Karkala, Jan 25: With the beginning of the nine days long novena to prepare spiritually, the countdown for the grand annual feast of the Shrine of St Lawrence at Attur-Karkala has begun since Sunday, January 19. However, since November 2013, expansion work at the shrine to accommodate the ever increasing devotees of St Lawrence and pilgrims has been going on under the instructions of the Bishop of Udupi, Dr Gerald Isaac Lobo and the direction of the dynamic parish priest of Attur Fr George D’Souza, who had taken charge as the Rector of the Shrine since June 1, 2013.
Brief History of the Shrine
The Shrine of St Lawrence at Attur has an interesting history which has been repeated in many places and occasions. It is believed that the shrine of St Lawrence at Attur – Karkala was in existence even before 1759 AD. History tells us that the Christians of this place too were among those who suffered captivity of Tippu Sultan from 1784-1799 AD The parish church in those days was situated at a place about 7 kilometers away from the present church. Tippu destroyed it and took the Christians to Shrirangapatna as captives. Those Christians who returned after freedom from captivity built a church with thatched roof on the way to Nakre in the year 1801 under the leadership of a Goan priest. In the year 1839 it was replaced by another building. It was about 4 Kilometers away from the previous one. This new building happened to be on the back of the present church and was facing west.
Gradually, this church became a place for pilgrimage. Pilgrims from all sides came to this sacred place and innumerable were the favours granted by the Saint. In the year 1895 the parish priest, Fr Frank Pereira finding so many devotees of St Lawrence flocking to this Church and claiming to have received innumerable favours from the Saint fostered the devotion further and organized Novenas and prayer services making them more and more meaningful. Then in the year 1900 Fr Frank built a Church facing the north. This Church was blessed and inaugurated on January 22, 1901 by the then Vicar General, Msgr Frachett.
Fr Frank Pereira’s successors continued the devotions and throughout the year people from near and far-off places would come go to Attur on pilgrimage. The number of pilgrims to the shrine throughout the year and specially those during the feast days in the month of January has been the manifestation of the fact that St Lawrence does not disappoint those who come to him in faith and devotion.
Last 30 years the Shrines developments went on fast track as the flow of pilgrims has increased manifold. The little shrine of St Lawrence that is adjacent to the sacristy was rebuilt by Fr Frederick P S Moniz in the year 1975 wherein the miraculous statue is preserved.
Expansion Work Under Fr Joswey Fernandes
In the year 1993, Fr Joswey Fernandes came to Attur as Parish Priest. After managing the Kodialbail Press for ten years and making it one of the reputed printing presses in Mangalore, Fr Joswey was transferred to the shrine of St Lawrence, Attur-Karkala where he was destined to carry out one of the most challenging tasks of his life-expanding the capacity of the church and the surrounding space and giving an entirely new look not only to the church but to the entire pilgrim centre.
Many people who had visited the Shrine of St Lawrence at Attur prior to 1994 may still remember the narrow passage that existed between the massive hill and the old church building. As the devotion to St Lawrence was expanding it was increasingly becoming difficult to accommodate in the church and the passages outside the multitudes of pilgrims especially during the annual feast of the saint during the fourth week of January. Taking advantage of the rush and darkness, unscrupulous robbers used to deprive the people of their belongings and valuables. During the annual feast in 1994, Fr Joswey Fernandes himself witnessed certain incidents of robbery and became concerned not only of the safety of the pilgrims and their belongings, but also the reputation of the pilgrimage centre.
During the meeting with the Bishop of Mangalore regarding the evaluation of the annual feast celebrations, it was suggested that the space between the church and the hill on the eastern side of the church could be widened to accommodate additional pilgrims by cutting the hill further.
The project was sanctioned by the Bishop and work on the widening of the outer space began with the help of earth movers. The work was temporarily halted during the rainy season. However, a massive landslide with a huge amount of mud nearly buried the extended asbestos portico in front of the church. It took quite an effort, huge amount of labour and money to clear the mud. The Karnataka State Government sanctioned Rs 10 lac for this work. People from different parishes volunteered to help in removing the mud.
Realizing the need to have additional space within the church, Fr Joswey thought of restructuring the front portion of the old church and extending it further with aluminum sheet-roof and a magnificent and architecturally beautiful facade in front of the new structure, thus retaining the old church building with its facade. The new facade of the church was inaugurated by Bishop Basil D’Souza in January 1996.
Fr Joswey’s responsibilities did not end with the extension and new facade of the church. As fate would have it, in 1997, once again another massive landslide knocked down the extended aluminum roof and pillars causing huge damage to the structure. However, luckily the facades of both the old and new church-buildings were miraculously spared.
