Monday, December 23, 2013

December 8th Pilgrimage to Mary Matha

Photo Courtesy of TripAdvisor.
Destination: Mary Matha Church on Ross Hill.
Holy Family pilgrims set out in pre-dawn darkness.
Visakhapatnam features three surrounding hills, topped by a Hindu temple, Islamic mosque and a Catholic pilgrimage site with church, grottos, Stations of the Cross and retreat center.

A 5 AM train ride started the day for Holy Family Mission faithful on the December 8th, 2013 Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pastor Fr. Varghese Kalapurakudy guided 50 villagers to Visakhapatnam, his diocesan see.

Public transportation wasn't operating for days leading up to the pilgrimage, due to strikes and protests regarding the division of Andhra Pradesh State and the forming of the new state, Telengana. But protesters took a Sunday rest, allowing Holy Family faithful their trip. Pilgrims headed to the Church of the Virgin Mary, atop the central and highest hill, Ross Hill. The 150-year-old Catholic church was built as a private residence, and later blessed as a church.

Some went to great heights to get comfortable
on the crowded train.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit Ross Hill Shrine yearly, seeking blessings and protection from Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. On her feast day, pilgrims come for a special procession, shown here. Even those of various religious beliefs come to pray and seek peace.

For 18 years, this shrine has also conducted a Rosary Chain Prayer, inviting faithful world-wide to commit to a time to pray the Rosary and to send the time via email or phone call. This encourages devotion to the Rosary, and also encircles the globe with a continuous chain of Rosaries prayed for peace and the conversion of sinners.

The Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (MSFS), Province of Visakhapatnam, oversee the shrine. Atop the hill are excellent views of Visakhapatnam (also called Vizag), the Esser Steel Plant, the ship building yard, and the Bay of Bengal with its impressive ships.

This gentleman wears a wool "monkey hat"
to keep off the early morning chill.
Many on the pilgrimage were ladies of Holy Family Mission's Mariadalem Sodality, a group devoted to the Blessed Mother. As they labored so hard to prepare mission grounds for the coming of their archbishop for Confessions in June, Fr. Varghese had promised to bring them on pilgrimage. The people are grateful Our Lady is a strong intercessor for them and their mission.
Directions at the station are written
in the local language of Telegu.

It's unusual for these day laborers to travel far from their villages, so they had extra reason to rejoice on December 8th, as they drew closer to the Blessed Mother and her Son.

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Pray for Us!

A pilgrimage helps faithful of all ages
draw closer to each other and God.
The pilgrimage site lay nearly 100 miles Northeast 
of Yeleswaram, home of Holy Family Mission. 

Crowds disembark at Vizag.

Seeking alms, a boy poses as a statue of Gandhi.

Some of the pathways are dusty, but the view atop
Ross Hill is worth the hike.

"Hail Mary, full of grace..."

Pilgrims take a steep climb up Ross Hill. The path
is lined with shrines depicting the Stations of the Cross.

Some pilgrims have their heads shaved as a special
sacrifice to God and to proclaim that He has
answered their prayers through the intercession

of His Blessed Mother.

Pilgrims gather for an outdoor Mass. At right is the
center used for hosting Visakhapatnam Diocese's
retreats for priests.

Trees at the Shrine are strung with lights
for Christmas.
A break for lunch...

An old postcard shows the view from Ross Hill
of Vizag and its harbor.
The blue structure is the iron ore belt of the
Esser Steel Plant.
Serving briyani rice to pilgrims atop Ross Hill.
On the way back down, four pilgrims got
disconnected from the group and Fr. Varghese
climbed back up the hill to locate them.

Holy Family pilgrims gather at a Marian grotto near 
the Church of the Virgin Mary on Ross Hill.

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