The nine-day annual feast of the National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom at Vallarpadam will commence on Monday evening, September 16, with the solemn hoisting of the flag bearing the sacred imprint of the icon of Vallarpadathamma, marking a great influx of pilgrims, blurring all distinctions of religious denominations or communal differences thronging to this island sanctuary of legendary miracles in the backwater suburbia of Kochi.
Fr. Michael Thalakketty, rector the Basilica, will bless and raise the hallowed Marian festive banner at 5.15pm followed by holy mass, nine-day devotional novena and litany vespers.
Bishop Yoohanon Mar Theodosius, of the Syro-Malankara Muvattupuzha eparchy, will officiate the holy mass at 5.30pm on the 17th, Tuesday. Fr. JohnPaul Parappilliath will be the main celebrant at the Syro-Malabar rite mass on Wednesday evening. Fr. Jose P. Mariapuram, delegate superior of the Mercedarian Order, will preside over the solemn Eucharistic celebrations in Latin on Friday evening at 5.30. Masses in Tamil are offered on Sunday and the main feast day, and an English mass is scheduled at 7pm on the 24th, with Fr. Francis Xavier Thannikkaparambil, deputy secretary of the Kerala Region Latin Catholic Bishops’ Council, as the main celebrant.
Archbishop Emeritus Dr. Francis Kallarackal of Verapoly will officiate at the solemn high mass at 10am marking the main feast of the Mother of Mercy on the 24th, Tuesday. In a unique ceremonial commemoration of a historic bond between the Paliam Kovilakam, the household of the erstwhile dewans and prime ministers of the Maharajah of Cochin, and the Marian shrine, representatives from the Paliam family of Chendamangalam will be accorded a traditional welcome at the entrance of the Basilica at 9.30 in the morning as they come to offer the oil for the sanctuary lamp burning at the main altar of Vallarpadathamma.
The lamp was originally gifted by Paliyath Raman Valia Achan when he helped rebuild the church that was destroyed in a devastating flood in AD 1676. According to the historic narrative, he retrieved the painted Livramento icon of the Lady of Ransom that was washed away in floodwaters and brought it safely ashore at Vallarpadam and granted land holdings for the reconstruction of the place of worship for the Christian community. Founded in 1524 by the Portuguese Missionaries, the church was dedicated to the Holy Spirit, even as the Mercedarian image of the Holy Mother holding Infant Jesus was enshrined on the main altar.
The Archbishop Emeritus will bless the buttermilk beverage, prepared by the Palliveetil family of Vallarpadam to be offered free to quench the thirst of the devotees and pilgrims at the shrine. Meenakshiamma, a member of this noble Nair family, and her son are immortalised as they are depicted along with the Holy Mother of Mercy and Infant Jesus, commemorating the legend of their total submission to the protective mantle of Vallarpadathamma following their miraculous rescue from a watery grave through her intercession.
The mother and child were saved from deep waters across the channel near the Cochin harbour mouth where their country craft capsized in a storm in May 1752, thanks to a redemptive vision that Fr. Miguel Correya, the vicar of Vallarpadam Church had specifying the spot from where they could be pulled out alive. Meenakshiamma and her son dedicated their lives as ardent devotees of the Holy Mother. The devotional practice of Adima consecration, whereby the devotees kneel down seeking the blessing and grace of total surrender to the Holy Mother, is a unique feature of Vallarpadam pilgrimage. Sweeping the tiled courtyard of the shrine with hundreds of brooms is another form of devotion reflecting the spirit of subjugation to the Holy Mother.
Vallarpadathamma is the patroness of seafarers, navigators, fishers, boat-builders and all who ply their vessels and country craft on the inland waterways and traverse troubled waters in life. Fishermen come to the shrine with their boats, nets and fishing gear for the special dedicatory blessing. New vessels are blessed and every new season of fishing begins with a visit to the famed coastal shrine, a refuge to all who brave rough seas and nature’s fury.
In exaltation of the Queen of Heaven, Pope Leo XIII elevated the main altar of Vallarpadam church to the status of Altare Previlegiatum in Perpetuum Concessum in 1888. Last year, Pope Francis had granted special plenary indulgence, remission of temporal punishment for sins whose guilt is forgiven, to all who passed through the Jubilee portal of the shrine, marking the 800th anniversary of the Mercedarian Order dedicated to Our Lady of Ransom.
Stanley Gonsalves, elected president of the festal committee of the parish this year, along with the rector, Fr. Michael Thalakketty, assistant vicars, Fr. Jibin Kaimelath, Fr. Dinoy Rebeira and Fr. Jaisel Correya and other representatives of the parish council oversee the arrangements for receiving the pilgrims and devotees to the shrine.
The octave of the feast is to be celebrated on October 1. And a 13-hour Eucharistic adoration on October 2 will mark the final act of spiritual journey associated with the annual feast.
KSRTC buses from Ernakulam Boat Jetty, and private transport buses from the High Court Junction and Vypin in the west will take you to Vallarpadam, crossing the Goshree bridges over the Cochin backwaters. The Shrine Basilica is situated about half a kilometre off the Kalamassery-Vallarpadam Container Road (National Highway 966A).