A record 5,015 Indian pilgrims, including about 2,000 from Rameswaram island have registered for the two-day annual St Antony’s Church festival in Katchatheevu, scheduled for March 11 and 12, Rev Fr. Sagayaraj, Verkodu Parish Priest and chief coordinator of Indian pilgrimage, said.
The response was overwhelming as the pilgrims wanted to visit and offer worship at the new church, which was inaugurated on December 23, 2016, The Hindu newspaper reported.
Last year, the festival was held on February 20 and 21, and 3,249 pilgrims, including 694 women and 154 children, participated in it.
This year, at least 4,500 were expected to participate, he said.
He said 147 mechanised boats, including two spare boats, had been registered for the pilgrimage and each boat could carry 30 pilgrims and five crew members.
On the demand for allowing country boats to take part in the pilgrimage, he said Sri Lankan Navy and Indian authorities were against carrying pilgrims in country boats for security reasons.
The district administration was likely to convene a meeting next week, with representatives of various security agencies to work out the modalities for the pilgrimage, he said.
For the first time, Sivaganga Diocese Bishop Rev Soosai Manickam would be joining the pilgrimage following an invitation from the Bishop of Jaffna Diocese, which organised the festival, he added.
The pilgrims would leave on March 11 morning from Rameswaram fishing jetty and take part in the Way of the Cross procession, jointly taken out by Indian and Sri Lankan pilgrims, followed by the mass, the same day evening.
After the feast mass on March 12, the pilgrims would return, he also added.
The Rameswaram fishermen had offered to donate a flag mast and monstrance at a total cost of Rs. 2.40 lakh to the new church for the annual festival and were awaiting response from the Jaffna Diocese, he said. (Colombo Gazette)