History

History of Visakhapuri Mary Matha Shrine


Once a proud village of fisher folk and poor people now acquired civilization and incarnated as Visakhapatnam of the modern man. Man is not a simple. He has extraordinary powers and prowess. He can control the air. He can win over the skies. He can manage the time. He can keep the oceans at bay. The Creator has bestowed man with great powers. He creates civilizations, raises cities and establishes factories and industries. Nature cooperates most bountifully with the efforts of man. It is true also in the case of Visakhapatnam. Dolphin Nose Yaraada mountain supported the efforts of man in creating one of the beautiful cities on the East Coast. Visakhapatnam sings the sweets melodies of the Italian of the East, Telugu. It is the international welcome song from Andhrapradesh. It earned a bright spot on the world map for the dignity of human labour. It has been the home and training ground for many scientists, poets and writers. Sir C.V. Raman began his career here and Sri Sri, the doyen of modern Telugu literature hailed from here. Visakhapatnam is the heart of the lively north Andhra and the heart beat of the Visalandhra.

Since 1866, Visakhapuri Mary Matha Shrine, Ross Hill, is intertwined with the history of Visakhaptanam. There is divine atmosphere on this hill. It is recognized as a holy place by innumerable devotees for more than a century. Today it is regarded as the most popular pilgrim centre and the place of meeting the Divine by the people of the city irrespective of the caste or creed. Most of them, especially City Catholics call this Shrine as Kondagudi ( Church on the hill ). Parellel to the Light House on the Dolphine Nose hill, that guides the sailors safely, Visakhapuri Mary Matha Shrine on Ross Hill is the spiritual Light House that leads all the boats of human lives on this earth to the shores of Peace and Joy.

Parallel to the Dolphin Nose green mountain range, there is a small hillock. Between them a stream runs inside, rounding the hillock all the three sides and creating a natural harbour and many other industrial and defence opportunities. Mountains are abodes of God. They are the signs of his never ending steadfastness, majesty and greatness. This hill is made holy by the presence of three great religious places of worship and thus it stands out as a loud testimony of Visakhapatnam’s religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence of religious traditions. At the foot of the hillock is a Darga with the tomb of a saintly muslim devotee and a little away, divided from it by the port railway cutting, close to the stream, Sri Venkateswara Swami temple of the Hindu brethren, and on high, like the crown of the mount, stand two tall towers which may remind one of the feudal castles, if not for the cross raised between them, and a statue shaded by a colonnade is a Catholic Church, popular as Visakhapuri Mary Matha Shrine. In fact, in the past all the three places of worship shared the spaces on the one and the same hillock but in the pretext of the progress they are separated. Progress divides!?

The shrine of Visakhapuri Mary Matha is undoubtedly God’s own project and his own plan. It was the genuine need of the faithful. It developed naturally as the pointer of the way to God. For that matter, as the shrines have their origins in God’s plans, they grow naturally, slowly but steadily. Human efforts like the tower of Babel that represent human selfishness and greed, will not give birth to shrines that can facilitate the meeting between God and man. The holy shrine of Visakhapuri Mary Matha has a century and half long history. If we glimpse its annals, we can clearly see the Wish and Providence of God. Though it is the man who builds, the real builder is God himself. One can only slowly recognize the uniqueness, prominence and holiness of God’s work. This is really a work of his own hand. No doubt about it.

Arrival of the Missionaries : The Historical background

“Go to the whole world and preach the good news.” Mk 16:15. “…make them my disciples” Mt 28:19. In obedience to this mission command of the Lord, Pope Gregory XVI who took up the reins of the Catholic Church in 1830, decided to reorganize the Indian church into new ecclesiastical units. Those were the days when the Padrovado system was prevalent in India and the Church in India was made lifeless and dry, especially the evangelization work suffered very much lacking vitality and zeal. So the Pope wanted to instill life and enthusiasm into the missionary work of the Church. Accordingly, in 1830s he created new vicariates or ecclesiastical units. Madras Vicariate was very vast. Hence it was divided into three administrative parts. Around four and half lakh square kilometers area, with Mahanadi and Narmada in the north, River Godavari on both west and south and Bay of Bengal in the east, was bifurcated and created as Visakhapatnam Vicariate. In fact it was a very vast area. It comprised of the present day’s north Andhrapradesh, almost whole of Orissa, Maratwada in Maharastra, Jabalpur, Bilaspur, Raipur among other places in Madyapradesh and Chattisgarh are part of this huge mission territory. It was literally a virgin soil for the Gospel. It was entrusted to the Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales, on 16th March, 1845 for the missionary work. God’s ways are beyond human comprehension! He chooses the weak … that in their weakness his strength may be manifested. He chose a very humble congregation of Missionaries which was founded in 1838 in Annecy, France and though very small in number, was very tall in its zeal and commitment for the Lord and His work. They were athirst for God and his Church. On 19th Feb, 1846 they landed in Visakhapatnam port. Their arrival gave a big impetus to the evangelization work in this mission territory. However, it is to be noted that the area was not totally new to the Christian faith. Before their coming there were Christian families, though they were sparse and scattered.

Even before 1620 , merchant families of British, Dutch and French nationalities established their settlements in Bhimunipatnam, Machilipatnam, Visakhapatnam, Eluru, Yanam, Palakollu, Jagannayakapuram, Samarlakota, Srikakulam, Berampuram, Cattuck and Balasore along the coastal line. History testifies to us that in 1624 a storng Dutch Catholic Christian community flourished in Bhimili and that it was attacked and plundered by the Maratas in 1754 and that later with the repeated wars between the Dutch and the English in 1781 and 1795, the Dutch had lost its prominence. The dilapidated cemetery in Bhimili is a silent witness to these bye gone days.

These Catholic communities were spiritually nourished with celebration of Eucharist and other Sacraments for centuries by the mobile missionaries belonging to various Orders and Congregations. In those days all the Christians were foreigners only. By the time Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales (MSFS) had arrived, there were only 6000 Catholics in total. They were a mixed population of the Irish, Anglo-Indian, the French, Goans and Tamils. The local people, Telugus in this area, had not accepted the Lord and had not become Catholics yet. Unless the Good News is preached how can one believe? The Gospel could not be reached to the Hindu brothers and sisters as there was a scarcity for missionaries. So they could not become Christians. The very few zealous missionaries were visiting missionaries and the territories they traversed were huge as the small catholic settlements were thrown away far and wide. Before the arrival of MSFS missionaries in 1846, in the vast territory said above , there were only four priests attending to the spiritual needs of the faithful. There was a priest serving the catholic settlement in Jalna in Maharastra. Two other priests were rendering services to the Catholics at Kampte near Nagpur, in the present day’s Vidharba in Maharastra. Another priest was looking after the spiritual needs of the community at Visakhapatnam in Andhrapradesh. Unbelievable! What distances they had to cover in those days of poor roads and meager facilities! These were some of the many reasons that did not give them opportunity or spare time to think of carrying the Gospel to the millions of local people. More over, the whole Visakha mission ie the costal belt starting with Chennai leading up to Calcutta was one single vast parish. Rev. Fr. Dom Joseph Xavier d’Attaide, a Goan Theatine, was the parish priest who served this parish in the capacity of Parish Priest from 1826 to 1846. He was a zealous and good priest. In Visakhapatnam he was staying in the church built in the present Co-cathedral premises. Then came the six member small team of missionaries of St. Francis De Sales from France. They received the torch of the Gospel to be carried forward. Very Rev. Fr. Jacques Martin msfs was their Superior and leader and Rev. Fr. Jacques Henry Gailhot, a missionary of M.E.P Society, was the nominated Pro-Vicar of the newly erected mission territory, was responsible to initiate the new missionaries to the mission field. This was a historical moment. It was the beginning of the revolutionary movement of the missionary effort to spread the Gospel and plant the Church. It was the dawn of the missionary movement. Since then the number of the priests and brothers and sisters who came in to the field to work had steadily increased. They came in batches and batches. They joined the hands that were already at work and walked with the feet that were tireless in traversing the rough terrain of this God given land. The personal faith of the missionaries, the inspiration of their saintly Founder, with the unflinching commitment to the spread of the Gospel, endurance in the trials and courage in stormy situations, the French missionaries went ahead with their humble work and the Lord was with them authenticating their work with miracles. The Lord draws the straight lines through the crooked lines and makes the impossible possible. That is the style of the Lord. “The Lord turned the rock into pool of water, the flint into flowing springs.” Ps 114: 8. His works are wonderful and beautiful. Since then the MSFS missionaries have been rendering services with the same undying fervour and unchanging commitment and love and have become one with the local people. They have contributed their might in the development of this region and have left a stamp of their own on Visakhapatnam and its two century old history.

Visakhapatnam and the stations of its Progress

Visakhapatnam is a cosmopolitan city today. It is a gift of nature. Port is the best gift it gave to the people of Visakhapatnam and it is the brightest jewel on the eastern coast of India. Nestled among the eastern ghats and facing the blue waters of the Bay of Bengal, Visakhapatnam is a picturesque city with a harmonious blend of the magical beauty of nature and the achievement of the modern man in industry and commerce. The beauty and the prosperity made Visakhapatnam, the city of Destiny. Like the sleeping giant that is woken up, once a dull and slow town, with its breath taking panorama of golden beaches, lush green fields, verdant valleys and splendid Eastern Ghats, Visakhapatnam is awakened to bustling life of modernity and speed. It has gained a bright spot on the world map with its harbour, shipyard, Hindustan Petrolium and Chemical Limited and the Visakha Steel Factory, and many more Industrial establishments of International standards, in addition to the Andhra University and Naval head quarters for the Eastern Command and the computer software companies like Satyam and Wipro and the like, establishing their campuses and thus making techno savvy Visakha into IT hub. Undoubtedly, Visakhapatnam, a multifaceted city of modern era, is the fast developing city in Asia. Dr. Vidya Sagar, has rightly paid tributes in verse to this awakening giant in his Poetry : “Visaakhaa… Naa Visaakhaa!” : Visaakhaa… Naa Visaakhaa, home of great dynamism !, Gate of great dawn of the future/ Bright Light of Eastern Coast ! ( translation is mine) The borrowed industrialization from the West made it Industrialized City and the Paradise of the prolitariate, the Eaden of the labourers and the place of prosperity and comfort for the rich. The offer of coze and comfort, the pleasure of the pleasant living conditions, trade and educational opportunities lured the rich and well to do from all the corners of the country and they gave an additional cosmetic face lift to the city as the miniature India! This city that has grown from its village settlement to the petty town, moderate town and city and now a great city, is fast becoming the irresistible tourist destination from all over the world. Hence Dr. Vidya Sagar again proudly praised reality of Visakha City: “…Like the moon behind the bamboo bush/ like the turn of the gushing stream/ like the storm on a full moon night/ like a trodden path in the thick forest/ well known for the paradoxes/ light and dark zone/heaven of comfort and pain (is the city of Visakhapatnam).” How true it is ! The steady mountains, untiring sea, ascending and descending, narrow and broad streets, beautiful modern houses and dilapidated tile-roofed houses, sky high apartments and the humble slums, the rich and the poor, … Visakhapatnam is a welter of contradictions and paradoxes. In this City that has grown swallowing the poor and their dear localities, as Sri Sri, the doyen of Telugu Poetry, has enquired, “In the blossoming of Egyptian Civilization What is the rate of development of the poor person ?”, the life of the common man at the heart of the city is crushed and leveled to the ground. In fact that is the life of this great city. The rest are all mere decorations and face lifts!

The story of Visakhapatnam is very interesting. A city comes up eating up the villages and hamlets. Visakhapatnam is no exception to this. It has swallowed innumerable villages and localities. There are lots of stories on the metamorphosis of Visakhapatnam. In those good old days, Kota veedhi and Guntuboinapalem were big villages. Guntuboyinapalem was christened as Waltair by the foreigners. It is between these two huge villages Visakhapatnam has risen. Visakhapatnam was under the reign of royal administration for centuries in the past. There are numerous signs of this historical truth sprinkled all over. It is said that there was a royal palace in Kota veedhi and that the place where there were ramparts of the fort, the locality came to be known as Burujupeta. In the recently published Telugu book, “Rendu Sathabdhala Visakha Nagara Char( Two Centuries history of Visakha City), the author Sri Angara Subba Rao, expressed his opinion that the fanners, weavers, artisans, musicians and dancers working in the court of the local king resided in the localities around the palace and names of some of these localities have undergone change while good many of them are still known by the old names. Sri Sri, the great poet of Telugu, in his autobiography, “Ananth” recollecting the childhood memories of his native Visakhapatnam had written, “ In my childhood days, like me Visakhapatnam also was a small village... from any where one could see easily, all the four directions of Visakhapatnam. From our house terrace we could see the Bay of Bengal in the East, Swamp(upputeru) in the west, Thummedhala metta (mount of bees), the present Convent Junction in the north and Yarada konda (Dolphine Nose mountain) in the south. The sky seemed to be so close that if we raise our hand we could touch it. Slowly, Visakhapatnam and I, made strides and grew together.” (Sri Sri, Anantham, p. 30). Geographically, India is surrounded by water on three sides and range of mountains on the fourth side. Contrary to this, Visakhapatnam is surrounded by mountains three sides and water on the fourth side, rhe Sea at Visakhapatnam was a symbol of motivation and courage to Sri Sri. So he says, “.. .this is true. Sea is the inspiration for my poetry. The place that is not near to the sea, kills me... even if I do not visit daily, if sea is close by, it enough. It is like having a bank balance of ten thousand rupees. It gives such confidence and strength.” He saw different kinds of Visakhapatnam, standing on the Yarada konda. According to him there was an old Visakhapatnam. But it was drowned in the sea. He said: “I see a different Visakhapatnam, that is not really seen by others There is Visakhapatnam, drowned in the sea, right in the opposite direction of Thirthapu rallu (monuments erected for the festivities) That Visakhapatnam was constructed by the King of Kalinga during the reign of the emperor Ashoka. This Visakhapatnam appears once a while in my dreams.” (p.25) Sri Sri had also made a mention of many stories in oral form among the natives. According to those oral stories, at the sea shore near King George hospital, there are Thirthapu rallu - the monument stones erected for the festivities, and in opposite direction to them, very far into the sea, there were a temple of Visakha Swamy and a Village by the same name around it. Both the temple and the village were submerged into the sea. There are also many stories on the name of the city.

