"Lourdes of the East" Is Focus for World Day of the Sick

Marian Shrine of Vailankanni in India Draws 20 Million a Year

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NEW DELHI, India, FEB. 10, 2002 (Zenit.org).- On Monday, the Shrine of Vailankanni, known as the «Lourdes of the East,» will be the focus of the Church, as its leads the observance of World Day of the Sick.

«There is no place that is more appropriate to hold this celebration than the Shrine of Vailankanni,» the rector and parish priest of the Basilica of Our Lady of Health of Vailankanni, Farther Arul Irudayam, said.

The celebrations began Friday in this locality of India, 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Madras (present-day Chennai).

The shrine is the «emblem of the healing force of prayer,» the priest explained. Some 20 million pilgrims visit every year from India and Southeast Asia, at least half of them Hindus or Muslims.

John Paul II refers to this reality in the message he wrote for the occasion, explaining: «In India, a land of profound and ancient religiosity, that Shrine dedicated to the Mother of God is really a meeting point for members of different religions and an exceptional example of interreligious harmony and dialogue.»

Tradition says the shrine began with a straw cabin, built in the place where a man saw Mary appear with the child Jesus in her arms, explained Father Irudayam.

It was the 16th century. The church began to be called Arokia Matha, Mother of Health, when the Virgin appeared and cured a crippled boy. Since then, there have been many favors and cures. In respect of Indian tradition, the image is dressed in a sari.

The entire Indian Church, which numbers 16 million faithful in a nation of 1 billion inhabitants, has been involved in the preparations.

Fifteen hundred delegates will attend the day. Among them is Cardinal Ivan Dias, archbishop of Bombay, and Sister Nirmala, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity.

John Paul II´s envoy is Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers.

The Health Minister of the Indian Federation and numerous dignitaries of Tamil Nadu (the state where the shrine is located) will also be present.

The largest number of participants are from India, representing the Catholic Health Association of India, which has 4,000 hospitals, health structures and organizations.

The Day of the Sick «will be a point of reference for the Indian Church. The Indian Church is proud to host this event for the first time,» said Bishop Thumma Bala, president of the Commission for Health Care Ministry of the Indian Episcopal Conference.

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