Mangalore, January 15: The annual feast of the Infant Jesus was celebrated on Saturday at Carmelite Fathers, Infant Jesus Shrine, Carmel Hill, Bikarnakatte, here, with religious fervor and devotion. Thousands of devotees irrespective of caste, creed and religion thronged the shrine of Infant Jesus and offered prayers to seek his divine intervention.
Though the festive mass was celebrated in the evening, devotees started pouring in the morning itself.
The first Eucharistic celebration of the feast day was offered at 6 a.m in Konkani. Dr Aloysius Paul D'Souza, the bishop of Mangalore, presided over the solemn Eucharistic celebration. The preacher was Fr Praveen Leo of St Joseph's Seminary.
There were at least 15,000 people for the evening mass alone. The preacher was Rev. Fr. Praveen Leo Lasrado (St. Joseph's Seminary). He preached an inspiring sermon on the theme 'Glowing with faith, lamps of Christ.' He spoke of faith as turning to God in sickness and in health, in suffering and happiness, in joy and in sorrow. “Our faith must become 'fresh',” he said, giving examples of how the Biblical figures from Abraham right down to our forefathers became fresh in their faith in God and became ever more committed to Him. He said that we must be Christians not my chance, but by choice. When our faith becomes fresh it glows, and then alone can we become Lamps of Christ. Since the feast was also commemorating the 125th anniversary of the Diocese of Mangalore, representatives from the 15 deaneries were present at the Mass. During the profession of faith, they renewed their baptismal vows holding high a lit candle given to them by the Bishop as a sign of their faith. They were then given a cross, Bible, rosary, scapular and the statue of the Infant Jesus as symbols of the faith.
Leading to the feast was the Novena, with masses being celebrated and special prayers offered for various intentions each of the nine days beginning on January 5th. Devotees of all faiths thronged at the Shrine and received many blessings.
The Diocese of Mangalore this year is celebrating the 125th year of its foundation. In thanksgiving to God for the gift of faith that He has given us and in view of reinvigorating our commitment to Christ, the theme chosen for the Feast was “Glowing with Faith, Lamps of Light”. On each novena day, a theme based on faith was reflected upon, taking as an example and model one of God's Chosen in the Bible, beginning from Abraham: Father of Faith to our Forefathers who professed their faith even during the time of Tippu's persecution. There were also special prayers offered for a special intention.
There were seven masses on each day of the novena, 4 in the morning and 3 in the evening. The evening masses were telecast live on T.V. and the internet. Devotees came in large numbers for all the masses on all days. The largest crowds were present for the 6 pm open-air Konkani mass. Especially on days when there were special prayers conducted for Children (day 3) and for the Sick (day 10) the faithful came in great numbers and placed themselves at the feet of the Infant Jesus, trusting completely in His mercy and generosity. May He look kindly on their faith and grant them their intentions.
In the celebration of this Feast, apart from looking after the spiritual needs of the people, the Carmelite Community (OCD Fathers) took a step in promoting the social cause of caring for the sick by organizing a Blood Donation Camp on January 12th. The response of the people was tremendous. In thanksgiving to Infant Jesus for the gift of life, many came forward to donate their blood that they may help another to live. The Infant Jesus will surely look upon their charity and reward them.
In order to cater to the needs of the faithful on the Feast Day there were seven masses celebrated in the morning. Four of them were in Konkani and one each in English, Kannada and Malayalam. The 10:15 am mass was particularly celebrated for the sick, and there were special prayers for them. At 1:30 pm, an inter-religious prayer service was conducted in Kannada by Fr. Vijay Kumar OCD. The celebrants were Rev. Frs. Nelson OCD, Joy Painandath (St. Joseph's seminary) and Biju (Betharam Fathers), Abraham SVD (Mulki), John Sequeira OCD, Andrew D'Souza (Bondel), Maxim Noronha (Bishop's House) and Vijay Kumar OCD. From the first mass itself, devotees came in large numbers so that there was an average of about 2000 people at every mass. Let us thank God for such a gift of faith to the people staying in Mangalore.
The history of devotion in Infant Jesus takes us back to the 17th century where the Carmelites in Prague had to stand hostility of the Lutherance. It was then that providence came to their rescue. It was in the year 1628 the Princess of Spain, Polixena, a great benefactor of the Friars, presented her wedding gift-a beautiful statue of the Infant Jesus to the Prior. However, in the year 1631, the Carmelite monastery was plundered and the statue of the Infant Jesus was cast upon a heap of rubble. Strange but true, years later, a Carmelite priest, Fr. Cyril discovered the statue in a heap of trash. He placed it at a respected place and began to pray. He dedicated a room in the Monastery to the Infant Jesus and allowed the faithful to come and worship Jesus. Many faithful were healed. This was the humble beginning of the devotion.
The devotion that began in a small way has spread rapidly throughout the world. The genesis of the devotion to the Infant Jesus at Carmel Hill, Mangalore takes us back to some 50 years. The Belgian Carmelite missionaries, who were in Mangalore, began the novena prayer to the Infant Jesus in the small chapel on Thursday. The present Shrine was inaugurated and blessed on 11th January 2006 to accommodate the increasing number of devotees.
Many devotees regularly visit the Infant Jesus Shrine. Every Thursday thousands of devotees participate in the Eucharistic celebration and novena services held throughout the day. The Shrine fathers are also available for confessions and counseling to cater the spiritual needs of the devotees.
Feast Infant Jesus celebrated at Bikarnakatte Church