SEASHORE ST. ANTHONY’S SHRINE – PALAVAKKAM
It is no exaggeration to say that the very first miracle which St. Anthony performed in this little town of Palavakkam was to select a place of his own in honour of his name on the shores of Bay of Bengal. The humble origin of this Shrine dates back to the year 1997 when on 24th February, the Catholic residents of Palkalainagar, Palavakkam, enthusiastically erected a thatched shed in honour of St. Anthony with permission and blessings from the late Archbishop of Madras-Mylapore,
Most Rev. Dr. Arul Das James, and under the spiritual guidance of Rev. Fr. Vincent Chinnadurai, then Parish Priest of St. Joseph’s Church, Erukanchery.
From 27th February, 1997 onwards, Rev. Fr. P.M. George, then Parish Priest of Sts. Joachim and Anne Church, Vettuvankeni, began to conduct Holy Mass and Novena prayers in honour of this saint. St. Anthony, already renowned for his power of attracting the devotees, began to manifest his blessings and gathered people, irrespective of their caste and creed. It was witnessed that particularly on Tuesdays devotees thronged this humble abode of St. Anthony to receive his favours and blessings.
This joy and happiness lasted merely for a month, when all of a sudden the entire temporary structure was pulled down and dismantled to the disappoinment of one and all. The miraculous statue of St. Anthony which now adorns the side altar of the new church, and the statue of Rosa Mystica were preserved with great veneration and confidence that St. Anthony will, in God’s own time, select a permanent place somewhere within Palavakkam area. That dream has come true.
The sincere efforts of the late Archbishop, Most Rev.
Dr. Arul Das James, to buy that piece of land for his flock and his humble request to maintain the status-quo of the temporary church went in vain. This incident created a deep wound and grief in the noble heart of the shepherd.
It was at this juncture providence intervened and plot No. 38, M.G.R. Road, Palavakkam in which the present church stands majestically was initially offered free by a new convert to the Catholic faith. He expressed his desire to construct a Dhyana Madam to perpetuate the memory of his beloved wife. When this matter was brought to the notice of the Archbishop, he immediately seized this opportunity and expressed his deep sense of desire and longing. He wholeheartedly assured to extend all blessings and financial support only in the event of constructing a church. In order to avoid any misconceptions and litigations in the later period of the donor’s life, the Archbishop generously paid the total cost value of the land to him. Archbishop himself, along with a small congregation of laity, laid the foundation stone for this church, entrusting the construction work in the able hands of Rev. Fr. P.J. Lawrence Raj who was also in-charge of Diocesan properties. His untiring zeal and strenuous efforts, realised in a short span, the long cherished dream of a new parish at Palavakkam.
In order to celebrate the birth of a new millennium 2001 in a memorable and meaningful way, the First Eucharistic celebration was conducted in the newly constructed multi purpose hall.
For the first time in the history of Palavakkam, the external solemn car procession of St. Anthony from Srinivasapuram bus stop to the parish church, covering a distance of nearly 2 1/2 k.m. was conducted on Saturday, 16 June, 2001, followed by Concelebrated Solemn High Mass. 2nd April, 2002 being the first Tuesday of the month, was a red letter day, for it was this beautiful day that was designed to consecrate this new church. During the solemn liturgical service Rt. Rev. Dr. Anthony Devotta, Bishop of Trichy and Rt. Rev. Dr. Amalanathar, Bishop Emeritus, Diocese of Tuticorin, jointly consecrated the church and sanctified the sacrificial altar with a relic of St. Timothy embedded in the centre.
The newly-created parish comprises nearly three hundred families,covering a part of the parishioners of Annai Velankanni Church, Besant Nagar and a few families from the bordering parish of Sts. Joachim and Anne church, Vettuvankeni.
