Countdown begins for official elevation of St Lawrence Shrine to Minor Basilica
St Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr of the Holy Catholic Church, is venerated by his devotees and pilgrims flocking to his Shrine at Attur-Karkal numbering over a million every year. He is even ‘worshipped’ as the ‘God’ of Karkal by many people. In the Tulu language, St Lawrence is affectionately addressed as Karla da Dever (God of Karkal). The fame of the Shrine, which is spread far and wide, more for the miraculous powers of the Statue of St Lawrence, having its own history, has always been the centre of attraction, devotion and veneration. The history of this devotion is not a myth but based on the facts of the life of this great but simple and humble Servant of God, who was privileged to live and die a martyr for His Master Jesus Christ.
St Lawrence was one of the 7 Deacons of ancient Rome, serving under Pope Sixtus II, martyred during the persecution by Emperor Valerian in 258 A.D. A Deacon of that time was ordained to serve the poor. He was appointed both to the service of the table (corporal works of mercy) and to the service of the Word of God (spiritual works of mercy). St Lawrence is one of the most widely venerated saints of the Roman Catholic Church.
ORIGIN AND HISTORY
The Shrine of St Lawrence at Attur-Karkal in the Diocese of Udupi is situated on the outskirts of Karkala town in Karnataka State, India. Placed amidst placid greenery, the Attur Parish and Shrine have a rich history with its origin tracing back to 1759. Moreover, it is known for its miraculous origin. Miracles, history, beauty, devotion, faith and social activities are all bound into one in this holy campus. Regional history tells us that the Christians of this place too were among those who underwent captivity by Tippu Sultan. Tippu, the king of Mysuru, who ruled from 29 December 1780 to 04 May 1799 was a tyrant who forced Islam on other faiths, especially Christians. Or else, he held them captives as slaves, tortured and killed them. Those who had suffered the tyranny of Tippu Sultan and yet survived returned to their respective places to build houses for themselves, their churches and their faith. The Parish Church, in those days, was about 7 kilometres away from the present site. Tippu destroyed it and took Christians as captives to Srirangapatna near Mysuru. At the end of the captivity, the Christians who returned put up a small church building with thatched roof on the way to Nakre in 1801 under the leadership of a Goan Priest.
The origin of the present Church and Shrine:
The Church at Nakre was too old for religious functions. So the parishioners and their Goan Parish Priest were on the lookout for a proper location to build a new Church. They carried with them the Statue of St Lawrence, one foot in height. On the way, they went on praying to him to help them select a suitable place to put up a church in his honour. They crossed the Rama samudra lake of Karkala, went up the Parpale Hill and came down on the western side. They found a spring flowing at the foot of the hill. As they were thirsty and tired, they placed the Statue on the ground and quenched their thirst with the pure spring water and rested there.
After some time, they decided to continue their search for a suitable place but when they tried to lift the Statue of St Lawrence, it would not move as if it was rooted firmly in the ground. On seeing this, the priest exclaimed: “Oh St Lawrence, if you have selected this place, we will build the Church in your honour in this very place”. Only after this promise the priest was able to lift the statue from the ground. So, on the same spot, the present Church was built in the year 1839. Within a short time, this Church turned out to be a centre of pilgrimage attracting people of all faiths. Devotees began to flow in from the surrounding places. Many favours were received by them through the intercession of St Lawrence. The miraculous statue of St Lawrence became a holy statue for veneration and the place gradually developed and was declared by the Church as a Shrine. As the Shrine began to be considered as a pilgrim centre, pilgrims, irrespective of their faiths, castes and creeds, kept on visiting the Shrine to pay their respects and fulfil their vows to St Lawrence throughout the year because they believed that St Lawrence was not only a powerful intercessor before God, but also a dispenser of favours and blessings.
Today, the people of Attur as well as devotees and pilgrims from far and near flock to the Shrine of St Lawrence, throughout the year, for the sole reason that St Lawrence would fulfil their aspirations. There are a number of people who vouch for his miraculous powers even without visiting the holy Shrine at Attur-Karkal claiming that St Lawrence cares for them and listens to their petitions from wherever they are. The large number of pilgrims visiting the holy Shrine every day, especially during the Annual Feast celebrated in the last week of January, which crosses over twelve hundred thousand (12 lakh as per 2015 records) and over a million throughout the year is a vivid testimony that Saint Lawrence does heed the petitions of everyone who approaches him with trust.
The reason why the annual feast is celebrated in the last week of January: Christians who returned to Attur from the captivity of Tippu Sultan found themselves homeless and landless because all their lands were occupied by people of other faiths. Hence they took to working in their fields as daily labourers earning daily wages in kind as rice. Since money was required for other purchase for sustenance, the men folk took up jobs far away in coffee estates. The devotion to St Lawrence grew day by day and since there was no possibility to communicate through the media, especially for the people who were far away from Attur-Karkal, it was agreed to celebrate the annual feast on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the last week in January so that devotees from far and near could confidently visit Attur to celebrate the annual feast. This tradition has been kept up faithfully by the Shrine every year.
The Church of St Lawrence, Attur-Karkal is synonymous with the Shrine so much so when one speaks of visiting the church of St Lawrence at Attur, it is meant also the Shrine and vice versa. The annual feast is known as a Jatre in the local language to mean, paying homage to the miraculous Statue in person, making a good confession, participating in the holy rituals of the liturgical celebrations, making the offerings and fulfilling their vows, especially of lighting the candles. It is believed that if a person visited the Shrine during the annual festival and lighted a candle making a wish, the wish would come true. The people from various faiths flock to the Shrine during the annual feast either to fulfil their vows or pay their respect to the much-revered St Lawrence and return only after receiving his ‘darshan’ (glimpse).
