December 09, 2022
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    Shrine to shine again

    June 13, 2019

    St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade which was damaged in the Easter Sunday bomb blast will be consecrated again today (12) at 5.00 pm by Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the head of the Sri Lanka Catholic Church. He also said there would be a mass on June 13, the feast day of St. Anthony. However, the traditional procession will not be held this year.

    The historic Catholic shrine dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua will celebrate the 185th feast of the Saint tomorrow at 10.00 am with a festive High Mass offered at the Shrine, presided over by His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith. St. Anthony’s Shrine which is popular among Catholics and non-Catholics alike was one of the three churches which were targeted by terrorists on April 21 this year.

    Speaking to the Daily News, the Administrator of Saint Anthony’s Church, Rev. Fr. Jude Raj Fernando said St. Anthony’s Church Feast will not feature the usual procession this year, but only the High Mass will be held.“Shortly after the terror attack, the responsibility of carrying out repairs was taken over by the Navy and they have done a wonderful job. The work is almost complete and the church is ready to be opened to the public now. The festive High Mass will be held at 10.00 am on Thursday, June 13, and all are welcome to attend,” Rev. Fr. Jude Raj Fernando said. When asked about the funding which went into the repair of the church, he said a fund was set up under the Archbishop and devotees have also contributed.

    This year, due to the tragic loss of lives as a result of the bomb blast targeting the worshipers at St. Anthony’s Church on April 21, the church authorities had decided not to have the usual ceremonies associated with the feast annually. Therefore, the hoisting of the flag, the public novena and the procession would not be held. Under normal circumstances, the Feast is preceded by the hoisting of the flag, a week-long public Novena (evening prayer sessions – the recitation of Rosary and Litany followed by Benediction or Holy Mass) followed by Vespers, on the day prior to the feast (Evening Service) and the procession.

    It was reported that the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) had contributed Rs. 25 million. A cheque was handed over to the Cardinal by Colombo Mayor Rosy Senanayake shortly after the attacks. Also, the Security Forces have contributed funds for the renovation. In addition, the Housing Minister has also allocated funds from the Central Cultural Fund.Navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander Isuru Suriyabandara speaking to the Daily News said the interior of the church has been completed in time for the opening, while it would take around another month for some of the exterior work to be completed.

    “The Navy took charge of the repairs at the historic St. Anthony’s Shrine after the bomb attack with the target of completing repairs on time for the feast. We have managed to meet our target and the interior has been completely renovated. However, there is a little more to be done in the exterior of the church and we intend to complete everything in about another month’s time. We estimated the cost to be around Rs. 30 million, but we will only be able to determine the exact cost once the work is completed. We started the work with our resources and have been reimbursed by the government. We have deployed around 250 personnel for the renovation work as well as another 50 personnel for perimeter security,” the Navy spokesman said.

    The Navy architect who was responsible for the renovation of St. Anthony’s Church in Kachchathivu was assigned with the restoration work of St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade with the design and construction handled by Navy personnel.

    The 185-year-old St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade, Colombo, dates back to the Dutch colonial era, during which period the Catholic religion was banned in the island. But, Catholic priests who were dedicated to serving in good and bad times carried out their sacred duty secretly and Rev. Fr. Antonio who came to Ceylon from the port city of Cochin in India, went about in the fishing community in Mutwal as a local merchant encouraging locals to preserve their faith.

    Fr. Antonio found refuge with the local community and that community sought his help to stop the sea eroding the village and the legend says that Fr. Antonio prayed placing a cross at the beach and the sea receded. The community was converted to Catholicism. It is on record that with the receding of water, the Dutch rulers allowed the priests to preach the Good News and also allocated a land where a mud-brick chapel dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua was built in 1806. Here, Friar Antonio built a small shop which he managed during the day and ministered to the local Catholics at night. As he was from Cochin, the place gained the name Kochchikade, meaning shop from Kichi, history reveals. History also records that the small chapel was made bigger and larger by 1806, and the statue of St. Anthony was brought from Goa in 1822 and positioned in the altar, supposedly the spot where Friar Antonio placed his cross. Then by 1828, construction work of the new church building commenced and the church was consecrated on June 1, 1834.

    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, June 9, visited St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade - soon after his arrival in Sri Lanka. He paid tributes to the victims of the terror strikes, expressing India’s affirmation of solidarity with Sri Lanka in the wake of the attacks.

    “Started the Sri Lanka visit by paying my respects at one of the sites of the horrific Easter Sunday attack- St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade. My heart goes out to the families of the victims and the injured,” Modi tweeted.

    St. Anthony was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195. He entered the Augustinian Order at 15, but later joined the Franciscans and went to Morocco to preach. He fell ill and sailed for Portugal, but his ship was blown off course to Sicily. His health improved and he proceeded to Assisi and spent the rest of his life in Italy and France. At first, he was an ascetic, but became a highly-skilled preacher after being commanded to deliver a sermon. Apparently, his rich voice, arresting manner and moving eloquence held the attention of his audiences.

    He died on June 13, 1231, at the age of 36 and many miracles occurred at his tomb. Miracles were so numerous after his death that he became the quickest canonised saint in the history of the Catholic Church, less than a year after his death. He was canonised by Pope Gregory IX.

    Today, St. Anthony is a universal saint, respected and venerated even by non-Catholics. He is the patron saint of sailors, fishermen and travellers; the elderly, the oppressed and pregnant women; harvests, horses and swineherds; but most importantly the seekers of things lost.

    In Sri Lanka, St. Anthony has many devotees and several churches have been erected in his honour, but the most popular that attracts people of every religion and race, from every corner of society, is the church of St. Anthony in Kochchikade.

    On Tuesdays, thousands come to pray to St. Anthony to ask for favours, make vows or give thanks. Many are the stories, for instance, of those cured of illness, babies born to infertile women and finding of things lost. Fridays are popular with Hindus who venerate St. Anthony after going to the nearby Kovil (temple).

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