Mumbai (AsiaNews) In a solemn ceremony the historic church of Our Lady of Ransom has been elevated to the status of National Pilgrim Centre. The church is located on Vallarpadam Island in the diocese of Verapoly, in Kerala, a state popularly known as 'God's Own Country' for its scenic beauty and a major international tourist destination.
The Catholic community is large and is well-represented in Kerala's society. The state's Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy, is Catholic as well.
The Chief Minister opened the inaugural meeting on September 12 that launched the celebrations before a crowd of thousands of faithful and pilgrims.
In a brief speech Mr Chandy greeted all those gathered from every corner of the state and told them of his joy in taking part in the historic event. He also briefly referred to the August 28 killing of Fr Job Chittilappilly in Kerala. Ever since, the Church has urged the Central Bureau of Investigation to find the real reasons behind the death of the priest.
In order to reassure Kerala's Catholic population, which is convinced that Father Job's death is linked to Hindu fundamentalism, the Chief Minister said that "pilgrim centres like this one would help religious friendship." He added that the state government was going to develop the Vallarpadam area.
Some months ago Card. Telesfor P. Toppo, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), gave the papers confirming the church's status as a national shrine to the Most Rev. Daniel Acharuparambil OCD, Archbishop of Verapoly and a member of the CBCI's Special Commission for Evangelisation. During the ceremony Archbishop Acharuparambil read the papers.
Portuguese missioners built the church of Our Lady of Ransom in 1524. According to tradition it was once known as the church of the Holy Spirit. It was eventually destroyed by floods that struck the state in the 17th century. The current building dates back to 1676.
Our Lady of Ransom is not the only Marian centre celebrating. Our Lady of the Mount in Mumbai is commemorating its first hundred years of existence. Built on 'Mary's hill', the national Marian shrine was visited by Paul VI in 1964 and John Paul II in 1986.
A museum of the Holy Rosary is planned as part of the year-long centennial celebrations. It will illustrate the many milestones that mark the history of the Basilica.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to visit the shrine which throughout its existence has helped foster communal harmony.