08/31/2009, 00.00
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Our Lady of Tewatta welcomes pilgrims and the sick in search of a blessing

by Melani Manel Perera
Thousands of pilgrims visit the Our Lady of Lanka shrine, including about a thousand sick people. The tradition goes back 68 years, attracting worshippers from around the country, Sinhala and Tamil, as well as some Buddhists.
Tewatta (AsiaNews) – All one thousand chairs set aside for the sick yesterday in the forecourt of our Lady of Lanka in Tewatta had an occupant. They were joined by thousands of pilgrims who came to the shrine for the 68th annual day devoted to the blessing of the sick. Some 200 priests and 150 men and women religious took part in the event, brought together at the national shrine for a solemn ceremony whose theme this year was ‘Reconcile and Heal Us, O Lord’. Celebrations began with the Rosary read in Sinhalese and Tamil, followed by the ‘Prayer for the Country’.

During his homily Mgr Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo (pictured), told the pilgrims that “Christians can smile through tears and tribulations”. He also urged the faithful to “live with inner balminess and righteousness” whose absence led to “terror, arms and the blood bath in our country since 1970.”

Mgr Joseph Spiteri, nuncio to Sri Lanka, Archbishops Emeritus Nicholas Marcus and Oswald Gomis, Mgr Thomas Savundaranayagam, bishop of Jaffna, and Mgr Marius Peiris, auxiliary bishop of Colombo, also took part in the service.

Many pilgrims who come from every corner of the country are particularly devoted to the shrine in Tewatta. In making the journey they uphold an old tradition that is passed on from generation to generation.

Christy Mihindukulasooriya, a 67-year-old retiree, told AsiaNews that her family “has to see and pray at the feet of Our Lady of Lanka at least once a year.”

After arriving the night before celebrations began, Mihindukulasooriya spent the whole day in Tewatta, taking part in each moment of prayer and worship.

Mary Magdaline, 58, from the diocese of Chilaw, came to the shrine with three other families, spending three days at the site, “praying under the tree, free from worries, anxiety and frustration.”

Some Buddhists joined the largely Catholic crowd assembled at Our Lady of Lanka. They included a young couple from Colombo who wanted to make the pilgrimage in order to have a blessing for their soon-to-be-born child.

“We decided to heed the words of Christ,” they told AsiaNews on condition their name be withheld, “to purify our minds and ask for protection for ourselves and our child.”

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