DEAR friend, you will certainly know, even if you have not visited them yet, about the shrines of Guadalupe, Fatima, Lourdes, Medjugorje… Perhaps, however, you may never have heard of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Health in Velankanni, India, which is visited annually by more than 20 million pilgrims, many of whom are not even Christian.

A well-founded oral tradition speaks of two apparitions of Our Lady in Velankanni. The first dates back to 1570, and it concerns a local shepherd boy who was on his way to deliver milk to a customer in a nearby village. On the way, near a pond, he met a beautiful woman with a baby in her arms who asked him for some milk for the little one. The boy readily agreed, and then set off again. Arriving at the customer’s house, the boy apologized for the missing milk and told of his encounter with the beautiful lady. The man, certain that the boy was lying, flew into a rage but, at the moment he was about to hit the boy, the milk, to his astonishment, overflowed from the bucket. The man then, intrigued by the boy’s tale, went with him to the pond, and there Our Lady appeared to him too. The fact spread quickly among the neighboring Catholic community, which called that pond Matha Kalum, i.e., Our Lady’s Pond.

The second apparition is said to have happened in 1597, not far from Matha Kalum. A beautiful woman with a baby in her arms appeared to a poor lame boy selling buttermilk. Our Lady asked him for some butter for her baby, and when the boy gave it to her, she told him that it was important to always do good to others. Eventually, she told him to visit a rich Catholic gentleman in a nearby town. He was to inform the man what had happened and invite him to dedicate a chapel to her at the site of the apparition.

The crippled boy immediately got up and ran to the man without realizing that he had been healed. Listening to the boy’s story, the man had no doubts about whether he should believe him or not, because the day before he had dreamt of Our Lady asking him to build a chapel in her honor. Together they went to the place where Our Lady had appeared, and there the man had the grace of being cured of a disease from which he had been suffering for some time. On that very spot, a small chapel was built, which soon became a place of devotion to Our Lady, called Arokia Matha, meaning ‘Mother of Good Health’.

The shrine, which began as a thatched chapel in the 16th century, was transformed into a large church in the 17th century following a new miracle. A Portuguese ship was caught in a terrible storm. The crew invoked the Virgin’s help and the tempest subsided. As a sign of gratitude, the sailors rebuilt the shrine and continued to enhance it whenever their voyages took them to the area. In 1962 the church was elevated to the special rank of Minor Basilica by Pope John XXIII.

Velankanni is affectionately known as the Lourdes of the East because, just like Lourdes in France, the many pilgrims who visit the shrine pray to Our Lady for their various needs and then come back to thank her for the graces granted through her intercession with Jesus, the Divine Healer.

Dear friend, in this month of May, which is particularly dedicated to Mary, let’s turn our prayers to her so that she may sustain our faith and our hope, and help us to care for one another with sincere love.

Updated on April 28 2023