Some 1.5 million pilgrims are expected this year. Plans are underway to equip the shrine with facilities and devotional accommodations similar to those of other Marian shrines around the world. A Vatican delegation is expected to visit the site soon. The shrine itself was founded by PIME missionaries in 1923.
Vijayawada (AsiaNews) – As in previous years, Our Lady Mother of Good Health brought at her feet thousands of believers for a three-day festival (9-11 February) in Gunadala.
Two days ago, hundreds of people got up very early in the morning to attend the first Mass of the day under a colourful pandal*.
Mgr Telagathoti Raja Rao, bishop of Vijayawada, greeted and blessed the pilgrims, then together with priests, he went to the altar to light festive lamps.
The bishop explained the origins of this festival, and how the apparitions of Our Lady to Bernadette Soubirous in the grotto of Lourdes spawned a new world-wide devotion, linked to great healing and anointing of the sick.
In an ambiance filled with sacred music and chants, a silver and golden jubilee was celebrated to honour the priests who have served the Church in Andhra Pradesh for many years.
The director of the new Catholic Divya Vani TV channel, Fr Udumala Showry Bala Reddy, recited the homily, giving thanks to Our Lady of Good Health for helping him in his 25 years of priesthood.
PIME missionaries began the festival in Gunadala, Vijayawada, in 1923. After more than 90 years, the event has become an important moment for Catholics, although Muslims and Hindu pilgrims come as well.
Speaking at a press conference, Mgr Telagathoti Raja Rao, said the shrine of Gunadala Matha (Mother of Gunadala) in the new capital region of Andhra Pradesh** needs fresh developments because It has become a destination for pilgrims all year round, and not only for this period.
Facilities are need to accommodate pilgrims who come from afar and proposals are required for those seeking spiritual solace and blessings.
To this end, the bishop wants to set up a group of priests to visit and learn from other Marian shrines in the world – such as those in Rome, Lourdes, Fatima, and Częstochowa – to study their reception capacities and expressions of Marian devotion, in order to adapt the Vijayawada shrine to world standards. A Vatican delegation is expected to study the shrine in the near future.
Today's celebration was preceded by a novena that started on 31 January. Holding lighted candles, the faithful walked in procession with the Blessed Sacrament up to the shrine on the hill, site of the statue of Mary, praying the rosary and singing hymns.
The shrine director, Fr Eleti Jaya Rao, said that at least 1.5 million pilgrims are expected, thanks to new accommodation facilities and the ubiquitous atmosphere of prayer.
Andhra Pradesh is home to 300,000 Catholics served by 200 priests in 1,600 churches under the Krishna Unit. In addition, there are hundreds of schools, and charities for the poor and the needy.
For this event, the government has organised a special bus service for pilgrims from the Gunadala train and bus stations to shrine. The railway company has also authorised special stops at Gunadala station for pilgrims.
* A pandal is a temporary structure set up for religious ceremonies.
** The old capital, Hyderabad, has become the capital of the new state of Telangana.