Kachchathive - Almost 6,000 Indian and Sri Lankan Catholics have taken part in the annual celebration of St Anthony of Padua in the church that bears his name on the island of Kachchathive (Sri Lanka). The Portuguese-born Franciscan is the patron saint of local fishermen and sea people. For the occasion, the Sri Lankan Navy organised a two-day celebration last weekend.
The event gave New Delhi and Colombo an opportunity to renew their bilateral friendship since the island where the festivities were held in the middle of the strait that separates the two nations. As a symbol of this friendship, 40 religious from Sri Lanka and 150 representatives from the Indian Catholic Church in Tamil Nadu co-celebrate Sunday Mass.
As part of its preparations, the Navy fixed the roads and set up sanitary facilities on the island. The authorities also built facilities for drinking water and handed out 6,700 snacks on Saturday evening and 8,000 breakfast packs on Sunday morning.
Participants from India, both lay people and clergy, were grateful to Sri Lankan authorities for the way they were well treated. However, some young people from Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, were displeased that Indian authorities had allowed only people from their state to take part in the feast.
Coming with a group of 12 people, Arokiam Selva said, "We are happy to see more people than last year, but everyone in India should be free to come."
"It is an important occasion to show solidarity and love to our neighbours," said Fr Milfer Vaz.
Kachchathive Island is located some 24 kilometres from Rameshwaram and 70 from Jaffna.
India ceded it in 1974 when it signed an agreement with Sri Lanka demarcating the maritime border.
Under the terms of the accord, Indian fishermen can fish in the area. Indian Pilgrims can also visit the Chapel of St Anthony without a visa or Sri Lanka's permission.
The original chapel was built in 1806 and expanded into a church in 1828.
Most islanders are fishermen and pray to St Anthony, their patron saint. For them, the days of 3 and 4 March are one of the most important moments of the year.