The first written reference about Vailankanni
The first, who referred Vailankanni in historical documents is Fr. Paulo de Trindade an OFM priest. In his chronicle in the year 1630, he writes: "... And two leagues (about six miles) from there (Nagappattinam) in the direction of Mannar (i.e. towards South), we have another Christian settlement, of which one of our Religrous has charge and the Church is under the Patronage of our Lady of Health..." (Paulo da Trindade, III, 68). This seventeenth century chronicle is particularly valuable since it is a testimony to the existence of a chapel at Vailankanni in that century. In 1642 the inhabitants of Nagappattinam refered to Our Lady of Health when they wrote to the Portuguese Viceroy at Goa. (P. Pissurlencar, Assentos, III, 656). From the available sources we can conclude that a church in Vailankanni emerged in history probably in the first half of the 17th century.
Shrine for Mary
In several documents this chapel is called as an Ermida. (Lucas de S. Thiago 1747; Goa 20 Aug. 1747, Nicolao 1779 and Manoel do Amparo 1809). This Portuguese word ermida means either a substation (a filial chapel) or a place of pilgrimage. Manoel do Amparo used this word to denote a special cult devoted to the Virgin Mary as Ermida de Romagem. He also speaks of a Franciscan priest in this place, who in all likelihood was attending on the pilgrims who came for the veneration of the Mother of God.
In the year 1846 Fr. Wilmet a Jesuit priest writing to his Provincial (Superior) speaks of this as "….Church of Vailankanni, a famous shrine of Mary....near Nagappattinam...." (Letter ofP. Wilmet SJ, Trichnopoly, Feb., 1846., ed. P.J. Bertrand S.J. Lettres edifiantes et cu-rieuses du Madure Paris-Lyon- Toulouse. 1865, II, 160).
After the renovations and the extensions, the present Church shows the triumph of classicism in structure. The magnificent ambience with its 93 feet high dome and two 82 feet high gothic spirals dominates the topography of Vailankanni. In the year 1920 the indefatigable Rev. Fr. Sebastiao Xavier de Noronha was instrumental in giving the main Basilica the present structure with the two lofty gothic spires facing the Sea, similar to the western Shrines. About the same time the two-storied Parochial building with facility, for the pilgrims was also built. The third floor to the Parochial House was added in the year 1974, to accommodate the increasing number of clergy especially for the annual feast.
Apparitions in Vailankanni
There are many visions, apparitions, and locutions, perhaps as many as all the people who have ever lived. Even now extraordinary apparitions are reported all over the world. The Vatican is unable to process the unprecedented number of reports of private revelations that it receives daily. Autheptic ones convey immense joy and confidence in God's love. As Second Vatican Council states..." Such gifts of grace,-,\Vhether they be of special enlightenment or whether they are spread more simply and generally, must be accepted with gratefulness and consotation as they are suited to and useful for the needs of the Church", (Vatican II, Lumen gentium, 12).
Although the apparitions here in Vailankanni were not well documented Note:12 as in the case of Lourdes, Fatima and Guadeloupe, Vailankanni Matha devotions have proved to have divine origin, simply because billions of people today, have gone beyond the surface of history to the depths of the mystery. Countless persons from many different religions believe in the gentle presence of the Blessed Mother here and honor her. Note:12 In 1642 the people of Nagappattinam had written to the Viceroy of Goa, mentioning about a Church in Vailankanni along with St. Michael. Since they have not mentioned about the apparition, the apparition was little later. See P 60. The Franciscans in TamilNad. By Fr. Achilles Meersman OFM. (1962). Earlier St. Francis Xavier also has not spoken of any apparition when he had visited this area in the year 1541,.
The people who flock may not know her name other than Arokia Matha, but all of them have a relationship with her and hope to get her help for their sojourn on earth. Apparitions are "the sense perceptible vision or appearance of Christ, the blessed Virgin, angels or saints." Many"dpparitions are recorded in the Scriptures (e.g., Tobit 3:16-17; Genesis 26:24; Luke 1:11,26). The authenticity of a_aritions is a matter for investigation and evaluation by the Church. Church approval is always required when a popular cult arises in response to alleged apparitions.
Vailankanni was and is always the heart of the Bishops of this area, ever since the reports were known. By 1846 this place certainly drew pilgrims and had a renowned Marian Shrine is ascertained from the letter of Fr. Wilmet SJ. Fr. Santos has published a letter written by Rt. Rev. Msgr. A.M. Teixeira the late Bishop of Mylapore about the feast in 1921 after his visit to Vailankanni. The list of Parish Priests of Vailankanni Fr. Santos gives in his book is based on the Book of Msgr. Motha Vaz who relied on the records of the Archives of the Maylopore diocese.
Miraculous escape from the sea-The Portuguese
From the middle of the IS-century the Portuguese were flourishing in their trade with the East. It was a great privilege that the port of Macao in China was in their custody and control.
