The stage is set for the three-day Gunadala Mary Matha festival celebrated annually starting from February 9 in Vijayawada.
The Gunadala Matha shrine has been spruced up for the festival and all arrangements are in place. A huge turnout is expected as the festival is being organised for the first time after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vijayawada Catholic Diocese Bishop T. Joseph Raja Rao, in a press conference at the Social Service Centre (SSC), Gunadala on Tuesday, said the festival was not organised in 2021 and 2022 due to the COVID pandemic and this year a huge number of devotees are likely to throng the shrine from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. He said arrangements are made keeping in mind the additional rush.
Diocese Monsignor Rev. Fr. Muvvala Prasad said that in coordination with the officials of police, health, Vijayawada Municipal Corporation and other departments all the facilities for devotees were arranged in and around the shrine premises.
He said an ambulance will be placed at the foothills and mobile medical teams will be available along the path to the summit of the hill.
Fr. Prasad said help desks to provide information to the devotees were set up at the railway station and bus station of the city. Bishop Raja Rao and Fr. Prasad along with SSC director Fr. Sunil Raju, Vicar General Fr. M. Gabriel and other launched the festival poster on the occasion.
Over 1,500 police to be deployed
Meanwhile, over 1,500 police personnel are going to be deployed at the shrine premises to ensure the smooth conduct of the festival.
NTR district Commissioner of Police Kanthi Rana Tata along with Bishop Raja Rao and others inspected the security, parking, traffic and arrangements at the shrine.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Rana said that police have set up a control room and CC cameras across the shrine to monitor the crowd and ensure no untoward incident takes place.
He said moving police parties will also be deployed to control the crowd and avoid congestion on the path to the hill and other areas.
Prayers and cultural programmes would be hosted at the Bishop Grassi High School ground where a large number of people would gather in the mornings and evenings during the three days.
Lakhs of devotees would offer prayers at the Gunadala Mary Church at the foot of the hill and ascend the hill on foot to pray at the statue of ‘Our Lady’ which was consecrated in 1925 in a grotto mid-way up the hill.
Devotees would also offer prayers at the 18-foot-high holy cross erected at the summit of the hill.
APSRTC will run special city services and the Railways will make additional stoppages at the Ramavarappadu railway station to cater to the needs of the devotees.