The place of Marian worship was abandoned during Sri Lanka’s civil war. It preserves relics from the shepherds Jacinta and Francisco. The Church wants to improve the place to return it to the devotion of the faithful.
Ampara (AsiaNews) – Around 300 Catholics from the Archdiocese of Colombo went on a pilgrimage to the national shrine of Our Lady of Fatima to pray before the statue of the Virgin.
The place of worship is located in Inginiyagala, a hard-to-reach area of Ampara, a district more than 300 kilometres from the capital.
Abandoned during the country’s brutal civil war, the site is the only national shrine dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosary.
“There are no words to explain the peace we feel in the presence of our Amma (mother),” some pilgrims told AsiaNews.
The pilgrimage began on 25 October, ending two days later with two Masses, recitation of the 20 decades of the Holy Rosary, benedictions, and a procession behind the statue and the veneration of the relics of Jacinta and Francisco. Some items from two of the three shepherds to whom Our Lady appeared in 1917 are kept at the site.
The church in Inginiyagala is within the Diocese of Batticaloa. The parish of Ampara, home to some 30 Catholic families, is instead the only Sinhalese parish in the eastern province.
“When we are in difficulty sometimes in our daily life, we get more blessings from the Mother,” said Jude Ranjith and Nelson Priyantha, two local Catholics.
Fr Shelton Dias, chaplain of the World Apostolate of Fatima group, and Fr Pradeep Roshantha, parish priest in Ampara and Inginiyagala, concelebrated the Mass.
For the latter, the shrine was “a great place of worship, always received more attention of faithful from foreign countries. Unfortunately, during the war the venerated place was abandoned. The shrine remained isolated even after the civil war.”
When Ampara got its new parish priest in February 2018, the site got a boost. “We need financial support to make the sanctuary flourish again and return it to the devotion of the faithful,” said Fr Pradeep.
Srimathi Fernando, Apostolate secretary in Sri Lanka, says she is “very happy about the pilgrimage to such a distant place. Families come from Colombo, Negombo, Ragama, Panadura, Walana, Wattalpola, Sapugaskanda and Duuwa.”
“We also came last year, but this year there are a lot more people. We will do everything to attract more people to the celebrations in coming years. This place is important because it is the only national shrine dedicated to our Blessed Mother.”