Matchless in beauty and landscape, Visakhapatnam is said to have derived its name from the deity ‘ Visaka’ (the God of Valour) the son of Shiva and Parvati, who is also the ruler of the planet Mars and the God of war. Legend says that an Andhra king (9-11 th century) on his way to Benares rested here. The spread of green grass fields, sky high mountain peaks, the green valleys decked with the coconut groves, the blue sea waters and the pleasant climate had lured him. So enchanted was he with the sheer beauty of the place that he ordered a temple to be built in honour of his family deity, Visakha. Archaeological sources, however, reveal that the temple was possibly built between the 11 th and 12th centuries by the Chola king, Kulottunga Chola I. A shipping merchant, Sankarayya Chetty, built one of the mandapams, or pillared halls, of the temple. Although it no longer exists (it may have been washed away about a hundred years ago by a cyclonic storm), elderly residents of Visakhapatnam talk of visits to the ancient shrine by their grandparents. What ever be the stories and legends, fisher folk have been inhabiting in this place since ancient times. Shepherds also lived here and there. Buddhism seemed to have flourished in this place and it is supported from the recent excavations conducted in Thotla konda, Bavi konda and Rushi konda where the ruined buddist monastry was found among many other buddhist artifacts.

This town nestled among the mountains by the sea shore became the resting place for the rich and powerful. Gradually the town became the head quarters of the district. As there were no spacious houses to accommodate the Zamindars around, they built their own Bunglows and residences. To date there are such bunglows like Hawa Mahal, seen in the town here and there. (Angara, p. 49). The beauty and pleasant climate of Visakhapatnam attracted the rich and the rulers of the surrounding petty kingdoms and they came and built their guest houses and summer villas. Kings ofVijayanagaram, Bobbili and Kurupam had contributed their might in the development of this town.

Today Visakhapatnam is a flourishing business Center. It had the glorious past of being such a centre. It can be safely assumed from the findings of the archeological department of Andhra University that has conducted excavations in and around Thotla Konda and other places, unearthed the Roman coins belonging the first century A.D. That gives rise to the assumption that there might have been commercial links with Romans and that trade was conducted internationally from Visakhapatnam. Of course it is still only a conjecture. Once a Small fishing Milage under the Mighty Kalinga Empire during the regime of Ashoka the Great (272-232 B.C), this Port town later on successively passed on from the Andhra Kings of Vengi to the Pallavas, Cholas and the Gangas and then later in the 15th century Visakhapatnam became a part of the Hampi Vijaya Nagar Empire. The territory ofVisakhapatnam later came under the Andhra Rulers of Vengi. Then Chankyas, Pallavas, the Cholas and the Reddy Kings ruled over the placid land. The Mughals ruled this area under the Hyderabad Nizam in the late 15th and early 16th century. All of them had reaped the advantage o f this port town for their commerce and trade, especially to export tobacco, ivory, muslin and other textile products. Hence it was natural that the foreign traders came to this land for the purpose of business.

The Dutch were the first among the Westerners who came to Visakhapatnam for the purpose of trade. In 1682 they traded world wide with Bhimili as their centre. Later on they extended their centres to other places like Visakhapatnam. By 1735 there was a dutch colony established in Visakhapatnam. Right upto 1825 they held the reins of trade in their hands. It is because of this fact, today we see the Dutch Buildings and tombs in Visakhapatnam. Till recently, in Chinna Waltair opposite to East Point Rest House there used to be a dilapidated dutch house. It is learned that it was the residence of the district Judge. Now in that place, the modem sky scraper is erected. In 1765 the territory of northern circars, of which Visakhapatnam was a part, ceded to the British East India Company by the Nizam of Hyderabd and following this, a British clolony was established. In 1825 the Dutch had to hand over Bhimili to the British. Thus after the Dutch came the British. Already in mid-17th century, a factory was founded in “Vizagapatam” by the British East India Company and it was through the business activities of this company, the British entered into Visakhapatnam. Later how these foreign merchants became rulers is history. But what is interesting to us is the opportunity created by the local rulers. When the British was interested in the political power, the Vijayanagara King Sri Ananda Gajapathi was a pain in the neck for them with his repeated threats on the one hand and on the other the French who had already established their settlements were also antagonistic and turned out to be constant headache to the British. So the British had to strengthen their garrisons at Visakhapatnam and the construction of more defenses. The flagstaff on Burujupeta hill, the Batter road waft near the flagstaff, and the Fort Gate are some of the relics of these defenses. The building used by the East Coast Battalion of the Auxiliary Force on Thomson Street was used as “Invalid Barracks". Thus major part of the residential area in Visakhapatnam was occupied by the army staff.

Visakhapatnam continued to be an important military station till 1882-83, when during Lord Rippon’s viceroyalty a number of military stations were abolished. Many of the large and important bungalows in Waltair for instance, Mason House, Dyce House, Upland house, Meppin Bungalow, the old District Judge’s bungalow and others were occupied by military officers. The two longs roads, the beach road from flagstaff northwards to Waltair, were built for military purposes. The site on which the present Maharanipeta is built was occupied by the Indian Infantry and the building opposite to the electricity bungalow in Waltair was the old military hospital.

The fort ward, the Sivalayam ward, the Seetharamaswamy temple ward, the Godewari Ward and the Chengalraopeta ward were the oldest parts of the town. The Christian burial ground known as the Dutch Cemetery was located on Chinnamvari Street and exists to this day. The Vada Veedhi near the railway station and the Muslim quarters near the Ross Hill were occupied by the sailors and serangs. The old Salipeta or Weaver’s Colony which has been replaced by the Edward VII Coronation Market, popularly known as the Kurupam Market was inhabited by shippers and merchants. The Bastion Hill or Burujupeta had become the milkmen’s colony. Martin’s point started from Bastion Hill or Burujupeta and the Gunner’s street, commonly called Genneru Veedhi, was occupied by people who manned the battery on Bastion Hill. Workers in iron, brass, silver and wood and bricklayers lived in Chittalavari veedhi and Golla veedhi localities. The new extension, the area between the Hindu Reading Room and Turner’s Choultry called even today as Kotthapeta was the residential area of the officials and upper middle class people. Beyond Choultry was like a jungle. Thus a lot of residential area in Visakhapatnam was under the control of the British by 1850 and they used it for the residential purposes of the soldiers and the army staff and for administrative purposes. The present Kota Veedi and Old Post Office area was the heart of the town, with a lot of government offices like treasury, Collector’s Office and Judge Court being situated there. Today Visakhapatnam has undergone a heart transplantation and left the old town to the care of the destiny.

In fact Visakhapatnam was not very big town in those days. It was a non-descript, unknown town. Bhilimi enjoyed much better and greater popularity and prominence. Bhimili was the second municipality in the entire British India, in 1860. It was a center for the International business and enjoyed trade relations with world countries. Its fame and name was unimaginable to Visakhapatnam even in dreams. Visakhapatnam was just a fisher folk village. Even demographically, the size of population ofVisakhapatnam is insignificant in comparison with the size of the population of Bhimili. It was also less than the royal town, Vijayanagaram. As the historical statistics show us Visakhapatnam had only 16,000 population. The entire extent of the town was less than a square mile. The main town was around the present old post office. All the officials were British. Visakhapatnam nestled between Yarada konda, Simhachala Konda and Kailasa giri with a pleasant climate on the sea shore was the residential town for the British officials. English families settled in and around Kota Veedhi. Vast stretch of beach is God’s gift to Visakhapatnam. The outer harbour and the port have occupied some portions of beach at present; otherwise it used to be right from St. Aloysius High School in Kota Veedhi to Pedda Waltair. In summer the beach used to be crowded with the people. In those days beach used to be wide as the sea was far away. Thousands of people could congregate there easily. Therefore in his autobiography, “Anantham”, Sri Sri recollected that in his childhood days (1910 +) Sri Rama Navami festivals were conducted with much gaiety and fervour on that beach. During the days of Indian Independence struggle. Public meetings were conducted there. History records that in 1934, when Mahatma Gandhi addressed a rally it was conducted on the beach opposite to the Town Hall. In the present old town, on the beach road, Firoz Mansions, Taluq office, Masonic Lodge, Muncipal Office and Town Hall were in one row. That was the town in those days. Hence naturally the residential houses came up there. It was also natural for the schools to come up in the residential areas. And it was there St. Aloysius High School was started in 1847 (Angara. P. 103).

Ross Hill … Visakha Hill

It was around 1850. Mr. W.H. Ross was working as a judge in the district Court. He was an English man. He was nearing his retirement from the service. He liked the serene and pleasant climate of Visakhapatnam. He wanted to settle down here. There was also lot of English families in Kota Veedhi. Perhaps he was bemused by the simplicity and pristine beauty of Visakhapatnam and the blue sea. There seemed to be a match between his imagination and the hill.

Unlike the other huge hills around Visakhapatnam, this hill captured his attention. It was unique in beauty and atmosphere. He saw it as the peak of joyful world. He was pulled and mesmerized. He wanted to own it. He thought of spending his last days in this beautiful world. So he bought it. He wanted to build a house. But it was not easy. There were no ways to reach the materials to top of the hill. He took pains. The struggle was sweet in the hope of living in his dream house. He raised a beautiful residential building with a spacious hall and a few rooms with either side verandahs. A little distance away out side, he constructed a few small rooms for his servants. He laid gardens on the western side. In front of the house, under the huge banyan tree, he arranged breakfast table. He dreamed of the joy of living in this house in his last days. But man proposes and God disposes. Soon his eyes gave him trouble. He was slowly losing his sight. His health was deteriorating. So he had to go back to his native land, England. He sold his dream house with much displeasure to Captain Mappen. Perhaps God had a plan for this hill ! Captain Mappen and his family had no luck to enjoy the comfort of this bunglow and the soothing climate of this hill. Many of his family members became sick. They had to face unexpected problems. They concluded that all the troubles were due to the ill omen of their new house. So they had to give up. Then on, the ownership of the house passed from one hand to another, between Mr. Edward Thomas Jones, Mr. V.G.Master and many others. Finally it was purchased by Mr. thylyanapureddy Achayya Naidu, local hindu merchant. Mr. Naidu had planned to make business out of the house. He thought of letting the house on rent. Unfortunately his plan did not work out. Mean while rumours spread among the locals that house on the hill top was a haunted house. This was not with out reason. The frequent change of its owners and the ill luck that each of them had to undergo were reasons for the spread of these rumours. Mr. Naidu could not help. He put it on sale.

The French missionaries, belonging to missionary society of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (MSFS) were great devotees of Mary. In their religious family traditions, there was a special devotion to Mary. The Mother of Sorrows was a special patroness of their missionary congregation. In those days, John Mary Tissotmsfs (1810—1928) was the Bishop of Visakhapatnam Catholic diocese. He had deep personal devotion to Mary. In his native Marseilles, France, there was a Shrine of Notre Dame de la Grande, facing the sea, and it was a great source of hope and courage to the sea farers. The shrine provided opportunity to the sailors in difficulty to raise their hearts to Mary and seek her maternal intercession. The saintly bishop desired to construct such a Shrine for similar purpose. The Bay of Bengal was rough and source of sudden storms, making the sea journey tough and dangerous. He himself had tasted the rough journey through the storms on the Bay of Bengal. He knew what great consolation they require. Hence he desired to erect a shrine, like that of Merseilles, facing the sea and giving comfort and hope to the travellers on the sea. With that end in view he had acquired a plot of land on the Northern side of Dolphine’s Nose Mountain, near a laige banyan tree. A shrine is a meeting place of God and man. People must frequent the place. So it must be accessible and approachable. Contrary to this, the plot of land acquired on the Yarada Hill or Dolphine’s Nose, was not accessible. It was difficult to reach there. At times, it was impossible to reach as the land was on the other side of the creek and

God’s Plan - Bishop Tissot’s Dream

The French missionaries, belonging to missionary society of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (MSFS) were great devotees of Mary. In their religious family traditions, there was a special devotion to Mary. The Mother of Sorrows was a special patroness of their missionary congregation. In those days, John Mary Tissotmsfs (1810—1928) was the Bishop of Visakhapatnam Catholic diocese. He had deep personal devotion to Mary. In his native Marseilles, France, there was a Shrine of Notre Dame de la Grande, facing the sea, and it was a great source of hope and courage to the sea farers. The shrine provided opportunity to the sailors in difficulty to raise their hearts to Mary and seek her maternal intercession. The saintly bishop desired to construct such a Shrine for similar purpose. The Bay of Bengal was rough and source of sudden storms, making the sea journey tough and dangerous. He himself had tasted the rough journey through the storms on the Bay of Bengal. He knew what great consolation they require. Hence he desired to erect a shrine, like that of Merseilles, facing the sea and giving comfort and hope to the travellers on the sea. With that end in view he had acquired a plot of land on the Northern side of Dolphine’s Nose Mountain, near a laige banyan tree. A shrine is a meeting place of God and man. People must frequent the place. So it must be accessible and approachable. Contrary to this, the plot of land acquired on the Yarada Hill or Dolphine’s Nose, was not accessible. It was difficult to reach there. At times, it was impossible to reach as the land was on the other side of the creek and crossing the creek was difficult and at times, especially during rainy season, it was dangerous. The Bishop understood this problem soon. The plot of land that he had acquired was judged to be inappropriate for the Shrine. He gave up the plan of erecting a shrine there and was waiting in hope for the intervention of the Providence to show him another bit of land suitable for the shrine.