In the middle ages, Mary the blessed Mother of our Lord was seen as the redemtrix of captives, as refuge of sinners, as mediatrix between God and humankind. Even serious theologians were portrayed Christ as menacing Judge whose heart is softened by the pleas of his mother. She also became known as the "Star of the Sea" who guides us safely into heaven's port, and as the "Mother of Mercy". The mediaeval theologian like Bernard of Clairvaux (1153) preached that we should have childlike trust in all-powerful help of Mary and the\"eby influenced the popular devotion.
Vasco de Cama who discovered the sea-route to India in 1492, gave instruction to the sailors and to his fellow sailors that a Marian Statue be tied in front of the ships so that they be protected from all dangers and harm. He himself kept Our Lady's flag to the four winds. (see, Fr. Santos).
On one such journey when a ship had set sail from Macao to Portuga, Note:3 the ship was caught in a terrible storm and the sailors prayed beseechingly to the Blessed Mother.
The Mother brought them safely and guided them to land on the shore of Vailankanni, a place she already had chosen to show the love of God. As a token of gratitude for giving them life once again the Portuguese sailors built the chapel 24 feet to 12 feet with a dome overhead. In their possible subsequent visits, perhaps they brought porcelain plates, which we have even now illustrating bible scenes and other cultural arts of the time, to beautify the Church they had built earlier:The main statue that they had brought to the altar of the Shrine was Our Lady holding the Baby Jesus, standing majestically on the globe. This is the way the blessed mother also appeared to the two boys earlier. The left side of the Main Shrine, under the flag-mast the scene of the Portuguese sailors trying to land the shore is installed by Fr. R. Jesuraj the Procurator in 1996, when Fr. Sammanasu was the Parish Priest.
Thus the people of the area came to realize in time the eternal plan of the Savior, to bring all the peoples of different faiths, cultures and nationalities to Salvation, unity and tolerance, which is manifested through the Love of God and the Love of the neighbor. The present elongated shape with imposing architecture, compatible with the medieval scale was completed in 1970s.
Note:3 The Shrine History published in the year edited by Fr. G
abriel et al. says that, the direction of the ship is from Macca to Portugal.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Vailankanni written by Rev. Fr. S. R. Santos
(1933) says that it was from Macao to Colombo. P7.
The Order of Franciscan Missionaries
Vasco-da-Gama was followed by Alvare Cabral in 1501. This second expedition brought eight Franciscan Missionaries. Of the eight Franciscan Missionaries brought over to India. Gabral says that"... ore converted and baptized a Rajah or Prince of Calicut, another a Rajah of Cochin, another the king of Cannan ore and yet another a prince of the royal house of Narasinga Vijayanagar " (Mitras Lusitanas do Oriente (Volume III,Page 183). As one may recall, Vailankanni and Nagapatinam were within the limits of the Kingdom of Vijayanagar.
Goa was the main theater and the headquarters for the Portuguese sponsored missionary activities in India. There is a close link between this area and Goa. The diocese of Thanjavur to which Vailankanni belongs still has two retired priests of Goa. A good number are buried near the Cathedral Church in Thanjavur. Further, in 1523, the Portuguese Franciscan Missionaries were in charge of the tomb of St. Thomas at Mylapore at Chennai. These missionaries were also in Nagappattinam in the year 1534 and a bit earlier in Tuticorin, on the east in the Coromandel' Coast.
The expansion of mission stations, and development of the areas, enabled Pope Paul V to create a separate diocese of Maylapore in South India. The first bishop of Maylapore was Dom Sebastiano de san Pedro. Obviously, Vailankanni came under the jurisdiction of this new diocese.
The Dutch at Nagappattinam
In 1660, the Dutch captured Nagappattinam and its flourishing trade from the Portugese. We have the records to show that even the Catholic mission station at Tranqebar was occupied forcefully by the Dutch Calvinists when the minister came to Nagappattinam. (See, Fr. Meersman The Franciscans in Tamilnad. 1962). The Dutch nurtured animosity for the Catholics.After their capture of Nagappattinam port they showed bitterness and expelled all the religious orders engaged in mission work. Franciscans, Augustinians and the Jesuits were involved in the mission work in this area. The prestigious St. Joseph's College of Trichy, was founded in 1840 by the Jesuits ,in Nagappattinam, and was shifted to the present site in Trichy. The buildings in Nagappattinam are kept as District Court even today.
In 1662 the Franciscans transferred their Church which was within the port area to another place under the guidance of Rev. Fr. Francisco de Oriente. Rev Oriente thus became the first parish priest of the Church of Immaculate Conception. There was and still is another Church in the custody of Catholics called Mar-de-Deus or Mar-de-Deus. This church is not identical with the Church of Immaculate Conception.
The Persecution by Dutch
The Dutch made N agappattinam the capital of all their trading colonies in the East. The Dutch missionaries even learned Portuguese and preached Calvinism in that language to attract the audience. Although the Raja was in favor of Catholics (eight thousand at this time), the Catholics gradually developed their mission in Vailankanni. The priests were even going from Vailankanni to Nagappattinam for the spiritual need of the people under the pretext of friendly visits.
