Like most South Indian – Tamil catholic families, mine dearly believes in the annual ritual of visiting the Vailankanni Shrine, one of India’s biggest Christian pilgrimage centers. As far as my memory goes, we have visited the shrine at least 10 – 15 times. According to the local culture, you visit the shrine as an act of thanksgiving. We were there when someone got married in the family; we were there when I passed my 12th grade; when i got my first job, when I got married, when we were blessed with a child… Regrettably, none of my ‘pilgrimages’ to the shrine have ever gone right.
On a lighter note, being a kid who was externally car sick, I relate the drives to the town of Vailankanni to throwing up! But, jokes aside, I’ve always struggled to find spirituality, peace or devotion at Vailankanni. God, if you are reading this please don’t feel offended. I dare not critic You, this is merely a rant at the way the place is run.
Many begin their pursuit of god with a pilgrimage but they don’t realize all they end up doing is geo-tagging him to a statue. For someone who is most omnipotent & omnipresent, if I were the God, I would take serious offense. When you hit the town the first thing you see is a sea of human, soaked in the sea & blind superstitions. More time is spent in shopping, eating and having a good time than seeking God. Trading hair & money for divine favors, treating the Holy campus as the cheap alternative for a family vacation, taking selfies with the statues, snoring within the church as they take their afternoon siesta, jumping queues and fighting with the fellow pilgrims to get to their holy water first is all catches your attention.
Praying with a candle in your hand can be emotionally soothing, yet that is a practice that shunned upon as the ushers are keener on getting that candle in their sack. For recycling of course! In their quest to popularize and evangelize the religion, has the church have got itself confused in their business of selling hope to the blind. Au contraire, the Bible shuns such activities.
According to the Gospel of John, Christ whips out the money changers & vendors selling doves & sheep from the temple, yelling “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Disappointingly, pilgrim center like Vailankanni is not too far from the temple of Jerusalem temple.
Pilgrimage is good business, though, there are no recessions, there are no low seasons.While the church can’t be solely blamed for what we, the pilgrims, have made out of it. But when you compare to the way similar centers like the Sanctuaries Notre-Dame de Lourdes is managed, you can’t help but feel out of place. For miles around the church in Lourdes, there is no sign of commercial activities. Even for someone who is easily distracted, I found peace in Lourdes. It’s rather unfortunate we have reduced a place as significant as Vailankanni to low cost vacation spot for the middle-class.
Would it take the Christ to come down again, whip the management & the pilgrims to get these centers back in shape, I wouldn’t know? But as for me, I continue to go to Vailankanni just to keep my family’s tradition live.