Mangaluru, Sep 04, 2016: Urwa parish towards the northern part of the city marking the 5 th day of the Novena, Sept 3, Saturday. Many churches and institutions where Konkani Catholics are found all over the world prayed fervently in preparation for the unique ’Monthi Fest’ the Birthday of Mary the mother of Jesus Christ. On this day of the novena, every where people were upbeat eagerly awaiting the canonisation in the Vatican of ’St.Mother Teresa of Kolkata’ set to take place around noon Rome time between 1 and 4 pm IST. people are edified by the media hype for this unique event which attracts Indians specially. A large official delegation from India and many people are in Rome for the event. Let us take a look at the thumb nail history of the Urwa church of the Immaculate conception, more popular as ’Pompei Matha’ church.
Mangaluru’s Urwa parish & Pompei Matha, historicity : Coastal Karnataka’s Churches are known to be ancient and rich in history. The first parish Urwa, born from Rosario was in 1865. It has marked it’s 150th year Jubilee May 1, 2015.
Rev Fr.J.Moore SJ. in his book "History of the Diocese of Mangalore”, Published 1904; an authoritative Record on the Mangalore Diocese. Pages - 244 & 245, says: "URWA - The suburban church of the Immaculate Conception, Urwa, was begun by Father S Vas, a retired priest who lived in the house of J M D’Souza. When he began to build a chapel in October 1859, it was intended for a School, but it was later on turned into a church and blessed as such on July 10, 1864. It was regarded as a chapel of ease of Rosario Church, and Mass was celebrated there on Sundays. From May 1865 to August 1866, it had a resident priest and in September ’66 was erected into a separate parish with Father Vas as its Vicar. He ruled until his death, February 8, 1874. In 1891 the handsome new church now standing, was begun, quite close to the old one and a neat parochial house was added, to which the Vicar contributed Rs.500. The Catholic population (1903) was 1686 members. A primary school close to the then church had frequented by 105 boys and 14 girls.”
Rev. Fr. A. J. D’Souza served as the Vicar of this parish from 1915 to 1930 was instrumental in introducing the devotion to Our Lady of Pompei. He brought the pictures from Pompei and it was enshrined on a side altar. Thus Urwa became a place of pilgrimage for a large number of devotees from every nook and corner of Mangalore. Even though this church is dedicated to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, quite often, people refer to it as “Pompei Church”. The annual feast of Our Lady of Pompei is celebrated with due pomp and solemnity in the month December, and throngs of devotees, from far and near, irrespective caste and creed, come with great devotion to participate in the celebration.
In 1971 the northern area named ’Ashoknagar" became independent, as St.Dominic parish under the Dominican order. The popular historic spot ‘Sulthan batherry’, on the banks of the river Gupura is not far from this church. The large church edifice now seen was constructed by Late Fr John D’Souza (passed away in 2015 a road accident), it’s architect being T J Lobo, it was inaugurated on May 1, 1991. Presently, it is estimated consists of around 635 families, with a total of not less than 2,380 or so parishioners. As a monument to the 150 year Jubilee, a majestic ’Belfry’ with new bell and ’Grotto’ is erected.
The ’Monthi Fest’ Novena : The Novena , a nine day preparation for the feast commences from August 30. Particularly children gather flowers from the surroundings of their homes (or now from the market) and carry them to the church in pretty little baskets or trays. Then after mass, they gather around the decorated statuette of Infant Mary and shower it with flowers singing a special hymn in Konkani ’Sekked Sangatha Melian’ (Let us all gather together). Weather permitting, in the open yard of the church. Toddlers to grown ups take part actively with joy. It is a thrilling sight to behold, the older folks too enjoy the sight with nostalgic childhood memories! At Milagres the ceremony is held on the South side under a covered area. It is amusing to watch the children awaiting sweets after doing honour to the image of Infant Mary.
The Infant Mary Image : As per legend, the first image appeared in about 1730, a Franciscan Nun, presented it to the Bishop of Como in Italy. On his death it was handed over to the Franciscan Nuns who developed great devotion among people to the ‘Infant Mary’ (now in Mangaluru a church is dedicated down below in Bikarnakatte). Due to Napoleon’s revolution when the monasteries were closed down, one of the nuns carefully saved it and handed it over to the Parish of St.Mark in Milan. History indicates that in 1842 it was given to the ‘Sisters of Charity’ and installed in the Mother House and was exposed for devotions only on 8 September each year. In 1884 extraordinary happenings and miracles spread wide the devotion to Infant Mary. The first Italian nuns of this order came to assist Fr.Muller in Kankanady Hospital in 1898. A replica of the image was first brought to Mangalore by the ‘Sisters of Charity’ soon after and can still be seen at the Infant Mary Convent Chapel beside the Jeppu Seminary.