A pilgrim’s progress to Velankanni
Though I am an ardent devotee of Mother Mary, I could make it to the most acclaimed Christian pilgrim centre of India – ArokiaMatha Church at Velankanni, near Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu, only on 31st October 2016.
By Joe Palathunkal
Though I am an ardent devotee of Mother Mary, I could make it to the most acclaimed Christian pilgrim centre of India – ArokiaMatha Church at Velankanni, near Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu, only on 31st October 2016. I along with my family which included my wife and two daughters landed in Velankanni on October 31st, appropriately the last day of the Rosary month in honour of our Lady.
We reached there by the Velankanni Express from Chennai’s Egmore railway station. We had set off from Ahmedabad on 29th October at 9:40 AM by the Chennai Express and reached Chennai or Madras the next day at 5 PM. Velankanni is a remote rural region of Tamil Nadu in the Nagapattinam district and belongs to the Catholic diocese of Thanjavur.
The information regarding the apparitions of Mother Mary and the saving of the Portuguese ship comes to us mainly through the oral history but since the apparitions were to non-Christians and were based on the spontaneous response of the local people who were mostly non-Christians, there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the information.
We spent three days in Velankanni – October 31st to November 2nd. We were fortunate to reach there on October 31st, the last day of the Rosary month, and so naturally there was a huge crowd to take part in the last rosary in honour of Mother Mary at the Shrine Basilica and after the Rosary there was an impressive procession carrying the statue of Our Lady of Good Health.
Since we were staying in Hotel Picnic very close to the churches, it was easy for us to attend the various devotional practices. In fact, Hotel Picnic is adjacent to the new Morning Star Church, only three minutes’ walk from the hotel, and you can watch the majestic new church from the balcony of the hotel.
A few things impressed me about Velankanni – passionate devotion, massive physical layout of the church structures, very good infrastructural facilities, elaborate residential facilities, huge crowds that visit the shrine every day, excellent arrangements for devotional practices, meticulous management by the church authorities and personnel, and the comparatively good cleanliness though it is located on the seashore.
I was amazed at the passionate devotion of the people coming there, especially of the Tamils. In their devotion I could notice spontaneity, genuineness, straightforwardness and emotionality, and these characteristics moved me a lot, and they gave a tremendous fillip to my devotion to Mother Mary. I watched with awe people moving on their knees on a two-kilometre sandy path, an extremely painful devotional act in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Though I did not venture for it, I am happy to say that my children did it devotionally with prayers on their lips.
I used to wonder how so many people turn up for every Holy Mass every day – about ten Masses are offered daily in Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi, and English, but no dearth of devotees for each Holy Mass. It was Mother Mary’s special blessing that I got a chance to do the reading for a Malayalam Mass in the Morning Star Church, an architectural wonder in itself.
The Church has space for ten thousand people at a time and another 40 thousand can sit outside and attend the Eucharist. Built without pillars, I think it is the largest church in Asia, and of course definitely in India. I was so much taken up by the ambience and environs that I wrote two lyrics sitting inside this beautiful church as a prayer to the Mother of Velankanni.
When we returned we did feel that it was indeed a wonderful pilgrima’s progress, though nothing to compare with John Bunyan’s, the English Preacher’s classic, unlike any other pilgrimage we had set out in life.
This trip not only increased our devotion to the Lady of Good Health but also gave us an experience of healing in the core of our being, and my heart sang with William Wordswortth what the greatest bard of nature wrote about this greatest Mother in one of his rejuvenating poems: “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast!”
(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living In Faith)