The church festival of ‘Our Lady of Madhu’ started last Thursday with the Government and the security forces making all efforts to cope with the large number of devotees who are expected to throng the church grounds during the festival time.
The Madhu Church in Mannar, considered by Catholics to be their holiest place in the island, attracts about 500,000 pilgrims during the festival time. However since intense fighting broke out between Government forces and the LTTE the church was difficult to access during past years.
The security forces have now renovated the church buildings, cleared the grounds of all booby traps and land mines and the Government has restored water and electricity supply to the area. However there are many limitations for the pilgrims who would be attending the festival for the first time since the end of hostilities.
The devotees coming to Madhu will not be allowed to stay overnight at the grounds until August 11 (Tuesday), but could attend the morning services at the church. However this restriction would not be in force from August 12 to August 16, but all the devotees are expected to leave the grounds before noon on August 17.
According to Mannar Bishop Rayappu Joseph all possible measures are being taken to provide at least the basic facilities to the devotees, but he said that accommodation would be available only on a first-come-first-served basis.
The Bishop requested pilgrims to bring as much drinking water and food items as possible as water and food available at the grounds may be limited.
“We have taken steps to provide the maximum possible basic facilities such as water, sanitation and food. I hope people will understand that we are not able to provide 100 per cent facilities. Since most buildings were damaged during the hostilities accommodation will be very limited. The pilgrims cannot have all the comforts,” he said.
The screening process of the pilgrims has been relaxed, with vehicles carrying pilgrims going through the Medawachchiya check point not being checked but all pilgrims are asked to bring relevant documents which should be produced at the check point.
The pilgrims are asked to fill out the form that could be obtained from the nearest Catholic church and make three copies of the list of devotees in each group with their personal details and national identity card numbers, to be produced at the check point. All vehicles transporting pilgrims should have a photo copy of the vehicle registration document certified at the nearest police station, to be submitted at the check point.
The police will escort the vehicles carrying pilgrims from the Medawachchiya check point to Madhu Road junction where the devotees will be screened. A shuttle service will be available for the pilgrims from this point to the church grounds.