St. Anthony of Puliampatti – the Dispenser of a crore Miracles
Not until five years ago Puliampatti was reachable through fine roads as now. The throngs that gather now are as same as it was fifty years ago. An obscure and tiny hamlet with the strength of less than 200 Roman Catholic following boasts of a magnificent and renowned Roman Catholic Shrine and vibrant Parish with nine surrounding villages attached to it. The hamlet is far off from the hustle and bustle of the city. Yet, the Shrine is dear to many devotees transcending religions, caste, creed and societal status. For the adherents of this church, all Tuesdays are sacred, more so are the last Tuesdays of Tamil months. And the most sacred one happens to be the last Tuesday of Thai (January – February). This day is celebrated as the annual titular feast day every year.
PULIAMPATTI – BIRTH PLACE OF MIRACLES
The venerable church of Saint Anthony of Padua is at a remote place, Puliampatti, Ottapidaram Taluk, Thoothukudi, not well connected by bus and with little infrastructure. On the auspicious Tuesday, devotees in large numbers flock this parched land. The exotic variety of ‘Veli Karuvel’ (Prosopic juliflora) abounds all around offering a little shade against the scorching sun. Stray palmyrahs crop up their heads as signposts.
It is always a wonder how this remote village attracts such a large crowds of people. One will only remember the verse from the Bible “The Lord is a Stronghold for the oppressed” (Psalms 9.9). True. Puliampatti is surrounded by the dalits.
The tall spires of the church soar against this background, beckoning one and all. The church had its humble beginning in a thatched shed in the middle of the 17th century, rose as a vaulted chapel in the 19th century and attained its present Shrine church status and stature as the years rolled on.
It is no exaggeration to say that many a people turn to St. Anthony of Puliampatti (as devoutly addressed by the faithful) for their unhealed miseries. They return home with all and more their intentions fulfilled. This can be seen by the innumerable devotions by which the devotees thank the Saint. For physical ailments as well as mental sickness St. Anthony is the last and the hopeful refuge.
ST ANTHONY OF PADUA
The patron saint of the church, Saint Anthony of Padua, who shed his mortal coil at the age of 36, had wrought many miracles during his life time. He was born on August 15, 1195, at Lisbon in Portugal and died on June 13, 1231. He had the gift of the tongue, praising and spreading the essence of Trinity, (Father, Son and the Holy spirit) and hence his tongue is preserved till date in the city of Padua. Sainthood was conferred on him within one year, on May 30, 1232, on the Holy spirit day. On this solemn occasion the church bells at Lisbon, his birthplace had rung out themselves to pay homage, it is said.
As he was impressed by the various manifestations of Saint Anthony who preceded him by centuries he assumed his name and wanted to be a martyr as his namesake in the services of God and humanity alike. Hence he was beatified and the title, Saint Anthony of Padua of Italy, was bestowed upon him by the Vatican.
THE MIRACLE STATUE
The statue that is enshrined here is the one retrieved from the once abandoned, now beautifully renovated church of St. Xavier at Santhaipetai and hence more than 100 years old. The right hand holds the holy cross, the symbol of sacrifice. The left hand embraces Infant Jesus – the Pedestal of the Holy book.
The gestures are symbolic that he is only a messenger to guide and guard and reminding forever that he is as devoted as any other devotee to the Son of God.
The authentic relic of the saint handed over to this church from Rome is exposed to public veneration under the feet of the miracle statue. The faith element that underscores the devotion to St. Anthony is “Believe, Pray and Be Better.”
THE ENDURING FAITH OF THE PEOPLE
People here come in droves as their beliefs and prayers once reposed are not left un-answered. The pilgrims believe that the pervading spirit of the saint dwells in this secluded corner and it has gained sanctity over a period of time. The greatness of the church together with the attendant ceremony is the harmonious blending of two different cultures. The Hindu custom of piecing the ear boring and tonsuring the heads in fulfilment of their prayers are conspicuously put in to practice along with Christian sacraments.
It is one of the last and reliable resorts for those who are mentally challenged. Offerings made by the devotees cutting across the religious lines in token of thanking the saint are exhibited in the premises.
CHARITABLE WORKS IN HONOUR OF ST. ANTHONY
The Catholic Church is Missionary by nature. The primary task of the Catholic Church is to share the abundance of life – the gratuitous gift of God. This could be materialized only by liberation people from clutches of manifold social evils. In line with this the Shrine has opened higher elementary and elementary schools in and around the area. There is an orphanage for children and an old age home. There is a future plan to construct a home for the mentally sick. For, St. Anthony of Puliampatti is the refuge for such people. It is more than true that these people return home fully cured and wholly graced. In order to accommodate these people who stay under trees and pillars leaving a sorry spectacle to the passersby.
The benevolent nuns of the SMMI and Charles Borromeo render their continued service to the people of this area.
Parish Priest, St.Anthony’s Shrine,
Puliyampatti – 628303. Thoothukudi District.
Tamil Nadu. South India.
Phone : (91) 0461 – 2273223