First Blessing of the Shrine

It was this time, Mr. Achayya Naidu put forth his building, the haunted house, for sale. It was like finding the treasure trove that one was searching for. It was the place which would realize dreams of the Bishop. He knew that it was a place like that he was waiting for. The bishop also discerned that it was providential guidance. He negotiated with the merchant. Finally the deal was struck for Rs. 700/-. Those were the days of real poverty. The Mission did not have resources. The missionaries had mountains of enthusiasm and zeal but they were in utter poverty. Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales ( MSFS) were poor in personnel and finances. They were a very small group when they took up the mission of Visakhapatnam Vicariate. They were also not a moneyed group. The Vicariate was too big a challenge for them. Yet they dared to undertake for they believed that they only need to be available for the work of the Lord and the rest would be supplied to them. For it is His work. He cares and hence he provides. His works are surprising and his guidance is marvelous.

In those days St. Ann’s Co-Cathedral was residence of the missionaries and centre for many activities. A portion of it was occupied by the Sisters of St.Joseph’s of Annecy. They were assisting the missionaries in the evangelization work. The late Mother Justin was looking after some orphan girls and training them in many skills in addition to the stitching, needle work and embroidery works. Their artistic works used to be sold and money used to be gathered. Mother Justin collected thus an amount of Rs. 1000/- and donated it to his Lordship for the Remind evangelization work. It was the time when Bishop required finances most for the purchase of the land to build the shrine on the hill. Mother Justin was the instrument to procure the finances. This is divine Providence! He makes use of his people for His works. When the works undertaken are God’s works, there will be no dearth for funds. He looks after ! Yahweh – yireh ! From the donated amount Bishop spent Rs. 700/- towards the purchase of the bunglow on the hill top. It was registered on 18th May, 1867 in the name of Most Rev. John Marie Tissot msfs. Thus the enthusiasm of the religious nuns for the evangelization works and hard labour of the poor girls laid strong foundations for the Shrine of Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart on the Ross Hill. God has been gracious. The dream of the missionaries was going to be materialized. The long awaited moment had arrived. It was an exciting moment for the missionaries. The authorities decided to make use of the haunted house as house of God. The house had to be got readied for that purpose. The repair works were soon undertaken. The building was white washed and got readied. An old alter was procured and placed. The children with the Sisters and some other devotees from the locality decorated the building. The building was ready to be blessed. In December, 1886 Bishop Tissot had to go to France on official visit. Hence, on 15th August, 1887 Rev. Fr. Richard, the Vicar General of the Diocese had blessed the Chapel and dedicated it to Our Lady of Hope. Like any good work, Hill Chapel grew up in prayer and humility. Very few, say the records, visited the chapel. Bishop Tissot himself would climb up and visit the chapel once or twice a month, and wait in faith and trust for a sign of Mary’s favour. Every good work is tested. What ever may be the clarity of the vision, and purity of the intention and work, every good work is invariably tested. Gold is tested in the fire! The faith of the martyrs was tested in the fire and heat of the persecutions. The credibility is to be proved. So tough times, testing periods and critical moments are unavoidable for man or work.

Trials in the beginning: Repeated Cyclones

In November 1870 there was a devastating cyclone in Visakhapatnam. It was a big jolt to town. The gales blew hard and torrential rain poured down incessantly. There were floods submerging all the villages and the residential areas, especially on the lower parts. People were scared suspecting the sea to swell and swallow the town. They tried to save themselves by climbing the house tops and the tree tops. Houses were destroyed. Sorrow reigned every where. A lot of people lost their lives. Parents lost their children. Children lost their parents. A lot of damage was done to life and property. The sight was heart breaking. The whole town appeared like a huge sheet of water. Gnanapuram was just being organized those days. It was the new catholic community and the pet project of the missionaries. There was a farm there and that was the source of livelihood for many of these new converts. When the farm and the houses of these new settlements was being destroyed hearts of the missionaries were broken. It was a big blow to their work. Hence there was need to rescue them and support them. Repairs were to be taken up. The rehabilitation work needs heavy funds. In the centre of the farm, there was a simple prayer hut and the statue of St. Joseph. It was saved from the damage and slowly brought to Hill Chapel. After some time a small niche was erected on the western side under the huge Banyan tree and St. Joseph’s statue was placed there.

The floods did not spare the Hill Chapel. It was badly damaged. Strong gales, heavy down pour hit the doors and windows and broke them into pieces. The building was very much damaged. Mud got accumulated on the Statue of the Lady of Hope. They were trying moments. Many had raised the questions on the propriety of a Chapel there. It was the opportune time of the evil one. It pauses questions on the good projects, criticizes them and deviates the focus of the executives and the people responsible for the realization. That was the nature and strategy of the evil one. To discern its motives and movements and to overcome its snare is beyond the capacity of the ordinary. It was a time of confusion and transition.

As we already mentioned, A Chapel on the hill top facing the sea was the brain child of Msgr. Tissot. At this important moment, Bishop Tissot was not in station. He was in Rome participating in the First Vatican Council. After the devastating floods, the Vicar General of Visakhapatnam diocese, Very Rev. Fr. Richard visited the place. The scene up set him so much that he concluded that the place was not fit for a shrine. God is an expert at writing the straight lines through crooked lines. It is beyond our capacity to grasp his works. The authorities decided to give up the idea of a Shrine. They wanted to use the resource to raise some money for the missions, especially for the rehabilitation of the new settlement at Gnanapuram. They got the building repaired and altered. They rented out the building to the locals. But this idea also did not work out. The local people used to call the building as “Padre’s Gudi” (Church of the Priest ). More over, the people who stayed on rent could not stay for long. Bro. Dominique Assier was working with the new converts on the fields in Gnanapuram farm. He was sick. He needed a change of place to recoup himself. So he occupied the vacant building in May, 1874.

Once again a fearsome cyclone hit Visakhapatnam in 1876. It was not as damaging as the previous one; all the same it created enough of havoc, especially to the building on the hill. All the improvement works that were undertaken for the past eight years or so on the building was spoiled. Many trees were uprooted, the stones rolled down and the houses below the hill were without tops. Gnanapuram also was affected. The huts were ruined. After the rains, the Bishop went on to the haunted hill. The sight of the town and particularly the sight of the destroyed houses of his people, broke his heart. In his sorrow his heart told him to turn to Mary the mother of refuge. He was a convinced Marian devotee who believed that Mary was the source of help in one’s difficulties and she was the help of the helpless. He also believed that taking refuge in Mary alone was the way to handle such a critical situation. A good inspiration, responded positively, can bring in surprising harvest. The devout Bishop lifted his heart and mind to the mother of God. He pleaded for her intercession in preserving his people, the Shrine and the town from the havoc of the natural calamities. He made a vow to her, if she had protected his people, the shrine and the town he would replace the Mother of Good Hope by installing the statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart that he had brought and kept in his room. His prayers were heeded. Mother Mary was kind to him. God granted her intercession. His grace covered the town, the people, especially the new Christian community at the lower areas at Gnanapuram and preserved them from all destruction and damage by the cyclones. From then on storms raged, floods came, gales blew but there was protection for Visakhapatnam, Gnanapuram and the Shrine on the Ross Hill. All the three grew gradually.

Bishop Tissot’s Strong Will – Second Blessing

Until 1876 there was no steady prayer house on the Ross Hill. After the cyclone, Bishop Tissot made up his mind to build a Church on the Hill. He entrusted the task to Rev. Fr. Richard msfs and Rev. Fr. Selvam msfs. They accepted the work with utmost dedication and willingness. They brought the Statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from France and erected it on the altar. On 1st May, 1877 during the special Mass His Lordship Tissot msfs blessed the Statue. Rev. Frs. Richard msfs and Selvam msfs assisted him. People once again started to flock to the hill chapel. Merciful God in heaven also ratified the blessing by showering his graces on the people. He did miracles in their lives. On the very day of blessing some people from the high castes accepted the Lord and received Baptism. Many later followed their good example. Some more rooms and facilities were soon provided. That made it possible for the priests, the brothers and the nuns to pray and to have recollections in the shrine. God’s grace and peace were being experienced and treasured by one and all.

There was severe famine in Visakhapatnam and its surrounding districts for a couple of years, beginning in 1876. In September, 1877 Cholera epidemic broke out. As result, innumerable people died. In the Fort School, number of nuns and student girls under their care also lost lives. Sr. Saint Charles was the superior of the convent. Before the toll was too much she shifted the orphan girls to the Chapel on the Hill, the Shrine of Our Lady of the Immaculate heart of Mary, with much effort in spite of the weakness. She just wanted to reach on to the feet of the Mother and entrust all the girls to her care and protection. So she heroically reached the Shrine, when she was not expected to come out doors because of the rampant epidemic. Next door from St. Aloysius, Fr. Selvam heard this news that the mother superior had reached the Shrine with the girls to save them from cholera. Rev. Fr. Selvam had hastened to the shrine and served them with a sense of dedication and sacrifice, attending them as the servant, as the cook, as the nurse and doctor, and became all things to all. Except two students, who reached there later, all the others were preserved from the epidemic and thus experienced the powerful protection of Mother Mary. Soon they all recovered. They were elated with joy and sang in gratitude the mercies of the Lord experienced through the intercession of Mary. With total trust and devotion they intoned the praises of the “Star of the sea” the prayer attributed to St. Bernard.

Hail, Queen of heav’n, the ocean star,
Guide of the wand’ere here below
Thrown on life’s surge, we calim thy care;
Save us from peril and from woe.

Mother of Christ, star of the sea,
Pray for the wand’rer, pray for me.
O gentle, chaste and spotless maid,
We sinners make our prayers through thee;

son that he has paid

The price of our iniquity.
Virgin most pure, star of the sea
Pray for the sinner, pray for me.

Sojourners in this vale of tears.
To thee, blest advocate, we cry;
Pity our sorrow, calm our fears.
And sooth with hope our misery.
Refuge in grief, star of the sea.
Pray for the mourner, pray for me.

And while to him who reigns above.
In godhead one, in persons three,
The source of life, of grace, of love.
Homage we pay on bended knee;
Do thou, bright Queen, star of the sea,
Pray for thy children, pray for me.

Mary stood by them. They felt heaps of confidence. All were saved. From then on there was no trace of Cholera any where.

Fr. Sclvam's Fruit of Labour: Chapel became Shrine

Hill chapel is very much indebted to Fr. Selvam msfs. In 1878 Fr. Selvam was rendering services to the mission as the Principal of St. Aloysius high school, as Chancellor of the diocese. He was also entrusted with the additional responsibilities of looking after the administration of the hill chapel. He was a dynamic, active and an able person. He tried his best to improve the hill chapel. His enthusiasm for the chapel attracted many devotees to the shrine. They appreciated his zeal and came forward celebrated with the contributions from the faithful. The Catholics used to compete in giving contributions for the celebrations of the feast. A touching entry was that of a poor Tamil widow who made a contribution of Rs. 50/- towards the celebrations. A local Catholic sponsored all the expenditure incurred for the feast for twelve years from 1884 to 1896. The faithful were generous in showing their filial affection for Mary and the Mother in Heaven also showered her abundant graces upon them, touching and comforting their troubled hearts and alleviating their pains and sorrows. Irrespective of caste or creed, Catholic or Protestant, Hindu or Muslim, every body was touched and blessed one way or the other. Here a widow obtaining care, there somebody having a smooth delivery, one youngster getting good results in the examinations, another getting a promotion in the job, some one being healed from a critical sickness, one being miraculously saved from a fatal accident, a family dispute being solved in an amicable manner and peace reigning in the family and many more favours. Each received according the prayer made, for, “never was it known that any one who fled to her protection was left unaided.” Is it not? But one or two favours received created ripples among the faithful and others regarding the specialty of Ross Hill.

Miracle that proclaims the power of Ross Hill

A couple of miracles that prove the power of Visakha hill, the Ross Hill happened in 1884. A governess was in charge of two little girls, aged seven and five. She was received in the convent of Jabalpore. ( Jabalpore was part of Visakhapatnam diocese till 1887). Out of the school hours, she had the entire control over the children. The younger girl got sore eyes. The governess consulted the doctor. He gave a few drops of caustic acid, which had to be diluted in the proportion of one drop or two ounces of water. Perhaps she did not follow the instruction given by the doctor. In hurry she applied the pure acid to the tender eyes of the child. Her screaming and rushing about told the mistake.

The Rev. Mother Superior of the convent sent at once for the best doctor of the town. Surgeon Major W.R.R. came in, examined the girls eyes. “They were hopelessly gone, literally burnt out” he said. He then ordered her to be sent at once to his hospital. He would do his best to prevent damage setting in. Mean while her parents were telegraphed for at once. Her mother arrived from Calcutta. Her grief could be imagined. She threatened to file a suit against the servant who did not even appear before her. Rev. Mother Superior hoping against hope proposed a Novena to Our Lady, on Ross Hill. Many said that it would be tempting God, but the mother superior insisted. The Governess, though a Protestant, joined in the prayer whole heartedly.

“I was present,” says the eye-witness, “at the two operations, when the doctor lanced those blackened eye balls, from which he extracted lumps of corrupt flesh. The girl’s general condition grew worse; it was pitiful to see her tossing, and to hear her groaning for six days. On the morning of the 7th day, the child early called out her mother, and asked her to remove the green curtain placed before a stained glass window facing her cot, saying: I want to see the pretty coloured glasses.

