The shores of Katchatheevu islet on the Palk Straits, otherwise closed for Indian fishermen, were opened for the two-day St Antony Church festival that commenced on Saturday. Though the festival this year comes in the backdrop of mounting tension over the alleged execution of LTTE chief V Prabakaran’s son, the islet where fishermen from Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan congregated wore a festive look.
“This is my first visit to Katchatheevu. The visit to the church with my friends and relatives is a trip to cherish through my life time. We interacted with Tamil fishermen and shared several things. I would return to meet new friends next year,” said Remi Diaz Fernandas from Negombo in Sri Lanka.
Antonysamy from Thangachimadam in Rameswaram was equally jubilant. “I regular attend St Antony’s feast here. I start preparing for the visit two months ahead. I have relatives in Sri Lanka. I hoped to meet them at Katchatheevu. Unfortunately, they could not make it,” he said.
A thrilled W Sunil, who came with his wife, from Thalaimannar in Sri Lanka said that though he had visited the islet several times before while fishing, this is his first trip as a pilgrim. “We thoroughly enjoyed the festival with our Tamil brothers,” he said.
As many as 2,814 devotees from India, who came in 100 boats, and 2,381 Sri Lankan devotees devotees from Sri Lanka in 208 boats thronged the St Antony’s Church for the festivities. Tamil fishermen who landed on the pebble-rich island shore, with an area of 285 acres, were enthralled to have a glimpse of St Antony. Unmindful of the scorching sun, the devotees explored the islet as many came to the isle for the first time. As there were no shelters, the bushes served as shades.
The festival started with the traditional flag hoisting function on Saturday evening and concluded with prayer for the day. The devotees later formed into groups and played music accompanied with vocals and entertained themselves, after a supper provided by the Sri Lankan navy.
The celebrations resumed on Sunday morning with the prayer in which Diocese Archbishop of Jaffna, Thomas Soundranayagam presided. A number of officials from Sri Lanka led by D S Udawaththa, Rear Admiral and Commander, Northern Naval Area, Sri Lanka and Karunaratne, DIG, Jafna took part in the events. From the Indian side, Ashok K Kantha, Indian High Commissioner of Sri Lanka participated.
A new statue of St Anthony was unveiled by Archbishop Thomas Soundranayagam after the function. (The Times of India)