Indian Marian Shrine to Host Interreligious Meeting

Area Devastated by Tsunami

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VELANKANNI, India, JAN. 28, 2005 ( The Marian Shrine of Velankanni, devastated by last month’s tsunami, will host an interreligious meeting to be led by the president of India’s episcopal conference.

Some 1,500 people in Velankanni died during the tsunami, officials said. The majority were pilgrims, hundreds from other Indian states, as well as fishermen and local villagers. More than 1,100 people died at the shrine, known as the «Lourdes of the East.»

Priests, nuns and teams of volunteers of the Diocese of Tanjore organized rescue and relief operations in Velankanni and the adjoining coastal villages.

According to Father Anthony Philimin Raj, executive secretary of the Indian episcopal conference, a large number of Church leaders and leaders from other religious communities will congregate at Velankanni for the unique interreligious prayer service, being organized by the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Telesphore Toppo will lead the meeting that will be attended by leaders of the Islam and Muslim communities. Bishop Devadass Ambrose Mariadoss of Tanjore and a large number of priests and nuns of the diocese will also attend. Bishop Mariadoss oversees the relief and rehabilitation projects in the area.

Cardinal Toppo will also inaugurate temporary thatched housing constructed by the Tanjore Diocese for the villagers and fishermen who lost their homes.

Twenty million pilgrims from India and Southeast Asia visit the Shrine of Velankanni annually, including many Hindus and Muslims.

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