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    » 02/11/2008, 00.00

    SRI LANKA

    Thousands celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Lanka, in spite of the bombs

    Melani Manel Perera

    At least 7-8,000 faithful in Tewatta, at the national basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary. There is great fear of travelling after the many attacks, but the desire to come here was greater, for the annual commemoration of the miracle that saved the country from the world war. And to ask for a new miracle.

    Tewatta (AsiaNews) - In spite of the fear of bombing attacks in crowded places, yesterday thousands of faithful Marian devotees came from all of the country to Tewatta, to celebrate the feast at the national basilica of Our Lady of Lanka.

    Ramond Fernando, a father of five children who came from the northwestern diocese of Chilaw, tells AsiaNews of the widespread "horrible fears of bombs. Travelling is uncertain with the fear of explosions". "But I could not remain without attending this feast day of the Most Holy Mother of Lanka, and praying for peace in the country".

    Shymalee De Mel of the diocese of Anuradhapura also speaks of fear of attacks.  In spite of this, she came here with her entire family, "to honour our Mother Mary.  We cannot forget the great miracle she did during the second world war. So I am sure that our Mother Mary will hear our constant prayer.  In these hours of fear, the only thing we can do is pray to our Amma (Mother)".

    The basilica was the initiative of former Colombo archbishop Jean-Marie Masson. In 1940, he vowed that if the island were spared from the horrors of war, he would build a basilica for the Virgin.  In 1946, he obtained the Vatican's permission to build the church and to dedicate it to Our Lady of Lanka.  In 1948, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the blessed Mother as protectress of Sri Lanka.  The first stone was laid on February 4, 1951. Pope Pius XII blessed the statue of the Virgin Mary in 1952, and it was brought to the island.  The Mass of consecration in 1974 was celebrated by all of the bishops of the country, headed by Cardinal Thomas Cooray.

    In recent months, the country has seen an escalation of terrorism, with attacks that have struck ordinary civilians and even buses of religious pilgrims.  Today all of the pilgrims recount the same daily terror, but also their trust and abandonment in the arms of Mary.

    The public official Kannangara Wasanthan, who participated in the Mass with his wife and two children, tells AsiaNews that "no one can predict when and where the next explosion will take place. We are the victims of the fighting" between the rebels and the government. "The only thing we can do is pray for peace to God and Mother Mary. We know she has performed one  miracle already".

    About 7-8,000 faithful came to the Mass, according to Fr Merl Shanthi, administrator of the basilica. "Many of them come from far away dioceses, and normally they come and stay near the shrine two three days before the feast day. There are Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus in addition to our Catholics". The celebrations begin nine days before the feast, with a novena of preparation in the parishes.

    The celebrations on February 10 began early in the morning, at 7:30, with the rosary and hymns to the Blessed Mother.  This was followed by the Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Oswald Gomis, together with Fr Sylvester Ranasinghe, rector of the College of St Joseph in Colombo, Fr Bertram Fernando, and  Fr Merl Shanthi Perera. There were five other Masses for the feast, celebrated in the Sinhalese, Tamil, and English languages. In his homily, Archbishop Gomis called upon all to "cultivate peace", above all in their own lives and families, in order to "better understand others and their needs". He invited all to "pray to Mother Mary to give us the wisdom and strength to understand and love people,  and to spread peace in our country". He asked all to say the rosary daily, in their families and parishes, asking for peace and unity in the country.

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    See also

    12/08/2008 SRI LANKA
    Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu reopened after minesweeping
    There will be no solemn celebrations on August 15, but from August 12-17 groups of 200 pilgrims will be able to visit the shrine. The army has swept an area around the church for mines, but the zone is still dangerous.

    10/08/2007 SRI LANKA
    After a year of violence the road to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Madhu reopens
    The government had closed the road for security reasons. Thousands of pilgrims are expected for the feast of the Assumption. Colombo and Tamil tigers promise to “avoid clashes” in the area.

    13/05/2008 SRI LANKA
    Military to allow the return of the statue of Our Lady of Madhu
    Sri Lanka’s army accepts bishop’s request to demilitarise a 2.5 area around the shrine. In a few weeks, after the area has been cleared of mines and the temple repaired, the statue will come back in time for the Feast of the Assumption, an important moment of unity for both Tamils and Sinhalese.

    15/08/2009 SRILANKA
    Feast of the Assumption: prayers for peace and northern refugees
    Catholics slam the “commercial and propaganda” use of the event by the government. The authorities have organised transportation to facilitate the pilgrimage by southerners, but have prevented displaced people from leaving their ‘welcome centres’. The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu must be a symbol of unity for the country.

    31/08/2009 SRI LANKA
    Our Lady of Tewatta welcomes pilgrims and the sick in search of a blessing
    Thousands of pilgrims visit the Our Lady of Lanka shrine, including about a thousand sick people. The tradition goes back 68 years, attracting worshippers from around the country, Sinhala and Tamil, as well as some Buddhists.



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