The Shrine Basilica of our Lady of Health, Velankanny (locally known as 'Arokia Matha', Vailankanni ) is located in the town of Velankanny, 58 kms from Nagapattinam and 325 kms from Chennai. This church was elevated to the status of a Minor Basilica by his Holiness Pope John Paul XXIII through an Apostolic Brief on 3.11.1962. This inscription can be seen at the entrance to the Basilica.
Train service is available from Chennai via Nagapattinam. Train No.16185 which starts from Egmore, Chennai as “Karaikal Express” carries some coaches which will get disconnected from Karaikal Express at Nagapattinam and those detached coaches get attached to an engine and will go to Velankanni as “Velanlkanni Express”. Starting from Egmore, Chennai at 11.15 p.m., the train will arrive at Velankanni the next day morning at 7.45 a.m. There are regular buses plying from Chennai and other surrounding towns.
Once you enter the Velankanny town, next to the Bus Stand is the Shrine Rooms Booking Office. The Shrine provides accommodation to the pilgrims on nominal charges except where AC rooms are required. The residential blocks are named after the saints and located in the campus. Arrangements are available for pilgrims to do their own cooking, if they so desire.
Thousands of pilgrims visit this place every year from far and across even from abroad for the miraculous intervention of the Mother of Health.
The story goes like the Portugese sailors were caught in a severe storm in the sea and in his despair the Captain of the ship and his crew prayed for the divine intervention of Mother Mary and promised that they will build a church wherever their ship lands. The ship reached the shores of the Basilica and the crew reached land safely. In keeping with their promise they built a small church in Velankanny. The place became famous on account of the appearance of Mother Mary to a sheperd boy and the way in which the milk he gave to our lady got filled up from half pot to overflow. The second appearance of Mother Mary was to a butter milk selling boy who was a cripple but with the miraciulous intervention of our Lady, he was able to walk. These happenings spread fast among the village and surrounding areas. People started flocking the spot for divine intervention. The holy pond where the Mother appeared to the sheperd boy is visited by all pilgrims.
There is a center pathway to the Lady's Tank which is filled with sand. Many of the devotees are seen approaching the tank by walking on their knees. Experience shows that the knee caps get bruised by such walk but the ardent devotees unmindful of the physical discomfort, walk on their knees and sometimes on all fours even in the hot afternoons.
Tonsuring the head is another form of offering which the devotees follow for various favours received. Some of them offer to tonsure small children for various reasons.
The Museum next to the Basilica is a testimony to the miracles and favours received by devotees of all walks of life. The museum is filled with testimonials, replicas of houses and other articles some of them in silver and gold. It is quite moving to read some of the thanksgiving letters with objects made of gold and silver (thalis, pens, houses, pendants, chains and so on) offered by the devotees displayed in the Museum. Most of the letters are in Tamil language but there are some in English and other languages. There is one with a silver face and head of an accident victim who was considered brain dead but recovered with the intervention of the Mother. There is another on a paralysed patient’s recovery. The thanksgivings relate to favours like children, getting a job, health problems, houses, life partner/marriage, education, promotion, retirement and many others.The Shrine ensures that the articles made of silver and gold are deposited at the office of the Shrine against receipt. This is to ensure that such offerings are not misplaced.
The place is filled with peace and serenity. A new church is built behind the Basilica for holding masses and prayer services so that the Basilica is used for prayer and offerings by the devotees. There is a meditation room behind the Adoration Center adjacent to the Basilica where silent meditation is done by the devotees. Childen below certain age are not allowed inside the meditation room to ensure complete silence and serene and prayerful atmosphere.
The festival season starts by the end of August and ends on 8th September every year. Thousands of pilgrims throng Velankanny during this time to pay their homage. The entire structure is illuminated. The cart of Mother Mary is carried on their shoulder by the devotees to remind us how she carries the sorrow of millions on her shoulder.
To accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims and to provide them place for prayer, another new chuch "Morning Star" is now built in the campus. Devotional services in five languages viz., Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi and English are held in the church.
There are shops on the way to the sea shore for shopping on relics and other articles. Number of hotels from budgeted to star category are located on the main road in addition to the accommodation provided by the Shrine.
For food, there are eating houses like the Church Canteen, Hotel Maria, Hotel Chandra, Saravana Veg. Restaurant etc. on the main road.
I visited Velankanny with family on 3rd October, 2013 on a pilgrimage to thank our Lady for the favour of granting us a Grandson after 8 long years. As an offering, as promised, our grandon was tonsured at the Tonsure Hall outside the Basilica.
There is another church of Our Lady of Good Health, Velankanny in Chennai City (popularly known as "Annai Velankanni") where devotees pray for different favours and promise to return for thanksgiving. The popularity of this Church in Chennai city is if you tie a cradle to the grotto outside the church, it is said that favour of a child is granted. We did tie a cradle in the previous visit in 2012 and the favour was granted. We visited the church again for thanksgiving along with our grandson in 2013.
O most Holy Virgin - You were chosen to be the Mother of Jesus / Permit me your devoted client / to praise you for this unique privilege. O tender Mother and Comfortress of the afflicated / grant me your special protection / which you have promised to those who venerate you. Relying on the infinite mercies of your Divine Son / trusting on His promises / that those who ask would receive / and penetrated with confidence / in your powerful intercession / I most humbly entreat you / to obtain for me the favours / which I petition for in this novena / if it is the holy will of God / or elese whatever graces I most stand in need of ....
(Specify your request)
In veneration of the love and joy / with which your heart was replenished / when the "Word was made flesh" in your womb / I offer you the sentiments of my heart.
O mother of God / accept these salutations / in union with the veneration / with which the Angel Gabriel first hailed you / "Full of Grace".
(Receite 3 Hail Marys)
I wish most sincerely / that these may become / so many gems / in the crown of your celestial glory.
Mother Mary to your keeping / soul and body we confide / toiling, resting, walking, sleeping / be you ever at our side / Cares that vex us / joys that please us - in life and death we trust in you / You make yours all for all eternity. Amen