She had herself pushed up the bandage and dressing from her eyes. The Hospital Doctor and his attendants came crowding. There was something above their experience. At about 10 am, Dr. W.R.R. arrived on his routine visits. On hearing the news, her merely shrugged his shoulders, and went to see himself. He then held up his hand with three fingers up. “How many fingers up?” She said, “Three.” Then he put down one finger, and before he had time to question, she said: “Doctor, you are putting one down now.” The gentleman stood in awe, and with out even uttering a word, or doing his usual round of visits t the other patients, he made straight for his carriage. Two beautiful brown eyes appeared gradually from under what seemed a thick cartilage, and two beautiful vases of artificial flowers were offered to the Ross Hill Chapel.

Another testimony was also given more or less at the same time. The father of a large family was lying at the last extremity, unable to move either foot or hand. Rheumatic fever and a complication of diseases had confirmed him to his bed for 18 months. The best doctors had been consulted. Sea Voyage to his native place, Scotland, and to Australia had been tried.

His desolate wife watched by his side. She was expecting every moment to be his last. Then she received a letter from her sister, a Nun. She advised to have recourse to our Lady of the Sacred Heart and to make a promise to offer a Mass at her Shrine in Visakhapatnam. She knelt beside him and she did at once the promise. The man who could not sleep for the past four months; fell into a kind of stupor, which lasted eight hours. On awakening he said: “I have had a nice sleep, and feel quite refreshed. A beautiful lady came near me and applied a soothing balm to head and to my joints, my pain is gone.” His wife thought he was delirious but he asked something to drink, and his health was restored. He resumed his work, a loco foreman in the Railways, and lived for another 23 years. These two instances prove what St. Ephraim said in his day that Mary is the “Hope of the hopeless.” Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart on Ross hill was intervening into the lives of the needy and troubled and people in gratitude were flocking to her shrine. Fr. Selvam msfs was simple instrument in the hands of God who wrought the development of the Shrine.

Fr. Selvam msfs was a missionary to the core and a zealous religious priest. Where ever his services were required and where ever he was asked to go, he would. The authorities required his services at Berampuram, in the present Orissa. So they transferred him to there. He toiled for 16 long years to bring the hill chapel to a shape. He left no stone unturned for its development. In his period of service, the shrine got recognition as a special place of sanctity. Hill Chapel carved out a name for itself as a house of God’s might. He built steps little by little and made extended the road bit by bit. Above all, he involved the faithful and with their support he maintained the chapel. It must be said that it was he who materialized the dream of the saintly Bishop Tissot.

Then the responsibility of this Shrine was entrusted in 1894 to Rev. Fr. Bonaventure msfs, who was working as the principal of St. Aloysius High School. He maintained the good work initiated by his predecessor. Mean while Fr. Selvam msfs died on 8th October, 1896, in Berampuram just after two years of his transfer from Visakhapatnam. God had other plans for Fr. Bonaventure. He was transferred to Nagpur in 1904. Nagpur was also under the erstwhile Visakhapatnam diocese and was bifurcated in 1886. In 1904 Fr. Bonaventure was appointed as the Bishop of Nagpur. Hence in the vacancy created with the transfer of Fr. Bonaventure, the authorities appointed Rev. Fr. Contat msfs. By that time, Fr. Contat was already rendering his services as the Principal of St. Aloysius High School and as the Parish Priest of the Sacred Heart Parish, Soldierpet. The responsibility of looking after the Shrine also fell on him. He was a dynamic priest, kind at heart and passionate about his life as priest. He did justice to the responsibilities entrusted to him.

New Century – New Decisions

By the turn of the new century, Hill Chapel established itself as the holy Shrine. Its holiness was being acclaimed by one and all. As the new century was beginning, the authorities decided to celebrate it in a fitting manner. They thought of celebrating the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as the mark of beginning of new century. Bishop John Mary Clerc msfs was the shepherd of the diocese. He gave a call to the entire diocese that three day prayers were to be observed by all. He called all the priests working in the diocese to Visakhapatnam town and conducted the triduum with lot of devotional programmes on the Hill Chapel. There was a Mass in the morning and two sermons in the evening. Of the two sermons in the evening, one used to be in English everyday and the other sermon used to be either in Telugu or in Tamil. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament followed the sermons. On the final day, there was a Procession. It started from the Fort Catholic Chapel and went through the streets of Visakhapatnam before reaching the Hill Chapel in perfect order with the band playing, singing of hymns and waving of banners of bright colours. Konda Dhoras from Salur mission and Rajput women from Vijayanagaram mission and many other devotees from Kakinada, Rajamandri, Bhimunipatnam and other mission centers came in big numbers to participate in the feast. The children from various mission schools led the procession. Everybody participated in the it with devotion and faith. Reciting the Holy Rosary in three languages, the devotees went on to the hill and gathered in front of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Msgr. Mary Clerc was away from the diocese and was in Goa, united with the diocese in prayer at the shrine of St. Francis Xavier. Very Rev. Domenge msfs was the Vicar General of the Diocese. He had spent 50 years in the missions of Visakhapatnam. So he addressed the devotees assembled. He insisted that they should not just satisfy themselves with offering the votive prayers and fulfilling the vows and promises which were made in times seeking her assistance and protection, but they must imitate her life style, particularly, her humility, holiness and obeying God’s Will in her life. He reminded them that it was by imitating her they honour her. The feast ended with the Benediction. A few lively tunes were played by the Volunteer’s Band, there were also fire works and then every one went home with the sweet feeling which every catholic ceremony brings into the soul loving God. That day’s Procession was a grand testimony of the flowering of Catholic faith in Visakhapatnam. From 1900 the triduum preparatory to the feast and the procession to the hill from the Fort Chapel have been regularly held every year except in 1923 when the road to the hill had been trenched by the November cyclone. Again, during the Second World War the procession could not be conducted once or twice due to the war situations.

The 1900 procession showed that the Church was much too small for the marian devotees who gather there. Besides, the old building needed repairs. The roof, the side rooms and the chapel itself could hardly remain as they were. They needed the shape of a regular church in style, a religious monument appealing to the eyes, recalling to future generations the blessings of Mary. The Statue, though fine in itself did not express well enough the dogma of Mary, Mother of Christ. Hence there was need to procure another statue. On Saturdays, what was used as the nave was full, the side walls hid the altar, the singing was lost in the sacristy. When there was gathering of pilgrims, people had to press one another, to stand at the doors, to hang on the stairs or at the windows, all of which was not conducive to concentration and prayer. Therefore it was decided to rebuild. It was a great effort. The required permissions were sought and obtained from the Bishop Clerc. Fr. Contat sent the appeals to the Catholics of the Town and to the whole of the diocese. The subscriptions of the faithful that were accumulated in the post office and the fresh amounts received from the devotees in Calcutta and Rangoon, gave Fr. Contat some encouragement to plan the construction. He thought that it was advisable to put down the front part of the building, keeping only the sanctuary and the adjacent rooms, and to build anew, a building that looks like a real church. He entrusted the work to Fr. Cyril Ailloud who in less than two years built what we see today, a church 60 ft long and 40 ft broad and 32ft high. It was blessed by Bishop Clerc on 6th December, 1905. The total cost of the project was Rs. 6840/-.

In the interior are two rows of 5 pillars of reddish stone, joined by Romanesque arches. The upper part of the central nave is adorned by richly molded cornices. A spacious gallery over the front door serves for the choir and organ. The old sanctuary was kept. This gave difficulty in joining the old and the new structures. To over come it, a wall was built over the vault, between the sanctuary and the central nave, and its gap was filled by a life size Crucifix flanked by the coat of arms of the reigning Pope (Pius X) and of the ruling Bishop (Mgr. Clerc).

The new church was very attractive, especially its two heavy but majestic crenate towers which were very conspicuous from the town below. Of the two towers, one shelters the bell and the other contains a winding flight of steps leading to the gallery and to the terrace. On the top a very elegant gable with three openings, the middle one was the form of a niche containing a bronze statue of the Blessed Virgin, added to the beauty of the eastern side facing the sea. Subsequently lot more improvements were made in the church. Most of them were done during the time of Fr. Contat msfs. In 1923 stained windows made at Grenoble (France) were put up and also Terra Cotta stations of the Way of the Cross were arranged. The Sanctuary flooring was redone with the glazed tiles with the offering made by a devotee from Mangalore. Later the church flooring was done again in coloured cement in 1938.

The year 1923 was very important to Visakhapatnam. The British Government was looking for a proper place to start another port between the Calcutta and Chennai on the East Coast. It conducted surveys. There was Bhimili. It was internationally reputed port in the past. But after lot of deliberations it was boiled down to the point that Visakhapatnam was a more suitable than Bhimili and the Government resolved to build up a port in Visakhapatnam. So in 1922 the works were initiated. As the works were going on in good pace, on 17th November, 1923 a mighty cyclone affected Visakhapatnam adversely. It was a big blow to the port erection works. The construction works of Visakhapatnam port had come to a stand still. Even though it caused untold problem to the people and caused lot of damage to the works of port, Hill Chapel remained safe. There was not much damage done to the Chapel. The metal statue kept in the middle of the gable fell down and the basement was broken. It was later rectified the St. Aloysius Work shop and the statue was kept back in its place.

But with the arrival of port, the Shrine had to loose some land under its custody. Until then lot of land was under the custody of the Shrine. Every one was under the impression that the whole hill was the property of the R.C. Mission. But the establishment of port made it possible to fix accurately the boundaries of the property. Of course in the bargain the mission had to lose some land. All the same it was good for the Shrine. According to the information passed on in 1885, by Mgr. Clerc, around 37500 sq. yards ie around 8 acres of land was the Chuch land on the hill. The Church could not stop the grabbing of the land by the government as the diocesan authorities did not own the necessary documents to that effect. Hence in 1922 except the land that was being used by the Shrine management (ie the land between the boundaries on west the pole behind the water cistern, the road upto the hill and 800 X 450 S ft) the rest of the land was taken away by the Government.

New Grotto Construction : Initiative of Rev. Fr. Joseph Baud

The love and care of the Mother Mary were experienced on this Hill. The Pilgrims visiting this Shrine one way or the other experienced Mary’s powerful maternal care. They came to her with heavy hearts and she eased their hearts and consoled them. They surrendered their lives to her son and they carried peace and joy to their daily lives. The Ross hill was being seen by one and all as the power house of Mary. Mary was the solace in their afflictions. She was the huge tree and in her shade they refreshed themselves and experienced rest and peace. This was gradually recognized and noticed by the devotees who also propagated the good they experienced here. So more and more people started to come from far and wide to the Shrine. Particularly, for the annual feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary on 8th December, the crowed was swelling year after year. The New Church was also not sufficient. Some thing had to be done. When it is God’s work, He will always keep right people in right places and creates right opportunities for the further growth of His plan. It again happened in the case of this Shrine.

In 1936 Rev. Fr. Joseph Baud msfs was the principal of St. Aloysius High School. He noticed the jam-packed Chapel on the feast days and the difficulties of the devotees. There was need of more spacious place for the devotees to gather. Behind the church was a flower garden well kept in Father Selvam’s time. A large water tank was dug further to the west to gather the rain water necessary for the irrigation of the garden. The garden had fallen into decay and the water tank had for many years been without water, except perhaps after a heavy shower. Fr. Baud in 1939 thought it best to level the whole place as far as possible and turn it into a small esplanade. Since the church had become five or six times too small for the pilgrims he thought they could gather there for the sermon and Benediction after the procession on the feast day. The plants were cleared and the stones were removed and the open tank was filled with stones and earth. The previously erected small grotto and the statues of Our Lady of Lourdes and Bernadett were removed. On the sloping ground to the west of the open tank a large grotto was built in November 1939 by Rev. Fr. Joseph Baud assisted by the ex-students of St. Aloysius High School. Fr. Baud worked under the direction of an experienced hand in civil engineering, Rev. Fr. A. De Staercke S.J. the then Vicar of Kidderpore in Calcutta. Fr. Staercke was on holidays in Visakhapatnam. The way the grotto was built, was interesting. After the basement, they erected the iron mesh in the shape of a cave by beating it here and there with wooden poles. Then they plastered it thickly with cement. It was just enough to keep a simple alter. In the grotto, life size statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was placed. That year the feast of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated there and after the procession the sermons and Benediction were conducted there. The total cost of the Grotto was Rs. 600/- was donated by a devout parishioner of Waltair R.S, Mrs. Noronha, the wife of Mr. Noronha, the Superintendent of Engineering in B.N.R. Railways. The altar of cement was designed and executed by Fr. Curizillat msfs of St. Aloysius Workshop.

To prevent the rush on the 8th of December the doors of the church remained locked till the Benediction at the grotto was over. After the Benediction the doors were opened to the pilgrims. The pilgrims go there as they like to pray to the Blessed Virgin. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was again given sometimes in the church too. It used to be pitch dark when everything was over. The pilgrims however linger on either praying in the church or admiring the wonderful spectacle of the city, the harbour and the shipyard, brightly illuminated at their feet.

Bishop Rossillon’s Vow

They were the days of Second World War. In April, 1942 Japan was raiding on Visakhapatnam with heavy rain of bombs. People of the town were terrified. Holding their dear lives in their hands they took shelter here and there. It was that time the saintly Bishop Rossillon msfs prayed Our Lady of the Sacred Heart on 11th February, 1942 to protect the town and its people and that in gratitude he would lead a procession in her honour to the Holy Shrine of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Mary’s intercession was fruitful and the town was saved from the destruction in spite of the repeated Japanese air attacks. So in gratitude as promised the bishop paid the vows. On 10th February 1946 when the Second World War ended the Bishop conducted a special procession to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. For that occasion he seemed to have composed the popular hymn sung during the novena prayers: “Immaculate Mary, Our hearts are on fire…” Innumerable people participated in the day’s Celebrations. In the sermon after the procession, the Bishop Co-adjutor, Rt. Rev. Joseph Baud msfs reminded the congregation the context in which the vow was made and how the Blessed Virgin was gracious and heard the prayers for the safety of the people and the town of Visakhapatnam. The event proved that Mary in this Shrine was not just the mother of the Devotees but also the mother of every citizen of the city of destiny and she is rightly called today as the Mother of Visakhapatnam.

