Solemnity marks the Annai Velankanni festival, which ends on Sept 8.

A sea of faces, traffic moving at a snail’s pace and a blur of colours, all following the wind to reach one destination – the Annai Velankanni Church in Besant Nagar. The day – Thursday, August 29.

Pilgrims, young and old, rich and poor, men and women, flocked the Church of Our Lady of Good Health in time for hoisting of the Flag that heralds the commencement of Nine Days of Blessings.

In her humble, simple way, Mother Mary waits to lead her children close to her Son Jesus Christ, year after year.

This year, as devotees thronged the Shrine, the unfurled banner flying high held promises in store for everyone. Among the devotees were pilgrims from the Velankanni Church in Nagapattinam who started their journey on foot several days prior to the inaugural day. Tired and sore as their bodies may have been, their smiles at having reached their destination lit up their faces.

The jubilation at the flag hoisting soon turned into a solemn moment of prayer through the Holy Mass Celebration by the Rev. Dr. Antony Poppusamy, Bishop of Dindigul, inaugurating the festival.

The morning of August 30 ushered in the first day of the Novena ‘Teacher’s Day’ when five silver Jubilarian priests were honoured during the Holy Mass. The evening came to a close with a beautifully decorated car procession of Annai Velankanni. During the offertory or the time of Holy Mass when people made their offerings to their Lord, a lesson was learnt from a most unexpected teacher. A three-year old child offered his carefully collected coins in a little offering box – the ultimate lesson of selfless giving.

The theme ‘Apex of Ministerial life’ on the last Saturday of August aptly represented Legion of Mary and Matha Association, two Marian Ministries. Overnight, the flowers at the altar and the artistic decorations were transformed laboriously by the hands of behind the scenes faces.

The highlight of September 1, the day of Corpus Christi or Body and Blood of Christ, was the blood donation drive in the Church premises and a procession of the body of Christ commonly referred to as the Blessed Sacrament. The Bishop of Tiruchi, Rev. Dr. Anthony Devotta, accompanied the Eucharistic procession on foot after the Holy Mass. As the faithful walked along, many non-Christians too thronged either side of the car.

Day 4, which is called Religious Day, saw 21 priests, attired in red and gold, together offering the ultimate sacrifice at the Holy Altar while several religious congregations participated.

The fifth Day of the Novena (Workers Day and Youth Day) is dedicated to the working community and the youth. The sixth day (Vocation Day) is dedicated to the prospective men and women. On the seventh day, all the families are remembered in a special way. Similarly on the eighth day (Day of Healing), the sick from various places are brought to the Church to be blessed individually.

On September 7, the Day of Annai Velankanni, the Pontifical High Mass will be celebrated by Rev. Dr. George Anthonysamy, Archbishop of Madras-Mylapore, followed by the Car Procession at 5.30 p.m. The nine-day long celebration will culminate with the Birthday of Virgin Mary on September 8, 2 a.m. onwards on the note that she sang ‘My Soul Magnifies the Lord.’ Cakes will be distributed in the morning to devotees and the feast will be declared closed by lowering the flag in the evening after the concluding Holy Mass.