Mumbai (AsiaNews) The novena that precedes the Nativity of Our Lady of the Mount (first Sunday after September 8) begun yesterday. This year's celebrations coincide with the centenary of the Basilica dedicated to Our Lady of the Mount, in Bandra, a town on the outskirts of Mumbai. The Marian Shrine itself was renovated in 1904 to mark the golden jubilee of the Pope Pius IX's Declaration of the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 1854).
Speaking to AsiaNews, Mgr. Nereus Rodrigues, Rector of the Basilica, spoke the shrine's past and present:
"On the occasion of the National Marian Congress in 1954, His Holiness Pope Pius XII raised the shrine to the dignity of a Minor Basilica, allowing it to take its place among the most venerated places of Marian Devotion in the world. This Shrine is special for it draws tens of thousands of devotees, not all Catholic. Mary's prophecy that "all generations shall call me Blessed" is thus being fulfilled."
"It is a moving sight to see the love and devotion as well as the deep faith and hope of the old, the young, the feeble and the infirm, all pilgrims coming to the Shrine."
"From morning till dusk, people of every caste and creed queue waiting their turn to fall prostrate before the feet of Our Lady, bringing offerings, including small wax figurines moulded or carved in the shape of what is wished for. Childless couples offer tiny wax babies hoping to be blessed with a child."
Mgr Ferdinand Fonseca, Emeritus Auxiliary of Bishop of Bombay, told AsiaNews that he is particularly close to the shrine. "Over the past two years my devotion to Our Lady has grown," he said. "She is the most perfect model for all of us disciples of Jesus."
"The Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount holds a cherished place in my heart. It was here that I received the subdiaconate, the diaconate and the priesthood. The latter happened during the 1954 Marian Year. So every time I visit I am filled with emotion," he added.
Hindus are also drawn to Our Lady of the Mount. A Hindu devotee said that his devotion to the Shrine goes back to his youth. Now, "every year, my wife and I our children, their spouses and grand-children come to visit the Shrine and seek Her Blessings."
The Feast Day of the Nativity of Our Lady of the Mount brings the whole town together. For eight days, Bandra, popularly known as the Queen of the Suburbs, becomes a fairground with roadside stalls and vendors. Local officials assist in the organisation of the fair, public transport is increased and law enforcement keeps the peace.
In light of the recent spate of anti-Catholic attacks, the celebrations for the centenary of Our Lady of the Mount's renovations are a sign of how India's different religious groups can live in peace and harmony.