Striking a chord of camaraderie with their Sri Lankan counterparts, Rameswaram fishermen, led by Verkodu parish priest Rev. Fr. L. Sagayaraj, participated in the inaugural ceremony of newly built St. Antony’s Church at Katchatheevu, organised by the Jaffna Diocese with its parish in Delft island on Friday, The Hindu reported.
After Commander of Sri Lankan Navy Vice-Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne handed over the church, Bishop of Jaffna Diocese Rev. Justin Bernard Gnanapragasam declared it open by unveiling a plaque followed by a mass.
After the Bishop expressed interest in building a new church in the place of an old structure, the naval chief took personal interest and built it with the help of dedicated naval staff.
In all, 82 Indian pilgrims — 75 fishermen, four priests and three sisters — set sail to the islet at 6. 50 a.m. from the fishing jetty here in three mechanised boats and returned at 3. 45 p.m. Collector S. Natarajan and Superintendent of Police N. Manivannan supervised the arrangements for the pilgrimage.
The pilgrims were escorted up to the International Maritime Border Line and back by the Indian Coast Guard and the Marine Police of the Coastal Security Group, led by its Superintendent of Police R. Sakthivel.
“All those who turned up for the trip were cleared and the exercise was smooth,” Mr. Manivannan told The Hindu . Though 100 persons were registered for the trip, 16 fishermen and two sisters did not turn up, he said.
The inaugural ceremony was originally scheduled for December 7, but it got postponed following the demise of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
Rameswaram fishermen, who claimed traditional rights over St. Antony’s Church, protested after the Jaffna Diocese announced the inaugural function without extending an invitation to them.
After they threatened to force their participation if the government did not facilitate their pilgrimage, the External Affairs Ministry allowed a 20-member delegation but the fishermen insisted that the Centre should allow at least 100. After Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam took up the issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Ministry conceded the fishermen’s demand.
“They received us very well and we were extremely happy,” said Rev. Fr. Sagayaraj. He delivered the thanksgiving address after the holy mass. The Rameswaram fishermen were happy after Bishop Justin Gnanapragasam declared that “this is a ‘church of reconciliation’ and said that the Indian fishermen were free to make their contributions for the development of the church.”
The Jaffna Diocese proposed to make the annual festival a three-day event and wanted Indian pilgrims to spend more time in the islet, he said, quoting the Bishop.