The Dutch also became masters of Sri Lanka. It is possible that they imported from Holland the fierce quarrels and persecutions which were then raging in Europe against the Catholics.
We come to know from the experience al1d writings of Venerable Father Joseph Vaz, a heroic and undaunted missionary in Sri Lanka, that the Dutch, atrociously persecuted the Portuguese (mostly Catholics) and the Native Catholics alike. They vehemently opposed the Holy Mass and the veneration of the Blessed Mother, which is the very identity of Catholicism. In the year 1771, i.e. towards the end of Dutch power in Nagappattinam, when Fr. Antonio D. Rosario was the Parish Priest, there were only 4000 Catholics in the parish.
The anti-Catholic activities of the Dutch in Nagappattinam were probably the real cause for the poor progress in Vailankanni. The Dutch almost ruled the place for a hundred years. After the arrival of English, there was peace and progress for the mission in Vailankanni; the news of the apparition of Our Lady was spreading gradually.
Vailankanni, a New Parish and Thanjavur a New Diocese
In the year 1771, Vailankanni acquired the status of a Parish with Fr. Antonio de Rozario as the First Parish Priest. He was the parish priest in Nagappattinam. After the Franciscans, the diocese of Mylapore was in charge of the mission in this area until 1952. It was in that year that Thanjavur a Cavery fed basin became a new diocese. Vailankanni came within the territory and jurisdiction of the Bishop of Thanjavur. Rev. Rajarethina_ Arokiasamy Sundaram, a priest of Mylapore Archdiocese, from Valamburi near Thanjavur was appointed the first Bishop of Thanjavur. Bishop Sundaram showed keen interest in the development of Vailankanni Shrine and granted special spiritual privileges. He also arranged for the Special Status of a Minor Basilica to Vailankanni. In the year 1962 on 3 November, John XXIII through his Apostolic Letter 'To Perpetuate the Memory of the Event' granted this status to this Church.
Vailankanni, the Shrine Basilica
It is a greatest honor for a Church that it be raised to the status of a Basilica. The Greek word Basilica signifies a "Royal Hall". In course of time this word has come to mean a large and beautiful hall. In ancient times the whole world in general and Rome in particular, erected large halls for administrative purposes. The first hall bearing the name of Basilica existed in Athens. But after the fall of Greeks, the Romans popularized it. It was Julius Caesar who artistically constructed the Hall of "Basilica Julia" for administrative purposes. They are somewhat similar to the "Durbar Halls" in our palaces in Madurai, Mysore, Thanjavur etc.
Christ being the king and His Church being his audience hall, the larger Christian Churches at Rome came to be called Basilicas. Naturally enough, these Basilicas were large, roomy, bright and ornamental. After the Edict of Milan in the year 313 AD, the mighty Emperor Constantine granted permission to the Pope to construct a magnificent Basilica and a palafe at "Lateran". He also erected a wonderful Church over the tomb of St. Peter.
At present, a Basilica is a consecrated Church usually built with the front facing east, and generally constructed in one of the classical styles of architecture. It is now required that a Church, in order to be callea a Basilica, should contain some works of art, or should house the body of a saint or a celebrated image much venerated in the land or be a celebrated place of pilgrimage.
In Rome, there are 13 Basilicas and of which five are major and eight are minor Basilicas. The major Basilicas are usually under the supervision of Cardinals and accorded special spiritual privileges. In India there are minor Basilicas like, the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Bandra in Mumbay, the Basilica of Born Jesus in Goa, the Basilica of St. Thomas (Santhome) in Chennai etc.
As Fr. Santos says "The ever increasing number of Vailankanni pilgrims was due to a great extent the people's advertisement of the Favours of Our Lady all over India. Th/e numberless poor who came to Vailankanni on foot, returned to their homes singing from door to door and from villages to village the glories and favors of Vailankanni Aroquiamada very much in the style of the troubadoures of the Middle Ages In Europe".... 4 Father Santos includes the Anglo-Indians also in being instrumental for the spread of this devotion. Actually the press initially did very little for the spread of the devotion to the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Vailankanni.
The apparitions of Vailankanni, stretched beyond the historical reason that determined the construction of a Church. Now this Church represents an organic whole, which is religious and artistic as well. Those who come here fully participate in the mysteries of salvation. The Holy Path has the Way of the Cross and the Mysteries of the Rosary displayed in statues. The paintings and other artistic structures quicken the piety of the devotees. In 1998 the scene of Calvary, another masterpiece with out mannerism in art, is installed in the Lower Extension Basilica.
Note:4 Fr. Santos The Shrine of Our Lady of Vailankanni P 22.
The Shrine Town
The system of government underwent a number of changes. Countless pilgrimages on the part of groups, families and private individuals combined to make Vailankanni, the most desired destination. Vailankanni comes under Selection Grade Town Panchayat and is known as Township. The Chairperson with the Counselors is the chief executive here. This is a Parish covering an area of 5,478 hectares. It has a population around 30000. The Parish administration has the Rector and the Parish Priest as the head of the governance here. The present Rector Very Rev. G. Arul Iruthayam known for his astuteness and organizational ability took charge of the Shrine in June 1998. .
