Navy tightens entry norms for journalists at Katchatheevu

The diplomatic worry that illegal immigrants may use this festival to get transit to Sri Lanka or India could be behind the restrictions this year.

Sri Lanka
Mar 10 2014, 11:32 AM
Navy tightens entry norms for journalists at Katchatheevu
Pilgrims from India and Sri Lanka seen at the St. Antony's Church in Katchatheevu in this file photo.

The Sri Lankan Navy has restricted the entry of journalists visiting the Katchatheevu Island to cover the annual festival at the St. Antony's shrine on March 15 and 16.

Tamil people from both countries celebrate the feast with priests from both sides conducting the mass and procession. Possessing an Indian passport or Sri Lankan visa was not required so far for visiting the shrine in the Sri Lankan island of Kachchatheevu, which shares its maritime border with India also.

The diplomatic worry that illegal immigrants may use this festival to get transit to Sri Lanka or India could be behind the restrictions this year.

The only structure in Katchatheevu is the shrine of St. Antony, patron-saint of seafarers, put up by a prosperous Indian fisherman in 1905. During the feast, basic amenities for the pilgrims in the barren island are provided by the Lankan navy.

The Verkodu Parish in India’s Rameswaram that coordinates the pilgrimage received a communication from the Lankan navy that “the media and journalists are welcome to the festival, but they should apply formally for appropriate visa and then attend the festival.”

Parish priest Father L. Sagayaraj said that they had appealed to the Lankan authorities through the High Commission of India in Colombo to relax the restriction, but the authorities clarified that “these were common formalities and should be adhered to.”

Last year, more than 30 journalists from the print and television media were taken along with other pilgrims. This year, only a few media persons have applied so far for the visa.

Meanwhile, about 1,300 pilgrims from different parts of Tamil Nadu and a few from Karnataka and Kerala have registered for the pilgrimage, said Father Sagayaraj.

Last year, 2,831 pilgrims had visited Katchatheevu in 77 mechanised boats and 23 country boats.

“This year, only mechanized boats would be allowed to carry the pilgrims for safety reasons. So far, 45 mechanized boats have registered for the trip and 30 pilgrims could travel in each boat, apart from five crew members,” he said.

Father Sagayaraj announced the itinerary for the pilgrimage.

The pilgrims would reach the island around 3 pm on March 15; attend the way of the cross procession followed by a holy mass and adoration conducted by a senior priest from Tamil Nadu. On the morning of March 16, the pilgrims would return home after attending the Feast mass and adoration conducted by the host, the Jaffna Parish Priest.

Source: Vatican Radio

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