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Shrines & Pilgrimage in Syro-Malabar Catholicism

Shrines play an unusually big role in Catholic life in southern India. Almost all Catholic churches have shrines in front and inside. Towns with a significant Catholic population often feature a Catholic shrine near the center of town or at a crossroads, and there are many unofficial shrines built and maintained by individual families or groups of families. Worshippers stop by them steadily throughout the day, offering brief prayers, and signaling that these are active places of religious power, not simply relics from the past. Pilgrims make special trips to the more important of these sites and consider those pilgrimages as important occasions in their lives.

Syro-Malabar Catholics are found at large, national shrines in Velankanni, and have special attachment to St. Alphonsa's tomb at Bharananganam. The St. Mary's Forane, or Kuravilangad Church, in Kottayam, a Syro-Malabar church and shrine, draws its legitimacy from an appearance of the Virgin at a spring in 105 AD. There, worshippers often stop to pray at the giant cross in front of the church, circumnavigating it and offering prayers at various points as they add oil to the lamps surrounding it. They also come to pray at the well where Mother Mary appeared. At other churches, they may come by to offer a prayer as they pour oil over a brass cross for blessing. 

Practices & Values in the Syro-Malabar Church