500.000 Catholics and Muslim payed a pilgrimage to the shrine of Ziarat-e-Mariam in Mariamabad in North East Pakistan in 2009.
Mariamabad is the “city of Mary”, also known as Mariam. In 1949 the Catholic Church established a Marian shrine in Pakistan, in a bid to better connect Islam with Catholicism.
September 3rd is the day for the annual Ziarat-e-Muqaddasa Mariam, the annual National Marian Pilgrimage. Last year, the event drew 500,000 pilgrims, thousands of them Muslims.
Mr Hashim recalls “a Muslim Pathan from Peshawar, who came to pray to Mary because he was involved in a murder case. He promised her that if his innocence was proven he would distribute one hundred degs (pots of cooked rice each containing around 10-16 kg) to the pilgrims. Mary listened to his pleas and he was acquitted. As promised, he gave out the rice.”
Mariamabad –Mary’s city– has existed for over a century making it one of Pakistan’s oldest Catholic settlements. Located about 80 km (50 miles) from Punjab’s capital of Lahore, it covers an area of 835 hectares (2000 acres) and has become the destination for over one million pilgrims a year.
Fr John Joseph, secretary of the Ziarat-e-Muqaddasa Mariam, the annual National Marian Pilgrimage, recounted the story of the village to AsiaNews. According to him, “local Christians used to attend traditional fairs in neighbouring villages, which offered opportunities to find merriment and meet new people. Such trips would feed local talk for weeks afterwards.
In 1949, Fr Frank, a Belgian capuchin, who was later martyred, realized how popular such events were and decided to do something similar in Mariamabad. After consulting other religious men he organized a feast honoring Mary on her birthday, September 8.
But without locals helping Fr Frank could not have pulled it off. People from neighbouring villages were invited to what is now remembered as Mariamabad’s first annual pilgrimage and about 950 people came,” Father Joseph said. Eventually, Father Frank built a Grotto like the one in Lourdes and a church which now are classified as a national monument.
Source: Asian News.
First published 30.06.2011.
Written by Ivar