After clearing the debris of the landslide, the task of rebuilding the structure began once again in 1998. This time, the roof of the old church was extended up to the facade of the new church. In this process the facade of the old church had to be removed. The work of restructuring of the entire church complex was completed in 2001.
Fr Joswey also beautified the Miraculous Pond-“Pushkarini” with granite stones and provided steps up to the level of the water in the Pond. Two massive gates for entrance and exit in front of the church, a new Grotto and the relic stand were also constructed due to the efforts of Fr Joswey Fernandes. Once again the Karnataka Government gave a grant of Rs 10 lac for the removal of the landslide debris and the reconstruction of the church building. People from different parts of the diocese and even outside generously contributed for the rebuilding of the Shrine of St Lawrence.
The inauguration of the new church complex and the bicentenary celebrations of the foundation of the St Lawrence Church at Attur were simultaneously held on the occasion of the annual feast in the last week of January, 2001. Bishop of Mangalore, Dr Aloysius Paul D’Souza blessed and inaugurated the new church building on January 21, 2001.
Fr Joswey Fernandes was succeeded by Fr Francis Cornelio on June 10, 2001. He too continued the path of development of Shrine by giving special attention to Novena, and charismatic prayers on Thursdays with adoration service which attracted large crowd of devotees. He also arranged midday meal service for devotees after the Novena Mass on Thursdays. Now this scheme is continued with the help of the well wishers and devotees.
To make this famous Shrine a land mark in this area, he erected two ‘Mahadwaras’ facing highways, one at Doopadakatte and the other at Kabattu. To help the pilgrims especially during the annual feast at January end for their spiritual needs and also to help parish and nearby people a multi-storied Community Hall building Project was completed in 2003.
When Fr Francis Cornelio was transferred, Fr Arthur Pereira took charge on May 27, 2006. He continued the development of the Shrine. The temporary hall that was built to provide meal to pilgrims on Thursdays was replaced with spacious beautiful dining hall. Many volunteers of parish give their service to cook and serve meals to devotees on Thursdays on regular basis.
Further Expansion Under Fr George D’Souza
Fr George D’Souza, who had been the Director of the Kodialbail Press came to Attur-Karkala as the Rector of the Shrine of St Lawrence on 1 June 2013. Since the formation of the Udupi Diocese, the Shrine of St Lawrence became the premier pilgrim center of the diocese. Realizing the ever increasing inflow of pilgrims, Fr George D’Souza with the approval of the Bishop of Udupi, Dr Gerald Isaac Lobo undertook the massive task of slicing off the gigantic hill and practically doubling the ground space towards the east of the shrine so as to accommodate lakhs of devotees of St Lawrence and pilgrims during the season of the annual feast.
In a way there is a parallel between the work of expansion done earlier by Fr Joswey Fernandes, presently Parish Priest of St Lawrence Church, Moodubelle and Fr George D’Souza. Prior their appointment as the Parish Priests of Attur-Karkala, both of them had served as Directors of the Kodialbail Press, Mangalore. Fr Joswey Fernandes not only provided additional space to the devotees of St Lawrence by extending the shrine but also cutting off the edge of the hill to provide additional external space, which is being continued presently by Fr George D’Souza.
A week ago, this reporter had an opportunity to visit the Shrine of St Lawrence at Attur-Karkala along with Fr Joswey Fernandes. I was amazed to see the amount of expansion work that was in progress. The approach road was in the process of being widened for the smooth flow of traffic towards the shrine. The electric poles were being shifted to make way for the widening of the road.
Earth moving machines were in full swing cutting off the hill and transporting the mud to fill the slop of the ground behind the school. The ground has practically doubled in area due to the reclamation. Multipurpose underground channels have been under construction for water pipes, drainage, hold the cables of CCTVs and electric wires. The mango tree that had been in existence for many years was on its way out to make room for the extended space.
The façade of the church as well as the exterior was being painted. Fr George D’Souza said that the two Mahadwaras at Doopadakatte and Kabattu were also re-painted. This year the arrangements for confessions during the season of the annual feast have been made in the hall to the eastern side of the old shrine so that old and physically challenged could avail the facilities easily. Special parking facilities have been prepared at Doopadakatte and in the ground in front of the school.
As a part of the future expansion plan, Fr George D’Souza said that a proposal has been sent to the Central Government for a link to Padubidri-Karkala-Agumbe Highway passing through Doopadakatte which would provide easy access to the Shrine of St Lawrence in the near future.