For Odisha governor, the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes is a symbol of unity and peaceful coexistence
by Purushottam Nayak

French missionaries founded the place of worship in 1917 to meet the wishes of local people convinced that the Virgin’s intercession would protect them from hunger and pestilence. Each year attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over India. The anniversary will be preceded by a novena of prayer.

Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) – “Let the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Dantolingi, Odisha (Orissa), be a symbol of unity and peaceful coexistence,” said State Governor S C Jamir on the eve of the celebrations for the shrine’s centenary, which falls in February.

Founded in 1917 by French missionaries in gratitude to the Virgin Mary, the place of worship is visited by the faithful of every religion and every year attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over India.

“God loves everyone and communicates His love through the Blessed Mother,” the governor said in a message to Mgr Sarat Chandra Nayak, bishop of Berhampur.

The centenary will be celebrated on 11 February. Mgr John Barwa, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar and president of the Odisha Catholic Bishops’ Conference (OCBC), will lead a solemn Mass.

The celebrations for the 100th anniversary will be preceded by a novena of prayers, starting tomorrow, 1 February, to 9 February. Each day, a priest will lead the meditation and offer reflections on different topics. Finally, the bishops will deliver a lecture on the Catholic faith and liturgy on 10 February.

The shrine, which is located in Ganjam District (southern Orissa), was built thanks to strong support from local Catholics and others, convinced that the Virgin would protect them in a miraculous way from hunger and pestilence, through her powerful intercession.

The devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes is strong, and the faithful rely on the mother for graces. This was the case of Gabriel and Annamary Behera, a couple married in 1930.

A few years into their marriage, unable to have children, they turned to Mary and asked to be blessed with a son. After many years of prayers, their son John Baptist was born in 1953.

"My mother always said with pride that I was born thanks to the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes," said the fervent devotee.

In 1997 the Dantolingi shrine was elevated to parish status. “Today the church is made up of 250 families,” said the parish priest, Fr Sanjeeb Kumar Beero.

“Together with the Diocese of Berhampur, we try to provide the best assistance to pilgrims. They no longer come just once a year but once a month, on Fridays, when we organise retreats and moments of meditation."