Annual Marian pilgrimage keeps in mind tragedy in Sri Lanka

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Worshippers lead a procession during the annual pilgrimage of Asian and Pacific Island Catholics at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington May 4, 2019. (CNS photo/Andrew Rozario, Catholic Standard)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Vatican envoy to the U.S. recalled the persecution of Asian Catholics, making special mention of victims of the recent bombings Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, during the annual pilgrimage of Asian and Pacific Island Catholics to the country’s largest Marian shrine on May 4.

“Despite persecution, the church in Asia continues to grow because of faithful witness,” said Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States and the main celebrant at a Mass marking the 17th annual gathering at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Catholics in India, China, Vietnam as well as other nations in the region have long suffered because of their faith, said Archbishop Pierre, but their witness and devotion has not been in vain. He called on those gathered to share their stories of faith and to be creative as Christian evangelizers.

“Make disciples, not only among your children, but your neighbors,” Archbishop Pierre said.

Christian missionaries once took the word of God to Asian lands where it grew and where it spread to their ancestors, he said.

“Now it’s time to be creative missionaries in this land,” said Archbishop Pierre.  

Evangelizing, he said, is the work of God, and Mary was a prime example of an evangelizer who drove others, in her time and still today, toward her son Jesus.

The pilgrimage pays special homage to the different Marian apparitions in places like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Philippines, India and the countries of origin of those who attended the event.

Shuvra B. D’Costa is originally from Bangladesh but now lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. She did a special dance to honor the Virgin Mary at the pilgrimage.

“I got a lot of miracles,” from her intercession, said D’Costa, who said her dance and the accompanying song was a way of explaining Mary’s life to others, one based in the Bible. She said she wanted to dance to honor Mary, whose intercession, she believes, led to the birth of her children. The song explains a feeling she said she knows well.

“As a mother, she always gives us support when we are alone,” D’Costa said.

Elizabeth Kalampanayil took a group of girls ages 10 to 15 from St. Mary’s Syro-Malankara Catholic Church in Washington to honor the Virgin Mary with a dance before a crowd of hundreds of pilgrims who traveled from New York; Richmond, Virginia; and North Carolina. Their dance told the tale of Mary, from Bethlehem to Calvary.

For 14-year-old Shraya George, the group’s performance was ” a celebration of Mary,” but for her 15-year-old friend Susan Daniel, it was also a way to “understand the sorrow and pain” Mary experienced when she watched her son suffer.  

That complexity is what Kalampanayil, their teacher, wanted the group and others to understand: the joys and sorrows the Gospel talks about, but one that reminds humanity that through life’s difficult paths, one is never alone.

Archbishop Pierre encouraged the pilgrims to continue the “genuine devotion, piety and tradition” that the pilgrimage keeps alive among the Asian and Pacific Island Catholic communities of the United States.

“Many come to this land to enrich it with stories of faith,” he said. “I hope you do … We need to listen to your stories of faith.”

The pilgrimage is sponsored by the Asian and Pacific Catholic Network in collaboration with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.

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