Colombo (AsiaNews) - "It is a blessing for all of us young people being able to pray together at the feet of Our Lady of Lanka," said a Tamil youth from northern Sri Lanka. For the first time in his life, he and his peers from other ethnic groups, made a pilgrimage to the country's national shrine. Some 5,000 Catholic kids from every district of the island nation took part in this special event, organised by the National Youth Federation. Set on 19 October, the Youth Day's theme was 'Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," (Mt, 28:19)
The day began with a prayer service in front of the ancient cave that houses the statue of Our Lady. The youths followed this with a procession. Walking in groups divided according to dioceses, they showed the "typical" colours of their parishes and posters dedicated to the Virgin. Along the way, some of them sang hymns.
At the end of the procession, everyone recited the Hail Mary in Tamil and Sinhalese. After the special prayer, Mgr Thomas Savundaranayagam, bishop of Jaffna, blessed them.
In front of the shrine, the kids read an intention: "Help us Amma [Mother] to look for the right solution to the problems we face at this stage of our lives. Beloved Amma, be with us and sustain us always so that we can remain strong in our love for God, when we face setbacks, when we pray for our mistakes, when we are vulnerable.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Berni Fernando, president of the Katana parish youth group (Diocese of Colombo), and Nisansala Madhushani, from the Diocese of Ratnapura, said they were "very happy to have had this great opportunity. It was a real blessing for us [to see] so many young people from the north and the south together for a single purpose . . . . It was a great show of unity."
The Shrine of Our Lady of Lanka is located in Tewatta Basilica. It was commissioned by Jean-Marie Masson, then archbishop of Colombo.
In 1940, the bishop made a vow that if the island was spared the horrors of war, he would build a church to the Virgin. In 1946, he obtained the Vatican's permission to build it and dedicate it to Our Lady of Lanka.
Pope Pius XII in 1948 proclaimed the Blessed Mother as protectress of Sri Lanka. The site's first stone was laid on 4 February 1951. Pope Pius XII blessed the statue of the Virgin Mary, which was brought to the island nation in 1952.
In 1974, all of the country's bishops, led by Cardinal Thomas Cooray, took part in the shrine's Mass of consecration.