Myanmar: The Catholics worldwide celebrate September 8 as the birthday of Mother Mary,which is commemorated as the feast of Our Lady of Good Health, also known as Our Lady of Velankanni. Konkani Catholic Christians from the diocese of Mangalore celebrate this feast in the name of ‘MONTI FEST’ and apart from paying obeisance to Virgin Mary, the Mangalorean Catholics celebrate the festival of the new corn on this day.
In Yangon, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar formerly known as Burma, the Tamil speaking Catholic community of St Anthony’s Parish of the Archdiocese of Yangon celebrate the birthday as the FEAST OF OUR LADY OF VELANKANNI with great joy and enthusiasm. This year the parish celebrated the 118th Feast of Our Lady of Velankanni with a Solemn Festive Mass on 8th September which was preceded by 9 days novena with Eucharistic Procession from church premises to the main road and back to the Church everyday.
Thousands of Catholics had gathered for the novena prayers, sermon, benediction and procession -many of them wearing distinctive saffron dress to express their humility and their devotion to the Blessed Mother. Catholics from other parishes in Yangon also took part in the novena prayers and devotions leading to the feast.
Bishop John Saw Yaw Han, the Auxiliary Bishop of Yangon, who was representing the Archbishop of Yangon, His Eminence Cardinal Charles Maung Bo celebrated the Solemn High Mass with other concelebrants.
The church was tastefully decorated and a strong choir rose to the occasion to make the day’s liturgy more prayerful and exuberant. Bishop John Saw Yaw Han’s homily was based mainly on “Laudato Si” “Praise be to You”, Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis, Care for our common home i.e. the Universe, God’s creation and our sister Earth. Nothing in the world is indifferent to us. Everything that lives and breathes concerns us.
Those who took part in the whole celebration, were delighted to see the vibrant congregation and the excellent celebration. Tamil Catholics, whose ancestors came to Myanmar from southern India as early as the sixth century, made up 90 percent of those at the celebration. The annual Feast of Our Lady of Velankanni on September 8 has been celebrated here since 1897.
The Parish Priest Fr Savari Muthu on behalf of the parish thanked all the faithful & well-wishers for their continuous support. The Priest from India, Fr Charles Irudayam, the Executive Secretary of the “Justice, peace and development” Commission in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India,who was invited by St Antony Parish as the guest preacher for the 9 days novena was honoured on this occasion. The celebrations concluded with sumptuous lunch for all gathered.
After the Eucharistic celebration, it was very touching to see a large crowd on a KNEELING PROCESSION, some in feeble condition, who moved while kneeling and praying with lit candles to the door of the church which was some 100 feet away. Some were seen carrying small boxes to collect donations as they perform a penitential exercise of begging for alms from the devotees and the donations were given to the parish priest to use for the church.
There are around 675,743Catholics in Myanmar spread over16 archdioceses and dioceses with 18 active Bishops and 7 retired Bishops and 937 diocesan and religious priests, 1313 religious men and women, 2954 Catechists who count for 1.3% of the total population of 54 million.
St. Anthony´s Church was built especially for Tamil Catholics, who earlier used two chapels in Yangon – a small one from 1824 to 1852, later a larger one built by Bishop Paul Bigandet of the Paris Foreign Mission Society.
In 1872, the British high commissioner donated land for a church, which was blessed and officially opened for public worship on Nov 18, 1877. From 1875 to 1946 this Parish was run by M.E.P. Priests of FOREIGN MISSION of PARIS, FRANCE. From 1946 till today, 2015 this Parish of St. Anthony is run by Indigenous Local Tamil Priests of Yangon Archdiocese.
The Dedication Jubilee (125th year) of this Church was celebrated on November 2002 after the completion of the renovation of the Church in 2002.
It may be recalled that the Catholic Church in Myanmar last year concluded the jubilee year celebrations of 500 years of its presence in the country, soon after which Pope Francis elevated Archbishop Charles Maung Bo as the first Cardinal from Myanmar. Cardinal Charles Maung Bo became a priest 39 years ago and is presently the Archbishop of archdiocese of Yangon and is one of the most outspoken religious leaders in Burma on issues of human rights, religious freedom, democracy, poverty, human trafficking and other injustices.