Nagpur: The Annual Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes will be celebrated on Sunday February 7, 2016 at Lourde Mata Grotto, Seminary Hills, Nagpur. To mark this occasion, Holy Mass will be offered in different languages from 6:15 a.m. followed by Eucharistic Adoration in the afternoon with Solemn High Mass at 4pm. The candle-light procession along with the statue of Mother Mary will be followed after the mass. Archbishop of Nagpur Most Reverend Abraham Viruthakulangara along with a large number of priests will concelebrate in Holy Mass. ‘Preeti Bhoj’ will be given to all the devotees who came from far and wide to seek blessing from Lourde Mata. People from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and other states of the country flock towards the Grotto with full faith and devotion. Thousands of people are expected this year to join for the feast.
Devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was as ancient as Christianity itself. This is so because God himself has shown through many signs that Mother Mary, as she is popularly known, is the greatest of all saints ever born. Her apparitions have been most common in the world. Of the most famous of her apparitions was the one at Lourdes, France, in 1858. There she appeared to a little girl named Bernadette several times and gave many messages for her and for the world. She also cured many sick. Mother Mary is also honoured in Nagpur, at the Lourd Mata Mandir, Seminary Hill. How did she come here?
In 1890 the Vicar General of Nagpur Diocese, Fr. Charles Felix Pevat, MSFS, obtained a plot of 18 acres from the Bhonsle estate on the Takli Hill as a first step towards the projected building of St. Charles’ Seminary. It later came to be known as the Grotto valley and is now part of Seminary Hills. At that time Msgr. Alexis Riccaz, MSFS, was the Bishop of Nagpur.
At the same time a pious lady from Marseilles in France send Bishop Riccaz Rs.3000 for the Grotto Chapel. Fr. Patrick Wall, MSFS wrote as follows in March 1829: “The work to build the Grotto and Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes began on the Takli Hill. I began sinking a well in the valley and within a few feet found plenty of delicious water. From the well, a road with a gentle slope reaches the top of the hill by which we shall be able to carry material on carts…”
At that time the Seminary Hills was a lonely place, surrounded by thick forest. There was neither Mass nor Novena nor the celebration of a feast at the Grotto. A few people used to come there on Saturdays to pray and say the Rosary. But during the rest of the week it remained forgotten. Sometime in 1925, the Grotto door was maliciously broken and the offering of the people was carried away, and after this incident the Grotto remained unlocked.
In the same year a violent death took place at the Grotto. Desecrated by this murder, Grotto was immediately closed by Bishop Coppel, MSFS and the statue of Our Lady was taken to St. Charles Seminary: ten years later, in 1935, the Grotto chapel was renovated by order of Bishop Gayet MSFS who was now Bishop of Nagpur, and reopened on 24th April. The ceremony began with the solemn blessing of the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes by the Bishop at St. Francis de Sales Cathedral. It was then taken in procession to the Grotto by the Bishop, Clergy and Laity all the while singing hymns in honour of Our Lady.
On arrival at the shrine the statue was installed in the chapel and the Bishop in a brief speech expressed how glad he was to reopen the old Grotto on the same day as a grand triduum also began in Lourdes in France. The occasion was the closing of the year of the Jubilee to commemorate the 19th centenary of the Redemption.
The year 1962 marks a new chapter in the history of the Grotto. In the previous year some time after Easter, His Grace, Most Rev. Eugene D’Souza, MSFS, the first Archbishop of Nagpur left for Europe. While he was away the Rector of St. Charles seminary, Fr. Gerald Mannes Cussen, OP, requested the seminarians to pray for His Grace’s welfare and mission that God might bless his efforts for the Archdiocese. After hearing this, one of the Brothers in the seminary, Peter Joachim Mendes, MSFS, made a promise to Our Lady during one of his daily visits to the Grotto that, when His Grace returned, he would ask him to say a Mass of Thanksgiving in the open, in front of the Grotto.
His grace returned safely and in fulfillment of the promise made by Bro. Mendes, he offered a Thanksgiving Mass in front of the Grotto on Saturday February 17th, 1962 at 5:00 p.m. He preached both in Hindi and in English. His Grace was so pleased with this function that he strongly recommended that it be held every year on a grand scale. Since then the annual pilgrimage service is held on Sunday closest to the 11th February.
In 1975 the Grotto was entrusted to the newly erected Rosary Parish run by the Dominican Fathers and Brothers. Soon afterwards there were more developments of the site in and around the Grotto under the leadership of Fr. C.J. Sebastian, OP, who was then the Pastor of the Rosary Parish.
On February 13, 2000, Archbishop Abraham declared the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes as a pilgrim center and Lourd Mata as a Patroness of Nagpur Archdiocese. Today this place attracts thousands of people and so many people receive favours from Lourd Mata.