Fr. Jesuraj the present procurator is well conversant with men and matters here. There are four more associate priests, in charge of different portfolios in the Shrine, like Liturgy, Accommodations, Canteen and Depot. There are also three senior priests who administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
There are three more priests who are in service, for the Marian Institute Retreat Centre and the School. There are 653 persons helping the Shrine in the day today activities. Bishop Devadass Ambrose visits the Shrine periodically to encourage and monitor the whole administration.
The Annual Feast
During the annual fest days, the Basilica and Vailankanni take a new life, and the vicinity is decorated even in its farthest corners. Also Vailankanni has become the base-camp, for the pilgrims of all faiths. It is believed by tradition that the Portuguese storm-tossed ship safely reached the shore in Vailankanni on the September 8, on the feast of the Nativity (Birthday) of our Lady. In memory of these two great events, the annual feast of Our Lady of Good Health also is celebrated on this day.
A large concourse of devotees witnesses the flag hoisting on the 29th of August every year. The following nine days of preparation itself will be feasts here. Novenas, Special Liturgical and paraliturgical services are conducted in the Church for the pilgrims on these days. A conservative estimate of the crowd is around 1.5 million on these days. (Fifteen hundred thousands)
To Jesus with Mary
The priests here among other administrative duties concentrate principally on the liturgical and pastoral animation of the pilgrims. The devotion to Mary does not end with her alone. Jesus asks, "Who is my mother and my brother and my sister?" (MLc. 3:33). And his answer by claiming that his family is "those who hear the word of God and act on it" endears all of us to him. The main person who has heard God's word and acted on it has been Mary. It is not a condemnation of his Mother as some 'Christian Sects' preach in our streets, Jesus indicates that his blood family and his faith family can be joined since it is Mary who fulfills both demands. Though Mary's maternal relationship to Jesus started in her womb through her umbilical cord, at times in His Father's work she finds herself as though marginalised to the periphery of his life.
When Jesus dies, Mary's mothering takes a new direction. Mary becomes the Mother of the Church, Mother of the Community of the Kingdom of God. Together with the disciples she gathered for prayer and participated in the Community's Pentecost experience. Mary is a model disciple for us and her wisdom to live with the mystery of God is at the heart of all reality. Throughout the history peoples grew in the consciousness of reliance on Mary's protection and so a lot of devotional forms continued to proliferate. As William of Ware (D early 1300) insisted that he would rather err in giving the Blessed Virgin too much than too little. To that end he employed the medieval formula along with Duns Scotus (D. 1308), "God could do something, it was fitting that he should (in Mary), therefore, he did it." (Potuit,decuit. facit).
Holy Mass-the Redemptive Atonement
The Second Vatican Council made the following declaration among others with respect to the Mass. "At the Last Supper, on the night when he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the Sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No.47) "...As often as the Sacrifice of the Cross in which 'Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed' (1 Cor. 5.7) is celebrated on an altar, the work of our redemption is carried on. At the same time, in the sacrament of the Eucharistic bread the unity of all believers who form one body in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 10: 17) is both expressed and brought about. All men are called to this union with Christ..." (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, No.3.)." "...The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, moulds and rules the priestly people. Acting in the person of Christ, he brings about the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. For their part, the faithful join in the offering of the Eucharist by virtue of their royal priesthood..." (Ibid., No.10).
The council of Trent clarifies another point in its decrees"... This Sacrifice is identical with the Sacrifice of the Cross, inasmuch as Christ is the Priest and Victim in both. A difference lies in the manner of offering, which was bloody upon the Cross and is bloodless on the Altar. The Mass is a propitiatory Sacrifice, atoning for the sins of the living and dead for whom it is offered..." (The Decrees on the Holy Eucharist. No.2 & 3). Therefore, the Liturgy is the Most important activity in the Shrine. All other prayers are focused towards this reeriaytment of the Calvary Sacrifice of Jesus. Masses are said in many different languages. More than 15 priests from different states are invited for this purpose. The entire clergy of the diocese are invited mainly for sacramental purpose.
Flag-Hoisting Every Day! During the Feast
At noon, the flag of Our Lady is hoisted every day during these nine days of the Novena and the Feast. During this ceremony an intense feeling is aroused leaving behind raptureous eyes and murmuring lips, proclaiming her praises. A judge from Pondichery has reported of a miraculous cure of his Asthma during this Flag-hoisting. If Bakthi is your cup of tea, it is heartening to know that a place like Vailankanni exists to celebrate the cause of it. During this time, as always, the ambience at the Shrine has to be experiencf!d to be believed. Serial bulbs light up the place, the subtle fragrance of fresh flowers, incense and camphor fumes waft around in the air, elevating the hearts and minds of the pilgrims in the wonderful Sannidhannam . It is a heart renting experience to see the hundredsof-thousands, devotees of Our Lady, standing all along unmindful of the scorching midday sun to greet and pray through Our Lady.