Centenary Celebrations of the Shrine

From its inception the Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Mary has been under the care of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (MSFS), especially it was nurtured and served by the management of the St. Aloysius High School. They administered the Chapel. The other confreres of St. Aloysius Industrial School, Workshop, and other priests and brothers of the congregation extended their total support in the maintenance, repairs and the administration and development of the shrine. They enjoyed the support and the encouragement of the superiors and the local ordinaries. The annual feast of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated in great solemnity with the cooperation from the other institutions in the town.

1967 was the centenary year of the establishment of the Shrine. It was celebrated as the rededication festival. A new tradition was initiated as the mark of the celebrations of the Centenary. Previously the annual feast was preceded by the triduum – a day preparatory prayer programme. It was initiated by Mgr. Clerc as the mark of the beginning of the new Century of 1900. Now for the Centenary of the Shrine, the new idea of extending the triduum into Novena ( nine day preparatory prayer programme ) was proposed by the then Provincial Superior of the Visakhapatnam province of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, and His Lordship Rt. Rev. Ignatius Gopu msfs, cordially welcomed the proposal and permitted. Thus the present tradition of the Novena prayers in preparation of the annual feast was flagged off. That gave opportunity for the various parishes and Institutions to animate and lead the Liturgical Celebrations and the novena prayers on this shrine for the faithful of the diocese. The local parish priests and the faithful welcomed the initiative wholeheartedly and supported the programme. And now it has become the deep rooted tradition of the annual feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary on the Ross Hill.

The Project of laying road on to the Hill Top

Just as God has plans for us. He has great and special plans also for on the Shrine that He erected for the purpose of his glory also When God plans every body cooperates. Some new proposals for the development of the shrine came up. They were inspired from above. One such proposal was laying road to the top of the hill. It began in 1960. There was only a sort of rough trodden path. There was no broad road that the four wheelers could go up. Such a road was an urgent and necessary infrastructure. Hence the need was deciphered by St. Aloysius School management. They wanted to lay road from the ferry road at the footofthe hill to the topofthe hill. In the provincial chapter of that year and in other important forums the decisions were made. But to execute this project they realized that they needed also some land. The Visakhapatnam Port Trust has some land there. So the authorities consulted with the Port authorities, especially Mr. Sree Venkataraman, the Chief Engineer. This is God’s project. It was intended for the honour of Mary and for the good of the devotees. God inspired the officials and got his work done very easily. The port authorities welcomed the idea oflaying a concrete broad road on to the topofthe hill. They gave the necessary permission (Vide Letter no: 11 Misc. 6/886 dated 09.09. 1961). Then there was lack of experience in laying roads on the hills for it was a new project and never such a project was undertaken by the missionaries. The superiors consulted the experts in such field. They also consulted the well wishers and friends like Sree Venkataraman, Sri Musalayya, Sri Sudharsanam and some others. Then the plan was prepared on 3"1 June, 1963 , by a team of engineers Sri Raman, Sri Patnaik the surveyor and Rev. Bro. Jacob Vattachira msfs. It was immediately executed by Bro. Jacob. This was wholeheartedly supported by the then Provincial Superior Very Rev. Devasia Khuzhupil msfs who appointed Rev. Bro. P.D. Thomas msfs for assisting Bro. Jacob. The work was very tough. The boulders had to be blasted, the uneven areas had to be leveled, earth had to be excavated, and many other works had to be undertaken. Those days every thing had to be done manually There was no machinery. So it was also time taking and demanding plenty of painful hard labour. There were also other matters that slowed down the work. The project completion took long time. Finally the road was ready by 1973. For the first time in its history a four wheeler, a jeep, reached up to the top. This daring feat was done by Rev. Fr. George Pakumala msfs, the manager, St. Aloysius Industrial School. That year for the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, on 8th December, Bishop Gopu Ignatius msfs had reached straight to the top with his car to celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice. It was a glad news for all. The road brought many more pilgrims to the Shrine.

Mean while, there were much needed changes in the administrative wings of the Shrine. Although the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (MSFS) came to India almost a century ago, they never made efforts to extend and expand their missionary Congregation. Their concentration had been on the Diocese of Visakhapatnam. They did not divulge their energies for the development of their religious family. In fact, the growth of the diocese and the congregation should have gone hand in hand. Unfortunately that was not the case. Their efforts were concentrated on the evangelization and building of the Christian community. This work was given top priority than the growth of their missionary society. Perhaps it was the magnanimity of heart shown and size of the sacrifice made by the earlier missionaries. The MSFS had invested all their limited human and material resources for the growth of the mission of the Diocese of Visakhapatnam for a century. One sided emphasis led to the negligence of the development and the stratification of the Congregation. The realization dawned on the Superiors though late. So they brought changes in the administration of the Congregation. In 1935, they recognized the Diocese of Visakhapatnam and the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales are two entities, for until then their distinguished identities were not explicitly seen, though they both were independent Institutions. The Diocese had taken the upper hand over the enhanced.

Mean while, there were much needed changes in the administrative wings of the Shrine. Although the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (MSFS) came to India almost a century ago, they never made efforts to extend and expand their missionary Congregation. Their concentration had been on the Diocese of Visakhapatnam. They did not divulge their energies for the development of their religious family. In fact, the growth of the diocese and the congregation should have gone hand in hand. Unfortunately that was not the case. Their efforts were concentrated on the evangelization and building of the Christian community. This work was given top priority than the growth of their missionary society. Perhaps it was the magnanimity of heart shown and size of the sacrifice made by the earlier missionaries. The MSFS had invested all their limited human and material resources for the growth of the mission of the Diocese of Visakhapatnam for a century. One sided emphasis led to the negligence of the development and the stratification of the Congregation. The realization dawned on the Superiors though late. So they brought changes in the administration of the Congregation. In 1935, they recognized the Diocese of Visakhapatnam and the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales are two entities, for until then their distinguished identities were not explicitly seen, though they both were independent Institutions. The Diocese had taken the upper hand over the enhanced.

Congregation. But personnel executing the works were members of the religious congregation of MSFS. There was a memorandum of understanding between the Superior General of MSFS and the Bishop of the diocese of Visakhapatnam. This agreement was ratified by the Roman Curia in Vatican.

As the fruit of the agreement the Holy Shrine of Visakhapuri Mary Matha on Ross Hill came to the hands of the Missionaries of St Francis de Sales. It was proper and reasonable too that they got it. From its inception the Shrine was cared and carved up by the MSFS, particularly, it was always fondly nurtured by the community of St. Aloysius High School the first House of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales in India. In 1930 the congregation restructured itself into regions. Congregation’s Indian presence was divided into two regions of Visakhapatnam and Nagpur. Hence Visakhapatnam region came into existence officially. Fr. Victor Dematraz msfs was nominated as the first regional superior of the Visakhapatnam region. He served two stints from 1930 to 36 and from 1940 to 1948. In 1951 Very Rev. K.E. Zacharias msfs was the first Indian to be appointed as the Regional Superior (1951-1961). Fr. Zacharias was an exemplary missionary who spent himself in the remote villages of the diocese catechizing and bringing people to the fold of Christ. It was he who initiated the construction of the broad road on to the Hill top. He encouraged Rev. Bro. Jacob Vattachira msfs to work out a mud road to the top. He gave sufficient official permissions for the same.

Gradually the simple region of Visakhapatnam grew into a full pledged Province in the Congregation during the time of Very Rev. Fr. Devasia Kuzhupil msfs who was the last Regional Superior from 1962 to 1965. He was elected as the First Provincial (1965-1970) of the Province of Visakhapatnam. In his dynamic period, the Province had crossed the boundaries of Visakhapatnam diocese and since then the Province grew from strength to strength, ever expanding and reaching to the entire state of Andhrapradesh and other parts of India and abroad.

The animation and inspiration came under his leadership. He was v erv much interested in the development of the Shrine and planed many projects in that direction. To enhance the devotional atmosphere and to give greater possibility for the town Catholics to participate in the preparation for the feast he proposed the Nine day prayer (Novena) in the place of three day prayer preparation to the Bishop Ignatius Gopu msfs who readily granted the necessary permission. The Novena enhanced both the devotion and understanding of Mary among the devotees. It also gave opportunity for the Catholics of different Parishes in the town to participate and animate the Liturgy and Novena Prayers during the nine day prayers. This initiative made the feast celebration a joint venture of the Parishes and the Shrine in addition of granting it a fresh lease of solemnity and participation. Just as every feast brings together the scattered members of the family to one place and cements their bond with unity and affection, the feast of Immaculate Conception of Mary turned out to be the unifying factor for the Catholics of the diocese of Visakhapatnam. Rev. Fr. Devasia Kuzhupil’s contribution to the growth of the Hill Chapel had not been small. He placed Hill Chapel on the path of progress. In 1970, he handed over the reins of leadership to Very Rev. Zacharias Mannukuzhimpil msfs who was elected as the second Provincial Superior of Visakhapatnam Province.

Fr. Zacharias took personal interest in the improvement of the Shrine and initiated many developmental projects and laying the r.c.c. road to the hill top was one of the well known projects. In his tenure as the Provincial Superior, as a fruit of an agreement, his Lordship Bishop Gopu Ignatius entrusted officially the Shrine of Our Lady of Sacred Heart, to the care and administration to the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales ( MSFS) in Perpetuum on 2nd March, 1972. (Vide the letter of Rt.Rev. Gopu Ignatius, dated 02.03.1972/ Visakhapatnam.) However, there is a lacuna here and it needs further light. As it was already appraised, in 1935 when there was an agreement between the Congregation of Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales and the Diocese of Visakhapatnam represented by the Superior General and the Local Ordinary respectively, it was agreed upon that the Shrine of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, remained with the Congregation and the agreement was officially ratified by the Papal office in Vatican. Again, it was referred to in the memorandum of understanding between the Congregation and the Diocese that took place in 1949. Then why it had to be entrusted officially once again to the Congregation by the diocesan authorities is not very clear. However, in the letter of entrustment in 1972, the Local Ordinary asked the missionaries “to provide suitable facilities to the pilgrims that visit the Shrine.” This official responsibility made the missionaries to commit themselves with added enthusiasm to the development of the Shrine and with the cooperation and whole hearted support from the diocesan priests, the religious and the laity their labours borne fruit. From then on, the MSFS have been undertaking new projects every year without fail and transforming the Hill Chapel as the centre for the blossoming of the faith of the pilgrims.

MSFS Religious Community at the Service of the Pilgrims

Pilgrims come to this Shrine from far and wide and specially from every nook and comer of the diocese of Visakhapatnam. There was a necessity to cater to their spiritual needs. Priests must be accessible to them. With this in mind, Rev. Fr. K. E. Zacharias msfs was set aside by the Province for this purpose and His Lordship Bishop Ignatius msfs appointed him as the Priest in charge of the Shrine and the Spiritual Counselor to the pilgrims. The Provincial Superior Fr. M. Zacharias msfs appointed Rev. Bro. P.D. Thomas msfs, as the assistant and companion to Fr. K. E. Zacharias. There was no proper accommodation for their residence. So they both occupied the Sacristy room behind the Sanctuary for their residence. Rev. Fr. K. E. Zacharias msfs was an experienced missionary who worked in many missions ofVsakhapatnam diocese. He was well admired in both the congregation and the diocese. He served the Congregation and the Diocese in various capacities like the first Regional Superior of the Province, Vicar General and the Administrator of the diocese. He was a great soul and a fond child of Mary and devoted to her. As the priest in charge of the Hill Chapel, he strived to be at the disposal of the pilgrims with a smile on his face and his simplicity and lead them to the feet of Mother Mary in the presence of the Lord. He laid foundations to their spiritual upliftment. A saintly presence and ministry assists pilgrims to experience the depths of the spiritual world. The spiritual guidance and assistance given by him gave the taste of the sweetness of the serenity and peace in the presence of the Lord. They found chords with the psalmist who sang: “One day within your courts is better than thousand else where.” The pilgrims experienced the sanctity of this Shrine and the glory of God that pervaded this complex. Rev. Bro. Thomas stood with him as friend and guide in both good and bad situations. After the completion of the mud road to the top, Bros. Jacob msfs, Thomas msfs and Tinga Manikya Rao msfs got busy with the construction of the supporting walls around the Chapel to arrest the erosion of the soil and completed the works to the satisfaction of one and all. These gave a new look to the Chapel and added to the beauty of the chapel. Then the work of constructing the steps from the foot of the hill to the Chapel was under taken and completed by Rev. Bro. Jacob msfs and Rev. Bro. P.D. Thomas msfs.

Then the Visakhapatnam Port Trust authorities had plans to implement their plans for the outer harbour. They had some land on the hill adjacent to the Shrine property. They had plans to build a signal tower. So they wanted to make use of the mud road that was laid by the Shrine management, leading to the top of the hill. They approached the Superiors and made an official request. Both the parties thrashed out the matters across the table and made written agreements. As a result they decided to construct an r.c.c. road as a joint venture. It was realized in October, 1978. Now the Vehicles could easily reach the shrine. This is a fine example to show how God achieves his purposes very easily.

