Hundreds of fisherfolk people from India and Sri Lanka pray during Mass at the feast of St. Anthony in Kachchatheevu island. (ucanews.com file photo)
The Sri Lankan navy has begun building a second Catholic church on a tiny island on the maritime boundary with India where worshipers from both countries meet every year to pray to a saint they consider the guardian angel of fisherfolk.
Catholic priests and navy officials laid the foundation stone May 9 for the future St. Anthony's Church on Kachchatheevu island with the navy pledging 10 million rupees to cover the cost.
No one lives on the barren island in the Palk Bay where Indian fishermen from a two-hour boat journey from Rameswaram, India, would traditionally use to dry their nets. The island originally belonged to India but was ceded to Sri Lanka in 1974.
Father Joseph Das Jebarathnam, vicar general of the Jaffna Diocese told ucanews.com that they decided to put up a new church for the convenience of pilgrims who come from India and various parts of Sri Lanka, as the existing one is too small.
Father Joseph Das Jebarathnam vicar general of the Jaffna Diocese, lays the foundation stone for the new St. Anthony Church on Kachchatheevu island May 9.
The church is dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua, who local fisherfolk pray to for safety while at sea and as their guardian angel.
Father Jebarathnam said the feast has been celebrated for over 100 years on the second Sunday in Lent, which usually falls in February or March, rather than on June 13, St. Anthony's feast day according the church's liturgical calendar.
The first St. Anthony's Church was built in 1905, with its administration responsibilities belonging to the Jaffna bishop.
Navy spokesman Capt. Akram Alavi told ucanews.com that the navy decided to put up a new church at the request of Bishop Justin Bernard Gnanapragasam of Jaffna.
"We have planned to complete the construction work by six months," he said.
Vinayagamoorthy Subramaniam, secretary of Sri Lanka's Northern Province Fishery People Unity said that building a new church is a really good news for the pilgrims who visit Kachchatheevu for the annual weeklong feast celebrations.
"Devotees face many difficulties to participate at Mass because there is only a small church there. With the new church and if they put up some houses for pilgrims, then it will help them a lot," said Subramaniam, a Hindu who attends the feast. Pilgrims who arrive on the island for the annual feast camp out in the open.
"Indians and Sri Lankans attend Mass as one family during the feast," he said and is also a time when they sell small items such as clothes, food, oil and silver jewelry.
Indians do not require a passport or visa to visit the island.
Hundreds of people from India and Sri Lanka travel by boats to celebrate the feast of St. Anthony in every year at Kachchatheevu island. (ucanews.com photo)