The (Car) Procession-liThe Heaven on Earth"
Another important and crowd pulling event of those festive days is the Car Procession that takes place at 8 p.m. every day. This follows the liturgical services of the evenings. Since Vailankanni is in the coast, the people from the beginning carry the Chapparam (Cars) as pulling will be next to impossible. People in the east consider that participating in the festivals, pulling the cars or witnessing the flag hoisting are sacred and sacramental. These are all symbolic expressions of their love for and commitment to God.
When the Cars and the big Chariot are brought in front of the Main Church, prayers are offered for World Peace and for the motherland, for the Universal Church and for the National leaders. Saint Bernadus' prayer commencing by these words Remember O Most Holy Virgin is said just before the Flag-hoisting every day. Magnificent the revolutionary song of Mary from the gospel of Mark and Luke is recited ceremoniously with articulation before the Car Procession every day.
The Government, for Bondobust duty of the feast sends a contingent of 500 police officers, 10 DSPs, 25 Inspectors, 40 SISs and 60 women police. Over and above the Shrine spends enormous amount of money in deploying additional watchmen, sweepers and other work force. A sizable sum is also spent in supplying potable water, and keeping the place clean. It goes with out saying that the illumination of the Church and the lighting of the places make one verbalize the sentiment as 'If there is heaven it is here, it is here.
The concept of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God is rooted in human consciousness. It has intrigued people from the beginning. The Virtues and dignity of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God are extolled in the world's art, music, literatures and architecture. Virgin Mary has a unique place in the human history, a member of the human race and never a divine being; she is also the Mother of all peoples. Her role has been described thus: "Mary consented in faith to become the Mother of Jesus. The constant tradition of the Church holds that Mary received the Word of God into her heart and her body at the angel's announcement and thereby brought Life to the world. She conceived in her heart, with her whole being, before she conceived in her womb. First came faith. Then her Motherhood." (Behold Your Mother. A Pastoral Letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary, US. 1973).
Since Mary is Mother of true God through whom everything lives, all generations of different ethnic groups and communities honor her irrespective of their religions.
Cultural Programs during the Feast
Every day after the Car Procession, there will be cultural items like musical concerts, Plays, Bharathanatyams, etc in an open auditorium near the Shrine itself. "Artists and other professionals from various fields deem it as a singular privilege to give performance in the Virgin's Land. Most of them also are deeply devoted to Our Lady here and come to fulfil their vows as gratitude.
Month of May-Another special Season of Grace
Vailankanni takes a festive look again in the Month of May, since this month is specially dedicated to Our Lady. Throughout the month, the pilgrims pour in from all parts of the Country and other countries to spend the time in Prayer. Every day there is car procession along with well-prepared prayers and songs around the Basilica Church. Rosary and the Litany adorn the procession. St. Philip Neri (1515-95) was so enlightened to realize that the secret of bringing the youth to salvation is to entice them towards something good and to keep them occupied with good things. He introduced public processions in honor of Our Lady throughout Italy. Wherever we see an increase of devotion to Mary, there also we notice a greater love for Jesus. The month of May has been set apart by the Church for special devotion to the Mother of God. It has recently been called the month of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament also and has a feast in this title in May.
Further the devotion of this month originated in Italy towards the middle of the l8-century. It was Fr. Lalomia, a missionary, who first composed, in Italian, a little book on this devotion entitled The Month of Mary. or the Month of May (1866).
The Same Good Mother
Mother of Jesus is shown and prayed to under many different titles. Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, of Mt. Carmel, of Czestochowa, of Knock, of Loretto, of Syracuse, of La Salette, Beaurain, and hundreds more. We also call her as Our Lady of Perpetual help, of Sorrows, of Charity, of Grace, of the Rosary, Queen of the Apostles, etc.
Mary is one, but she is also many things to many people. Her place-titles and other descriptive names show the ongoing story of love and affection of a mother and her children. By calling her by these titles the devotees bring Mary more intimately intotime and space, make her a person in one place or another just as she was a person in the village of Nazareth. The various titles give the pilgrims a feeling that she belongs to them and she is ready to lend her assistance. Marian titles do not destroy or distort Mary of the Gospels.
We gain better insight into Mary's appearance when we judge them in their historical context as acts of Providence, instead of classifying them according to mere theological criteria, although that also is very important. In ignoring completely these appearances, some loose sight of the multiple workings of Divine Providence. Divine manifestations change people, and the people change the world. Mary's apparition in Vailankanni happened when the Calvinists (The Dutch) persecuted the Catholics in Nagappattinam.
This may perhaps be the reason for the development and concentration on Vailankanni, which is another coastal village nearer to, at the same time out of the jurisdiction and port area of Nagappattinam.
Mary is completely a mother who loves the least of her children and works in harmony with the culture and mentality of the place and persons. She asked for Milk and Morn (a Tamil word for whey) which is a popular drink in South India even now.
