Mangaluru, Jan 26, 2017 :Unprecedented large crowds of devotees visited the St. Lawrence Shrine, which is two-and-a-half centuries old and was elevated to the status of a minor basilica in August 2016, and offered their prayers at the annual feast there on Wednesday. This is the first annual feast at the basilica after its elevation. The five-day feast began on January 22 and will conclude on Thursday.
The devotees lit candles at the basilica and offered prayers in front of the statue and relic of St. Lawrence. Most Rev. Aloysius Paul D’Souza, Bishop of Mangaluru Catholic Diocese, conducted the mass in Konkani at 10.30 a.m. on January 25, Wednesday. A large number of devotees participated in it. Rev Dr. D’Souza said Jesus Christ came to earth for the sake of the oppressed and the subjugated. Christ had taught all people to serve their fellow beings, so people should help one another, especially those in need. It is important that everyone is kind and compassionate to their fellow humans, he said.
Most Rev. Gerald Isaac Lobo, Bishop of Udupi Catholic Diocese, Rev. Fr. George D’Souza, rector, and Dennis D’Sa, media director of Udupi Diocese, were among those present. As many as 43 masses would have been offered in Kannada, Konkani, English and Malayalam by the time the feast concludes today Jan 26, Thursday.
The annual feast, normally held for three days, was extended to five days to manage the large number of devotees coming from across the country. Nearly 100 persons of different faiths set out on foot from Moodubelle village, about 25 km from here, and reached the basilica and offered their prayers on Wednesday Jan 25..
Begging prevented : Begging is prohibited in the surroundings of the basilica during the feast. Large donation boxes have been placed in two places on the premises.
The donations would be removed from the boxes and distributed to beggars after a meal on the minor basilica premises on Friday. “The donation is given to the beggars based on their needs,” said Nakre George Castelino, member of the organising committee of the feast.
Replaying history : Situated in the midst of greenery fresh and virgin at the foot of the western ghats, the shrine of St Lawrence has a rich history and its origin is traced to 1759. The first church, in those days, was about seven kilometres away from the present site. Tippu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, dismantled churches in Kanara and took Christians as captives to Srirangapatna near Mysore. At the end of the captivity, the Christians, who returned, as was common in the region, erected a small church building of thatched roof on the way to Nakre in 1801 under the leadership of a Goan priest.
The parishioners and the Goan parish priest were on the lookout for a proper location to build a new bigger church. Once in a devout procession they carried a small ancient statue of St Lawrence. They prayed to him for help to find a suitable spot during the long procession winding through the wide spread parish. After they crossed the Ramasamudra lake of Karkala, and climbed up the Parpale Hill and came down on the western side, they found a water spring flowing at the foot of the hill. Deciding to quench their thirst and proceed, they placed the statue on a large stone near by. After a short break, they decided to move on. When they tried to lift the statue, they were not able to do so. It was as though it was rooted firmly to the stone embedded to the earth.
Their astonishment was great, faith made them realize that it was a signal from St Lawrence that he had chosen the spot for his church, they immediately promised to build the church right there. It was only after this promise was made, that the priest was able to lift the statue. So, on this miraculously hallowed spot, the present church was built and completed in 1839. In a short time, this church turned out to be a centre of pilgrimage attracting people of all faiths from surrounding places. The same statue of St Lawrence became a miraculous statue and the surroundings grew beyond all expectations. The church’s name and fame spread and it became popular, people started considering it as a holy shrine. Several pilgrims visited to pay their respects to St Lawrence as they believed that he was not only a powerful intercessor before God but also a dispenser of favours and blessings. The large number of pilgrims visiting the holy shrine everyday, especially during the annual feast in the last week of January crosses many lakhs. According to the records, over 12 lakh pilgrims visited; Among the many unique aspects at the shrine, the ’pushkarini’ stands apart as it brims with water through the year. The water is believed to have a miraculous powers to aid humans.
Living Monument : This Basilica is now a combo of Gothic, Indian and Islamic architecture. One can see the traces of Lodi dynasty architecture incorporated in the shrine. The stained glass leans to gothic architecture. In addition, one can notice Indian cultural motifs as well. The ’shikara’ and arches are surmounted with ’Kalashas’. The shrine is known to be a shelter of peace, tranquility, prayer, devotion and communal harmony and the tales told are many.
In 2001, when the new church extension was built as a memorial of the bicentenary celebrations, a 90 feet twin belfry was constructed based on Christian, Hindu, Jain and Muslim architecture, which has been greatly appreciated. Communal harmony is reinforced with an inter-religious get together that is held during Christmas every year, where prominent religious leaders of different faiths are invited to address the gathering and promote unity and understanding.
The feast of St Lawrence as per the church calendar is on August 10, the festivities and solemn celebrations are held in the last week of the month of January every year. Begging is prohibited generally and especially during festivities. The large chunk of money and material collected during the festivities is distributed equally among the beggars in the area -a unique principle followed in the light of St.Lawrence’s original preaching. Also, the needy are helped and taken care of throughout the year by the rector of the shrine. The shrine also takes utmost care to alleviate misery and suffering by setting aside 75% of the revenue received by contributions, donations and hundi collections for the construction of houses for the poor and to cater to the medical care, education and other basic needs of people from all faiths. The Diocese has already set in motion a master plan of putting up a Home for the Destitute so that all those who have nowhere to go will find a welcoming shelter. Apart from present plans, the shrine is also planning to put into action a few others as well. Some of the future plans include a museum to house relics and chronicles pertaining to the history of the shrine; artifacts; a hall to screen religious films and St Lawrence.
This shrine is now a Basilica. The word ’Basilica’ is derived from a Greek term meaning ’Royal House’. In the Catholic world, a basilica is a church building that has been accorded special privileges by the Pope. It is a title of honour given to certain churches because of their antiquity, dignity, historical importance or significance as centres of worship.
St Lawrence ............the icon : St Lawrence is one of the most widely venerated saints of the Roman Catholic Church. He is known to be one of the seven deacons of ancient Rome, who was serving under Pope Sixtus II. He was one of the deacons martyred during the persecution by Emperor Valerian in 258 AD. A deacon of that time was ordained to serve the poor and the church. He was appointed both to the service of the table (corporal works of mercy) and the service of the Word of God (spiritual works of mercy). In Attur, StLawrence is worshipped as the ’God of Karkala’ by many people. In Tulu, St Lawrence is affectionately addressed as ’Karkalada Dever’ (God of Karkala).
Why the annual feast is celebrated in the last week of January: Christians who returned to Attur from the captivity of Tipu Sultan found themselves homeless and landless because all their lands were occupied by other people during their 15 year captivity. They took to working in their fields as daily labourers earning daily wages in kind, lie rice, spices, vegetables and essentials. Since money was required for other purchase for sustenance, the men folk took up jobs far away in coffee estates. The devotion to St Lawrence grew day by day and since there was no possibility to communicate in those times, the people who were far away from Attur-Karkala could come only during times when work in the estates on the ’Ghats’ was lean, it was agreed to celebrate the annual feast on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the last week in January so that devotees from far and near could confidently visit Attur to celebrate the annual feast. This tradition has been kept up faithfully by the Shrine every year to date.