Ten thousand devotees to participate in the church festival in Katchativu
Ten thousand devotees from India and Sri Lanka to participate in the annual St Anthony’s Church festival in the Katchativu islet.
The two-day annual festival at Katchativu islet will commence this year on 23rd February. The main mass and the car festival will be held on 24th morning.
Katchativu, is a small islet located in the Palk Bay, a mile long, three quarter mile broad at its widest and area-wise less than half a square mile. The extent of the islet is 112 hectares.
It is situated 14 miles south-west of Delft, an island off the northern coast of Sri Lanka and 15 miles north-east of Pamban, off the southern coast of India, about half way between the mainland of India and Sri Lanka and lies at the periphery of Sri Lanka's area of sovereignty.
Under the treaty agreement of 1974, Indian fishermen do not have rights to fishing around the islets of Katchativu as it is within the territorial waters of Sri Lanka. Indian fishermen were only allowed to dry their nets and use church for religious observance.
With the 1976 agreement, where delimitation of International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) was agreed upon as required by the United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Sea (UNCLOS), Indian fishermen do not have any right to even engage in drying of nets and use of Church in Kachchativu as 1976 agreement supersedes 1974.
The islet of Katchativu is known as a parched and almost a barren island, uninhabited with no source of drinking water and the whole islet is covered with thorny shrubs.
St.Anthony’s Church is located in the islet of Katchativu - is said to be the only pilgrim centre that is being visited by devotees of two countries in the world.
The only structure in the Island at present is the St. Anthony’s church which is worshiped as kaval Deivam (Protecting deity) by fishermen of both countries - Sri Lanka and India.
St. Antony, patron-saint of seafarers, to whom the feast is dedicated.
There is no shelter, no food, and nothing to sight-see, except the choppy blue waters of the Palk Straits all round.
The religious structure, St.Antony's Catholic Shrine, holds 100+ year old traditions, and it was said to be built by an Indian Catholic.
To visit the shrine for its annual festival Indian devotees are not required either to possess passport or visa for visiting Kachchativu .
The church festival normally continues for 3 days. The priests from both India and Sri Lanka conduct the mass and car procession.
The festival has been held every year since 1939 at the St. Anthony’s Church in Katchativu islet. It stopped in 1983, when ethnic strife was at its peak in the island nation, the festivities resumed again in 2010.
Devotees, mostly families of fishermen from the coastal Rameswaram district, would take a four-hour boat ride across the Palk Strait and throng the islet every year a day before the festival.
Sri Lankan devotees used to participate in the annual festival, and they also used to actively participate in the barter business with the visiting Indian devotees and their numbers dwindled after the ethnic war broke out in 1983. Gradually the Lankan devotees almost stopped visiting Katchativu until the year 2010, when they participated again in the festival.
Since the resumption festivities in 2010, Sri Lanka Navy has taken the initiative to run the annual festival.
All the basic needs of devotees such as sanitary facilities, roads, temporary accommodations, drinking water and security are being provided by the Sri Lanka Navy.
Sri Lanka Navy Spokesman Commander Kosal Warnakulasuriya told Asian Tribune that already Sri Lanka Navy had discussions with the Indian authorities and the Indian devotees will be handed over to Sri Lanka Navy either by the Indian Navy or else by the Indian Coast Guard at the international maritime boundary line (IMBL), and from there Sri Lanka Navy will escort them up to the islet and on completion o the annual festival, Navy would escort back Indian Devotees lounges, boats and hand them over to the Indian authorities at the IMBL.
Sri Lanka Navy Spokesman Commander Kosal Warnakulasuriya said Navy would be providing maximum facilities to the devotees.
The main mass will be on 24th morning and last year Sri Lanka Navy provided free breakfast to nearly 6000 devotees who participated in the festival. When asked, the spokesperson said, generally Sri Lankan native foods such as milk rice and other varieties were served as breakfast.
The spokesman said at present the Navy is involved in renovating the church for the festival.
In the meantime when Asian Tribune contacted Arumainayagam Suntharam, Government Agent of Jaffna District, he said that “we are requesting devotees who are visiting Katchativu to bring their own meals with them.”
He said, regarding making other facilities, they have already made the necessary arrangements, such us putting up tents for devotees, toilets facilities and the transport arrangements etc., he said.
Government Agent said that the devotees from Sri Lanka will be leaving to Katchativu from Kurikadduvan and also from Dealft (Neduntivu).
He said that Neduntivu Parish Priest Father Amiltharajh will be officiating the festival mass at St. Anthony’s Churh in Katchativu. Also Bishops and others Christian religious leaders are also have indicated that they will be participating in the mass.
Arumainayagam Suntharam said that Indian High Commissioner based in Colombo also has indicated that he will be coming to Jaffna to visit the Katchativu festival on the 24th. He said that they expects about 2000 to 3000 Indian devotees to participate in the annual festival and he said there will be more than 6000 devotees from Sri Lanka will be leaving to Katchativu and he also confirmed that they expect at least a total of 10,000 devotees from both countries – Sri Lanka and India to participate in the annual festival this year.
He said that food is being arranged through the Neduntivu Multi-Purpose Co-oerative Society (MPCS) boutiques. The MPCS has indicated that they will be opening up four to five boutiques. He further said that the Divisional Secretary of Dealft (Neduntivu) is also making arrangements to bring the local production in Katchativu for sale.
Government Agent said that already more than 30 water tanks are being kept at Katchativu and water will be transported from Dealft.
He said that the first meeting regarding the necessary arrangements Sri Lankan side should take was chaired by Minister Douglas Devananda and accordingly decisions were made.
He also said that already arrangements are made for the VIPs visiting the festival and also we have arranged places for devotees stay there.
In the meantime Mr. Lakshman Hulugalle, Director General of the Media Centre for National Security has indicated that they are making arrangements this time to take journalists from Sri Lanka to Katchativu to cover the festival and transport facilities will be facilitated by the Sri Lanka Navy.
- Asian Tribune -