William Carrigan, a Marian lecturer, expressed it eioquently in these words: "Shrines are Our Lady's workshops where she repairs broken bodies, mends torn hearts, and restores sin-scarred souls." vailankanni today is the living testimony of these processes. Wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, pity and fear of the Lord bring solutions to all human problems. Such gifts are the theme of all authentic Marian apparitions. In fact the very foundation of Christianity rests on the apparition of the Risen Lord.
Wherever we find a tabernacle erected fur Jesus or an altar for the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass, there one will definitely find a niche carved for the Blessed Mother. The Church from earliest times has not separated Mary from Jesus. The Blessed Sacrament is the greatest of all the treasures in the Church. It is the source of practically all graces and the consolation of the faithful here on earth. As we thank Mary for giving us Jesus, we also thank Jesus for giving us the Eucharist. Pilgrims throughout the day can spend the time prayerfully in the presence of the Lord. There is also a special exposition in the upper Church from 7.30 am to 5 pm everyday.
In the Encyclical on the Holy Eucharist Mirae caritatis, (1902), Pope Leo teaches that the Holy Eucharist is in a certain way the continuation and extension of the Incarnation. Through it the substance of the Incarnate Word is joined to each man, and the supreme sacrifice of Calvary is renewed in an admirable manner, (MC, AL XXII, 122-123).
It may be also argued that Mary co-operated remotely in the institution of the Eucharist by consenting to the Incarnation. The Incarnation depended on her divine maternity, since the Eucharist depended on the Incarnation, it follows that the institution of the Eucharist depended 'on her divine maternity, on her consent. Moreover, since the sacrifice of the Mass is the same as that of the Cross, except the mode of offering, it may be said that Mary, who associated Herself with the sacrifice of the Cross-at Calvary is inseparably united with the sacrifice of the Mass. Mary took part in the painful expiation offered by Jesus for the sins of the World.,
People who come to this perpetual adoration greatly, benefit from this Sacrament of Unity. Every First Friday, there is Eucharistic Procession around the Shrine premises and this ends with preaching on the importance of this devotion and with benediction. There is also a vigil prayer service till 12pm in the Shrine, on every First Saturday.
Basilica in its New Phase and the Extension
In January 1961, a beautiful central altar delicately executed in spotless white marbles replaced the former altar made of cement concrete. The Marble altar adds exquisite splendor to the Shrine. The ancient porcelain plates and paintings have been carefully retained in their original splendors.
The necessity arose to expand the Shrine in order to meet the growing need of the Pilgrims. Enlarging the capacity of the Church for active participation in the Liturgy for the influx of various language-speaking pilgrims became imperative. The Shrine administration wished to provide places for Liturgical services for different language groups. This warranted a two-storied extended Basilica. Catholic Church is basically a cultic community. Worship is their identity. So in 1974-75 during the time of late Very Rev. Maria Soosai who is very well known for his generosity, the two story Church was blessed and consecrated by Rt.Rev.R.A. Sundaram the then bishop of Thanjavur. A devotee of Our Lady produced the Popular Tamil feature Film Annai Vailankanni . During this time and Fr. Maria Soosai who himself had a passion for music, released fascinating songs, in honor of Our Lady with captivating tones, with the help of professional and cine artists. The magnificent Church structure gives us a feeling that it is an addition to the Worders of the WorId today.
This attracts and elevates the people. Those who come here go, with a conviction that Mary is Mother, She is home, and She is safety. She is abundance. She is tranquility. She is the gate of Heaven and Hope of the people. Plans are made every year to establish new ways of rendering still more efficient the pastoral services to pilgrims.
There are regular buses from every town and major city to Vailankanni. Private buses also offer their service in connecting the States. The quality of these buses is comfortable and the rates are affordable. During the festivals special buses in hundreds are introduced for the conveniences of the pilgrims. Vailankanni is one of the most visited holy places in India. It is 8km from the InterState High Road which links Mysore and Nagapattinam.
For those who like train journey, links with other Junctions and Stations are possible from Nagappattinam, Thiruvarur and Thanjavur. The announcement in January 1999, in Trichy by the Railway minister Mr. Nitish kumar, regarding the extension of the Rail Link to Vailankanni makes thousand of Pilgrims happy. The unflinching courage and steadfast determination of the Parish Priest deserve encomiums by all. This is manifestly clear in wall notices, immediately after the announcements thanking the Parish Priest and the concerned Ministers.
The most recent timetable was published by Southern Railway in August 15, 1998. From Chennai Train No. 6155 and from Quilon T.N. 6162, from Trichirappalli T.N.6162 reach Nagappattinam and Nagore. There are number of other connecting links to Nagappatinam from Bangalore, Tiruchirappalli (Tris;hy) , Thanjavur (Tanjore), Karaikudi and etc. '
Gone were the days when writers and people spoke of the distance to Vailankanni from other cities. Now, since Mary is the principle of Unity in the East, contrary to the experience of the West, Vailankanni also becomes a central place to calculate the distances from other major cities for easy identification.
