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About Vailankanni Shrine
Human beings are happy when they enjoy good health. But God has created man with a body and soul. While the body is mortal, the soul, which has been created in the image and likeness of God, is immortal. The soul of man is enriched by God's grace, which enables him to lead a holy life. His intimacy with his creator, by a life of grace, caused him to enjoy peace and inner joy.
There are, however, dangers to ruin the happiness and well being of humans in all these three spheres of life-his physical, spiritual and social.
Mary our Mother of good health shows her deep concern for all her children who suffer from every kind of ailment and obtains healing for them from her Divine Son. Mary sets right such shattered relationships when her children approach her for help with absolute trust in her powerful intercession.
Ever since our Blessed Mother set foot on the sacred soil of Vailankanni some 400 years ago, she has been pouring out her tender Motherly care and compassion on all her children who are tossed about on the sea of suffering and who come to her shrine at Vailankanni seeking her help. Innumerable are the favours obtained by her devotees, who approach her, irrespective of their caste or creed. That is why she is revered in Vailankanni as the Mother of Good Health.
Vailankanni, a hamlet on the sandy shores of the Bay of Bengal, is located 350 kilometers south of Chennai (Madras) and 12kilometers south of Nagappatinam. Nagapattinam, a town on the coast of Bay of Bengal, was referred by early writers and the Portuguese as "the city of Coramandel' (Imperial Gazetteer of India, XIX, 3). Vellayar river, a minor branch of the river Cauvery, runs on the south of the village and flows into the sea.
Readers may be startled to learn that Vailankanni was once a port and there is evidence to prove this. Historical notes reveal that people in this area traded with Rome and Greece, the ancient commercial centers of the western world. In the course of time, Nagapattinam expanded and this tiny commercial center (Vailankanni) gradually lost its importance. The canal that had been dug once for navigation between Nagapattinam and Vedaranyam still lies to the west of Vailankanni.
The phenomenal growth of the shrine
Renovation of the Altar:
In January 1961, a beautiful central altar, delicately executed in spotless white marble, was erected replacing the former one made of cement concrete. The marble altar adds splendour to the Shrine. The rare porcelain plates and paintings adjoining the old altar of the chapel have been carefully retained in their original state.
The Emergence of the Extension Basilica:
The original Shrine Basilica was unable to accommodate the ever growing number of pilgrims. Hence the necessity arose to expand the Shrine. An extension behind the original Shrine Basilica (160ft by 55ft) was constructed on August 18th, 1974. Later, an upper floor was added to the Extension Basilica. The Extension Basilica is almost a replica of the world famous Marian Shrine at Lourdes in France.
Progressive Growth Of the Shrine
From 1963 onwards the Shrine witnessed a rapid progress in its growth, largely due to the Zealous and dynamic priests appointed as Parish Priests or Rectors of the Shrine. In 1963 Very Rev. Fr. Maria Susai took charge of the Parish of Vailankanni. He was the first Tamil priest to do so. This indefatigable priest toiled ceaselessly to develop the Shrine of Our Lady in many fields.
Accordingly, he began constructing hundreds of rooms for the convenience of pilgrims. He put up a new building for the 'Museum of Offering'. Extension of the Shrine Basilica was constructed. He setting up of a straight path from the Extension Basilica to Our Lady's Tank. The stations of the Cross along the way to the Tank were also erected by him. He had been bringing out the movie 'Annai Vailankanni'. Indian Overseas Bank was opened during his period. His selfless service to the Shrine terminated on April 13th 1980 when God called him to his eternal reward. He was laid to rest on the right wing outside the Shrine Basilica.
Rev. Fr. Maria Susai was succeeded by Very Rev. Msgr. Thomas Vaz. He brought about significant improvements in the administration of the Shrine. He erected the clock tower at Our Lady' Tank and properly constructed the tank. Incidentally, many healing also take place by applying the oil, blessed at the Shrine, on sick. This oil is popularly known as 'Our Lady's Oil'. He also plastered the concrete covering over the roof of the Shrine. He paid special attention to the conduct of prayers at the Shrine. As his services were required in Thanjavur, he was transferred and Very Rev. Fr. S.L. Gabriel succeeded him as parish priest of the Shrine.
Here, it must be mentioned that His Grace Most. Rev. Dr. Packiam Arokiaswamy took charge of the Diocese of Thanjavur as its second bishop on 26th November,1986 and hence became, the guardian of the Shrine since that day. Very Rev. Fr. S.L. Gabriel has had a large share in the development of the Shrine. He has introduced new convents at the Shrine. He has brought in the convents of the Sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Sisters of St. Louis Gonzague for spiritual needs of the pilgrims. His introduction of the convent of the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Theresa's convent) is worthy of note.
