|Thursday, 15 August 2002|
Madhu Church ready for August festival pilgrims
by S. J. Anthony Fernando
The Sylvan Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu in the Mannar District will come alive once again today which large crowds seen for first time in twenty years are expected to converge on this Holy shrine venerated by Catholics of Sri Lanka.
Madhu Church which has a history of over 400 years had been a hallowed place of worship for Catholics of Sri Lanka for several decades where generations of Catholics make it a point to make a pilgrimage at least once a year attending the monthly festivals. But the August 15th festival draws the biggest crowds because it is one of the most hallowed days for Catholics celebrating the day of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, into heaven and also because the school holidays facilitate entire families to make the trip. There had been occasions when attendance at August festival at times touching close to a million people before the out break of the North East conflict.
Madhu festival provides an occasion for families and people of all walks of life, communities, races the young and the old to spend a few days away from it all camping it out in the open, imbibing in a bout of spiritual reflection together with some sort of mental and physical relaxation as well. It is a case of a spiritual retreat from the hustle and bustle of normal life for rich and poor alike, minus of course the comforts of home and experiencing down to earth realities of cooking food on a hearth, sharing common toilets, bathing in common baths... all enjoyed in a spirit of camaraderie and friendship.
It is also a meeting place for old friends and relatives and interacting with each other in camping style. The spiritual atmosphere is the binding factor when mothers and children compel their male elders, who would be not of the church going kind back home, to remind them of their spiritual obligations.
What was most significantly seen at these Madhu festivals is the living display of racial harmony when Sinhalese and Tamils living together before the germ of racial and communal hatred spoilt the atmosphere. Even Buddhists and Muslims used to accompany the families to experience the good neighbourliness and goodwill displayed in the quiet and serene atmosphere in somewhat jungle surroundings.
But now the ceasefire agreement is to bring all these practices and experiences back to life, though not of the magnitude prevalent earlier. At least a start is made and let us hope that this atmosphere prevails.
With the compelling desire for peace the Government and the LTTE have given the assurance to the Church authorities that all restrictions placed on movement of pilgrims during the festivals will be relaxed. It was done for the first time for the July 2nd festival with the opening of the old short cut twelve-mile road from Madhu Road Junction to Madhu Church which will shorten the earlier circuitous route taken to Madhu through Illiyankulama by as much as 38 kilometers.
The Bishop of Mannar Rt. Rev. Rayappu Joseph said that it is their wish that this road be kept open for 24 hours of the day. However, it is learnt that though the Government and LTTE are agreeable to this there are some logistical matters to be attended to with ICRC approval. For the time being the road will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily from 4th August to 19th August. On a special request made by the Minister of Interior the Defence Ministry has agreed to keep the road open from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the Festival Day - August 15th.
The Bishop of Mannar perhaps set the correct tone for the situation at Madhu Church to return to normal when he spoke at the occasion when the Minister of Interior John Amaratunga went to Madhu Church in mid-June to re-open the short cut road to Madhu and discuss with Government officials and Church authorities the requirement to improve facilities for Madhu pilgrims. Bishop Rayappu Joseph said that it was their desire to keep the Madhu Church and its environs as a neutral zone and it is for this reason that they disliked military presence either from the Army or the LTTE on both sides as it is a place of worship for people of all communities.
The moving in of the Central Government to take on the task of doing the reconstruction and rehabilitation work at the Madhu Camp was significant and Minister Amaratunga lost no time in prevailing upon the relevant state agency officials in the area in the task of developing the roads, water supply, electricity, telecommunication and ensuring the hygienic requirements. The Minister himself donated Rs. Five Lakhs on that day and followed it up later by arranging to supply through courtesy of donors other goods required worth Rs. 2 million. At the Minister's request the Minister of Housing and Estate Infrastructure Development Arumugam Thondaman and Minister of Housing P. Harrison have released Rs. 2 million and required men to attend to the reconstruction and repair of houses and other facilities.
Though all the infrastructure facilities could not be brought back to normal sufficient work had been completed to redevelop the facilities to pilgrims expected for the August festival, according to the Church authorities.
Produced by Lake House