Offerings to Our Lady
Totus Tuus "I am completely yours [0 Mary]" Note:5 (the consecration prayer of St. Louis de montfort) is the best offering one-can give to Our Lady. The real devotee of the Blessed Virgin is someone who makes the total surrender to Jesus as that of Our Lady herself. However it has been the customs in all the cultures and a religion to give to God a part of what God himself has given so that His love is told to all. The offering of the poor persons to their Mother melts anyone who sees that.
Note:5 This is also the motto of our present Holy Father John Paul 11.
Museum of Offerings
Those who experienced the power of prayer in their lives or got what they had prayed for wish to give the offerings of gold, silver and other materials. They also want that this be told to other devotees too. This is the reason why the Shrine had to build a big Hall of Museum to display :he offerings. Periodically this is changed and the new ones are kept in the showcases. It is a moving experience if one goes through these halls of living testimony of God's providence through Mary.
The pilgrims who are unable to come personally send their offerings to the Parish Priest. A few resort to ingenious ways and pack their offerings in the hallow of piece of bamboo, seal the ends watertight, and through it in the Sea with the address of the Shrine carved on the sides. The shrine has displayed a few of them in the same Museum. In the museum there are four large portfolios containing reports, letters, declarations etc. of the people who experienced divine intervention in their lives. Even now such reports are regularly published in the Vailankanni Calling a journal in English specifically started for this purpose. There is also Vailankanni Curalloli a Tamil Journal for the same purpose.
Simony not in Vailankanni !
This is a deliberate intention and act of selling or buying spiritual goods for material things. It is a sacrilege, because it wrongfully puts a material price on spiritual things, which cannot be either sold or bought. The term is derived from the name of Simon Magus, who attempted to buy from Sts. Peter and John the power to confirm people in the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:4-24).
The Shrine administration is very alert not to allow such practices. The pilgrims are instructed to be aware of any such cheats, especially during festive occasions when people congregate in huge numbers. Very Rev Fr. Sammanasu apart from providing quarters for pilgrims also concentrated on the quality of liturgical services in the Shrine. Motivated by the 'signs of the time', he had brought out considerable number of audio and video and cassettes on Our Lady. Popular sermons and commentaries were also made available for the people in audiocassettes.
Patha Yathra in the 'Tirtha yatra'
Every religion, particularly Christianity envisions the people as on a journey. (1 Cor. 15,27., Rev. 21,6). A Christian pilgrimage, besides being a sign of the eschatological journey, must contain in itself a "turning away from" (Acts 3:26; Rom. 11,26) and turning to (Acts 3,19,14,15;) which is expressed by the word metanoia . Every pilgrimage is a metanoia, a turning away from all that is not God, and a turning to all that is good, holy and beautiful. Pilgrimages are back in vogue and we are entering a new era of religious fervor.
This devotion of praying with feet carries some laudable qualities and is shooting up almost like mushroom growths for various reasons. The one \Vho walks to Vailankanni may have started alone or as a group. There are special seasons like the Lent, Month of May and September for this Patha yatra. Every road and byway is filled with people searching for the Mother. These pilgrims soon discover that they are participating in a flux, which has selected the same Shrine as their destiny. It is told that the pilgrim society does not make any social distinctions and so it becomes a communion of souls.
As in the case of mental prayers, several hardships and blessings, temptations and consolations will be awaiting in the way. Walking the distance with an intention of pilgrimage is definitely a grace giving act. This journey is preceded by a simple life style, a life of poverty and penance. Simple and plain clothes, claiming to be no person of importance and standing on the common level of the other vagrants they meet on the way. The devotees like those familiar with mental prayers and contemplation discover a whole new word of value is wisdom which is very different from the world they inherits through this act of faith. This discovery is possible also in other modes of sacred journeys.
At the same time the person who comes on foot, becomes a poor person, a person of hunger and thirst, very often worried about the shelter at evening and about the inclemency of the weather, in spite of many way side Mandapams provided by the Shrine of Vailankanni. The Shrine has built about six mandapams on the roadsides in six different places. Further there are many churches, which are on the way which people use on their journey. These pilgrims, especially those who walk from other States, become like "suffering servant" unable to speak the local languages. This forces them to become like children, namely to have total trust in God for whom they are braving this arduous journey by foot, there by experiences the hand of God during every moment of the pilgrimage. The sense of sin and reparation, restitution is cultivated during this sacred journey. All the agony at the various steps of this prayer turns into ecstasy at the end when they reach the courtyard of the main Shrine. While some of these practices are considered as expression of faith, the Shrine is on the look out to curb any expression of craziness like inflicting physical pain etc.
St. John Chrysostom had a burning desire for a pilgrimage to Rome. He writes, "If I were freed from my labors and by body were in sound health, I would eagerly make a pilgrimage merely to see the chains that had held him captive and the prison where he lay." He means the tomb of St. Paul whom he admires immensely. We can put the same words in the mouth of any ordinary person here in India who are very eager to visit this Sacred Land.
Accommodations a worry free Affair!
