Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - For the approximately 2 million Catholics of Pakistan these are days of celebration. Many of them, in recent days, have taken to the road on a journey to Mariamabad, the village of Mary, in the district of Shekhupura...
Among the pilgrims there are also followers of other religions. For Muslims, the Grotto of Mariamabad has a special meaning because it relates the story of a miracle that saw as the protagonist a young woman of Islam.
Sardar John, a 73-year-old catechist from Faisalabad, tells the story: "A Muslim girl used to go to the Nuns of the village to ask for medicine. She was deeply distressed because she could not bear children. One day the nuns told us that 'we should do our best' to help. We did not know what they meant. When we went with the woman to the grotto it became clear what they had in mind: the 'our best' was to ask Our Lady’s intercession. The woman came with us and asked herself, weeping and begging Mary according to her own tradition. After nine months the woman bore a child. Her family of tribal Muslims came to the cave with a cow with a pendant of gold around its neck as their offering in thanksgiving to Our Lady for her intercession.
National Marian Shrine, Mariamabad
The National Marian Shrine in Mariamabad, Pakistan is a National Shrine and the site of an annual pilgrimage for the September 8 feast of the birth of Mary. This event has been taking place since 1949. Mariamabad means city of Mary in the Urdu language.
Mariamabad has existed for over a century making it one of Pakistan's oldest Catholic settlements. Located about 80 km from Punjab's capital of Lahore, it covers an area of 835 hectares (2000 acres) and has become the destination for over one million pilgrims a year.
Mariamabad began in 1892. Observing the misery and oppression of the newly converted Christians in the district of Sialkot, Capuchin Bishop Van Den Bosch purchased 150 acres (0.61 km2) of government land for 650,000 rupees (US$29,545) for Christians to live and work on. In 1893, three priests and three Christian families moved to the land.
Pilgrims travel by foot, bullock carts, bicycles, buses and trucks to Mariamabad. The shrine also houses the Church of St. Mary and St. Joseph established by Belgian Capuchins on December 8, 1898.
A prominent feature of the shrine is the Marian grotto on a hill where a three-and-a-half-meter statue of Mary stands.
There are stalls selling religious posters and cards, crosses, rosaries, candles, incense sticks and other religious objects, as well as cold drinks, food and sweets to cater to the pilgrims that travel from all over Pakistan and even overseas.
On September 10, 2005, armed men waiting near the village stopped buses bringing pilgrims and robbed the passengers of their valuables.
The Catholic National Commission for Justice and Peace also filed a formal complaint with the police against the persons who looted buses, manhandled and searched women, and desecrated the Cross at the pilgrimage.
In September 2005, Catholics from across Pakistan took part in the country's first-ever National Eucharistic Congress. More than 100,000 Catholics came to publicly honour the Eucharist during the three-day event. The event was organised under the guidance of Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, of Lahore who is president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan.
In 2006, the Parish priest was Father Emanuel Bernard.