Monument of miracles
By Rev. Fr. S.K. Devarajah
The shrine of our Lady of Madhu in the diocese of Mannar is significant for several reasons: Madhu symbolizes the unique Marian devotion of the people of Sri Lanka. It has been an enduring citadel of power of prayer, a common centre for penance and a place of peace for all the Catholics of both the north and south of Sri Lanka.

A vast multitude flocks to this shrine during festivals. They put up camps , pray, and participate in the well attended liturgical celebrations. People consider Madhu a power-house of Christian life and pilgrims carry home and diffuse all around them the fervour and piety they gathered at the feet of their Heavenly Mother. Therefore Madhu is the heart of Catholic piety in Sri Lanka.

Dutch days
The Madhu Shrine has a history that goes beyond the period of persecution at the hands of the Dutch in Ceylon. Like Catholicism in this country, this shrine too owes its survival to the unrelenting faith of our people to whom the Vanni and the Kandyan Kingdom were a haven of refuge, beyond the Dutch ruled regions of Colombo, Jaffna and Galle. Oratorian documents testify to the centrality of this shrine in the prayer life of Sri Lanka's Catholic community as far back as 1700 AD.

The conquest of the island by the Dutch in Sri Lanka opened an era of cruel persecution against the Catholics and the faithful of Manthai (in the district of Mannar) were forced to consider removing the statue of Our Lady of Mantai to a safe place. There were no priests to give them any spiritual support or strength. With the consent of the people, twenty devoted families, in the year 1670, migrated with the statue of Our Lady of Mantai into the Vanni wilderness, where they hoped to save the statue from profanation and themselves from persecution. The little company wandered hither and thither in the thick forest of the Vanni in constant fear of the enemy. Finally they settled in a hamlet called Maruthamadhu: and there the Mantai Catholics for the first time planted the seed of Catholicism.

Seeking refuge
About the same time there was another movement towards Madhu from the Jaffna peninsula. To avoid Dutch persecution, about 700 Catholics crossed over to Pooneryn and sought refuge in the Vanni. Having wandered for days in anxiety and fear, they too, as if by a miracle, were led to Maruthamadhu. Among the newly arrived Catholics from Jaffna was a daughter of a Portuguese Captain named Helena, who out of her fervent piety built the first little Church dedicated to Our Lady of Madhu. For this good act the Christians have immortalised her memory by calling this place "Silena - Marutha - Madhu'' which to the present day continues to be one of the names of the holy sanctuary.

The Venerable Apostle of Ceylon, Fr. Joseph Vaz knew the place and "Silena Maruthamadhu" appears in the first list of Oratorian missionary appointments. From her sylvan shrine, Our Lady of Madhu liberally dispensed her favours spiritual and temporal to her children. She became especially famous as a protestress against the sting of venomous serpents that abounded in the jungle. At first their sting had no effect within the church lands. Then people began to take the Madhu earth to various parts of Sri Lanka as a medicine and found that it had the same healing power.

When Jaffna was the northern vicariate, during the annual festivals, this shrine attracted tens of thousands of worshippers year after year. The building of the new church was started by Bishop Bonjean in 1872 and his successors built a superb facade, the spacious presbytery, the restful chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and the inspiring grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Papal recognition
In 1920, Bishop Brault who had a very special devotion to Our Lady of Madhu, obtained the Holy Father's sanction for the historic solemn coronation of the Statue of Our Lady of Madhu. Bishop Brault with the clergy and the laity had petitioned the Vatican Chapter through the Apostolic Delegate Cardinal Van Rossam, Prefect of the S.C. of Propaganda and he personally presented the request to the Holy Father who in his audience of April 7, 1921, granted this extraordinary favour of coronation of Our Lady.

Madhu made elaborate preparations to have the statue crowned and thus in 1924 a hundred years after the statue of Our Lady had been given a permanent habitation at Madhu, it was solemnly and officially crowned by the Papal Legate who came in the name of Pope Pius XI. It fell to his successor, Bishop Guyomar, another great lover of Mary, to inaugurate his episcopate with the coronation of Our Lady of Madhu and to expand, embellish and organize his sanctuary into the splendid state in which it is today. It was Bishop Guyomar who on June 25, 1944 in the presence of numerous priests and the vast throng of people, consecrated the altar and the Church. An important ceremony that took place was the enclosing of the relics of the martyrs in a small silver casket officially sealed by the Bishop of Jaffna and deposited in the cavity carved inside the altar. The relics of SS Fabian, Sebastian, Agnes and Grata were enclosed in this casket. Because of this consecration of the Church large numbers of pilgrims attended the festivals thereupon.

Refuge of sinners
One of the reasons why people make a pilgrimage to this sacred shrine from various parts of this island is for the reception of the Sacrament of Penance. Many a sinner who has not confessed in his own parish church for years, makes a good confession and begins a virtuous life at the sanctuary of Our Lady of Madhu.

Our Lady of Madhu is the 'Health of the sick' and the 'comfort for the afflicted'. People spend hours in prayer at the feet of this compassionate Mother. It is known that any one who fled to her protection has never been left unaided. Hundreds of votive offerings and thousands of candles lit are testimony to the unfailing answer of the Loving Mother of Madhu to the outstretched hands and the tearful eyes.

Catholics associate Madhu with miraculous favours, healing of long-standing ailments, family reconciliations, recovery of lost properties etc. So Madhu has always drawn Catholics for its sacredness. To safeguard the sanctity of this sacred spot, and in order that the pilgrims may live here an intense Catholic life, and to breath the pure air of prayer, the ecclesiastical authorities have been continuing to maintain the sacredness of this shrine. It is the ardent desire of all people that it should be a place of worship, a common prayer home for all people.

The penitential tour
In 1948 from March 15 to May 5 the statue of Our Lady of Madhu was taken in procession to every parish in the diocese of Jaffna for a call to a more Catholic life. Non Catholics vied with Catholics in welcoming her. In 1974 in order to commemorate the Holy Year proposed by the Holy Father viz Renewal and Reconciliation, the statue of Our Lady was taken to the different parishes for the second time.

In 2001 to encourage Catholics of Sri Lanka to pray for peace in our land the Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph decided to take the statue of Our Lady of Madhu on a peace mission tour to the north and the south of Sri Lanka. This Mission of Our Lady worked miracles and thus brought forth the ceasefire MOU. The relative peace our people experience now is by the miracle of grace of Our Lady of Madhu.

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