Vailankanni is a microcosm; all facilities are readily available here. Every year,additional lodges are added by the administration. The Parish Priest Very Rev. Fr. Arul Iruthayam together with the Bishop of the diocese, has a blueprint on the measures for a more rational management of the increasing pilgrim's influx. A perspective plan for the next 15 to 20 years had become imperative since the pilgrim infl<1w ranges from 2000 on lean days to whopping lakes on weekends and on national holidays.
The 5000 units of accommodation of all categories available here are insufficient for the devotees. They are forced to stay on the pavements and under the tree shades here. In March 1998 about one thousand trees were planted for converting the wasteland and for offering shades for the pilgrims. (See Hindu). Since this is cyclone prone area providing choultries and cottages, which may meet the rush substantially is not advocated. How,.. ever Assisi quarters built at the time of Msgr. Thomas Vaz is a telling example of the Shrine's eagerness to make affordable accommodations for the poor.
Besides there are 14 halls each of which could easily house 2000 persons and 90 lodge owners with a capacity of another 5000 rooms in Vailankanni. Many also stay in Naggappattinam when rooms are filled here.
In spite of additional accommodations every year, the rush on weekends, holidays and festive occasions (excluding the September annual feast) more often causes stagnation of pilgrims in the reception hall putting a tremendous burden and stress on the infrastructure and on the administration.
To meet out such a rush, The Mega Mahal with an area of 44000-sq. ft. is completed within a year in the year 1998. The first floor will have rooms. This Mandapam can easily accommodate 30000 people at a time. This has also improved amenities and other toilet facilities at a stone's throw distance.
The population of Vailankanni (including the floating) is approximately 12000. Vailankanni has a post office, Banks, Police Station, Hospital, Dispensary, medical stores, orphanages for both sexes, homes for the aged. There is a Higher Secondary School, primary schools, tailoring institute, and a telephone exchange with ISD and FAX facilities. There is a good market where all commodities are available in plenty.
Bishop Gabriel while he was in service as the Parish Priest had a foresight and a long-range vision, in buying the vast area of land for the multifaceted development of the Shrine. Without these 187 acres in Vailankanni future development and offering facility for the devotees would have been nearly impossible. A splendid school building has been built to educate the children. The Former Prime Minister Rajive Ghandi opened this huge building in the year 1987.
In 1988 an operation theater became functional with lot of other modern facilities in the Shrine Hospital. New X-Ray unit and an Ambulance are for the service.
Preferential option for The Handicapped, the Poor, and the elderly
The Shrine administration, keeping in mind that Our Lady appeared to the physically handicapped in Vailankanni, has built a KARUNAI ILLAM for the handicapped children. In 1998 June, a High school for the handicapped children was started. In the same year another school for the mentally retarted and visually handicapped were started. Around 600 inmates are directly benefiting from the Shrine in Vailankanni itself. This apart the Bishop of Thannjvur uses the proceeds for another 42 orphanages in the diocese (in four districts). Further, Vailankanni Shrine supports through its Bishop and his participatory bodies of the diocese, the entire diocesan social and pastoral ministries. The Bon Secours nuns look after the elderly in the Aged Home. They also take care of the Arokia Illam, a shelter home for the,run-away girls.
The Sisters of Jesus manage this Karunai Illam and the attached schools. We also have a home managed by the Sisters of Mother Teresa (M.C.) for the mentally retarded children and old people.
Facility for Study and Research; Atmosphere for Retreat in Vailankanni
The Marian Institute by the name Arokia Niketan was founded in 1996 with the blessings o f Most Rev. P. Arokiaswamy, the second Bishop of Thanjavur for proyiding facility for study and research in the Shrine Milieu. The Institute offers every year many courses connected with Mary and Popular Devotion. Having eminent persons in the associate faculty and scholarship facilities for deserving candidates, are a few unique features of the Institute. It is heartening, for all, that Bishop Ambrose, who himself is a Scripture scholar, gives eager attention to the development of the Marian Institute. It is more than a mere coincidence, that this bishop was linked to the Institute even before his election to the episcopacy. With the encouragement of the Bishop, Fr. Arul Iruthayam over and above, offering other infrastructure facilities to the pilgrims, has completed a separate building for the Library and residence of the women students. Thanks to the constant support of the Bishops and the Rectors of the Shrine, the founder-director Rev. R. K. Samy has a rich collection of sufficient materials for study and research at the Library.
For further information regarding the diploma course and inquiries as to your need for research, please contact:-
|Season||Throughout the year|
|Language spoken||Tamil and English|
|Church Office, Vailankanni||263423|
|Chief Priest, Vailankanni||263530|
|Bus Enquiry, Vailankanni||263467|
|Post Office, Vailankanni||263430|
|Police Station, Vailankanni||263100|
|Indian Overseas Bank, Vailankanni||263422|
|Executive Office, Town Panchayat||263448|
|Quality Inn(MGM group)||263900|
|Hotel Golden sand||263246,263626|
|Hotel sea gate||263910|
|Little flower pilgrimage quarters||263512|
|St. Joseph pilgrimage quarters||263512|
|Railway Retiring rooms|