There were two missionaries staying on the hill with the sole of purpose ofbeing available to the pilgrims. They were adjusting thansel ves in the sacristy. They did not have proper facilities. Hence it was urgent to provide reasonable accommodation facilities to them. The Superiors realized this. Very Rev. Fr. M. Zacharias msfs entrusted the responsibility of constructing the house for the religious personnel to Rev. Bro. Jacob Vattachira msfs and gave him Rev. Bro. Philip Pukkarayil msfs as a companion to support him. As these works began it was time for Fr. M. Zacharias to hand over his leadership responsibilities to Very Rev. Fr. Thomas Anikala msfs who was elected as the Provincial Superior of Visakhapatnam Province.

Rev. Fr. Thomas Anikala msfs, a pastor at heart, spent himself in the strengthening and consolidating the catholic communities in the various parishes of Visakhapatnam diocese, gave top priority to the pastoral project ofhouse for the religious community on the Hill. Even though he was resolved to the complete the project at the earliest, God also must permit, for some strange reasons it was delayed. Finally under the guidence and supervision of Rev. Fr. George Pullat msfs Sri Doddi Rayappa completed the construction of the house. The house was blessed on 8'h December, 1981 by Very Rev. Dr. Emile Mayoraz msfs, the Superior General of Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales in the presence of Rt. Rev. Dr. K. Mariadas msfs the then Bishop of Guntur. That made possible for the religious community stay on the hill to be available to the pilgrims. Mean while, Bishop Ignatius Gopu msfs who had wanted the development of the Shrine went to receive his heavenly reward on 2nd August, 1981. His Holiness John Paul II had transferred Rt.Rcv. Mgr. K. Mariadas msfs, the son of the soil, who had been shepherding the diocese of Guntur, as the seventh shepherd of the diocese and he took charge of the diocese in 1983.

Emergence of Ross Hill Shrine as the Centre for Spiritual Growth

The Shrine of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is an abode of peace and serenity. It is an exciting place and a holy campus with an ambience of potential for the God- experience. It is a bouquet of beauty of nature and a gift of God for the spiritual growth and enlightenment This was recognized by Very Rev. Fr. Antony Mookenthottam msfs, the Provincial Superior who had succeeded Fr. Thomas Anikala msfs. He dreamed of a centre for spiritual growth taking advantage of the spiritual ambience of the holy Shrine and the natural beauty of the place. He designed a good project Rev. Bro. Jacob Vattachira once again prepared an integral plan for the Centre and with the formal approvals; he supervised the construction and Sri. Adireddy Bernard who took work contract raised the building. It wa s named Mary Matha Dhyanashram - Mother Mary’s House of Retreat. It was blessed by Rt. Rev. Dr. K. Mariadas msfs J U D, the bishop ofVisakhapatnam and Very Rev. Fr. Emile Mayoraz msfs, the Superior General of MSFS, opened the House. Rev. Fr. Thomas Anikala msfs and Rev. Fr. Mani Tharappel msfs, a veteran missionary, were appointed as the Rector and Spiritual Guide respectively. They had taken up repairs and renovations for the Chapel and brought a little more shine to the Shrine.

Rev. Fr. Anthony Mookenthottam msfs is a visionary. He started Mary Matha Dhyanashram with lot of vision and foresight. It was not just limited to the annual retreats of the diocesan and religious priests and brothers but also was used to quench the spiritual thirst and enhance the quality of their spiritual life ofthe lay men and women. Lots of spiritual enrichment programmes like Seminars and training classes in addition to the regular Prayer and fast session have been conducted. The Dyanashram has become an instrument of spiritual awakening and enrichment. In the presence of the Mother, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the seekers at Dyanashram are blessed with the Peace and serenity, a new lease of life with an insight into it. The pilgrims from far also stay in the dyanashram and enjoy the blissful presence of the Lord. serenity, a new lease of life with an insight into it. The pilgrims from far also stay in the dyanashram and enjoy the blissful presence of the Lord.

Devotees moved by the sanctity of the place frequent the Shrine repeatedly, each time bringing new people and introducing them to the Mother of Christ here. They have special trust in her and she always cared for them. Specially during the novena days and the feast days they stood in long lines to touch her powerful feet. The place available for the people to gather was not sufficient. A spacious open place w as a felt need.

It was time for the new leadership in the province as Ft Anthony Mookenthottam msfs was completing his mandate of three vents and the Late Rev. Dr. Midathada Mariadas msfs was appointed as the Provincial of Visakhapatnam province (1985 - 91). He was a child of Mary and firmly believed in her powerful intercession and maternal care. He paid lot of attention to the further growth of the Shrine. 1 le appointed Rev. Fr. Zacharias Mannukuzhimpil msfs as the Rector of the Shrine. Fr. Zacharias in his own charactaristic way contributed to the transformation of the Shrine. There was an old grotto built in 1939 under the banyan tree behind the Chapel. They removed the grotto from there and leveled the vast of stretch of land behind removing the boulders and filling in the ditches. On the farthest western end of the property, the authorities decided to build the grotto that was fitting for this upcoming Shrine. Rev. Fr. Midathada Mariadas, the provincial, entrusted the planning and execution responsibilities to Rev. Bro. Jacob Vattachira. Soon the Grotto was ready with a huge level ground in front that could accommodate a few thousands of people. The new Grotto was dedicated to the devotees by Late Very Rev Fr. Midathada Mariadas, on 29th November, 1985, the first day of preparatory novena for the annual feast of Immaculate Conception of Mary, as the memorial of the 140 years since the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales arrived in India. It was Mr. A. Bernard who took the contract and raised the grotto.

More Spiritual Beautification:Marian Exhibition Hall & Rosary Stations

The mother of Ross Hill Shrine is a caring mother. She assists and rescues her children in distress. She always intercedes for and intervenes in the lives of her devotees. Never was it known that anyone who fled to her protection and sought her intercession was left unaided. The devotees have an experiential knowledge of this fact. They plead and she is pleased to carry their prayers to her beloved Son and get them obtained. So the devotees come in big numbers acknowledging her intercession and assistance and pay her tributes and honour for the role she played in alleviating their pains and problems. They offer gifts in gratitude. They are bringing tokens of gratitude. It is thought that when these offerings and tokens and mementoes are gathered and exhibited they can strengthen and confirm the faith of the pilgrims that this Shrine is a place where God’s power is active and God is glorified. The power of Mary’s intercession will be revealed. The holiness of the Shrine can be attested. Hence it is necessary and urgent to materialize this idea. The opportunity came in 1987. It was the 150th year since the Congregation of Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales was founded. It was certainly a joyous moment for the missionaries. More over, 1987-1988 was declared as the Marian year for the entire Universal Church. Rev. Fr. Midathada Mariadas msfs captured this opportunity to erect the much needed Marian Exhibition Hall. Rev. Bro. Jacob Vattachira msfs planned and supervised the construction and Mr. Adhireddy Bernard executed the work. On 5th December, 1987 Rt. Rev. Dr. K. Mariadas msfs blessed it and Very Rev. Fr. Emile Mayoraz msfs, the Superior General of Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, inaugurated and dedicated the Exhibition Hall to the Pilgrims of Visakhapuri Mary Matha.

Under the dynamic leadership of Late Very Rev. Fr. M. Mariadas msfs the Shrine of Ross Hill acquired more shine and luster. The holiness of the shrine spread far and wide. It became a cause of joy for devotees. Right from the foot of the hill to the top of the hill 15 Rosary stations were erected along with an Arch of the Mother Most gracious. It created special conspicuous spiritual atmosphere permeating the hill and enabled the devotees to meditate and recite die Rosary with devotioa The foundation stone was laid by Very Rev. Fr. Emile Mayoraz, the Superior General, on 24th November, 1990. It was a project involving huge amounts of finance. But YHWH Jeire! God gives when it is His plan. The financial support came from both foreign and local benefactors. Towards the expenditure in erecting the Joyful mystery stations, Sri Yandrapu Mariadas (Gnanapuram) generously donated Rs. 25,000/-, Sisters of St. Joseph of Annecy, Waltair, contributed Rs. 30,000/- and Sri. Dhayananda Beneijee donated Rs. 30,000/-. Towards the erection of the stations of the sorrowful mysteries Rev. Sr. Philippa and the Staff of Sacred Heart high school, Waltair R.S, the Sisters of the Society of St Arm’s of Luzern in India, Rev. Fr. Marampudi Joji, Vijayawada (now the Archbishop of Hyderabad), Very Rev. Fr. Emile Mayoraz msfs, the Superior General of Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, France and Rev. Sr. Polamarasetty Virgiania’s family gave Rs. 30,000/- each for the project and encouraged. Similarly Sri Kona Showry and his family, Sri Polamarasetty AmmaluNaidu, Mangalapalem, two anonymous devotees and Smt Agarapu Annamma and her family, Madam Margerette Exbrayatte, France, the God mother of late Fr. Midathada Mariadas msfs donated Rs. 30,000/- each for the erection of the stations of the Glorious Mysteries. In addition to them, there were many other generous souls who contributed their might to this project and encouraged the Missionaries. The generous support of the devotees, the able management of the director of the Shrine, Rev. Fr. Zacharias Mannukhuzhimpil msfs and the strong determination of Late Rev. Fr. Midathada Mariadas msfs the whole project could materialize to the satisfaction of one and all. The construction plan was prepared by Rev. Bro. Jacob Vattachira and Sri Dhoddi Prakasam and Sri Dhoddi Showry executed the plan. The statues were brought from Kerala and were prepared beautifully by the famous St. Joseph’s Art Studio and on 29th November, 1991 His Lordship K. Mariadas msfs, the Bishop of Visakhapatnam blessed and inaugurated the stations. This project added more spiritual beauty to the shrine and created the atmosphere that inspired the devotion. In fine, it transfigured the Shrine complex into a divine centre.

Visakhapuri Mary Matha:Literary and Musical Waves

Literature and music arc powerful means to reinforce faith and devotion and to evoke the feelings of piety and trust. They are useful vehicles of expression and propagation. They can give the right view of the Shrine. They are to be pressed in to service to make known the love of the Mother of this divine campus. With this in mind, the visionary Fr. M. Mariadas msfs initiated the Trimonthly named “Visakhapuri Mary Matha” in Telugu in 1988. He had taken the pains of giving shape and circulation in spite of being busy with his regular teaching and administrative works. He worked for long as its Editor in chief and left no stone unturned to make it available to the faithful far and wide. The magazine has been a tremendous instrument in expressing and spreading the devotion to Mary and to share the love experienced with the others. The magazine presented the teachings of Bible and the Tradition on Mary, the teaching of the present magisterium, the example of the Saints and the sharing of the trust and confidence of the present devotees through the favours received. The book ‘Visakhapuri Mary Matha’ is a small but useful step in fostering the right understanding on Mariology among the catholic faithful. The magazine continues to inspire the faithful all over the state of Andhrapradesh. In the same line, Fr. Mariadas Midathada msfs had also brought out small volumes on Mary like: “Lourdu Matha”, “Fathima Matha”, “Jagajjanani” and “Rojapoomala”, all in Telugu. They are all published from Ross Hill Shrine. He had also published a booklet on the History of Ross Hill in Telugu. The good work that was initiated by Late Fr. Midathada Mariadas msfs has been continued by his younger confreres. Frs. Telugu Chinnappa msfs,Mariadas Sesetty msfs, Pakki Dcvadas msfs and Fr. Bonthu Prasad have brought standard to the magazine as the editors. When the Ross Hill celebrated its Shrine Centenary, a compendium on Maiy was brought out as the Souvenir under the guidance of Rev. Fr. Chinnappa Reddy msfs, the director of the Shrine. The Tclugu literature published from this shrine, though insignificant in volume and size, is a great contribution to the Telugu Catholic Literature.

In the field of Music, Ross Hill also released: Visakhapuri Mary Matha first ever devotional songs audio cassette on Mary in the entire north Andhra Church and perhaps the best to date. It was the brain child of Fr. Midathada who tapped the best talent in Palagummi Viswanadham, a popular all india radio musician, Hyderabad, who scored the music for the lyrics of Fr. Midathada, Fr. Dusi Devaraj, Mr. Katheti Antony Raj and Mr.Gandham Vedhaveswara Rao. The classical touch in the rendition of the tunes made the cassette greatly popular among the faithful. It stands out the master piece even today, as the lyrics and the tunes touch the hearts of the faithful. It may not be an exaggeration to state that it created a musical devotional wave among the Catholics. Again, in 2006, Rev.Fr. Dominic Savio msfs with the support of the Msfs confreres brought out another audio cassette with the title: Nee Poojaku Ne Padedha, under the aegis of Ross Hill Shrine. In the recent times these musical and literary initiatives have been doubled up in popularizing the Mother of Visakha Ross Hill. Very Rev. Fr. Thomas Perumalil msfs has generously encouraged Rev. Fr. Chinnappa Reddy msfs in undertaking these ventures for the glory of God and the honour of Mary.

A Unique Rosary Movement: Chain Rosary

To continue with the story of the development of the Shrine, Rev. Fr. Zacharias Mannukuzhimpil msfs took lot of pains, as the director of the shrine, to develop it. He worked for a decade ( 1984 - 1995). As a result, considerable progress could be seen. He was succeeded by Rev. Fr. Philip Parackal msfs as the director in 1995. In his tenure, lot of farther facilities was created for the pilgrims. In the past there used to be severe scarcity for water on the top of the hill. The pilgrims used to find it very difficult. Fr. Philip paid attention to this problem. He planned to harvest the rain water. So with the approval of the authorities, he dug two huge pits and built RCC water tanks on the place towards Yarada Hill. Rev. Bro. Jacob Vattachira engineered and executed the work. It was a great solace for the pilgrims, as water is made available for all. He also was totally available to pilgrims.

