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    » 03/06/2010, 00.00

    INDIA – SRI LANKA

    Thousands of Tamils go on pilgrimage for the feast day of Saint Anthony

    Nirmala Carvalho

    Kachchatheevu welcomed the two-day celebration. The island belongs to Sri Lanka and is located in the strait that separates the island nation from India. The occasion gave participants an opportunity to share hopes and renew with tradition, in an area shared harmoniously by Tamils from both sides.
    New Delhi (AsiaNews) – More than 4,000 Tamil pilgrims from Sri Lanka and India took part in two days of celebration that started on 27 February in honour of Saint Anthony on Kachchatheevu, a small island 24 kilometres from Rameshwaram and 70 from Jaffna, in the middle of the strait that separates India from Sri Lanka. More than a hundred boats carrying about 3,000 pilgrims came from India under escort of the Indian Navy, which eventually handed them over to the Sri Lankan Navy. About a thousand pilgrims from Nedundeevu and the Jaffna Peninsula were already on the island.

    When the Indians arrived Saint Anthony’s flag was raised. Mass was celebrated in the evening before a large crowd. Not all of the 4,000 worshippers could fit in the church and had to follow the service from the adjacent square; next came the Via Crucis and the blessing. The faithful spent the night on the island, and got up early in the morning for the 6:30 am Mass, celebrated by Fr Amalraj, parish priest of Nedundeevu, and Fr Michaelraj, parish priest of Rameshwaram. Government officials attended the ceremony and the car procession. Around 10 am, pilgrims began making their way home.

    A “spiritual joy prevailed among the pilgrims of India and Sri Lanka at Kachchatheevu, Tamils of both countries witnessed expressions of solidarity, particularly among the fishing communities,” Fr Jebamalai Raja SJ, coordinator of the Ecumenical Christian Forum for Human Rights, told AsiaNews. “As no one is actually living in Kachchatheevu, people brought their cooked meals and shared with one another in a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood like early Christian communities.”

    Once part of the Zamindari of the Raja of Ramnad, Kachchatheevu Island was ceded by India to Sri Lanka in 1974 as part of a maritime boundary agreement.

    Under the terms of the agreement, Indian fishermen were guaranteed access to the island’s waters. Indian pilgrims also retained the right to visit the Church of Saint Anthony without a visa or permission from Sri Lanka.

    However, “for various reasons the traditional fishing rights of Indian fishermen were denied at Katchadeevu. In the past, whenever Indian fishermen went near Katchadeevu to fish, they were beaten up, injured, killed and their boats destroyed by Sri Lankan Navy,” Fr Jebamalai said.

    By contrast, the feast day of Saint Anthony has become a moment of peace. “After 27 years, the Sri Lankan government granted pilgrims the permission to celebrate the feast day. Fishermen from both countries were able to meet, and ties of love and unity binding Tamils on both sides have been strengthened. Everyone shared the same hopes, aspirations and plans.”

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    See also

    15/06/2009 SRI LANKA
    Less money on Saint Anthony celebrations, more for refugees
    In Dalupoth parish in Negomobo, near Colombo, the faithful use the patron saint’s feast day to collect aid for refuges.

    10/08/2007 SRI LANKA
    After a year of violence the road to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Madhu reopens
    The government had closed the road for security reasons. Thousands of pilgrims are expected for the feast of the Assumption. Colombo and Tamil tigers promise to “avoid clashes” in the area.

    12/08/2008 SRI LANKA
    Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu reopened after minesweeping
    There will be no solemn celebrations on August 15, but from August 12-17 groups of 200 pilgrims will be able to visit the shrine. The army has swept an area around the church for mines, but the zone is still dangerous.

    11/03/2010 SRI LANKA
    The relics of Saint Anthony in Sri Lanka to bring “peace and unity” to the country
    For the first time in 750 years, the saint’s remains have left Padua (Italy) to make a pilgrimage to the Asian nation. The initiative is part of the celebrations marking the 175th anniversary of the basilica of Kochchikade, which is dedicated to the saint, who in his life was a member of the Franciscan order. Thousands of people, Catholic and non-Catholic, are praying for the country’s “lost unity” and for a “better life”.

    31/07/2009 SRI LANKA
    Half a million pilgrims travelling to Our Lady of Madhu, calling for peace and reconciliation
    Last minute preparations are underway for the pilgrimage. The tradition which began some 400 years ago will culminate in the Feast of the Assumption on 15 August. In order to reach the shrine many pilgrims will have to travel through areas holding hundreds of thousands of refugees.



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