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Mother Mary comes calling at Sri Lankan homes

Festivities and camaraderie mark annual May tradition in the island nation
Devotees offer prayers to Mother Mary.

Puspa Fernando, a Sri Lankan Catholic, and her daughter pray before a statue of Mother Mary that is taken to Catholic homes as part of a centuries-old Marian devotional tradition during May in the island nation (Photo: Supplied)

Published: May 30, 2024 10:54 AM GMT
Updated: May 30, 2024 11:30 AM GMT

Puspa Fernando adorned her home with garlands of delicate white flowers and stood on the doorstep, ready to welcome a statue of Mother Mary.

The 56-year-old mother's neighbors walked down the street of Negombo, on the outskirts of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, in a joyous procession with a decorated statue of Mother Mary.

Come May, many Sri Lankan Catholics welcome a statue of Mother Mary into their houses, spruced up for the occasion.

Fernando’s neighbors came to her house on May 22 with prayers and hymns of praise, carrying a decorated statue of Mother Mary.

In a revered Catholic tradition that has been followed for more than four centuries, the parish priest blesses some Marian statues on May 1. They are then taken around the parish for the entire month, visiting each house.

Fernando and her Catholic neighbors carefully placed the statue that came to her home on a tastefully adorned small stage in her living room, where it sat for a day until moving to another house in the neighborhood.

Some neighbors arrived with gifts such as biscuits, tea, bananas, and coffee powder. Fernando made refreshments to ensure that hospitality flowed freely among them.

“Our neighbors and friends eagerly await the arrival of Mother Mary,” said Fernando, a government school teacher.

'A tradition for the young' 

She said the parish priest of St. Mary’s Church in Negombo had given a printed set of prayers.

“There is a special prayer for the country, litany of Mother Mary, prayer of consecration of the family to Mother Mary. We also recite the Rosary, reflecting on the mysteries of faith,” said Fernando.

She said each household “eagerly awaits the arrival of Mother Mary, and we believe she comes to intercede for each family.”

During prayer gatherings, some Catholics share the miracles they experienced through the intercession of Mother Mary.

“We seek Mother Mary's intercession when we have family problems. We prayed to her when we were sick with Covid-19. We were cured with her intercession," Fernando recounted.

"We all expressed our gratitude during our prayers when Mother Mary came to my house,” she said.

Fernando said some of her neighbors who follow the Evangelical Church ridicule them for seeking the intercession of Mother Mary. “But we recognize her as our mother, with deep affection,” Fernando told UCA News on May 22.

Sri Lanka has some 2 million Christians, mostly Catholics, with some two percent following Protestant Churches. However, Evangelical Christians dominate the non-Catholic Christians with some 200,000 members.

Fernando said fostering devotion to Mother Mary “supports us in protecting the Catholic faith and being one with countless Catholics” in the country’s 12 dioceses.

“Devotion to Mary is an integral component of the Catholic faith,” said Fernando.

Helping mission, vocations

Christianity arrived in Sri Lanka with Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century, and most Catholics trace their religious heritage back to the Portuguese era.

Fernando, who teaches children Marian devotion, expressed her desire to uphold the May tradition for future generations.

Throughout May, all Church-run institutions and homes meant for the elderly and children unite to honor Marian devotion.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu in the remote jungle in Mannar is active with festivities from May 23 to 26.

Nuwani Hasaranga, a Sunday school teacher in the Kurunegala diocese, which covers a Buddhist-majority area, said Marian devotion helps nurture vocations as priests and nuns.

"The shortage of nuns in mission areas in Sri Lanka is adversely affecting faith formation,” she said.

Holy Family Sister Rasida Mary, who organizes Marian devotions in a parish in the Colombo archdiocese, said Catholics eagerly wait for the May devotion because “Mother Mary has a significant role” in their lives.

She said in Sri Lanka, a “considerable number" of mixed marriages occur between Catholics, Buddhists, and Hindus. "In many such marriages, Marian devotion plays a significant role in keeping the newly converted firmly in the Catholic faith,” Mary told UCA News.

On May 22, Fernando recited the final prayer before carrying the statue to the next home.

"Dear Mother, we consider this day when you stayed in our house a very great moment in our life,” she said before handing the statue to her neighbor.

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