Nearly 20 million pilgrims visit the Velankanni shrine in southeast India each year. So, this Marian apparition site is one of the busiest in the world. The Virgin of Velankanni is called the Mother of Health. She has manifested her kindness through numerous physical and spiritual healings.
Two miracles were reported during the 16th century. Around 1580, a young shepherd was traveling from Velankanni to Nagapattinam, 10 kilometers away, to bring his master a pot of milk. A beautiful lady, holding a child in her arms, appeared to him on the way, and asked him for some milk to feed her child. At first hesitant, he then felt unable to refuse her request.
The grateful smile of the child moves him deeply. Arrived at his destination, he tells the whole story to his master, afraid of being scolded. But when they open the jar, they find that it is full to the brim. The shepherd and his master leave immediately to venerate the Virgin. This was the start of the pilgrimage.
A few years later in Velankanni, there lived a poor widow and her lame son. The child sold the buttermilk that his mother produced every day. One day, the child saw a lady and an infant appear. The beautiful lady asked the poor boy if he could give her a cup of buttermilk. The lame boy offered her a large cup to drink.
The Virgin, moved by pity and the sadness of the face of the suffering of this child, looked at him with a tender maternal gaze which healed him. Then she told him to go to Nagapattinam to ask a wealthy Catholic to build a chapel in her name. The child replied that he was walking with difficulty. But Mary told him to get up, and the cripple saw with wonder he had completely recovered.
He ran to meet the benefactor who had had a vision of the Virgin the previous night. They went to Velankanni, and with the help of the population, built the first small chapel. Quickly, the place became a shrine visited by many pilgrims. It was during this period that the Virgin Mary took the name of Our Lady of Good Health.
In the 17th century, a Portuguese merchant ship, sailing from Macau to Colombo, was caught in a violent storm off the eastern coast of India. The sailors entrusted themselves to the Virgin Mary. They reached Velankanni and built a church by the sea. The town became an important place of passage and the sanctuary was repeatedly enlarged by the Portuguese.
The shrine is now a vast complex of buildings. A magnificent Gothic-style church, with dazzling whiteness, was elevated to the rank of minor basilica by John XXIII.
In polychrome wood, the statue of the Virgin is dressed in a sari in shimmering colors which is changed regularly. She carries the Child Jesus on her left arm and holds a scepter in her right hand.
September 8, feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, is also celebrated as the feast of Our Lady of Good Health. The celebration begins on August 29 and ends on the feast day. The pilgrimage attracts the Catholic populations of South India, who walk towards Velankanni.
A novena to Our Lady of Health, written in Tamil, goes as follows: O Mary! Our Mother of Health and our Heavenly Queen, seated on your throne of mercy and of compassion in your sacred shrine of Velankanni, we praise and honor you for being our refuge and relief.
You have always been the help and consolation of the infirm. You obtain health for them when it is propitious to their salvation. You assist them at the time of their death. Help us, O most lovable Mother, and obtain for us the healing of all our sufferings, or the patience to endure them in a spirit of resignation agreeable to the Holy Will of God, so that all our trials contribute to purifying our souls and help us to detach ourselves from all earthly ties. Amen.