Velankanni Church's religious link with Karachi, Pakistan !!

What has Karachi, a violent city in Pakistan, got to do with Velankanni Church in Velankanni, a small, serene town on the coastal Tamil Nadu, India. Recently I ran into an interesting article by one Donna Fernandes, a Researcher-Program coordinator at the Habib University. This post is based her article.

Velankanni Basilica, TN , India.

 Because of tryst with destiny, the Indian subcontinent was divided into democratic India and theocratic Pakistan . The former became a free country on 15 August 1947, and the latter on 14 Aug 1947. The founding father Mohd. Ali Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be an  Islamic country, however with in-built democratic principles .

On Aug. 11, 1947, Jinnah had left no room for confusion about his vision of Pakistan in his address to the constituent assembly of Pakistan. He said, 

“You are free, free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” .............Jinnah continually emphasized equal citizenship for all Pakistanis irrespective of their religion or ethnicity. 

It is a known fact that since the death of Jinnah, there has been no political stability in Pakistan and lately, it has become a breeding ground for terrorist organizations  and the people in Pakistan are not happy about  their country becoming a violent state. Besides organized crimes, violence due to religion and ethnicity is on the increase. The Hindus and Christians form the minority and  their population has shrunk considerably in three decades due to forced conversion, discrimination and threats by  certain Islamic groups. The government's poor response religious violence led to largescale exodus  off minorities  to other countries. 

Places of worship never fail to give peace of mind to the minorities who live in constant fear of threats to their lives. If such places are attacked and damaged, obviously at stake is their religious freedom and safety to their lives.  That 70 Christians were killed while celebrating Easter in a park in 2016 is a sad reminder of the pathetic condition under which religious minorities live in Pakistan.

Nativity prepared by devotees in Karachi.Photo Courtesy: The Conversation
From the report, I am surprised to know the existence of  syn-cretinism - religious crossover among the  Hindus and Christians in Karachi. Here, they venerate the Virgin Mary.  Such instances encourage religious harmony and tolerance which is fundamental to the development of a country. Many of us in India may not be aware of the presence of a small community of Tamil and Goan Chritians  in Karachi. 

Virgin Mary with sari, Karachi chuerch./

Above image: The Virgin Mary wearing a sari in the Karachi church dedicated to her devotion. | Photo Courtesy: The Conversation. Devotees from Karachi, Pakistan do visit the Velankanni Church at Velankanni, Nagapatnam to say prayers and to be blessed. .....................

Their history goes back to 50 years ago and it all began with the establishment of Saint Anthony’s Club in the town of Saddar, a suburb of Karachi. Founded by AM Anthony, a Tamil Christian,  the devotees in the olden days  used to recite novena, or nine-day prayers to ask the Virgin Mary for blessings and good health, accoding to Anthony's grand daughter.  Here, Virgin Mary is referred to as as Our Lady (Annai) of Valenkanni, in Nagapatnam district, Tamil Nadu, India.  Many apparitions were attributed to this historical church. Centuries ago, it was developed by the Portuguese who were saved from near death in a storm off the coast of Velankanni by Virgin Mary. 

Anthony and his group moved over to  the premises of St. Anthony' church in Karachi  and continued their novena and prayers. Over a period of time, this opened the way for the novena prayers to Our Lady of Valenkanni and it became a part of Catholic churches’ prayer program across Karachi. The Veneration of Mary became so famous that many Catholic devotees  went on a pilgrimage to  the Basilica of Our Lady of Valenkanni (Nagapatnam) to ask the Mother for favors and intercessory graces. Many  were descendants of migrants from Goa and Chennai, TN.  Annually, hundreds of devotees converge on the  premises of churches across Karachi  to hoist a flag bearing an image of Our Lady of Valenkanni and participate in a short prayer. This event coincides with the Velankanni festival in Tamil Nadu in the early part of September, marking the birthday of the Our Lady of health. Besides, every year, our Lady of Valenkanni’s statue in Karachi is decorated with fresh flowers and streamers. One can see the Virgin Mary wearing a sari in the Karachi church. Many devotees from Karachi  to Velankanni  church were quite happy  that their wishes  had been fulfilled by Virgin Mary. A childless woman devotee from Karachi had a baby after her visit to Velankanni, Tamil Nadu. The couple visited Velankanni  later to fulfill their vow. Both father and the son had their head tonsured and later bathed in the sea - a religious practice prevalent among the Hindus. Such  interfaith exchanges  not only go both ways, but also strengthen the bond between them. It is a healthy thing in a democracy. Hence, India is a true democratic country, giving respect to the tenets of all faiths. 

This day in Karachi  some members from the Hindu, Zoroastrian, and Muslim communities venerate the Virgin Mary whose name is mentioned in the Qu'ran. Named after Virgin Mary, Surah Maryam appears in the 19th chapter of the Qu’ran.

Though liberal Muslims go to church they do not take part in novena prayers, but on September 8, they come here to respect Mary as the Mother of Jesus.

In the Velankanni festival, the intersection of Hindu and Catholic practices in contemporary religion is quite visible.  In the past decade or so a typical practice by the Hindu devotees is being observed by Christians - Padayatra. The practice of walking barefoot to Velankanni church by devotees  from far off places, more than 100 km to get blessings from Virgin Mary during the festival time.

Our Lady of Health - Annai Velankanni who is well-known for her miracles continues to attract devotees from many parts of Asia. She is a symbol of health and properity. When you trust her, she fulfills your wish with her miracles. When  a devastating Tsunami struck the coastal town of Velankanni on 26 December 2004, there were a few thousand devotees inside the Church premises. That the huge tidal waves that hit the coastal towns never touched the church is a riddle.


The Virgin Mary brings different faiths in India and Pakistan togetheThe Indian Economist