St.Antony’s Church festival scheduled for March 15, 16

The Sri Lankan Navy has restricted the entry of journalists, visiting Katchatheevu island to cover this year’s annual St.Antony’s Church festival, to only those who obtained ‘temporary visa’ from the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission in Chennai.

Unlike last year, when more than 30 journalists from the print and television media were taken along with other pilgrims, the Lankan navy made it clear this time that only those who had obtained ‘visa’ would be permitted to visit the island and cover the festival, scheduled for March 15 and 16.

The Verkodu Parish in Rameswaram, which coordinated the pilgrimage, had appealed to the Lankan authorities through the High Commission of India in Colombo to relax the restriction, but the High Commission, after checking with the authorities, clarified that “these are common formalities and they should be adhered to,” Rev. Fr. L.Sagayaraj, Verkodu Parish Priest said.

The Lankan navy, in a communication to the Parish, had said “the media and journalists are welcome to the festival, but they should apply formally for appropriate visa and then attend the festival,” he told The Hindu. Enquiries revealed that only a few media persons have applied for the visa.

Meanwhile, about 1,300 pilgrims from different parts of the State and a few from Karnataka and Kerala have registered for the pilgrimage till Tuesday as the last date for the registration was drawing to a close on Wednesday, Rev.Fr.Sagayaraj said adding another 700 pilgrims are expected to register on the last day.

Last year, 2,831 pilgrims had visited Katchatheevu in 77 mechanised boats and 23 vallams (country boats) and this year, only mechanised boats would be allowed to carry the pilgrims for safety reasons, he said. So far, 45 mechanised boats have registered for the trip and 30 pilgrims could travel in each boat, apart from five crew members, he said.

On reaching the island around 3 p.m. on March 15, the pilgrims would attend the “way of the cross” procession followed by a holy mass and adoration conducted by a senior priest from Tamil Nadu, he said. After attending the Feast mass and adoration, conducted by the Jaffna Parish Priest, the host on the morning of March 16, the pilgrims would return home, he added.

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