The statue of Mary, Queen of Fatima at St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Sherpur district of Bangladesh. This popular shrine held a scaled-down annual pilgrimage with a limited public presence on Oct. 30 due to Covid-19. (Photo: Eltush Nokrek)
About 1,500 pilgrims attended a scaled-down annual pilgrimage at one of Bangladesh’s most popular Marian shrines by maintaining strict health guidelines including physical distancing, masks and sanitizers.
The annual pilgrimage at Our Lady of Fatima shrine at St. Leo’s Church in Sherpur district on Oct. 30 lasted only six hours.
The theme of the program in predominantly indigenous Mymensingh Diocese was “Baptized and Sent: Mother Mary Queen of Fatima, Witness to the Good News”.
Each year the two-day annual pilgrimage usually attracts 20,000 to 25,000 people from across Bangladesh.
As per government rules, the event this year was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic and only 600 people were allowed initially. However, at the request of the church authority, the administration allowed more pilgrims to participate in the program that included a candlelit rosary procession, personal prayers and the Holy Eucharist.
"Due to Covid-19, we maintained health instructions provided by the government. Many devotees expressed their willingness to come but we couldn’t provide permission due to restrictions. We started our program at 9am and finished at 3pm. We hope next year we will celebrate with the regular process,” Father Monindra Michael Chiran, parish priest of St. Leo’s Church and convener of the pilgrimage committee, told UCA News.
Unlike previous years, no shops were allowed around the pilgrimage site and pilgrims left immediately after the event was over, Father Chiran added.
Samuel Costa, 55, a Catholic from capital Dhaka, usually attends the pilgrimage with his five-member family but this year he participated alone.
“I'm very lucky that I was a part of this year’s pilgrimage. I prayed to Mother Mary for my family and for people who are suffering from Covid-19. I also prayed to Mary so that Covid-19 gets over soon," Costa told UCA News.
Sangkor Biswas, 35, a Catholic and religious sculpture seller from Gopalganj district, was upset about missing the pilgrimage this year.
For the past five years, Biswas has been attending the pilgrimage to express devotion to Mary and to sell statues of Jesus, Mary and St. Anthony.
"I'm not only a businessman but also a devotee. I try to attend every pilgrimage in the country but this year I was unable to attend Baromari pilgrimage. It made me very upset. But I prayed from home to Mother Mary for the peace of the world," Biswas told UCA News.
The Mary, Queen of Fatima shrine was inaugurated 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.
It started arranging pilgrimages the following year. The shrine gained popularity thanks to people claiming miracles attributed to Mother Mary taking place there, including the healing of the sick.