KARACHI: Members of the two largest minority communities of Pakistan don't have much in common in terms of religious beliefs and customs. Or so it seems. For nine days of the year, however, the two communities come together to celebrate the 'Lady of good health Velankanni', sharing the common belief that these prayers for better health for their families will be answered.
Dressed in yellow and orange outfits, the devotees stood in a queue in the prayer hall of St Anthony's church at McNeil road on Saturday to listen to the holy rites and flag hoisting ceremony. "Orange is the colour of naivety of Mary," said a girl standing outside the church. She was selling yellow and orange ribbons to the believers from both the Hindu and Christian faiths.
Our Lady of Good Health, also known as Our Lady of Velankanni, is celebrated by Catholics, who believe that the blessed Mary appeared in Velankanni Town, Tamil Nadu, India, in front of a young boy, explained a devotee at the church, Marshal Fernandes.
"There are many stories behind this act of faith. Most believe that Mary's apparition, carrying Jesus, appeared in front of a young boy who was delivering milk to the neighborhood," explained Fernandes.
Citing the reason why Hindus and Christians celebrate the occasion together, he said that because Mary appeared in India and is believed to be there, Hindus also have strong belief in it. The Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health still stands at the site in India where she appeared and the church is thronged by pilgrims from all over India.
The start of the festival on August 29 is marked by a walk with the flag and a flag-hoisting ceremony. Prayers are held at the churches for the rest of the week. The festival ends on September 8 with the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. The prayers of the holy rosary are said in Tamil, Urdu, English and Konkani (a language spoken in Goa) at St Anthony's church, said Fernandes.
"We believe Mary will ask her son Jesus Christ to listen to our prayers if we tie this orange ribbon next to the cross," said Preeta Bawa, who had come to the church with her family. Bawa has been visiting the church since childhood as her family strongly believed in the Lady of good health. "Despite being Hindus, we believe in her because our elders did the same," said Bawa, who lives in Punjab Colony.
Another Hindu believer, Ayesha, who lives in Delhi Colony, said that the Lady of Velankanni is also a symbol of good health and prosperity. They come to the church to pray for her, and ask to her to give them good health.
"The religious zeal and zest has decreased in the last 35 years in Karachi," said Violett Joseph, a stall vendor outside the church. She has been setting up a stall with ribbons, religious books and cross pendants for the last 35 years.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2015.