Mariambad (Fides Service) – “I am truly grateful to the people of Mariambad for their generous collaboration in welcoming pilgrims from all over the country” said Archbishop Lawrence Saldhana of Lahore in his address for the opening of the 54th pilgrimage, 5-7 September, to the national Marian Shrine of Mariambad, 90 km from Lahore the main city of Punjab.
Every year believers of all ages and states of life, clergy, religious, laity, families make their way to Mariambad (Mary’s City) for three days of prayer and inner healing. Many of the pilgrims are Muslims and this is seen as a positive factor for improving Christian-Muslim relations in Pakistan. It is estimated that the pilgrims were at least 500,000: they came on foot, on bicycles, public or private transport to pray for special graces though the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For the Catholic community in Pakistan, the pilgrimage known as Ziarat is a central annual event.
Reflecting on this year’s theme for the pilgrimage “Our Lady and a Church where everyone participates actively” the Archbishop underlined the important role of “young people and women in the Church: they too must share their talents for the good of the community.” Calling those present to pray “for ourselves, for our nation, for peace in the world” he reminded the Catholics present that the last eleven months have been the Year of the Rosary, proclaimed by Pope John Paul II: “the Holy Father called for this Year of the Rosary in order to put prayer and particularly this Marian prayer back at the heart of Christian family life”.
Thanking the organisers at the end of the pilgrimage, Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad praised the organising committee for the welcome offered. Father Francis Nadeem OFM Cap., said “Our Lady is mediatrix between God and man. She intercedes for us like a good mother who attends to the needs of her children”. Dominican Father Zafar Iqbal said he hoped the laity would be ever more active in the Church, side by side with clergy and religious. Announcing the date for next year’s Ziarat, 3-5 September, Father Joseph Nisari, organising committee Secretary said “this is an event which strengthens the faith”. Mariambad Shrine was founded in 1949 by Belgian Capuchin Father Frank who died a martyr. PA (Fides Service 10/9/2003 EM lines 38 Words: 478)