08/13/2004, 00.00
POPE - LOURDES - INDIA
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Sick Hindus and Hindu students join Christians in prayer before the statue of Mary

by Dario Salvi

Interview with Father George Puthenpura, PIME India.

Rome (AsiaNews) - "The worship of Our Lady is quite widespread in India. Various shrines dedicated to the Virgin dot the landscape. And Catholic or Christians are not the only pilgrims who come," this according to father George Puthenpura, an Indian-born missioner with the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME), who has been principal in Gunadala's diocesan school for the last 10 years.

 "On week-ends, seven masses are celebrated in five different languages at the Gunadala Marimatha Shrine. Whatever their ethnic background, everyone can take part in religious functions in their own language."

How important is Our Lady among Catholics and members of other religions?

"To Catholics she is the Celestial Mother, the one who guides and protects them on their path of life. But, Our Lady is also very important for others. To them she represents someone special, someone to love devoutly and respect. It is not uncommon to see Hindu pilgrims at the shrine asking for acts of grace or making a vow.

Many young people even come before a high school or university exams to pray for good marks. Childless women come to plea with the Virgin so that they may be with child.

Our Lady is indeed someone whose aura transcends religion. Whatever one's background, she unites all."

As in Lourdes there are many sick people who come to the Gunadala Marimatha Shrine to be healed?

True! Among the pilgrims there are many sick people. Those who can, make their way up to the shrine on their knees. And over the years some have gone home on their own two feet miraculously healed, leaving behind the crutches or wheel chair that brought them.

The worship of Our Lady of Gunadala Marimatha Shrine like that of Lourdes is rooted in popular culture; among the sick who come to the Virgin on a quest for physical or spiritual healing many are not Catholic. Many are indeed Hindu.

The Gunadala Marimatha Shrine has many points in common with Lourdes. Chants, functions and prayers are the same as those in France.

Moreover, the Feast takes place at the same time as the apparition of the Virgin in Lourdes.

Indeed, it does! The Feast of the Gunadala Marimatha Shrine takes place on February 9, 10, and 11. On average, some 800,000 pilgrims file before the statue of Our Lady over the three-day period. Led by priests and the local bishop, they pray, attend mass, follow litanies and chant.

The highlight of the Feast comes in the evening of the last day on February 11 when a special blessing, involving the exhibition of the Most Holy Sacrament, is performed for the benefit of the sick. It is the closing moment, but one that is most touching and fascinating.

Although the Feast Day is peak season for pilgrims, the shrine receives a steady influx throughout the year.

February is indeed peak season, and, yes, the influx of pilgrims is always high. This week-end for example, they will be numerous, especially since they will accompany in spirit the Pope on his journey to Lourdes. Prayers, intentions, and devotions will unite pilgrims in both shrines. With such a simple act they shall renew their communion with the Holy Father and Catholics around the world.

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