Pushkarini: There is a holy pond in the premises of the Shrine by the name ‘Pushkarini’. The pond is always full of water. The water is believed to have a miraculous healing effect and is said to have healed many. Hence, most of the pilgrims make it a point to visit this pond.
A cross can be found on the top of the Parpale Hill near the shrine of St Lawrence. During the holy season of Lent, the Way of the Cross is conducted on this hill with great devotion and enthusiasm. At a lower level of this Hill, there are two caves of Tippu’s time; one of these is quite big. St Lawrence Shrine is spread over an acre of land of scenic beauty on all sides. Peace, tranquillity and serenity lend a hue of charm to this holy place. In the present world of disappointments, worries and frustrations, St Lawrence Shrine sheds a ray of hope, courage, blessings, forgiveness, healing, miracles and holiness.
Several diocesan priests have dedicated themselves to build, promote and spread the devotion to St Lawrence since 1759. The number of priests having served the St Lawrence Church and Shrine is 36. There have also been Spiritual Coadjutors and Assistant Parish Priests. Being custodians of the holy Shrine, they have been instrumental in the steady growth of the Shrine. The Shrine has been well-patronized and continues to attract pilgrims year after year. The phenomenon is indeed a miracle of St Lawrence.
The Church and Shrine have been treated as centres of peace, tranquillity, prayer, devotion and communal harmony. This was evident in 1994 and 1997 when, due to heavy rain, there was a landslide around the Parpale Hill and, as a result, the metallic pendal in front of the old Church got heavily damaged and blocked the flow of water from the hill. This would have resulted in heavy damage to the Church but devotees of all faiths from around Karkal and Attur rushed to the Shrine and cleared the large heap of mud, making way for the smooth passage of water. In 2001 when the new Church was built as a memorial of the bi-centenary celebrations, a ninety feet twin belfry was constructed based on Christian, Hindu and Muslim architecture which has been highly appreciated as a beautiful symbol of communal harmony in the Shrine. During Christmas season every year Inter-Religious get-together is held in which prominent religious leaders of different faiths are invited to address the gathering and promote communal harmony. This get-together is well appreciated and highlighted prominently in the local newspapers. The Books and Souvenirs Stalls of the Shrine distribute religious material by way of literature, books, audio and video-CDs and promote devotion to St Lawrence, and thereby the Triune God. Copies of the Bible are distributed freely to the devotees who are interested in studying Christianity.
Two developments which are noteworthy at the Shrine:
1) On Friday after the annual Shrine Feast, the poor and the destitute are provided with a festive lunch and given financial help in cash equally, the charity received for this purpose from the pilgrims during the annual feast. Begging is banned during the celebration but the poor and the needy are taken care of in a systematic manner so that they too are able to enjoy the rich heritage of the holiness of the Shrine of blessings and favours.
2) These needy are also continually helped and taken care of throughout the year by the Rector of the Shrine so that the works of mercy and charity dispensed by Deacon St Lawrence are continued faithfully also in this Shrine. The Shrine takes utmost care to alleviate misery and suffering by setting aside 75% of the revenue received throughout the year by way of contributions, donations and mite box collections for the construction of houses for the poor, medical care, education and other basic needs of people of all faiths without any discrimination.
The Diocese has already set in motion a master plan of putting up a Home for the Destitute so that all those who have nowhere to go will find a home away from home in this Home for solace, security, care and human dignity.
The Shrine of St Lawrence has always kept in mind the spiritual, social, economic and educational progress of the parishioners, pilgrims and devotees. Accordingly various activities, plans and projects have been undertaken to meet these objectives:
All arrangements have been made to make the Eucharistic celebration meaningful and a true God-experience. During the annual feast additional Masses are celebrated throughout the day and night in different languages so that the pilgrims are able to participate in the Holy Mass. The Eucharistic adoration after midnight on annual Feast days attracts a large gathering of faithful. Modern media of communications are used to reach out to as many pilgrims as possible spread all over the campus.
Sufficient number of Priests, Deacons and Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Communion are made available for the distribution of Holy Communion with trained volunteers guiding them to places of distribution.
The confessional facility is another area which has been adequately taken care of and a separate Confessional Chapel is being planned for the purpose.
A ‘Home for the Destitute’ is being planned with a view to taking care of the poor, neglected, destitute and orphans in the spirit of St Lawrence who took care of the needy of his time.
While over 200 deserving families have been provided with financial help last year for medicine, education of children, housing, sanitation and drinking water facilities, scholarships, a medical burse and systematic housing projects will be taken up as a part of the future plan.
YatriNivas, a Pilgrim Centre, is already under construction. This building consists of ground plus three floors in which facilities will be provided to pilgrims for boarding and lodging.
An Enquiry Centre will be provided to the visitors, tourists, devotees and pilgrims who seek information and guidance about the Shrine and St Lawrence.
A Museum is being planned to house relics, documentation of favours received, chronicles pertaining to the history of the Church and Shrine, souvenirs, testimonies from pilgrims and other important valuable articles, artefacts etc.
A Hall in the form of a theatre will be set up to screen films and audio-visual presentations on the life of Christ and St Lawrence, and history of the activities and celebrations at St Lawrence Church and Shrine.