Rejoices with 50 Years of Blessings
The Church of Our Lady of Health of Velankanni, Irla completes 50 years in 2017; a significant milestone that would not have been achieved without the will of God and the powerful intercession of Our Lady. As we celebrate this occasion, we look back at all the efforts that went into building the church which today offers the devotees of Mother Mary a sanctuary to seek her blessings and guidance.
In 1966, the PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) Fathers, came to Mumbai looking for an in-transit base for their Missionaries travelling across the globe. Irla, a small suburb in Mumbai located close to the airport, was the perfect choice. In October 1967, they purchased two flats in DilPazir building located on Society road, Irla. Rev. Fr. Bruno Venturin PIME, was appointed Procurator and took up residence in DilPazir Building.
Around the same time, the Catholic community in Irla desperately wanted a church nearby as they had to make a long commute to St. Blaise Church, Amboli, which was difficult at that time especially for the elderly and the young.
Fr. Venturin, while staying in Irla, used to celebrate Mass daily in a nearby convent which many of the Catholics from Irla attended, especially on Sundays. In December 1967, at the request of the people, Fr. Venturin celebrated Christmas midnight Mass in the lane that now leads to the shrine.
Overwhelmed by the turnout for the Christmas midnight Mass celebration, Fr.Venturin promised to build a church. He appointed a committee and together with the people of Irla, he worked very hard to acquire land and raise funds to realise this promise. In 1968, a shed was erected on a piece of land donated by a resident of Irla.
It was decided that this new church would be dedicated to Our Lady of Velankanni as many devotees of Our Blessed Mother used to travel all the way to Velankanni, Tamil Nadu, for the annual novena. This pilgrimage was an arduous journey and expensive too.
The community continued to gather funds through various means and soon a chapel was erected and on 14th April 1968, Easter Vigil Mass was celebrated. This structure still stands and is now called the Prayer Hall.
In August 1968, preparations for the very first Novena were in full swing. The plans included 9 days of spiritual activity, including a Solemn Procession and blessing of the sick. On 30th August the flag was hoisted and novena services were conducted for the first time in English and Marathi. The hoisting of the flag was a tradition followed by sailors in ancient times to intercede to our Blessed Mother to protect them from the stormy sea. On 8th September His Lordship Bishop Winnibald Menezes celebrated the Feast Mass and officially declared CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF HEALTH OF VELANKANNI as a Quasi Parish.
The novenas brought devotees from all over Mumbai to the shrine. The ever increasing number made it necessary to build a bigger structure. An adjoining plot of land was acquired and the foundation stone was laid on January 12, 1975 by Auxiliary Bishop Winnibald Menezes. On 12thSeptember, 1976, the new Church structure was completed and was blessed by Rt. Rev. Alphonso Berretta, Bishop of Warangal, Andhra Pradesh. All this would not have been possible were it not for the prayers and joint efforts of the priests and laity. Together they made this dream a reality.
On 10th September 1978, the Church of Our Lady of Health of Velankanni was raised from the status of Quasi Parish to the level of full-fledged Parish by His Excellency Simon Cardinal Pimenta. Fr. Tiburtius Raj (PIME) was the Parish Priest at that time. Through the years there were many structural changes made to the building. Today it still stands tall and welcomes parishioners and other devotees in large numbers.
Through the past 50 years, many PIME Missionaries have rendered their service to Irla Parish. PIME’s presence began with Fr. Bruno Venturin, (First Parish Priest 1968-1978) then Fr. RajrusselTributius (1978-1981), Fr. Lino Dal Balcon (1981-1984), Fr. Benito Picascia (1984-1988), Fr. Augustine Palett (1988-1994), Fr. Carlo Rimondi(1994-1997), Fr. Antonio Grugni, (1997-2003), Fr.George Thailammanal (2003-2009), again Fr. Augustine Palett 2009-Feb 2017), Fr. Ravi Thanaiah Marneni from March 2017 onwards..
The novenas continue to attract large number of devotees for the Annual Novena and the Novena devotion are conducted in English, Marathi, Konkani and Tamil every Saturday. The Solemn Procession is held on the Sunday prior to the Feast day i.e. 8th September. The statue of Our Lady is ceremoniously taken in Procession over a 2/3 km route on a decorated jeep. Thousands of devotees join the procession and others line up the entire procession route to pay homage to Our Lady. A truly devotional experience for people of all Faiths. When it was initiated, the statue used to be carried by the devotees in a traditional “palkhi” over a shorter route through the Irla Village.
The blessing of the sick and invalids is held on the first Saturday during theAnnual Novena. People of all Faiths, some terminally ill, physically handicapped, those with chronic ailments and even mental impairments are brought to seek the intervention of Our Lady for healing. It is very touching to see the desperation and pain that these people are going through. There are doctors, nurses and other para-medics to assist them during this service. The entire congregation joins in the prayer. The sick and invalids are blessed with holy water and finally the Blessed Sacrament is taken around for them to worship.
Many testimonies are witnessed at the miraculous shrine of Our Lady at Irla. Special petitions are prayed for during the Annual Novena and Saturday Novena services. The uniqueness of the Novena at Irla is that it is always part of the Holy Eucharist with a short inspiring homily. The Shrine doors are open on all days and it is awe-inspiring to see devotees from far off places coming at all hours to thank and venerate Our Lady of Velankanni. The devotees also make generous contributions which are then disbursed as medical aid to the sick and needy. Donations received are used also to subsidize education costs of the poor, as well as fund social and missionary causes.
The church was built to give the Catholics of Irla the place they so desired, and as it touches the 50-year milestone, we are proud to honour it as a place where all are welcome, a haven for all those seeking the grace and blessing of Our Lady. As we commemorate this occasion, we also pray for God’s blessings for this church so that this parish community and the devotees may continue to thrive and do God’s will, for many more years to come.
“From Mary we learn to surrender to God’s will in all things,
From Mary we learn to trust when all hope seems gone,
From Mary we learn to love Christ her son and Son of God”
May Our Lady of Health of Velankanni intercede for all!