India: reflections on a Marian pilgrimage

By: Victor Edwin SJ

Peace. Greetings from Shembaganur. My Tertianship has begun. Today I offered Mass at the Carmel Monastery. This is the first time I celebrated the Eucharist in a Carmel Monastery. It was a wonderful experience. Here is a little reflection on our pilgrimage. Southern India is dotted with pilgrimage centres. Those who travel this part of the world in the month of January would find tens of thousands of pilgrims clad in blue walk towards 'SABARIMALA', an important temple dedicated to a Hindu deity Murugan. For Muslims, Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca) is one of the five pillars of Islam along with Faith, Canonical Prayer, Fasting and Charity to poor Muslims. Besides Haj, Muslims make pilgrimages to Dargha, where holy people (Sufi Saints) are buried, during the annual URS festival. Many thousands of pilgrims Hindus, Christians and Muslims make pilgrimage to Marian shrine at Veilankanni. Recently we Jesuits,who are doing our Tertianship (final formation before our final incorporation to the Society of Jesus) too made a pilgrimage to Marian shrines at Poondi, Veilankanni, Yelakuruchi and Vadipatti. We also had the privilege of praying at the Shrine of the Jesuit Saint John De Britto. Our pilgrimage was significant in two ways. First of all, we deeply felt, we are pilgrims along with thousands of men and women; Muslims, Christians and Hindus. We could take part in the quest for God of the ordinary peoples. Their faith, devotion and trust indeed galvanised our faith. Secondly, it is also significant from the perspective of the Ignatian tradition. Ignatius after his conversion , came to recognise the difference between various thoughts which emerged from his heart. Certain thoughts like "what if I should do this like Francis?" etc, brought him consolation. He realised it was from the Lord. Certain thoughts like 'winning the favour of a certain lady' etc brought his soul dryness and dissatisfaction. This made him reflect on his past and do some penance for it and then go to Jerusalem. He wanted to seek the assistance and intercession of our Lady. So he mounted on his mule and went on a pilgrimage to Aranzazu and Montserrat. And Ignatius remained a pilgrim all his life. Even his memoir is titled 'A Pilgrim's Testament'. Ignatius' intention was to seek the assistance of our lady in fulfilling his resolution. "Intention" plays an important role in the pilgrimage. It makes the pilgrimage fulfilling and meaningful. What was our intention? Why did we make a pilgrima'e? The two most important elements of Jesuit Tertianship is making the Spiritual Exercises (making the month long Retreat) and going for an 'Experiment' a place to live and serve where humanity is at the breaking point. Both these elements gear towards "touching the Jesuit in the depth of his affectivity", and 'helping him to receive God's gift in full'. We wanted to beg our Lady to accompany us in the two most important events of our life, so that in true freedom we live and serve the mission of the Society of Jesus. In all these four Marian Shrines we offered Mass and prayed for this grace. We indeed deeply felt the assurance of our Mother and her intercession. While on pilgrimage, we also realised that we are pilgrims in this world. We need to care for our co-pilgrims. In all Shrines we received hospitality of the officials. We also witnessed to the disappearing religious boundaries at the Alter of our Lady. With folded hands and tears in their eyes men, women and children pray to our Mother. It is indeed moving to see the trust and hope everyone places on our heavenly Mother. The prayerful atmosphere energises us to commit ourselves once again to our Lord. Her 'YES' indeed strengthens our 'YES' in all situations.

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