Arrangements are in place for the three-day annual Mary Matha festival atop Gunadala Hill, scheduled to commence on Wednesday.
“The number of pilgrims visiting the shrine to seek the Mother's blessings has been increasing every year. Keeping in view the swelling crowds, additional facilities have been put in place this year to ensure safety and convenience of the devotees,” Vijayawada Catholic Diocese Bishop Mallavarapu Prakash told a press conference on Monday.
Pointing out that the Mary Matha shrine at Gunadala was only second in popularity in the entire south India after the Velankanni church in Tamil Nadu, the Bishop said that a crowd of 10 lakh to 12 lakh people was expected to throng the shrine during the three-day festival.
A 30-ft cement road was laid from Eluru Road, up to the shrine and adequately illuminated. Besides, two inner roads were laid from the shrine to the grotto to ease congestion. Iron barricades had been put in place and bushes along the road removed. Bathrooms and toilets were built near the grotto and a drinking water tank had been constructed atop the hill for round-the-clock water supply.
Tents have been erected on the campus of Bishop Grassi School to provide shade to the visitors. A beautiful arch has come up at the foot of the shrine which will also serve as the main entrance to the shrine. The main entrance has been widened for free flow of pedestrians walking up to the shrine atop the hill.
The APSRTC authorities and the local railway officials would operate special buses and trains to transport devotees to their destination during the festival days.
Pointing to the ritualistic practices associated with the carnival, the Bishop said that over 50,000 people following different faiths visit the church every year to offer their hair. The Gunadala Lourdu Matha had become synonym of healing miracles.
Parish priest and Diocese vicar general M. Chinnappa, chancellor G. John Raju and Social Service Centre director Muvvala Prasad were present.