Rev. Fr. A. L. Anthony Sebastian, the first official Parish Priest of this Shrine, laboured hard, sparing no pains, to popularize the devotion to St. Anthony. The laity were attracted by his powerful preaching and the close relationship that he developed with the parishioners benefitted all with a flare for fellowship. Thirteen Anbiam groups were animated by him and he co-ordinated all the church activities through them. With the birth of the new Chingleput Diocese, his option to remain with the Diocese of Madras-Mylapore was accepted and Rev. Fr. Louis Rayar succeeded him as the second Parish Priest in June 2003. Since he also opted to pursue his higher studies he was transferred in June 2004. With much fluency in Tamil and powerful sermons, he involved himself for the integrated growth of the parish. Rev. Fr. Cyril Raj, the present Parish Priest is the third in the order of list to take over the reins of this parish. A young and dynamic person, always on his toes, not only concentrating to bring about exterior changes in the appearance of the Shrine but also striving hard towards interior spiritual transformation of his parishioners. To commemorate this year as the Year of the Holy Eucharist in a memorable manner, the new tabernacle, which has been shifted to the prominent centre position, adorned and clothed in all its beauty, and the altered background to the altar, are being blessed today, the 31st of October 2004 by His Lordship Rt. Rev. Dr. A. Neethinathan, Bishop of Chingleput. It is an ardent desire and longing hope of every parishioner, young and old of this parish, to raise this Shrine higher and higher so that our heavenly Father may shower His abundant graces and favours through St. Anthony for ever and ever. May this Shrine, in the days to come, be known and called the Padua of Palavakkam.
LIFE HISTORY OF ST. ANTONY
Our parish patron was born in 1195 at Lisbon in Portugal to Martin de Bullones and Mary of Tevera. He was given the best of education and was very pious. He wanted to become a missionary in Africa and give his life in spreading Jesus message of love. He received his new habit in 1221 in the Franciscan Convent, dedicated to the great St. Antony, patriarch of the monks, near Coimbra. He was sent to Africa to preach the good news to the Moors. Due to ill health, he returned to Spain. On his way back, due to bad weather, the ship was forced to berth at Sicily. He made use of this opportunity to see St. Francis of Assisi. He offered himself to work in the province of Italy with the intention of staying nearer to St. Francis. He chose to serve in the kitchen concealing his learning and talents. He was sent to a monastery of Mount Paul, a small solitary Convent near Bologna. He enjoyed contemplating on the Word of God. He spent his days listening to everybody and only spoke when obliged, till a situation brought out his knowledge and talent.
There was a meeting of Dominican and Franciscan friars at Forli. Dominican friars excused themselves from giving a sermon on the occasion. Then St. Antony’s guardian ordered him to speak and to say whatever the Holy Spirit inspired him. The Saint begged to be excused, alleging that he had been only used to washing the dishes in the kitchen and to sweeping the house. But the superior insisted and the saint spoke with such eloquence that the whole gathering was listening to him with wonder. He was then only 26 years old. Discovering the talent in St. Antony, St. Francis of Assisi sent him to Vercelli to study theology. St. Francis wrote the following letter to St. Antony.
“To my most dear brother Antony, Friar Francis wishes health in Jesus Christ. It seems good to me, that you should teach sacred theology to the friars; do not get carried away by the work. Continue to grow in the spirit of prayer and meditation. Inculcate in the friars the need for meditation and prayer.” Besides his duty as professor of theology in various colleges, he continued to practice community life. He found time to preach with zeal to the people; he left his teaching assignment and devoted his time to preach. People flocked to listen to him, preaching the Love of God. His sermons were simple and could be understood by common man. Pope Gregory IX heard him preach at Rome in 1227 and was surprised. He called him,”the Ark of the Covenant”. Knowing that his life in this world is nearing the end, he requested his companions to take him to Padua. On the way, people thronged in large numbers to touch the helm of his habit. They laid him in the room of the Director of the nuns of Arcela, where he received the last rites of the Church with tears. He recited the seven penitential psalms and a hymn in honour of the Blessed Virgin. He gave up his sanctified soul to Him who created it for his great glory on 13th June 1231. Thirty two years after his death, a church was built in Padua in the name of St. Antony and his remains were kept within. The flesh was consumed, except the tongue, which was fresh as it was when he was alive.
Parish Priest - Seashore St. Anthony’s Shrine
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