Rosary has been the favorite prayer of Mother Mary. She was insisting on this prayer in all her apparitions. During the period of Fr. Philip, Chain Rosary was introduced on the hill chapel and by and by it turned out to be a great spiritual movement in Andhra Pradesh and in other states in the Rosary month of October. Devotees of different linguistic groups joined and gave impetus to the movement. Today it has become a regular annual feature. In fact, it was the initiative of Rev. Fr. Thomas Pullat msfs. He motivated and inspired the Rose Hill Prayer Group that gathers for Prayer on every Sunday and second Saturdays.

The Pastoral Centre, Visakhapatnam, had also made Visakhapuri Mary Matha Shrine as its venue for the spiritual growth programmes. Rev. Fr. V.V. Prasad and Rev. Fr. Maria Ratnam, the directors of the Pastoral Centre successively, conducted various spiritual renewal programmes and faith building activities like Retreats, Recollections and Mauna Dhyanams( Silent Recollections) regularly f or the benefit of the faithful. Fr. Philip Parackal generously cooperated and encouraged the Center’s activities. These regular programmes brought people to the Shrine in big numbers for the spiritual experience and the Shrine became the hub of the spiritual activities and the consequent spiritual experience As the Psalmist says: “From Zion the Lord has commanded the blessing. He grants life for evermore.” (Ps. 133:3), Hill Chapel became a special place among the believers. Their faith in God and the Mother of God is Many got attached to the Shrine. In addition to this, the regular flow of the pilgrims from various parts of the state and other states continued. The pilgrims experienced the divine touch on the hill in the abode of Mary in the Shrine. Rev. Fr. Philip Parackal’s services to the Shrine ended with his transfer to Kerala in June, 2004.

Beginning of a New Era:Hill Chapel’s Centenary Celebrations

Once again there were changes in the administration of Visakhapatnam Province of the Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales. In September, 2004, Rev. Dr. Thomas Perumalil msfs was appointed as the Provincial Superior. He convoked the Chapter of the Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales for the Visakhapatnam Province. In the Chapter, one of the major decisions was to focus on the spiritual development of the Shrine of Visakhapuri Mary Matha. By then, the Shrine had already received life. And now with this new decision, the focus is intensified. It must be said that a new era has started in the history of the Shrine with June, 2004. The administration appointed Rev. Fr. Pentareddy Chinnappa Reddy msfs as the Director of the Shrine and Rev. Fr. Joseph Pauth msfs as the Superior of the msfs religious community. In addition to them, the community consisted of Rev.Fr. Joseph Pulickal msfs and Rev. Bro. Job Poovathumootil msfs. The concerted efforts of the Community at the Shrine is acquiring a new shape as the Centre for spiritual experience. The gentle approach and total availability of the Director, Fr. Chinnappa has brought in new lease of life to the shrine. The programmes initiated and the activities taken up have attracted the faithful and won the hearts of the faithful. By and by the shrine is becoming the Centre of life and source of refuge for innumerable devotees. A number of spiritual activities have been initiated for various groups of the faithful. For the spiritual progress of the Laity, once in two months Recollections, Every third Sunday fasting prayer with reflections from the Bible and the vigil prayers are being arranged regularly. He enjoys the support and assistance from the confreres and Diocesan Priests along the lay evangelists, for these programmes. He has also encouraged the Marian devotion by introducing the Recitation of thousand Hail Marys on every first Sunday of the month. He has also encouraged the Ross Hill Prayer group in organizing the Chain Rosary movement in the month of October every year. No wonder today it has become a popular movement not only in Andhrapradesh but also in many other States, especially in the Southern states. These initiatives have transformed Ross Hill into the Spring of life giving water. This is one side of the story. On the other side, Rev. Fr. Chinnappa Reddy also made efforts to create the physical infrastructure in the Ross Hill Shrine complex in order to enhance the spiritual and devotional atmosphere of the shrine. Sri Captain Jacob Palayoor and Smt. Annie Jacob have borne the cost of the construction of new wing of bathrooms in memory of the Priests and Sisters who spent themselves in the Vineyard of the Lord. Sri Captain Jacob also sponsored the building of the mighty arch in the middle of the way to the top and under the engineering supervision and execution of Bro. Jacob msfs. The arch was inaugurated as the Centenary Memorial of the Ross Hill Chapel that was built in 1904.

2004 was the Centenary Year of the Hill Chapel. Its centenary celebrations were celebrated in grand scale. As a part of the Celebrations, Visakhapuri Mary Matha :Volume II, Devotional Songs audio cassette was prepared in December, 2004 under the direction of Rev. Fr. Chinnappa Reddy msfs and Supervision of Rev. Fr. Sesetty Mariadas msfs and Rev. Fr. Nusi Konda Reddy msfs. The lyrics were written by Frs. Mariadas Sesetty msfs, Jaya Prakash msfs, Konda Reddy msfs, and Yesudas while the music was composed by Sri Ravi Kiran Betha. It was well received by the faithful. A souvenir volume containing the articles on Mary and the history of the Hill Chapel in both Telugu and English was planned by Fr. Chinnappa Reddy msfs and was brought out under the editorial work of Rev. Fr. Sarisa Prathap of Visakhapatnam diocese.

The book was released on the first day of the annual novena prayers. The extension of the Rosary stations was another project of the Centenary Celebrations under taken by Fr. Chinnappa Reddy. The Luminous Mysteries that were introduced on to the traditional Rosary mysteries were presented in the newly constructed stations. For this the statues were procured from Kollam, Kerala. The whole project was funded generously by the devotees. The work began in June, 2005. God provided through his faithful. The first luminous mystery station – Baptism of Jesus - construction was sponsored by The Visakhapuri Mary Matha Prayer group who contributed a donation of Rs. 75, 000/-. For the construction of the second luminous mystery- Wedding at Cana -, Rs. 75, 000 was donated by Sri Velangani Sea Foods, Visakhapatnam. Another Rs. 75,000/- for the third mystery, Preaching the Kingdom of God, was contributed by the Children in memory of their parents, Late Sri. Pamu Urbanna and Angelamma. For the fourth luminous mystery, Transfiguration of the Lord, Sri Chinthagada Peter’s ( Rayappa) family and for the fifth mystery, Institution of the Eucharist, in memory of Late Sri Peela Ganganna and Maha Laxmi Naidu, Peela Annamma, Peela Ratnam, Sri Peela Joji and his family donated Rs. 75, 000/- each, respectively. The construction work was completed and they were blessed by Rt.Rev. K. Mariadas msfs and were inaugurated by Very Rev. Fr. Agnelo Fernandez msfs, the Superior General of M.S.F.S. on 29th November, 2005.

There were also other monuments that were undertaken in celebration of the Centenary. A tower was built in the place below in front of the Chapel. On the pinnacle of the tower life size statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, below that the statue of St. Francis De Sales, the Patron of the MSFS missionaries and in the lower room the statue of Pieta were erected . The construction expenditure was borne by the management of the Hill Chapel while the cost of the statues was partially donated by the devotees. For Sacred Heart statue Sri Midathada Pedda Raju, for SFS Statue Sri Polaramarasetty Inna Babu and the Mother of Sorrows in memory of Late Sri Polamarasetty Sanjeeva Rao and Smt. Sundharamma, their son Sri John Victor Ananda Rao and his family made donations. Sri Yerra Velangini Rao and Laxmi’s family also contributed considerable amount towards the procurement of the statues. Bro. Jacob prepared the plan and Sri Doddi Showri executed the work. The tower was blessed and inaugurated by very Rev. Fr. Agnelo Fernandez as part of the centenary celebrations of the Ross Hill Church. A two story SFS yatri Nivas was another facility created for the benefit of the pilgrims. The top two rooms for the guests and a hall down for the pilgrims to sit and relax were constructed with the plan of Bro. Jacob and Very Rev. Fr. Thomas Perumalil, the incumbent Provincial Superior, blessed and dedicated it to the pilgrims.

Hill chapel is a holy shrine. There is no doubt about it. It’s holiness and abiding grace of God operative there are to be made known to the people. Fr. Chinnappa Reddy made use of Television and print media even to spread the fame of the shrine. He got printed the handouts, posters, multicolour pictures of the Mother of hill chapel. He printed prayer books and cards and distributed freely with the generous donations from the devout children of Mary. He made efforts to popularize Rosary devotion. ;He got printed the posters on Rosary in Telugu and English by Rev.Fr. Thumma Mariadas Reddy msfs and circulated them free of cost. He also got printed pocket size prayer books with the short reflections on the twenty rosary mysteries, written by Fr. Mariadas Sesetty msfs, in Telugu and English and distributed among the pilgrims freely with the donations from the friends and children of Mary. In December, 2006, with the permission of the Superiors, he presented to the devotees, another Audio Cassett titled: “Nee Poojaku Ne Padedha”, prepared by Rev. Fr. Dominic Savio msfs. A special mention must be made in this context that Fr. Chinnappa has made huge effort not only to revive the neglected Visakhapuri Mary Matha, trimonthly, but also to introduce it to more people and get newer subscriptions for the same. He gave a fresh lease of life to the otherwise dying spiritual magazine. Thus he endeavoured to promote right perspectives on Mary among the visiting pilgrims among whom protestant Christians are a great majority.

Ever since Fr. Chinnappa undertook the responsibility of the Shrine as its director, day in and day out, he dreamt of the development of the shrine. He has been undertaking projects to improve the Shrine Complex in partnership with the devotees and donors. The Superiors and the local religious community have also encouraged him. He undertook the improvisation of the Mary Matha Dyanashram. He extended the rooms and provided more facilities in them. Behind the grotto of Lourdes, with the donation from Sri Captain Jacob Palayoor, he built a room to preserve the articles used for Mass. In the Chapel, beautification of the Sanctuary was done with a touch of perfection, the flooring with Italian marble, and steel railing in stainless thus adding beauty and shine to the Lord’s dwelling in the presence of Mary. The railing design depicting the celebration of the Word of God and Eucharist is designed jointly by Rev. Fr. Pasupuleti Francis and Rev. Fr. Polamarasetty Mariadas. The monetary support for his work came from Sri. Siram Jnana Prakash and Sri Lalam Prasad. Then, in the place of old altar; a beautiful new one was built with Rajastan granite slabs, engraved with the emblems of four evangelists of the Gospel. The cost of the marble for the flooring and the construction of the new alter, was borne by Commander Sri Dominic, with the sentiments of gratitude for the miraculous healing from the loss of memory caused by severe illness of the Brain. As a result of these works, the sanctuary, the main place in the Shrine, acquired new shape and shine. The glory of the Lord is made visible and the honour of Mary is enhanced.

At the grotto too, Fr. Chinnappa undertook a few renovations, giving a touch of modernity. Around the miraculous statue of Mary, pristine granite slabs are fixed to the wall so that it can be kept neat and clean. The steps on either side too are decked with granite slabs. Rev.Bro. Michael Olickal msfs generously donated the amount out of his filial love for the Mother of Hill Chapel. The steel railing that was erected on both sides of the steps brought elegance and grand look to that part of the Grotto. The amounts spent were donated by Sri Phani and Sri Vinodh Stephen. The entire front yard of the Grotto was laid with new glossy tiles with the major donations from Sri Anand Nayar and from Sri William Benedict and Sri A.M. Francis a little each. The rest of the amount for the works is contributed by the management of the Holy Shrine. The railings leading to the interior of the Grotto was arranged with the generous gift made by Mr. Francis and Mrs. Sally. All these additions gave the grotto a new grand look, to the joy of every pilgrim. A host of people both tourists and devotees come to hill chapel. Many come to spend time with the Eucharistic Lord. Certain times it is not conducive to pray in the Chapel. There has been a need for the place for silent, undisturbed adoration and prayer in the shrine premises. Many pilgrims expressed their wish to have a separate place that can facilitate this experience. So Fr. Chinnappa took initiative to open the Adoration Chapel and obtained the necessary the ecclesiastical permissions and in May, 2008 it was inaugurated by Very Rev. Fr. Thomas Perumalil, the provincial superior. Rev. Fr. Joseph Pulickal msfs had taken keen interest in this project and raised the needed funds from his friends and the devotees. Adoration Chapel is another facility placed at the serious seeker of the divine experience on the Ross Hill.

The Present is Golden:

It must be stated that in the history of the Shrine, the present is the Golden age. It is happy sign that people irrespective of creed, caste and colour, visit this Shrine, pay respects to the Mother of Ross Hill and take part actively and willingly in the development of the Shrine. The progress that is seen to day is incomparable. It may not be an exaggeration to say that devotees are touched by the divine presence in the Shrine complex and that this Shrine is a fertile field of a rich spiritual experience and hence it finds a favourite place in the hearts of the faithful. A clear proof of this seen in the in flow of number of devotees who come to visit and offer prayers and vows not only from Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram, Srikakulam, East Godavari districts but also from the neighbouring dioceses and the states of Orissa, Chattisgarh and Bengal. “The Lord is in this spot. How owesome is this Shrine! This is nothing else but an abode of God, and a gateway to heaven!” (Gen 28: 17.)

A Shrine that offers Spiritual Experiences:

Hill Chapel is a “divine milieu”. There is an abiding presence of God in this campus. There is a spiritual power in the air, greenery, earth and surroundings of this environment. All those who enter these premises feel the soothing cool touch of the breeze, the fragrance of this blessed shrine and its holiness, the beauty of the nature and are elevated into uncommon heights that connect them to lasting Peace and Joy. Above all, they taste the love and affection of Mother Mary, and the mercy of the Lord Jesus. The ambience and the setting lift them into a spiritual realm that fills their hearts with the satisfaction of meeting the Lord. This Shrine compound inspires them with the purpose of life, fills their hearts with confidence and hope for a better tomorrow. For this reason innumerable devotees frequent this hollowed shrine.

