Tewatta, Catholics celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Lanka (video)
by Melani Manel Perera

Today is the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes. The Catholics of Sri Lanka share a deep reverence for the Virgin Mary, to whom they have entrusted the country, spared from the Second World War. The festival falls on February 4, but was celebrated on Sunday 7. Devotees tell  AsiaNews stories of graces received from Mary.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Catholics of Sri Lanka have come in droves from all over the territory to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Lanka in the National Basilica of Tewatte, north of Colombo. About a thousand of faithful flocked to the shrine to the Virgin Mary (see video), where by tradition Our Lady of Lourdes is venerated, whose liturgical memory falls today.

Pope Francis spoke of the Tewatte Madonna during a visit of Sri Lankan faithful. The feast of Our Lady of Lanka is celebrated on February 4. This year, however, since the anniversary fell on a weekday, the celebrations were held Sunday, February 7th.

Several devotees told AsiaNews: "The love of Mary is really great. There is nothing like it in any other kind of love. Today we can feel this love watching over us. "

The Mass was presided over by Fr. Patrick Perera, vicar general of the Archdiocese, Fr. Victor Florence, administrator, and two other priests. In his homily, Fr. Perera said: "Mary is [greatest source of love], which we receive through God's mercy. We are fortunate to have this dear mother as our beloved Mother of the country. Loving God gave us two mothers. One is the one who gave us life and takes care of us, the other is the Mother who brings us the love of God. She is the loving Mother Mary. God has given us the Mother of our country as a protector. Every day this loving Mother blesses us, our families, and the nation. But we have to pray for her every day, we must love her and ask her blessing for our families and the country. "

The origin of the shrine dates back to the early 1900s, when Fr. A. Kieger OMI and two lay Catholics erected a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes in 1911, in an area belonging to the parish of Ragama. Later next to the cave he also built a church, which can accommodate an increasing number of pilgrims. In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Msgr. Jean Marie Masson OMI, Archbishop of Colombo, made a vow to Our Lady promising that if Sri Lanka was spared the horrors of war, he would have built a votive sanctuary in her honor and would have dedicated to Our Lady of Lanka.

The country was only marginally touched by the conflict, acting as a base for the operations of the British soldiers against Japan. In 1946, Msgr. Masson obtained the Vatican's permission to build a church dedicated to the Virgin. In 1948 Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Blessed Virgin Mary as patron of Sri Lanka. The foundation stone of the National Basilica was laid there in 1951 and the following year the Pope blessed a statue of the Madonna, which was transported to the country. In 1974 the sanctuary was consecrated.

The feast of the Virgin attracts the faithful from everywhere. This year Kalyani Perera, a mother of 56 years, was also present, from the diocese of Kurunegala. She told AsiaNews: "I experienced personally the great love of Mary in 2013, when I had to undergo a stomach operation. I feared for my life. But before the operation I came here to the Basilica and I entrusted myself to the Virgin. I prayed for her to protect me during the surgery and for a quick recovery. I had to look after my three children. "

Another pilgrim, Vincent Fernando, a father of four, says: "This is my seventh year at the celebration. I came the first time because I had some painful family problems ". The man says he had trouble with his elder son, "that was of great concern to me and my wife. But then I came to the church and prayed to our beautiful Amma (Mother). After six months of intense prayers we received a great consolation. For this - he concludes cheerful - I vowed to come back every year, particularly for the feast day. "