08/12/2004, 00.00
POPE - LOURDES - PAKISTAN

Christian and Muslim pilgrims in Mariamabad, Mary's city

by Qaiser Felix

Lahore (AsiaNews) – In the wake of the Pope's journey to Lourdes, thousands of people from across Pakistan will visit Mariamabad (the city of Mary, also known as Mariam) on September 3 for the annual Ziarat-e-Muqaddasa Mariam, that is to say the annual National Marian Pilgrimage. This is the 55th edition. Last year, the event drew 500,000 pilgrims many of whom Muslim.

This year's theme is "Mary and the Christian family" and is inspired by the coming Asian Bishops Conference which is dedicated to the Asian Family.

Msgr. Lawrence John Saldanha, Archbishop of Lajore, Msgr. Evarist Pinto, Archbishop of Karachi, and Msgr. Joseph Coutts, Bishop of Faisalabad will be present.

Archbishop Saldanha told AsiaNews that "many Christians and Muslims who visit Mariamabad go home healed, their prayers answered."

The faithful bring traditional gifts to Our Lady such as garlands, crowns, necklaces and dupatas (cloth used as head cover).

"Many Muslims come regularly to Mariamabad but incognito because they do not want others to know," Msgr. Saldanha emphasised. "Still, their presence is a good sign. It is proof that Muslim attitudes towards Christians are changing in Pakistan."

"This year we printed a special prayer for the family," Msgr. Saldanha went on to say, "which will be distributed in a few days time so that people may start learning it in preparation for the pilgrimage. We want our families to be strong and share everyone's suffering and joy. God's blessing will thus enrich people's family life."

Mariamabad is about 80 km (50 miles) from Lahore, Punjab province. For more than a century it has been a Christian village.

When drought threatened crops in the area, local Catholics pleaded with Mary that she may intervene, and she did. Eventually, a Belgian Capuchin, Father Frank, who was later martyred, built a replica of Our Lady of Lourdes grotto and a church. It is now a National Marian Shrine.

Ever since, Mariamabad has been a magnet for thousands of pilgrims, including Muslims, who come to honour Mary. In more recent years, the number of young people coming has increased many arriving on foot or on their bicycles.

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