The Auckland Tamil Catholic Association in Auckland celebrated its 10th anniversary with a grand feast at St Therese Catholic Church in Three Kings on October 10.
Richard Sebastian, founding member and one of the organisers of the event, said the association decided to hold the celebration for the feast of Our Lady of Velankanni as well as the canonisation this year of the first Tamil saint, St Devasagayem Pillai, with the anniversary.
“The Tamil community of Sri Lanka and the Tamil community of India joined together, and we have a Mass every first Saturday of the month,” he said. “We started in the month of May 2012.”
The feast of Our Lady of Velankanni is a 10-day celebration in September. St Devasagayem was canonised in May 2022, but Covid restrictions prevented the two events being marked together.
Mr Sebastian said the group started out by celebrating Tamil Masses in members’ houses until they got permission from the parish priest to hold the Masses at St Therese Church.
Some 300 people attended the celebration which started with the hoisting of a flag which bore the images of St Devasahayam and Our Lady of Velankanni. It was followed by a Rosary and a Mass, both in Tamil.
“We were singing the whole Mass and it took about one and a half hours,” Mr Sebastian said.
The image of Mary dressed in traditional costume and adorned with jewellery was then processed around the church.
“To add to this, two of our community children received their first holy Communion. It is wonderful that the younger generation wishes to embrace their language and culture and receive their sacraments with the support of the community,” he said.
Mr Sebastian said Our Lady of Velankanni, also known as Our Lady of Good Health, has a shrine in Tamil Nadu, India.
Mother Mary is believed to have appeared in this place in the 16th or 17th century. She is also believed to have asked a lame buttermilk vendor for a cup of milk to give to the child Jesus. After giving her the milk, the vendor was cured of his lameness.
The Blessed Mother was also credited with saving Portuguese sailors caught in a severe storm in the Bay of Bengal. Their ship landed near Velankanni on September 8.
“It is a very popular pilgrimage spot. People from all over the world, even Hindus and Muslims, go there to get healed of their ailments,” he said.
Mr Sebastian said they invited a priest from Dunedin to celebrate the Mass. He also expressed gratitude to St Therese parish priest, Fr Arul Arokiam, OFM.
“Fr Arul has been a blessing, having dedicated himself to the task of consistently shepherding the community while performing his duties as parish priest at St Therese,” he said.
The group published a book of basic prayers in Tamil and distributed them on the day. Free rosaries and images of Our Lady of Velankanni were also handed out.