Lourdes... in Sri Lanka
...meanwhile, half a world away in Sri Lanka -- where the Madonna of Lourdes was long ago adopted as national patroness -- an ecumenical throng of thousands converged on the Shrine of Our Lady of Lanka in defiance of bomb threats:
Ramond Fernando, a father of five children who came from the northwestern diocese of Chilaw, tells AsiaNews of the widespread "horrible fears of bombs. Travelling is uncertain with the fear of explosions". "But I could not remain without attending this feast day of the Most Holy Mother of Lanka, and praying for peace in the country".
Shymalee De Mel of the diocese of Anuradhapura also speaks of fear of attacks. In spite of this, she came here with her entire family, "to honour our Mother Mary. We cannot forget the great miracle she did during the second world war. So I am sure that our Mother Mary will hear our constant prayer. In these hours of fear, the only thing we can do is pray to our Amma (Mother)".
The basilica was the initiative of former Colombo archbishop Jean-Marie Masson. In 1940, he vowed that if the island were spared from the horrors of war, he would build a basilica for the Virgin. In 1946, he obtained the Vatican's permission to build the church and to dedicate it to Our Lady of Lanka. In 1948, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the blessed Mother as protectress of Sri Lanka. The first stone was laid on February 4, 1951. Pope Pius XII blessed the statue of the Virgin Mary in 1952, and it was brought to the island. The Mass of consecration in 1974 was celebrated by all of the bishops of the country, headed by Cardinal Thomas Cooray.
In recent months, the country has seen an escalation of terrorism, with attacks that have struck ordinary civilians and even buses of religious pilgrims. Today all of the pilgrims recount the same daily terror, but also their trust and abandonment in the arms of Mary.
The public official Kannangara Wasanthan, who participated in the Mass with his wife and two children, tells AsiaNews that "no one can predict when and where the next explosion will take place. We are the victims of the fighting" between the rebels and the government. "The only thing we can do is pray for peace to God and Mother Mary. We know she has performed one miracle already".
About 7-8,000 faithful came to the Mass, according to Fr Merl Shanthi, administrator of the basilica. "Many of them come from far away dioceses, and normally they come and stay near the shrine two three days before the feast day. There are Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus in addition to our Catholics". The celebrations begin nine days before the feast, with a novena of preparation in the parishes.PHOTOS: File/Archdiocese of Colombo
The celebrations on February 10 began early in the morning, at 7:30, with the rosary and hymns to the Blessed Mother. This was followed by the Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Oswald Gomis, together with Fr Sylvester Ranasinghe, rector of the College of St Joseph in Colombo, Fr Bertram Fernando, and Fr Merl Shanthi Perera. There were five other Masses for the feast, celebrated in the Sinhalese, Tamil, and English languages. In his homily, Archbishop Gomis called upon all to "cultivate peace", above all in their own lives and families, in order to "better understand others and their needs". He invited all to "pray to Mother Mary to give us the wisdom and strength to understand and love people, and to spread peace in our country".