02/22/2016, 19.38
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For Card Ranjith, the greatest gift received is the blessed Mother of Lourdes (video)

by Melani Manel Perera

The archbishop of Colombo led the ceremony celebrating the centennial of the first church dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes in the country. Since 1948, the Virgin protects the country as Our Lady of Lanka. About 3,000 people attended the Mass and the procession with Our Lady’s statue. Pope Francis sent a message.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The greatest gift "we have received, regardless of anything fundamentalists might say, is our Blessed Mother,” said Card Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, on the occasion of the centennial of the first church dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, who protects the country as Our Lady of Lanka.

"We have received Jesus only through Mary’s intercession,” said the cardinal, who released doves as a sign of peace before the ceremony. “No mother would ever abandon her child, whatever his or her behaviour. Similarly, our heavenly Mother, in spite of our sins that led to our distancing from her, looks forward to our repentance and return to her fold."

About 3,000 people attended the ceremony, which took place on 14 February. The archbishop led the solemn Mass along with Fr Shanthi Kumar Welivita, vicar general of North Colombo, and Fr Priya Jayamanna, former administrator of the National Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka in Tewatte. At the end of the service, the statue was carried in procession, accompanied by the sound of bagpipes.

The faithful flocked to the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, which is called ‘Podi Palliya’, little church in the local language. Built in 1916 in the chapel that held the first statue of the Virgin brought to Sri Lanka, it stands in front of the grotto or Our Lady of Lourdes where the Tewatte shrine was built by the then archbishop of Colombo Jean-Marie Masson Omi in 1948 to thank Our Lady for having saved the country from the horrors of the Second World War.

People have not forgotten the historical development of the little church and the island's biggest Church of Our Lady of Lanka. The little church was the birthplace of the large basilica. Devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes at Tewatta was the source of devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes who blesses and protects all the parishioners and all the pilgrims who go to Tewatta.

“Jesus gave us two gifts before he ended his life on the cross,” the prelate said. “The first gift is the Blessed Sacrament and the second gift is Mother Mary. Certainly, Jesus realised he had to give his Mother to us to protect this church, guide the faithful and make us strong, because Jesus knew that Mother Mary did the same for him."

At the end of Mass, the parish priest, Fr Victor Jayamanna read a message from Pope Francis and had a booklet commemorating the centenary handed out. In it, some parishioners shared their memories of the early years after the founding of the "little church".

One of the former is Simon Sinngo, an 87-year-old Catholic convert from Buddhism. He remembers when the area was under British military control. "I have seen them (British soldiers) train to shoot,” he said. After he met his future wife, he became a Catholic, and said that he was much happier. “I have heard about a lot of miracles happening to many sick persons who bathed in the water from the well there in the church yard."

Alagamala Pulle Raamasami Thever, a 96-year-old convert from Hinduism, raises the flag every year at Our Lady of Lourdes. A tailor by trade, he used to run a small tailoring shop near the basilica.

"I have great faith in Mary because I received everything I asked from her,” he said. “One night in a dream, Mary told me that I would be given a great palace and even showed me the path. What she promised me came true. This basilica is the big palace of which the Virgin spoke."

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