Our Lady of Good Health, popularly called “Our Lady of Vailankanni” is in the small town of Vailankanni inhabitated by about 5,000 residents located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. 150 miles south of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, 5 miles south of the town Nagapattinam. Our Lady chose this place to dispense her healing miracles to mankind. A strong oral tradition attests to Our Lady’s apparitions at Vailankanni. The tradition is built around the following three significant events:
Sometime during the sixteenth century, Our Lady with her infant Son appeared to a Hindu boy carrying milk to a customer’s home. While he rested under a banyan tree near a tank (pond), Our Lady appeared to him and asked for milk for her Son and the boy gave her some. On reaching the customer’s home, the boy apologized for being late and the reduced quantity of milk by relating the incident that occurred on his way. On inspection, the man found the milk pot to be full and realized that something miraculous had happened. That man, also a Hindu, wanting to see the place where the apparition occurred, accompanied the boy. When they reached the tank, Our Lady appeared once again. On learning that it was Our Lady who appeared to the boy, the residents of the local Catholic community became ecstatic. The tank where the apparition took place is called “Matha Kulam” or Our Lady’s tank.
Some years later Our Lady appeared again. This time to a crippled boy who was selling buttermilk near a public square on the outskirts of the same village of Vailankanni. She asked him for buttermilk for her infant Son and the boy complied. Our Lady asked the boy to inform a certain wealthy Catholic man in the nearby town of Nagapattinam of her appearance. Not realizing that his crippled leg was miraculously cured by Our Lady, the boy rose up and began his journey. The man also had a vision the previous night in which Our Lady asked him to build a chapel for her. Together, the man and the boy returned to the site of the miracle. This time Our Lady appeared to both. The man erected a thatched chapel for Our Lady at the site of Her second appearance. This chapel became a holy place of veneration to Our Blessed Mother, and She was called, henceforth, Mother of Good Health (“Arokia Matha”).
A few years later, Our Merciful Mother rescued a few Portuguese merchant sailors from a violent storm which wrecked their ship. When the merchants reached the shore of Vailankanni they were taken by local fishermen to the thatched chapel. To give thanks and pay tribute to Our Lady, they built a small permanent chapel on their return trip. On subsequent visits they improved on it. The merchants dedicated the chapel to Our Lady on September 8th to celebrate the feast of her nativity and also to mark the date of their safe landing at Vailankanni.
Today, the celebration of this feast is an annual festival which lasts for 9 days and draws more than a million and a half pilgrims. Vailankanni attracts more pilgrims than any other sacred shrine in India. Not only do multitudes of Catholics travel there throughout the year, but many non-Christians visit as well. Hundreds of miraculous cures are reported every year.
The Vailankanni Shrine was elevated to a Basilica on November 3, 1962 by Pope John XXIII. Until 1964, it was under the protection of Portuguese missionaries. We do not know where the statue was made, but it is draped in a sari to make it appear uniquely Indian. The original chapel no longer exists, but the original altar and the mosaic pieces on porcelain tiles from China have been retained. In its place, a modern and spacious church was consecrated in 1933 and renovated in 1975. During annual pilgrimage time, prayers and masses are offered in all regional languages at various times of the day.
|– Darryl Rosario Release, ( 26 May 2004 )|