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Marian Shrine In Dilemma
Tsunami Survivors Refuse To Vacate Temporary Shelter
Indian Marian Shrine "Lourdes of the East." Australian Jesuit missioner attacked in Ranchi  1/21/2006

Australian Jesuit missioner attacked in Ranchi  1/21/2006
Ranchi (ICNS) January 21,2006

An Australian Jesuit missioner based in Ranchi was attacked by a gang of three suspected robbers as he walked through a busy road to his office in the morning.  Father Peter Jones, 78, director of Chotanagpur Catholic Cooperative Society was attacked Jan. 18. The priest is now hospitalized with deep head injuries.  The missioner, an Australian Jesuit, was attacked as he walked to his office in the morning from Jesuit's Manresa house, which is just walking distance from his office. The cooperative society is also known as Catholic Bank.  The priest said he carried a brief case and robbers might have thought that as the head of the "bank" he was carrying some money in it. But the briefcase had only some keys, his lunch and diary.  He said he tried to tell the attackers that he carried no money, but they attacked him before he could say anything. He was beaten with an iron rod from behind in head and hand.

He said he fell unconscious and some people reached him hospital, where he recovered consciousness.  Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi and several top police officials visited him at the hospital.  Carinal Toppo condemned the attack and said it was a sign of increasing crimes in the city. He said it showed the deteriorating law and order in the state and asked the state to act.
Marian Shrine In Dilemma As Tsunami Survivors Refuse To Vacate Temporary Shelters
By T.S. Thomas VAILANKANNI, India (UCAN)  Jan 23,2006

A year after a Marian shrine in southern India built temporary sheds for about 3,000 tsunami survivors, the survivors now refuse to vacate the area unless permanent houses are built for them on the same land.

  Soon after the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami devastated the area around the Shrine Basilica of Our Lady in Tamil Nadu state's Vailankanni town, shrine authorities built shed rows on shrine land for the survivors. The rows are divided into about 800 units. Vailankanni is 2,000 kilometers south of New Delhi.

Shrine procurator Father A. John Bosco told UCA News in early January that the Church is prepared to build permanent houses on land that the government has allotted six kilometers south of the shrine. The funds for this have come from Caritas India, the local Church's relief agency, and Thanjavur diocese, to which the shrine belongs.

However, the people occupying the tin-roofed temporary shelters say they cannot live far from the shrine because they depend on its pilgrims for a living. The sheds are about 200 meters from the shrine. Houses cannot be built for the people where their destroyed dwellings stood, because the state government has ruled that any new houses built for tsunami survivors must be at least 700 meters from the shore.

"We are doing everything possible for the victims, but they are united against us," Father Bosco said.

One of the residents, Lourdes Mary, says their life in the temporary shelters is "really horrible," but living far from the shrine would be worse. Her temporary shelter is a room measuring about 18 square meters. It functions as a kitchen during the day and a bedroom at night, Mary, 36, told UCA News.

Like her, about 70 percent of the people in the temporary shelters are Catholics. The rest are Hindus. They lost their houses and all they owned to the tsunami, which killed more than 1,000 people in the area. The shrine proper was not affected because it is on high ground.

Mariadass, who lives in a shed with his wife and two children, told UCA News on Jan. 7 that most people in the temporary shelters make their living by selling fruit, pictures, candles, flowers and refreshments to pilgrims who throng the shrine by the thousands throughout the year. They have lived around the shrine for decades and some run small shops near the shrine.

The people "want a place near to the shrine," said Mariadass, who carries an identity card the shrine issued him to maintain a shop. Many families would face "permanent troubles" if they shifted to the place the shrine has recommended, he added. Women and children who gathered around him said they are in a fight with the shrine priests, who "want to send us too far."

According to Father Bosco, the dispute started when the people in the temporary shelters asked for permanent houses within the shrine land. "It is practically impossible," the 45-year-old priest insisted, explaining that the shrine is already pressed to improve its infrastructure to cater to growing numbers of pilgrims. He also suspects that outsiders with "vested interests" have instigated the tsunami survivors staying at the shrine.

On the other hand, Mariadass maintained that his people cannot accept the proposed site because catering to the pilgrims is the only living they know. "We are not fishermen," he said. "We will not go away from here."

A Hindu neighbor, Balachandra, 60, said he would sleep on the road but would not go away from the shrine. His wife said she is hopeful that "Mother Mary will help us."

Meanwhile, the shrine has built a memorial tower 16 meters tall on a mass burial ground for those killed in the tsunami. It was blessed on the first anniversary of the tragedy. Heads of various religions attended an interreligious prayer meeting held there that day.

Bishop Devadass Ambrose of Thanjavur, who blessed the memorial, said the diocese has "done whatever possible" for those who died and those who survived. The tower is built on the main road near the town's arch and is visible from afar. The bishop said the Church also plans to build an interreligious prayer hall and a garden around the memorial.

The shrine's assistant parish priest, Father Jyothi Nallappa, told UCA News many people now visit the burial ground. "Soon it may become a definite dropping place for most pilgrims before entering the shrine," he said.

But this prospect does not excite those in the temporary sheds. "The Church is ready to build houses for us. The government is ready to allot free land for us. But is that enough? Don't we have to live?" asked Devenasam, a resident of the temporary shelters. Her neighbor Mary agreed. "The dead have got a tower at least. We are still suffering," Mary said.   
Indian Marian Shrine "Lourdes of the East."
Hosting Interreligious Meeting Area Devastated by Tsunami
VELANKANNI, India, JAN. 28, 2005 (

The Marian Shrine of Velankanni, devastated by last month's tsunami, will host an interreligious meeting to be led by the president of India's episcopal conference.

Some 1,500 people in Velankanni died during the tsunami, officials said. The majority were pilgrims, hundreds from other Indian states, as well as fishermen and local villagers. More than 1,100 people died at the shrine, known as the "Lourdes of the East."

Priests, nuns and teams of volunteers of the Diocese of Tanjore organized rescue and relief operations in Velankanni and the adjoining coastal villages.

According to Father Anthony Philimin Raj, executive secretary of the Indian episcopal conference, a large number of Church leaders and leaders from other religious communities will congregate at Velankanni for the unique interreligious prayer service, being organized by the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Telesphore Toppo will lead the meeting that will be attended by leaders of the Islam and Muslim communities. Bishop Devadass Ambrose Mariadoss of Tanjore and a large number of priests and nuns of the diocese will also attend. Bishop Mariadoss oversees the relief and rehabilitation projects in the area.

Cardinal Toppo will also inaugurate temporary thatched housing constructed by the Tanjore Diocese for the villagers and fishermen who lost their homes.

Twenty million pilgrims from India and Southeast Asia visit the Shrine of Velankanni annually, including many Hindus and Muslims. ZE05012808