.- Huge crowds started gathering in Bangalore, India, last week, as the city's novena leading up to the Nativity of Mary began with the city's archbishop raising a Marian flag in prayer.
“The Virgin Mary is the Mother of God and also our heavenly mother, and thus people tend to venerate her motherly affection and dress her in local culture as their mother,” said Father J. Sandhayagu, administrator of St. Mary's Basilica in the capital of the south-western Indian state of Karnataka.
The statue of Mary found in the basilica is daily dressed in an elaborate sari, often laced with gold thread and jewelry, offered as a fulfillment of vows.
“The Nativity of Mary is an important feast for the Archdiocese of Bangalore,” Fr. Sandhayagu continued. He told CNA on Aug. 30 that millions of people, irrespective of culture and religion, flock to participate at the city's Marian novena.
Archbishop Bernard Moras hoisted a Marian flag on Aug. 29 in the presence of some 15,000 devotees to initiate the novena, or nine-day period of prayer. In his homily, he reflected on the Year of Faith as an opportune time for renewal and spiritual richness.
The novena continues through Sept. 7, the vigil of the Feast of Mary’s Nativity - or birth - and is crowned by a procession and a festive Mass celebrated on the feast day itself.
During the novena, around 30,000 people participate in Mass, Adoration, Anointing of the Sick, Confession, and other events each day, said Fr. Sandhayagu.
“Over the years the numbers of devotees have tremendously increased their participation in the liturgies and in Confession.”
St. Mary's Basilica, he said, “has been witnessing numerous miracles and healings. People receive grace, hence people of all faith, including Hindus, Muslims, and other religions, rush every day to seek blessings.”
During the novena, Mass is said every half hour in the basilica from 5:30 in the morning until 9:00 at night, with up to 5,000 people attending each Mass.
The government of Karnataka provides security during the novena, and ministers, bureaucrats and leaders – even those who aren't Catholic – participate in the festival and seek blessings.
The vast presence of devotees flocking to Bangalore is “evidence of faith, and prayerful and spiritual graces,” Fr. Sandhayagu said, with pilgrims bringing offerings of flowers, candles, clothes, jewelry and food to the basilica.
The basilica is the oldest church in the Bangalore archdiocese, having been consecrated in 1882 on Mary's Nativity. It was named a minor basilica by Paul VI in 1973.