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Bangladeshi pilgrims thank Mary for saving them from pandemic

About 20,000 people joined the Our Lady of Fatima annual pilgrimage in Sherpur district

Bangladeshi pilgrims thank Mary for saving them from pandemic

A woman places a candle at the feet of a Marian statue at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Baromari in Sherpur district of Bangladesh on Oct. 29. (Photo courtesy of Ujjal Gomes)

Tens of thousands of Christians flocked to a popular Marin shrine in Bangladesh to thank Mother Mary for saving them from the Covid-19 pandemic and to pray for brotherhood and harmony in society.

About 20,000 mostly Catholics attended the annual pilgrimage at Our Lady of Fatima shrine at Baromari in Sherpur district of northern Bangladesh held on Oct. 28-29, church officials said.

On Oct. 28, hundreds of pilgrims joined a candlelit rosary procession on the hill roads of the shrine and participated in confessions before the pilgrimage ended with a special feast day Mass on Friday celebrated by Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario and Bishop Poen Paul Kubi of Mymensingh.

Most of the pilgrims were ethnic Garo Catholics from predominantly ethnic Mymensingh Diocese that covers the shrine, about 200 kilometers from capital Dhaka.

The large-scale celebration came a year after the annual pilgrimage was cut short to six hours last year when some 1,500 selected pilgrims were allowed to attend.   

Thanks to a significant drop in infection rates and deaths from the pandemic, the fear of the contagion spreading from the annual gathering disappeared, so people flocked to the shrine en masse, said Father Torun Bonowary, parish priest of St. Leo’s Church and head of the pilgrimage committee.

I join the pilgrimage every year, but this time was special for me as I have overcome terrible days during the pandemic

“More people attended the pilgrimage than expected.  The gratitude for the blessings of Mary, Queen of Fatima, was evident in the prayers and devotion of Christians who joined the feast,” Father Bonowary told UCA News.

Prior to the feast, Catholics in 16 parishes of the diocese participated in special prayers for spiritual preparation.

Kabita Mrong, 28, a Garo Catholic mother traveled to the shrine with her son from capital Dhaka. The beauty parlor worker said she lost her job during the pandemic but found a new one with prayers to Mother Mary.

“I join the pilgrimage every year, but this time was special for me as I have overcome terrible days during the pandemic. I lost my job but with the blessings of Mother Marry I got a job again. I have come to thank Mother Mary for keeping us well,” she told UCA News.

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Sajib Barman, 35, a Hindu, also attended the two-day event and said he wanted to thank Mary for blessings that helped his son recover from a motorbike accident last year.

“I have heard about the pilgrimage for a long time. I wanted to come here last year but couldn’t because of pandemic restrictions. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to join this year,” Barman, 35, a businessman and father of two, told UCA News.

He said he prayed to Mary after his son’s accident and promised to attend the feast. “My son is now healthy and I think it was possible through blessings of Mother Mary,” he added.

Popular devotion to Mary and St. Anthony is common among Catholics in Bangladesh where some 400,000 Bengali and ethnic faithful live in two archdioceses and six dioceses in the Muslim-majority country.

Bangladesh has half a dozen Catholic shrines and the most popular among them is St. Anthony of Padua Shrine in Gazipur district covered by Dhaka Archdiocese. Church officials say the shrine attracts about 50,000 people during the annual feast in February.

The Marian shrine in Baromari was set up in 1997 in response to Pope John Paul II’s call for “pilgrimages of faith” leading up to the anniversary of Jesus Christ’s birth in 2000. The pilgrimage started the following year, church sources say.

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