Sri Lankan Catholics make Lent pilgrimages3:09 PM, April 18, 2019
Sri Lanka:They sing hymns, meditate and participate in Way of the Cross at St. Anne's shrine and many other sacred places.
Maria Nilanthi, 46, led a group of 23 pilgrims from Sri Lanka's west coast port city of Negombo during Lent to visit a 250-year-old shrine honoring revered St. Anne, the mother of St. Mary.
They sang Lenten hymns and conducted group prayers during the bus trip to the shrine located at Thalawila, 154 kilometers north of capital Colombo.
At the shrine, they camped in a tent under a huge tree for two days of devotion that included a Holy Mass and meditation. Others paid US$18 per day to rent houses available for the use of pilgrims.
Nilanthi said listening to hymns and involvement in the conduct of Holy Hours and other Lenten practices was a marvelous experience.
"We go on the pilgrimage every year with my family," she said, adding that they take cooking utensils and dry rations to live in spartan conditions in honor of Jesus.
She recalled how her grandfather would make the pilgrimage by fishing boat even when it was dangerous to do so because of rough seas.
Many Catholics are attracted to the shrine during the Lenten season beginning on Ash Wednesday by what they regard as a sacred, miraculous statue of St. Anne.
Anton Sumith, 78, now making his fourth such trip, got up at 2.30 a.m. to load luggage. "I know this is very difficult, but we take this journey of faith to express our love to Jesus and ask pardon for our sins," he said.
He recalled how his father took three days by bullock cart to reach Thalawila, which is in a peaceful and dry region with coconut palms and palmyra trees.
Sumith, a fisherman, added that during his childhood people on the roadside would offer food to pilgrims, while at the shrine some would fast during the daytime.
His daughter was accompanying him this year. "I hope this may not be my last journey to reflect on our sufferings and blessings," the elderly devotee said.
During the 40 days of Lent, Catholics visit churches in different dioceses across Sri Lanka, observing the Way of the Cross to remind them of the journey by Jesus to Mount Calvary.
Sumith said he had undertaken Lenten pilgrimages to Hiniduma Calvary in the Diocese of Galle, Horana Calvary in the Archdiocese of Colombo, Higurana Calvary in the Diocese of Batticaloa, Maggona Calvary in the Archdiocese of Colombo, Alagollawa Calvary in the Diocese of Anuradhapura and Mawathagama Calvary in the Diocese of Kurunegala.
Horana, Alagollawa and Hiniduma shrines are set in high, scenic locations, with the natural beauty adding to their appeal.
Hiniduma shrine, 160 kilometers south of Colombo and founded in 1949, is one of the most popular, attracting more than 15,000 pilgrims every year during Lent.
Father Laily Fernando, administrator of the St. Anne's shrine, invited all pilgrims to attend confession on April 14 as well as to meditate during the holy period.
Catholic faithful were urged to share in the experience of miracles at the shrine and records were kept of all miraculous occurrences, Father Fernando said.
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