The Spiritual Shelter for the devotees:

The pilgrims visiting this Shrine are deprived of Peace and Joy in life. Their hearts are heavily laden with the sorrows and sufferings, problems and turmoils. They seek security and support. Interceded by Mary, in their meeting with the Lord of Life, the Son of Mary, they take back with them Peace and happiness, hope and confidence, inspiration and vision for a better life. Those that lost their life partners and are drowned in the sea of sorrow, spending time in the presence of Mary and experiencing her consolation, realize the further course of their life and get down the hill with more determination to continue with the life. The widowed, gather the scattered pieces of their broken lives, and fill their hearts with the Ross Hill Mother’s courage and revitalize themselves in her abode. The brethren saddened with the woes and worries of their lives having seen Mary and her divine Son descend the hill with smile on their face, brightness in their eyes and a confidence in their steps. Those seeking employment, marriage alliances and desiring children realize the will of God in their lives while those that are fed up with the hustle and bustle of life are savouring the calm, serene comfort in her lap. The people tired of rat race rejuvenate themselves for further leg of the race. The achievers in life, sit in her presence and muse on their achievements and render thanks to the merciful Lord. Those that crossed the silver and golden mile stones of their marital life are reliving their proud moments in this holy shrine and offering their gratitude to God who led their lives to success. Not one group or category of people! All sorts of people find solace and comfort and dignity and pride in her sanctuary. Hence no doubt, the sorrowful, the joyful, the struggling, the searching, the lost and drowned, the broken and the disillusioned, every one finds happiness and joy, destination and direction in their life on this holy mountain of Mary, the mother of God.

Truly Mary’s own abode

The Shrine of Our Lady of Sacred Heart, is popular today as the spiritual resort and haven for the devotees of the North Coastal Andhrapradesh. It is a shining star among the Marian shrines in Andhrapradesh. The present luster is God-given gift to the shrine. It is made visible through the hard work of the many a self sacrificing missionary and devout child of Mary. A shrine is like a light house in the harbour to every pilgrim in his spiritual journey. Ross Hill Shrine lays paths to holiness, attracts the devotees to the heights of holiness, and consoles the sorrow laden lives of the faithful. It is a huge tree of consolation and under its soothing shade the faithful revive and refresh themselves. It is like our maternal home. It encourages us in the face disappointments, supports us in the moments of fear and anxiety. It mediates divine experience and enables us to savour peace and joy. The uniqueness of Ross Hill Shrine consists in being an effective channel in this regard. This is the trust of the pilgrims. This is truly Mary’s own home!

Shrines And Their Theological Significance


Man is a religious being. He longs for transcendence. There is inextinguishable thirst for the beyond, the realm of the spirit. He longs to quench this thirst. Even though he reaches heights in Science and Technology, and great strides in progress, and becomes rich and prosperous his longing for the transcendence continues. For as it is said, there is hole in the heart of man and it cannot be filled up with anything other than God. His longing can be appeased only with God. It is thirst for God. Hence man aspires for the soothing touch of God. He searches for God in sacred places, Shrines and temples. He visits the holy places, frequents Churches and places of worship. Just as he received the physical birth in the womb of the mother, he aspires for the vision of God that can grant him the grace to be born anew. He goes on pilgrimages to the holy shrines that are far flung from the inhabitation of humans, situated in the lap of Nature, on the mountain peaks and in the valleys or on the banks of Sacred Rivers and seas. There he experiences the Divine and enters into a deep communion and fellowship with it. In that he gets the clarity of his destination and the direction to walk on and the will to pursue.

The human longing for the divine take him to various shrines all over the world. The Catholics frequent international holy shrines like Lourdes on Pyrenes mountains in France, or the Shrine of Our Lady of Health in Velankanni, on the shore of Bay of Bengal or Regional important ones like Gunadala Shrine in Vijayawada, Nirmalagiri in Gauripatnam, Sagar Matha at Nagajuna Sagar in Guntur, Arogya Matha in Kairathabad in Secunderabad and Visakhapuri Mary Matha, Ross Hill in Visakhapatnam are a few worth mentioning. The whole Indian subcontinent is full of Shrines and pilgrimage centers. In the Catholic circles there are many shrines dedicated to Jesus Christ, Mary the mother of God, the Apostles and Saints. Many more are being started. But among them the majority is Marian Shrines dedicated to Mary, Mother of God.

In the Catholic tradition, Shrines are places, holy places of worship. In these places holiness and divine presence are experienced concretely. They are dwelling places of God who cares and consoles the poor tired pilgrims and grants them Peace and Joy. Usually these sacred places are approved for visitation by the local Ordinary, the Bishop, and the Chief Shepherd of the Diocese. These sacred places are the bridges that link the devotee and the Divine. They are places of Covenant. (Ex 27: 21, 29: 4, 10-11, 30…). As the saintly Pope John Paul II said: “Shrines are like milestones that guide the Journey of the Children of God on Earth.” They stand as lasting witnesses for the Gospel and grant us the experience of Salvation.

Every shrine is a bearer of a specific message, since it vividly makes present today the foundational event of the past which still speaks to the heart of the pilgrims. When they make sincere effort to live that foundational experience in their lives, they are blessed with new life. Thus shrines stand out as witnesses to the manifold richness of God’s saving activity. A Shrine is an inestimable gift of God to his children, to his Church.

One understands the significance of the Shrine in the theological reflection of its nature and meaning. The Word of God and the Tradition of Church form the basis of this reflection. Hence we need to look for the meaning of Shrine in the light of the Word of God. In the Bible, there is a great concept of “Mystery of the Temple”. It presents the saving plan of God, unfolding in human history (1 Cor 2:7). In this context when we contemplate the mystery of the temple we will have a glimpse of the Divine glory (Ps 29:9). We will realize the manifestation of the God who is thrice holy (Is 6:3), his presence in dialogue with mankind (1 Kgs 8:30-35), his coming in our context, his planting of his ‘tent’ in our midst ( John 1: 4). A shrine derives its meaning from this great saving fact.

Bible has expounded the meaning of Shrine through three focal points. The first one is the figure of “the cosmic temple” evoked by Ps 19 that says that the heavenly Sun declares the glory of God; Divine presence permeates this whole cosmic temple. Psalms like 139, 148 and 22 resonate the same idea. The second focal point is the Temple of Jerusalem where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, the holy place par excellence. It stands as a tall testimony to the history of Israel and the great deeds of God. It is the visible house of the Eternal One ( Ps 11:4), filled by the cloud of his presence ( 1Kgs 8: 10- 13) and the dwelling place of his ‘glory’ ( 1Kgs 8:11). Finally the focal point of new and definite temple, the eternal Son of God, the Lord Jesus incarnated, died and risen ( Jn 2: 19-21) and who makes his belivers a temple built of living stones called the pilgrim church. ( 1 Pet 2: 4-5). Thus the Bible reminds that God’s glory permeates this universe. That divine presence also dwells in the Shrine and the pilgrims, the believing pilgrims, through their sacrificial life must repent and become a living temple of the Lord and praise the Lord.

In this background, the continued reflection will reveal three main points regarding a shrine. First, a Shrine is a place of MEMORY of our origin. Memory of God’s mighty deeds in history that made covenant with humans and the faith of the each believer. The patriarchs commemorated their encounters with God by building an altar memorial ( Gen 12:6-8; 13:18; 33: 18- 20) and as a sign of fidelity they returned to those places again and again (Gen 13:4; 46: 1). Jacob considered the place where he had his vision as “a dwelling place of God” (Gen 28:11- 22). A shrine is not made by man. It is a holy dwelling place of God, carved out by God’s initiative. It is He who makes humans to build as is clear from Solomon’s case (1 Kgs. 8: 27-29). This is the deepest meaning of a shrine. It serves as a reminder in faith of the salvific work of the Lord. It is a sign of God’s fidelity and continual active presence in the midst of his people. It proclaims the great deeds of the Lord and inspires true worship of God. In other words, a shrine announces God’s fidelity and love. The devotees go to it to give thanks (Ps. 136), to seek forgiveness and the gift of faithfulness in life.

Secondly, a shrine is a place of renewing the covenant with God. This is the reason for Israelites who journeyed to the shrine in Psalms 121 and 127. They discovered freshly God’s covenant fidelity to them in the Shrine. The believers in the Lord Jesus, prompted by the Spirit realize that God is always living and present among them and for them in the church building. They discover afresh the fidelity and love of God and renew the covenant with God who makes them a living shrine built with the living stones. The word of God nourishes them and the Spirit of God works through the Word in their hearts and lives. Hence the Word of God must resound in a shrine, reminding the devotees God’s steadfastness, shedding light on their Journey and offering consolation and strength. Again, Shrine is a privileged place of celebration of the Sacraments that enable us to meet the living God who frees us from sin and grants us strength to begin again with a new freshness and new joy in our hearts. A shrine makes us realize our sinful nature and see clearly the path of holiness and inspire us to live in the grace of God. Thus invites us to repentance and inner renewal.

Thirdly, a Shrine points out to us that after this life there follows an abundance of life. It points to Heaven as our destination. Hence it keeps us calling to move heavenward. There, the God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple (Rev 21: 22). God dwells in the midst of his people. He wipes away every tear from their eyes, there will be no more death,

nor sorrow, nor crying (Rev 21: 4). Thus, a Shrine stands as a sign of hope to our lives in the face of adversities and hardships, trials and difficulties, sustaining us in our pilgrim way. It is this hope that invites the suffering to go to the portals of the shrines, where their hope is turned into joy. Tasting the power of God manifested in the shrine, the pilgrims joyfully proclaim that the blind see, lame walk, the lepers are made clean, deaf hear, the dead are risen to life and the Good news is announced to the poor ( Lk 7: 22). Hope does not disappoint us, instead makes us rejoice (Rom15: 13). That must be the reason, why the pilgrims going up to Jerusalem sang: “I rejoiced when I heard the people saying, let’s go to the temple of the Lord” (Ps 122:1). Meditating on this joy available in the temple, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding Joy; and on the harp I will praise you, O God, my God”. The psalmist invited other pilgrims to join him (Ps 43: 4). Shrine also bears witness to the eschatological dimension of the Christian faith, the new heavens and the new earth (Rev 21:1). They stimulate us to live as an echo of Mary’s Magnificat as a critical and prophetic ferment in the present world that can transform it into a new earth.

In the long Catholic tradition of theology Mary has been considered as the Living Shrine. Mary is the living Shrine of the Word of God, the Ark of the New and Eternal Covenant. In fact, St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation of the angel to Mary clearly incorporates the images of the tent of meeting with in Sinai and of the temple of Zion. Just as the cloud covered the people of God marching in the desert (Num 10:34; Deut 33:12; Ps 91:4), and just as the same cloud, as the sign of the divine mystery present in the midst of Israel, hovered over the Ark of the Covenant ( Ex 40: 35), so now the shadow of the Most High envelopes and penetrates the tabernacle of the new Covenant, the Womb of Mary. Again, there is a striking similarity between the words of Angel in Luke and the Song of Zephaniah on the presence of God in Zion. To Mary, the angel says: “Rejoice, you who are filled with God’s grace! The Lord is with you … Mary, do not be afraid … you are to conceive in your womb and bear a son …” (Lk 1: 28-31). To Zion, the prophet says: “Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem... The Lord is King among you, Israel, you have nothing more to fear … Zion, have no fear… the Lord your God is there with you, the Warrior-Saviour” (Zeph 3:14-17). Daughter of Jerusalem is the temple. In her womb the presence of God with his people is made manifest. In the womb of Mary the new daughter of Zion, the Lord establishes his perfect temple in order to have full communion with mankind, through Jesus Christ, his son.

This theme once again asserted in the scene of Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth. Elizabeth says, “Why should I be honoured with the visit from the mother of my Lord ?” (Lk 1:43). These words evoke David’s own words before the Ark of the Lord: “How can the Ark of YHWH come to be with me?” ( 2 Sam 6:9). Thus Mary is the new Ark of the Lord’s presence. Just as the Ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed- Edom for three months, filling it with blessings ( 2 Sam 6: 11 ), so too Mary, the living ark of God, remained three months in the house of Elizabeth with her sanctifying presence (Lk 1: 56). Hence, the Church maintains that Mary is the Womb of God, the saving presence of God. Here the statement of St. Ambrose is instructive: “Mary was the temple of God, not the God of the temple, hence only He who was at the work in the temple is to be adored.”

Conclusion

Shrines are wombs of God and abodes of God. They are the meeting places for God and devotee. They facilitate encounters between them. They are filled with the caring presence of the Almighty and grant an experience of the divine to the seeking pilgrim. This experience draws him closer to the divine and makes him surrender to the Divine. Shrines initiate the process of repentance and of being born again in the devotees and reconcile them with the merciful God. They strengthen the love bond between God and the devotee and inspire him to take this life seriously in commitment to God. This is true in the case of all the Shrines, especially the Marian shrines that mediate her maternal protection, intercessory assistance and the inspiration of her person and spirituality.

Visiting a shrine is a moment of grace. It is an opportune time with potentiality to alter our lives. For this proper disposition is needed. Hence, the pilgrims have to make appropriate spiritual preparations before hand. The well disposed will meet the Lord and obtain graces.

The ministers in the holy shrines have to protect the holiness and sanctity of the shrine. They must facilitate the encounter between the Lord and the devotees and that must be their primary concern. For this, they are to promote the required physical, mental, emotional and spiritual climate or ambience in the shrines. They are to recognize the aspiration and thirst in the hearts of the devotees to meet God and be available to them. They must also offer the pilgrims the opportunities to listen and meditate the word of God, to celebrate the Sacraments and the Eucharist in the Shrine.