By Robancy A Helen
Cuddalore, October 1, 2022: Anthony Poola, the newly appointed Cardinal, is the face of the Dalit Christians in India. It is the first time in Indian Church history that a Dalit Archbishop has been elevated to the rank of Cardinal.
Cardinal Poola was installed on August 27, 2022, together with 19 others.
The newly ordained cardinal was invited to the bicentennial celebration of the belfry of Our Lady Periyanayagi Shrine, Konankuppam, in Cuddalore district, Tamil Nadu, South India.
The shrine was built 300 years ago by the Italian priest, Joseph Constantine Beschi, and is known as Veeramamunivar in Tamil. The Shrine is famously known for its gift of blessing barren couples with a child.
He was very much interested in inculturation; hence, upon reaching Tamil Nadu, he learned Tamil and preached all over the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
The statue of Our Lady was brought from Manila, Philippines; an image of the virgin, in the native dress of Tamil Nadu, and bearing the child Jesus in her arms, fashioned after a model he had made. (It is in this regard; the devotees offer sarees and ornaments to Our Lady Periyanayagi when they pray to her). The image eventually arrived and was set up in the church, where it still is today. He also named Our Lady in Tamil ‘Peiryanayagi Madha’ after the Basilica of Mary Major in Rome, Italy.
Cardinal Poola concluded with a festive Eucharistic celebration in the presence of Archbishop Francis Kalist of Pondicherry–Cuddalore.
“Our Lady is miraculous. Her intercession is so powerful. With faith, when it is prayed for, she is ready to grant us. “She knows about our needs,” said the Cardinal during the homily.
The role of Mother Mary, the New Eve in salvation history, was to turn a curse into a blessing. In true obedience, she bore the fruit for the salvation of many people, he added.
“Pope Francis asks all of us to pray for peace in the world. When he visited the Church of Mary Maggiore, he requested us to pray for peace in Ukraine,” the Cardinal said.
“There is no peace amongst us, divided into many pieces, but Mother Mary is the symbol of peace, unity, and obedience. “We need to grow with Mother Mary and to live in peace,” he said.
“Let us be united in the Eucharist, in Christ, and pray for peace and examine ourselves.”
Around 1500 pilgrims participated in the annual pilgrim walk from Infant Jesus Church, Ulundurpettai, to Our Lady Periyanayagi Shrine, Konankuppam, followed by Holy Mass.
To make the inauguration of the bicentennial celebration of the belfry more meaningful, a replica of the ‘Queen of Peace’ statue kept in the Basilica of Mary Major was placed on the ground floor of the belfry, which was blessed and opened by Cardinal Poola on October 1, 2022.
Then Cardinal Poola, along with the archbishop, was given a motorcade reception from Mangalampettai by the parishioners of Konankuppam. Hence, the cardinal was honored during the felicitation ceremony held later that day, during which he also blessed and opened the “selfie wall’ built on the Shrine campus.
Father Devasagayaraj Zackarias, Rector of the Shrine, and Father P. Antony Raj, the Assistant Parish Priest, organized the programs.