed here in Goa. Santos Passos in Portuguese means “Holy Steps” and signifies the journey of Christ to Calvary. Santos Passos is a depiction of the ordeal, contemplation and suffering of Christ before being crucified.
Although, earlier Santos Passos were observed in all churches in Goa, on every Sunday of Lent, now, most churches have it on any one particular day during Lent, leaving only a few churches to follow the tradition. The Holy Spirit Church has Santos Passos today, on the fifth Sunday of Lent, while Nossa Senhora de Ajuda Church at Ribandar and Nossa Senhora de Penha de França Church in Penha de França conducts Santos Passos on Palm Sunday. The Santa Cruz Church has it on the Saturday before Palm Sunday.
One such church, which still follows the traditional custom of having it on all Sundays of lent is Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church in Panaji. Here, Santos Passos are conducted within the church itself but only on Palm Sunday and Good Friday a procession is taken out.
Santos Passos consists of seven representations unlike the Way of the Cross, which has a total of fourteen. These seven include Agony in the Garden, Detainment, Scourging at the Pillar, Ecce Homo or This is the Man, Death Sentence, Carrying of the Cross and Crucifixion, which is Good Friday.
Parishes that conduct Santos Passos on only one particular day during Lent hold a procession accompanied by the life-size statue of Christ carrying the Cross. Also, the life-size statue of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows joins the procession, midway, depicting the biblical account of Mary, the Mother of Christ, meeting her Son who is being taken to Calvary to be crucified.
Throughout the procession both these statues are only carried by men wearing Opa Mursa, which is a red and white cape. These men are known as Irmãos (or Confrades), who are members of the Confrarias (or Associations of the Church).
These Irmãos are bound with duties of charity, holiness and religious service. In some parishes they even crown women as Irmãs.
Going back to the Santos Passos, the slow unveiling of the image of Christ’s face on a cloth as a girl sings a sad narrative in the background marks the meeting of Veronica with Jesus, where she wipes his face only to find a lasting imprint on the cloth.
The procession carries on with the recitation of the Holy Rosary along with singing of sorrowful hymns and also includes Descansos.
Descanso, which means ‘rest’ in Portuguese is held especially for those that carry these heavy effigies on their shoulders. At every descanso, they rest the effigy on a support. During the past, at every Descanso they would play or sing Motetes, something which signifies the depth of religiosity, but is now being replaced by depicting the falls or by recitation of a few prayers.
The Santos Passos procession winds its way back to the church, where the statues are later kept out to be venerated.