Birth of Our Lady unites people of all faiths in India
By Sr. Prasanthi Mandapati, SCN
Every year, St. Mary's Basilica commemorates the Feast Day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, observed with great splendor and pomp. Mother Mary, venerated in the Basilica as Our Lady of Health, is revered by thousands of devotees, and many have reported receiving miracles.
This feast is commemorated not just as the Parish Feast, but that of the entire Archdiocese and State of Karnataka. Devout pilgrims walk on foot to attend a nine-day novena to seek Our Lady's intercession.
St. Mary's Basilica is Bangalore's oldest church, located in Shivaji Nagar, a Muslim suburb and well-known market place. It was built in Gothic style by a French architect in 1882 and features a 160-foot-high tower, spectacular interiors with a vaulted ceiling, Corinthian pillars, arches, and stained-glass windows.
The primary source of veneration and inspiration for the people is an exquisite statue of Mother Mary holding the Child Jesus in her arms, standing 6-feet-tall, housed in an elegant shrine adjacent to the church's exterior. Every day, she is swathed with a saree, the traditional Indian attire for women.
According to local legend, when the new church was built in 1875, people attempted to remove the statue in order to place it on a prominent altar inside the church. They were unsuccessful, however, since the statue remained inert. This unusual encounter continues to be regarded as testimony of Our Lady's miraculous abilities.
Mode of celebration
For the Feast, a nine-day novena takes place with Holy Masses and hundreds of people engaging in intense devotion. During those days, devotee’s wear 'Saffron' apparel.
On the first day, a celebration of hoisting the flag expresses their hearts' devotion to God and Our Lady. The display of joy is palpable with thousands of people singing 'Ave Maria' (Mary's praise) surrounding the flag pole.
In an interview with Vatican News, Fr. Martin Kumar, parish priest of St. Mary's Basilica, said state officials often come out along with local Church leaders for the flag-hoisting ceremony.
“During the celebration, we invite cabinet ministers, police officials, local government officials, and renowned social works to hoist the flag. They have tremendous faith being aware that they are not Christians. Tears role down in their eyes as they witness the people's faith."
On the feast day, a sprawling car parade bearing a 6-foot image of Mother Mary is carried throughout the streets of Shivaji Nagar. People gather to pray and praise Mother Mary with candles and flowers. For years, Muslims have walked in solemn procession with the same image.
"Most people of other faiths have heard about the help and miraculous favors received through the intercession of the Virgin Mary. So, they come without prejudices to seek her intercession and trust," added Fr. Martin Kumar.
Anand Raj, a native of Bangalore, shared his impressions of the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
"When I go to pray in St. Mary's Basilica, I find completeness and peace in my heart. She is the best example of unconditional love for everyone,” he said. “Mary in the shrine has been a mother figure to me since I was a youngster, comforting me in difficult times. The gaze at the Mother Mary's face brings me joy and comfort."
Unity and fraternity
For the feast day, the metropolitan city of Bangalore takes on a festive mood. The Karnataka government provides special transportation to help pilgrims reach the church. On this day, devotees of Our Lady imprint Mother Mary's picture on the streets of Bangalore.
The feast of Our Lady unites all people as a family to provide support and protection for its successful completion. It reflects harmony, support, and fraternity between the Church and the Karnataka government. Without the feast, some say the Church could have failed to form such strong bonds.
According to Fr. Martin, “As the parish priest of the shrine for the past four years, I've witnessed Mary's unbelievable presence. She is not a statue, but a living mother who embraces all her children. She serves as a mediator for God and his people. And every time, they kneel and cry in front of her, she offers them help and strength. May God bless her children as they intercede to Him through her."