Some 200,000 people celebrate centennial of Our Lady of Lourdes shrine in Odisha
by Purushottam Nayak

The shrine opened on 11 February 1917 on the initiative of the local population that survived an outbreak of cholera and smallpox in 1866. The Missionaries of St Francis de Sales d’Annecy were the first to bring relief. The faithful give thanks for miraculous healings.

Berhampur (AsiaNews) – More than 200,000 people, including many non-Catholics, took part in the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Dantolingi, Odisha (Orissa).

The shrine, one of the most famous in the country, is a place of pilgrimage for thousands of people. It was erected in 1917 by French missionaries, who travelled to the Indian state to bring relief to people affected by famine and epidemics.

Protected by the intercession of the Virgin, residents asked the missionaries to build the shrine to give thanks to Our Lady for received miracles.

Fr Bimal, who organised the celebration, told AsiaNews that "miraculous healings of people with physical and mental problems continue. Their faith is very strong. "

On Saturday, the celebrations began with a Sadri, a traditional Indian dance. Later Mgr John Barwa, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, led at a solemn Mass together with five other Indian bishops, in the presence of more than 200 priests and 300 nuns.

“Mother Mary,” Mgr Barwa told the faithful, “is the refuge for us sinners and the cause of our joy. We are here to ask her to intercede to receive God’s grace and abundant blessings from God through her."

Many non-Catholic families attended the event, like Pratap Sahu and his wife Priti, both of whom are Hindus.

They said that they had been waiting for a child that for many years "and in the end, we were blessed through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes. This is why we come here every year to pay tribute on her feast day."

The worship of the Virgin of Lourdes goes back to droughts that hit the area in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, causing millions of deaths.

In particular, Odisha was hit by a severe famine in 1866, and the situation got worse with the arrival of epidemics of cholera and smallpox, which decimated the population.

In such a tragic situation, Missionaries of St Francis de Sales d’Annecy were the first to take action, collecting people and orphans abandoned on the roads and hosting them at the orphanage in Surada.

The sick of cholera and smallpox were concentrated in Dantolingi, but gradually they began to heal.

For this reason, after the epidemic, local residents asked the missionaries to build the shrine as a way to thank Mary for protecting them during times of starvation and epidemics.

Fr Biro, who is the local parish priest, noted that today "about 250 families live at the shrine and their numbers are gradually growing."

"We are happy that all these families are building bonds of love, affection and peace with each other," said joyfully Mgr Aplinar Senapati, bishop of Rayagada and a native of Dantolingi.

In his homily, Mgr Sarat Chandra Nayak, bishop of Berhampur, mentioned the teachings of the Catholic Church in the apostolic exhortations issued by Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium and Laetitia Amoris.

These documents "speak of the Church's primary mission, namely the evangelisation of the world today. Any progress that takes place in a family is progress for the Church as well. The New World has to start here on earth.”

Speaking about marriage bonds, on which Indian bishops want to focus in 2017, he stressed that "marriage means being together forever. In married life there is no room for selfishness. Happiness is not limited to knowledge or wealth, but builds on sincere and trust (between spouses)."

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