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Tourists start dressing modestly for trip to Old Goa's Basilica

PANAJI: On a sunny Tuesday morning, as the monsoon took a brief break, small groups of tourists trickled into the Basilica of Bom Jesus - mostly off-season Indian tourists, men and women modestly dressed - at Old Goa.

As the visitors admired the world heritage site, missing were the church's volunteers, who drew attention from across the globe after they were posted in 2011 to offer a shawl to the 'inappropriately' clad.

Since they were first posted two years ago, volunteers seem to have achieved the desired result and will now be withdrawn shortly, according to the Basilica's guardians.

"Volunteers do not need to stand there anymore as a rule everyday. The word has gone out through the guides and others that one needs to dress modestly when entering the Basilica," rector of the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Fr Savio Baretto, said.

"The tourists know about the shawls. The needed awareness has been created and tourists now prefer to come modestly dressed to avoid being given a shawl later. The volunteers will be withdrawn soon as the necessary purpose has mostly been achieved," said Baretto.

He said when officials of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) raised fears that posting of the volunteers may affect the inflow of tourists, Basilica officials had made it clear that the arrangement was only a temporary measure.

"We have orally conveyed to ASI as well that it is not a permanent feature. I am happy now that we do not get the kind of skimpily-dressed tourists, mostly foreigners, as before," said the Basilica rector.

"I am not comfortable with the giving of shawls myself. But then no other church gets people dressed like that," he added.

He admitted that the volunteers posted were often from parishes in villages of Goa and what they had to say was often lost-in-translation when handing out a shawl to a foreign tourist.

The move of posting the volunteers had received wide appreciation from Goans from across the religious spectrum and the Basilica had been heaped with such mails in 2011, the Basilica rector added.

"It wasn't a code as such, as everyone called it. The main aim behind handing out the shawls was to create awareness that one needs to come appropriately dressed as we have the blessed sacrament preserved in the church and it is the presence of God for us, which needs to be respected," he said.

The church officials said the decision was not implemented overnight, as it might seem to many, but the church had been considering ways of curbing skimpily-dressed visitors from entering the sacred home of God for five years before the volunteers were posted.

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