02/17/2007, 00.00
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Orissa: 135,000 flock to Our Lady of Lourdes pilgrimage

Pilgrims come from across the State and from different faiths. The Marian devotion was born in the beginning of the 1900s, when a cholera epidemic was defeated thanks to the intercession of the Virgin.

Dantoling (AsiaNews/UCAN) – More than 135,000 people from all over Orissa celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in a remote parish in the eastern state of Orissa to commemorate miraculous intervention that ended a cholera epidemic. Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampurdiocese led the feast in Dantoling, with Bishop Thomas Thiruthalil of Balasore and 138 priests concelebrating.

Dantoling, with 136 Catholic families, is near Sorada town. The preparations for the feast started on 2 February with the recital of the novena by the community. On 11 February, the feast day, students from St Joseph's Convent School welcomed the guests with a dance and traditional music.

The mass started at 10 am and finished three hours later. The offertory alone lasted 40 minutes, given the large number of candles, money, flags, rice, vegetables and animals that the faithful brought as an offering to the altar. In his homily, Mgr Nayak explained the importance of the Blessed Mother, calling her the epitome of obedience to God's commandments. After mass, thousands of pilgrims offered a lock of their hair to Our Lady.

There were also Hindus among the participants, who said they had received countless favours and graces from the Mother of God. Kuntual Parichha, a high-caste woman, said: “I had become worried and unhappy after having three daughters. Hindus require a son. My sister-in-law, a Catholic, advised me to pray at the Dantoling church. I was skeptical initially but decided to light candles and pray in the church.” After a year, “I delivered a son and now I come here with my entire family to pray and to give thanks.” Father Clement Bagsingh, the parish priest of Dantoling, says “Mary’s love and compassion draws people from all religions to the church.

Fr Sanjeeb Kumar Beero, a ceremony organizer, explained the origins of the devotion in the parish. In 1911, cholera hit the area and killed hundreds of people. The same thing happened four years later. A Catholic priest who worked in the area asked the villagers to pray to Our Lady of Lourdes. The cholera disappeared and local people considered it a miracle. News about the healing spread and pilgrims of all faiths began flocking to the place.

After the church was built in 1917, thousands began visiting the place to mark the annual feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

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