India to help pilgrims going to Madhu Shrine
The construction of 144 housing units received the green light. The project will cost US$ 1.5 million. The initiative will benefit all pilgrims, because faithful of other religions also pray at the Marian shrine. Plans are being vetted to reopen travel links between Jaffna and Chennai after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – In a gesture of goodwill, the Indian government will provide temporary housing units to pilgrims heading to the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, in the Diocese of Mannar, northern Sri Lanka.
India’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay gave the green light to the unprecedented measure last week. The decision was welcomed with feelings of deep joy and gratitude by faithful and devotees, who praise Indian authorities for taking this step.
According to information provided by the Indian High Commission in Colombo, last Thursday New Delhi gave the green light to build 144 intermediate housing units, in the area in front of the church, for pilgrims going to Marian shrine.
High Commissioner Gopal Bagle, Sri Lankan Minister of Tourism Prasanna Ranatunga and the Bishop Emmanuel Fernando of Mannar were present at the official start.
The Tamil community was represented by Selvam Adaikkalanathan, K. Kader Masthan and Kulasingam Dhileeban.
The housing will be funded by India and cost about 300 million rupees (just over US$ 1.5 million).
Pilgrims welcomed the announcement as many visit the Marian shrine two or three times a year. This, they told AsiaNews, is a significant step” and “a help of great value”.
Mr and Mrs Kanishka De Silva, from the Diocese of Chilaw, stress that “if accommodation is provided in an appropriate and orderly manner, this will be of great help to pilgrims” who will be able to pray with a free and happy mind.”
For Ms Selvarani Joseph, of the Archdiocese of Columbus, this will be of “great help” for all pilgrims “because the faithful of other religions” also come to Madhu to pray, “not just Catholics.”
“Thus, everyone will be able to stay in a place of peace and with all the necessary comforts,” she added. Hopefully, the authorities will “keep it clean and in good conditions.”
The High Commissioner also announced that more initiatives will be undertaken in the future to strengthen the longstanding friendship and bonds between the two neighbouring nations.
Minister Prasanna Ranatunga added that the Sri Lankan government is preparing to restore direct links between Jaffna and Chennai, suspended due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“India is the largest source market for tourist traffic in Sri Lanka,” he explained. “However, due to the pandemic, tourists from India have stopped coming.”
This has led to the proposal of creating an 'air travel bubble' to revive tourism. “We look forward to launching this programme in the near future,” the Tourism Minister added.
Madhu, in the north-western Sri Lanka, was directly impacted by the country's civil war and was, for a while, under the control of Tamil Tigers.
Since 1990 the Church has helped house thousands of people until the area near the shrine became a virtual refugee camp.
Despite being a non-military zone, the area was bombed in 2008, forcing the Church to close the shrine and move the statue of Our Lady to a safer place.
The latter returned on 15 August 2010, the feast of the Assumption day and of the historic pilgrimage to Madhu, welcomed by thousands of faithful, including non-Christians.