12/26/2005, 00.00
india - tsunami
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Tsunami survivors offer prayers to Our Lady at the Lourdes of the East

by Nirmala Carvalho

The Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health has been restored after last year's destruction. "Our mission is to help survivors to go from despair to hope", says rector.


Nagapattinam (AsiaNews) – Tsunami survivors came as pilgrims to offer special midnight mass prayers on Christmas in the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health in Velankanni, Tamil Nadu, known as the Lourdes of the East.

Hundreds of pilgrims took part in a procession in the newly-restored church, which had been badly damaged by the December 26 seaquake, ahead of mass. Children wore white and blue clothes, Mary's colours, as an ex voto.

Survivors of all faith took part in the ceremony. All said they came to thank Our Lady for sparing them and to pray for their dearly departed.

 "We had only a 30 per cent attendance at the midnight mass as compared to other years," the Rector of the Basilica Fr P Xavier told AsiaNews. "For some of the survivors the wounds of the tragedy seem to have re-opened on the anniversary of the tragedy.  However, for those who came to the mass, there appears to be a process of healing.  For us priests at the basilica, it is an overwhelming feeling of sadness woven  into a feeling of gratitude to God and also a feeling of fulfilment for all the relief , rehabilitation and reconstruction work the Church could carry out for people of all faiths and castes."

"You can say that our mission for these tsunami victims," Fr Xavier stressed, "is to ferry people from a place of despair to one of hope you could say has been our mission."

"Last year, I was here in Velankanni attending the mass service when the tsunami occurred. I saw so many people die just beyond the walls of the shrine . . ." said Mariam Joseph, a survivor.

"This year, I have come to give thanks to Mother Mary. It is because of Her that I am alive. Had I come for the earlier mass, I would have perished. Mary protected me within the confines of her house."

Velankanni in Tamil Nadu, famous for the sea-facing Marian Shrine, was one of the worst hit places in last year's tsunami, with about 850 deaths, 300 of whom pilgrims, swept away while strolling on the beach close to the church or shopping at stalls.

Nagapattinam alone had 6,065 deaths in the catastrophe, or 76 per cent of Tamil Nadu's total death toll.

A majority of the victims were fishermen and their families. Not only did many lose their lives or those of family members, but most also lost their homes and means of livelihood as well.

Tamil Nadu was the worst affected Indian state in the December 26 tsunami, claiming over 7,000 lives, more than a third of them children. At least 16,000 people were killed in tsunami in India.

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