09/09/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Pilgrims’ spontaneous devotion in Mariamabad

by Margaret Piara
The town’s annual pilgrimage has taken place. The faithful but also non Christians participated in great numbers, receiving physical and spiritual strength from their experience. Children and Milap members take part in the event.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – The annual Marian pilgrimage to Mariamabad, 98 kilometres south of Lahore, drew large crowds from 5 to 7 September. Children and members of Milap, a Catholic NGO that helps widows and orphans, talk about this exceptional experience.

The atmosphere before of the Grotto of Our Lady was one of meditation and prayer. Children from Milap handed out some 100 rosaries to whose did not have one.

At the end of rosary they spoke with those present, people like Baba Shahzad from Lahore. “I am 106 years old,” he said, “and I have been coming here since 1949. I used to come on foot but now I can’t do it because I broke my hip in an accident.”

“Every time I come I find spiritual and physical solace,” he explained. “I will keep coming here till I die. My family is very devoted to the Virgin; our daily prayer is not complete without the rosary.”

Martha Sadiq from Milap spoke to a woman that sat beside her, crying the whole time.

“I am not Christian and I don’t even know any of the prayers,” the woman said. “I got married in Islamabad eight years ago but I don’ have any children. My husband loves me very much but my in-laws are urging him to take another wife to have children. And they sent me back to my family. For this reason I am praying Mother Mary, who is a mother, to hear me.”

A Muslim policewoman said that it was the very “first time” for her to be on duty at the shrine. “I am happy to see so many people coming to pray day and night, going up to the grotto to pray and bring offerings. This means something is happening.”

For Jerry however it is the third time. Originally from Nigeria he now calls Lahore home. “I get great help from Mary every time,” he said. “This is a miraculous place and so many miracles take place in my life and that of my family. But we must give them some space in our life and have great faith. I never miss the rosary; I always get a lot of strength here.”

Two young men from Islamabad, Stephen and Shahzad, sang beautiful Marian hymns. They are both young and blind, but despite their handicap they said they can see God’s gifts.

“We come here every year to give thanks to God. The Holy Mother Mary loves us and we love her. If you need something you must have faith, and you shall receive from Her what you ask.”

The pilgrimage began on 8 September 1949 when draught threatened harvests in the region and prayers’ by local Catholics to Mary were answered.

Father Frank, a Belgian Capuchin who died a martyr’s death, built a Grotto for Our Lady of Lourdes and a church, which eventually became a national Marian shrine.

The theme for this year’s pilgrimage was Mother Mary: Exemplary Discipleship. Mgr Lawrence Saldanha, archbishop of Lahore, inaugurated the event last Friday evening with the blessing of the grotto, fountain and Marian compound.

Other bishops like Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan and Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad conducted Mass.

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