Come September, the glorious month of the seasons with thrashing waves racing beneath the azure skies towards the golden shore dotted with swaying palms as the ascending sun slowly but softly cast its brilliant rays warming up the sleepy earth, was the perfect backdrop to a multitude of worshippers in their thousands from every corner of the island to venerate Jesus upon the cross.
The venue was the National Shrine of the Holy Cross at Marawila, a spiritual landmark and a very important day in the Catholic calendar.
There was no breathing space even for a pin to drop, all Christians waiting impatiently to hear their gentle shepherd speak which is yet another reason to draw thousands. Bishop of Chilaw, Rev. Dr Valence Mendis, spiritually mesmerize crowds when he speaks.
Eloquent but simple for everyone to understand, have the God-given gift of tapping every single heart with an aura that very few religious leaders are blessed with. There is silence prevailing when his voice rises; even the thrashing waves roll back to the sea. Hush is the word.
The theme for the day was our commitment to the holy cross and its impact on life’s journey as Jesus has preached us.
He commenced the holy mass praying for the world and all people invoking blessings and guidance to be real Christians.
“We have to look up to the cross as the ultimate salvation by maintaining family values and resolving problems within and the world will look after itself as Jesus preached.”
From where I was, I could see his eyes shining under lights visibly shaken holding back tears and almost whispered in a shattered voice about the neglected children scattered around the world.
“Our innocent children from broken homes, from the ravage of war, orphaned, street children starving, perishing with no one to turn to… Let us put our hands together and pray for the innocence that sanity will prevail and find peace in Jesus’ hands.”
Hush and there was silence as the multitude of devotees put their hands together in unison. It was a marvellous reaction for over three minutes of silence. He had touched every core of each heart. I have never seen such a spectacle even in the west.
He also continued touching on the global destruction of the environment and the damage done.
“It is not only the nations that are affected but animal population, flora and fauna. We all have to be responsible and leave their habitat for them. They are born free and that’s how they should be. Do your mite as responsible people and give them breathing space so they will live without fear.”
The embodiment of the Living Christ, the simple structure which is home to the statue of Christ is unlike the grandeur of big churches. Main worshippers are those living in Marawila that accounts to thousands and Jesus Christ who taught his disciples to be fishers of men shine through their lives.
The diocese of Chilaw has many numbers of worshipping places frequented by the fishing community leading to Puttalam under the care of their Shepherd, Bishop Valence who tirelessly creates the spiritual environment. The status is miraculous, unlike many others where Christ looks down tenderly with forgiveness on us who have betrayed and led him to be crucified.
The statue was shipped from Bangalore to the Port of Colombo and brought by train to Nattandiya where a group of devotees brought it to Marawila. When the Station Master opened the crate, it was in pieces much to the heart-broken, devastated the then Fr. Thiri who bought it for Rs. 2.50.
He installed it in the present graveyard. This was from 1877 to 1921. It had been the French Fr. Ferdinand Thiri who had been the Parish Priest at Marawila from 1909 to 1924 who had ordered the statue from Bangalore.
Today, the statue stands in all spiritual glory as the shrine has been declared a national shrine, a sacred venue to the whole of Sri Lanka.