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Asian Catholic Directory

India’s miraculous Marian shrine shelters Asia’s largest church

Diocese of Thanjavur India’s miraculous Marian shrine shelters Asia’s largest church

Asian Catholics who cannot visit famous Our Lady of Lourdes shrine in France can revere miraculous Mother Mary at Velankanni shrine in India.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health is popularly known as “the Lourdes of the East” and holds the largest Catholic Church in Asia.

Velankanni Marian shrine is one of the most popular Marian shrines and pilgrimage sites in Asia, famed for miraculous healings and granting of wishes to devotees.

The shrine appears in a colorful and festive look in every September during birthday celebration of Mother Mary. Annually, it draws some 20 million pilgrims from all over the world.

The shrine stands on the Coromandel Coast, some 300 kilometers from Chennai, capital of the southern Tamil Nadu state. The history of the shrine dates back to the three popular miracles attributed to Mary in the 16thcentury – the apparition of Blessed Virgin Mary with Infant Jesus to a shepherd boy, the healing of a handicapped buttermilk vendor, and the miraculous rescue of Portuguese sailors from a sea storm.

Overwhelmed by the miraculous escape, the Portuguese sailors built a chapel right on the seashore to express their gratitude to Mother Mary. It became a parish in 1771. The Portuguese brought to the church a statue of Mother Mary holding Baby Jesus. As name and fame of the shrine spread worldwide, Pope John XXII declared it a basilica in 1962.

The Morning Star Church, next to the shrine, was constructed later to provide space for increasing number of pilgrims. The church with large, white edifice of 60,000 square feet has a seating capacity of 10,000 people inside and another 40,000 outside. The church has been built without pillars. It is ranked among the largest Christian worship places in Asia.

The church has an altar measured 20 feet long and 3.5 feet wide, adorned with beautiful paintings and carvings– The Last Supper, the Host and Wine, Virgin Mary of Velankanni, Five Breads and Two Fishes miracle, and alpha and omega symbols.

The Nativity of Mother Mary is the main feast at Velankanni. The celebrations start on August 29 and concludes on the birthday of Mary on September 8, drawing nearly three million pilgrims.

During the feast daylong celebrations are held from 6:00 am to 5:00 pm in four languages – Tamil, English, Malayalam, and Hindi.

Numerous hotels and food courts have sprung up in the vicinity of Velankanni shrine to cater to millions of pilgrims.

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