How the Virgin Mary brings together different faiths in Pakistan and India
Karachi is a violent city in Pakistan. In 2016, 1,046 terror-related deaths were reported in Karachi. Nearly half of the young people in the city want to leave Pakistan.
Violence is caused by a variety of factors, including political, religious, and ethnic divisions, as well as organized crime.
In 2016, more than 70 Christians were killed in a park while celebrating Easter. Forced conversion by Hindu girls and marginalization of members of the community are among other factors that fuel feelings of insecurity for minorities.
Many members of minority communities are comforted by places of worship. These places of worship also serve as a lesson to the fragmented Paksitan society. This is most evident in the cross-religious known as syncretism between Hindus, Christians, and Muslims in Karachi who venerate the Virgin Mary.
It is a powerful message about the importance of coexistence and creating structures that minimize discrimination.
Look back at history.
The history of Tamil and Goan Christians devout in Karachi dates back to almost 50 years ago, when A M Anthony, a Tamil Christian, founded Saint Anthony’s Club in his house on Somerset Street in Saddar, which is a suburb of Karachi.
According to his granddaughter, the devotees would gather and recite Novena or nine-day prayers in order to ask for Mary’s blessings and health. Our Lady of Valenkanni is the name given to Mary by devotees. It is based on appearances that are believed to have taken place in Velankanni in Tamil Nadu, India, about 2,000km from Karachi.
Anthony, along with his fellow Christians, who were mostly immigrants from Chennai or Goa, received a hall in St. Anthony’s Church after his landlord complained about the loud singing and reading.
Afterward, the Christian devotees invited Hindus and Zoroastrians alike to ask for benediction. Novena, the prayer to Our Lady of Valenkanni, was incorporated into the Catholic Church’s ceremonies in Karachi. This opened the Virgin Mary up to other faiths.
Our Lady of Velankanni is a symbol of prosperity, well-being, and aspirations to some Hindu devotees.
Our Lady of Velankanni: Her origins
The home of Our Lady of Velankanni, in the town of Velankanni, also shows the intersection of Hinduism and Catholicism in modern religion.
Every year, the basilica draws millions of visitors. In Karachi, this includes both Catholics and Hindus. Some Catholics from Karachi make a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Valenkanni in order to seek mediation and favors from the Mother.
The Basilica Our Lady of Velankanni is located in Tamil Nadu, India. D.Fernandes, Author provided
Over the years, three accounts of the apparitions in Velankanni of the Virgin Mary have been documented and then narrated.
The first story is from the 16th century and tells of a Hindu boy who saw the Virgin Mary near a pond. She asked him to give her son Jesus milk. The boy offered milk without hesitation. Locals are intrigued by the Mother’s return. The pond became known as “Our Lady’s Pond” or “Matha Kulam”.
A few years after the first event, a second one is reported to have occurred. The Virgin Mother reportedly cured a disabled child in Nadu Thittu after he gave her buttermilk. In recognition of this healing, the Catholic residents of the nearby town built a shrine.
In the late 17th century, Portuguese sailors converted this early construction into the chapel, based upon vows made on rough seas on a merchant ship between China and Colombo.
Our Lady of Valenkanni is a special saint for Hindus and Christians alike because of the many miracles that she has been associated with. This includes the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, which left massive destruction in Tamil Nadu. The Basilica was quick to declare this a miracle because 2,000 pilgrims had been attending mass at the time of the disaster. News Sources and Official Disaster Reports revealed that the basilica was the only building that survived this massive disaster.
Acts of devotion
Some devotees offer the Virgin Mary expensive fabrics for a sari. It is a result of the Virgin Mary being depicted historically and symbolically in a saffron-colored sari. This was a common dress across the Indian subcontinent. Others make saris as gifts to people with low incomes after fulfilling their vows.
The Virgin Mary, in a sari at the Karachi Church, is dedicated to her devotion. D.Fernandes, Author provided
A woman who I interviewed as part of my research was a Goan Christian born in Karachi. Her grandmother taught her devotion. When she visited Valenkanni in 2004, she prayed to Our Lady of Good Health for a child.
She gave birth to her son a little over a year after returning to Karachi. She and her family performed rituals for a few years to fulfill their vow. She shaved her son and husband’s heads while she cut four inches off of their hair. As part of the ritual, they bathed in seawater. These practices were adapted from Hinduism and show that there is a reciprocal exchange between faiths.
Since then, she has worn a covering on her head during prayer time as a promise for life to the Mother in gratitude for the blessings that were received through the son.
I also heard stories of devotion from A M Anthony’s granddaughter.
A lady refused to wear shoes. Imagine walking around Karachi in the heat without shoes. She fulfilled her vow in this way, and everyone knew it.
Spirituality and Togetherness
Hundreds of devout gather in churches in Karachi and Tamil Nadu every year to raise a banner bearing the image of Our Lady of Valenkanni, pray a few words, and then partake in other rituals such as the distribution of blessed metals by a Priest.
On September 8, the Virgin Mary celebrates her birthday.
Every year, the statue of Our Lady of Valenkanni in Karachi is decorated with fresh flowers and streamers.