By E. Weerapperuma
The historic Catholic shrine dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua in Colombo, Kochchikade, will celebrate the 185th feast of the Saint on Thursday at 10 a.m., with a trilingual festive High Mass offered at the Shrine. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith will be the officiating prelate.
This Shrine coming down from the times of the Dutch Rule, was one of the targets of the string of bomb attacks across the island nation. The severe and chilling terrorist attack was unheard of before the Easter Sunday of this year.
This Shrine will be consecrated once again on Wednesday at 5 p.m. by the Cardinal, the chief shepherd of the Sri Lanka Catholic Church and the Archbishop of Colombo Metropolitan diocese.
The re-consecration of the Shrine is needed because of the unholy attack by the terrorists. It was a violation of what is sacred and holy. It was in fact, an act of sacrilege. Hence re-consecration is deemed necessary, after the completion of the reconstruction of the Shrine, damaged by violence.
Under normal circumstances, the Feast is preceded by the hoisting of the flagstaff, a week-long public Novenas (evening prayer sessions – recitation of Rosary and Litany followed by Benediction or Holy Mass) followed by Vespers, on the day prior to the feast (Evening Service) and the procession.
But this year all has been cancelled considering the prevailing unhealthy atmosphere after the deadly bomb attack. The special security arrangements will be in force, a notice issued by Administrator of the Shrine Rev. Fr. Jude Raj Fernando said.
Fernando Cardinal Filoni, representing Pope Francis and as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples was here, bringing a message of closeness and solidarity of Pope Francis to the Christian families, to relatives of victims recovering after the Easter Sunday bomb blast.
Cardinal Filoni during his short stay went inspecting the places of worship and families affected by the barbaric suicide bomb blast and also joined the foundation stone laying ceremony at Kochchikade, to construct a Shrine Room to deposit the sacred relics of St. Anthony and a section to be utilised to treat the poor with free meals on a daily basis.
Kochchikade St. Anthony’s Shrine is the church that was venerated by Saintly John Paul II when he arrived in Sri Lanka in 1995 to beatify Ven. Joseph Vaz, who was later declared a Saint of the Universal Church and as the Apostle of Sri Lanka by Pope Francis.
The origin of the 185 year old St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade, Colombo goes back to the times of the Dutch colonial rule, during which period practicing Catholic Religion was banned in the island.
But Catholic priests who had dedicated their lives to preach the ‘Good News’, both in good and bad times, carried out their sacred duty in secret and Rev. Fr. Antonio went about in the fishing community in Mutwal as a local merchant encouraging the local Catholics to preserve their faith.
Fr. Antonio found refuge with the local community and they pleaded with him to stop the sea eroding the village. The legend says that Fr. Antonio prayed on their behalf placing a cross at the beach and the sea receded. The community was converted to Catholic faith.
It is on record that with the receding of water, the Dutch rulers allowed the priest to preach the Good News and also allocated a piece of land where a mud-brick chapel dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua was built. History also records that this small chapel was made bigger and larger by 1806, and the statue of St. Anthony was brought from Goa in 1822 and it is still found placed in one of altars.
Then by 1828, construction work of the new church building commenced and the church was consecrated on 1 June 1834. By the year 1838, the choristers’ gallery was added to the building along with large wings on the side, a Mission House cum Meeting Room, behind the Main Altar. On 16 February 1940 the enlarged church building was consecrated.
St. Anthony (Ferdinando Martins de Bulhoes, the name given at baptism) was born on 15 August 1195 to a wealthy family of a Captain of the Royal Army in Lisbon, Portugal. A Catholic priest and a Friar of the Franciscan Order, he found refuge in the Abbey of St. Vincent at the age of 15, and subsequently joined as a Canon Regular of St. Augustine in Lisbon.
He passed away in Padua, Italy, at the age of 35, on 13 June 1231. The Patron Saint of the Lost Things, Pope Gregory IX referred to him as the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ and was canonised by the same Pope on 30 May 1232 and Pope Pius XII declared the Saint, a Doctor of the Church on 16 January 1946 for his great learning.