Some of the outstanding constructions undertaken by him were:
1. The Chapel at Our Lady's Tank.
2. Our Lady of Health Hospital.
3. The extension of the Museum.
4. An open air auditorium.
5. Holy Family Community Hall.
6. The New Tonsure Hall.
7. The Laying of granite stones in the area around the Basilica.
8. Construction of St. John's Cottage, St. Luke's Cottage, the extension of Little Flower Cottage, St. Assisi Cottage, the first floor of St. Joseph's Lodge, St. Thomas Quarters Annexure, St. Xavier's Tourist Halls and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Halls for the accommodation of pilgrims.
Other Noteworthy Developments
Our Lady's Higher Secondary School, an important institution for the education. He also established a new colony known as 'Antoniarpuram' have been put up for the benefit of the staff.
In November 1990 Very Rev. Fr. Gabriel was appointed as Bishop of Tiruchirapalli. He was succeeded by Very Rev. Fr. M.M. Sammanasu. Immediately, on taking charge he showed a genuine concern for the spiritual and imagesoral needs of the pilgrims. During his term, topmost priority was given to Liturgical celebrations. He introduced the Eucharistic procession around the Shrine on the First Friday of every month. He also built Magizhchi Madha Lodge and Infant Jesus Lodge. Two Community Halls both at Keelaiyur and Thirumangudi were constructed by him. 'Booking Office for Rooms' was put up in 1992 in front of the Town Bus Station. Perhaps the magnum opus (great work) of him is the erection of a Retreat House at the Shrine. It was located on the way to Our Lady's Tank about half a kilometer from the Extension Basilica.
Encouraged and supported by the Bishop, he started the Institute for Marian Studies in 1996. After completing a fruitful ministry in the Shrine, Very Rev. Fr. Sammanasu was transferred in 1997, and he was succeeded by Very Rev. Fr. Arul Irudayam who took charge of the Shrine Basilica as its parish priest and Rector on 5th June 1997.
After the retirement of His Grace Packiam Arokiaswamy in September 1997, Most Rev. Dr. M. Devadass Ambrose took charge of the Diocese of Thanjavur as its currently reigning bishop on September 24, 1997. He has now become the guardian of the Shrine.
Fr. Arul Irudayam has played an important role in the development of the Shrine. The Adoration and Reconciliation Chapel at the Shrine was built as a memorial of the historic event. It was blessed by His Excellency Most Rev. Dr. M. Devadass Ambrose, the bishop of Thanjavur and opened by the special envoy of the pope, Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragan on February 9, 2003. The apparition of Our Blessed Mother to the lame buttermilk vendor had no such commemorative chapel. Hence, a beautiful chapel parallel to the Adoration chapel has been built at Nadu thittu, the place where Our Blessed Mother is believed to have appeared to the lame boy. He has extended St. Joseph's Lodge by putting up an additional building. Also a pilgrims quarters with all conveniences has been constructed to accommodate pilgrim sisters. One of the remarkable achievements of Fr. Arul Irudayam is the construction of Christ the king's Mahal. A special Higher Secondary School for the disabled children and a High School for the benefit of children who are deaf, have been established. A home has been built for the Sisters of Jesus who care for the disabled and deaf children.
On 23rd June 2003 Rev. Fr. Arul Irudhayam was transferred and he was succeeded by Very Rev. Fr. P. Xavier as Rector of the Shrine and Rev.Fr. F. Antonisamy as the parish priest.
Significant developments in the spiritual realm have taken place at the past two years. They are, the establishment of a Counselling Centre, On March 17, 2004, the Bishop of Thanjavur Most Rev. Dr. M. Devadass Ambrose blessed and opened the Counseling Centre at the Shrine. It is situated behind the Reconciliation Chapel and close to the Adoration Chapel. Over the years the Shrine has been progressively providing for the Spiritual and imagesoral needs of the pilgrims. However, the need for a Prayer Centre was conspicuous by its absence. This exigency was taken care of when Very Rev. Fr. P. Xavier, the Rector of the Shrine and Rev. Fr. F. Antonisamy, the Parish Priest with the encouragement of the Bishop of Thanjavur started a small Centre for prayer, On July 27, 2003. This prayer centre is known as the 'Spring of Prayer' ('Jeba Ootu' in Tamil). The Exhibition on the History of Salvation which is situated on the southern side of the main Shrine presents the history of God's dialogue with human beings. The Exhibition on the History of Salvation is both fascinating and instructive.