QUEENS VILLAGE — The usual peace of a Sunday afternoon on 217th St. between 92nd and 93rd avenues was was replaced by the colorful and boisterous sights and sounds of a popular Indian Marian devotion on Sept. 12. It was the celebration of the feast day of Our Lady of Velankanni, also known as Our Lady of Good Health.
The streets were transformed into the In- dian state of Tamil Nadu, where hundreds of faithful came to display their devotion to the Blessed Mother.
Velankanni is a town in India that, accord- ing to oral tradition, was the site where the Virgin appeared three times during the 16th and 17th centuries. But for those gathered at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Queens Village, the event was more than just a feast — it was an opportunity to revitalize their faith.
“The message of Our Lady of [Good] Health resonates to more people this year because people are just tired of living in fear,” said Father Patrick Longalong, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes.
“They’re tired of worrying about their family and friends. They’re turning everything over to the Blessed Mother.”
The neighborhood around his diverse parish community has suffered over 200 deaths during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This year, because of what people have gone through with the pandemic, especially in India, how many of our Indian community members have relatives or friends who were affected by COVID, back when they were scrambling to look for oxygen tanks, they were just praying,” he said.
The event organizers made sure to in- corporate social distancing protocols and mask-wearing during a variety of events, including the nine-day novena and Holy Hours leading up to the feast day. This year, traditional Indian meals were packaged on tables in to-go boxes.
“Many work in the healthcare field, so they know what they’re dealing with and they know the health precautions,” Father Longalong said, “but celebrating the novena and the feast, it is something they need- ed to give them that energy, that enthusiasm, that inspiration to move forward.”
Auxiliary Bishop Paul Sanchez was the main celebrant and homilist at the Mass, concelebrated by Fathers Longalong and Robert Ambalathingal, assisted by Father Alonzo Cox, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Brooklyn. No pew was empty this year, in contrast to last year’s celebration, which was mainly virtual due to COVID; at that time, many Our Lady of Lourdes parishioners were afraid to come to church.
Parishioner and annual event attendee Jules Ulysee said he was so glad to see more people this year. “Last year looked sad,” said Ulysee, who admitted he watched that event on his smartphone.
“It looked like, I hate to say it, but mostly like a dead zone, but this year is very good,” he said. “The church is lighting up again, and I like it. It motivates you, it gives you zeal. I love it. It’s good to be part of it.”
After Mass, in a uniform fashion, the faithful lined up outside the church and walked in a procession with the Blessed Mother. A trilingual rosary was prayed over a loud- speaker by different leaders throughout the walk. With rosaries in hand, the parishioners marched in unison, like serene soldiers. The sunset was the backdrop as the shimmering saris sashayed and the umbrellas glistened in the sky.
Umbrella holder Shonali Roy is a part of the parish’s youth group and has been at- tending the event for three years. The teen said she attended every day of the novena leading up to the feast. She said carrying the umbrella was a blessing and honor.
“It’s very important to come out after the pandemic,” Roy said, “especially to get a blessing from the Blessed Lady for the struggles of our daily lives. Many lost their jobs, family members have passed away, so I think it’s very important to come and get blessings.”
At the rear of the procession, Father Ambalathingal smiled and prayed the rosary with his parishioners. He remembered how much this day means to the community. As a chaplain at Long Island Jewish hospital, he witnessed many deaths and families suffering from COVID.
“Even though people are worried, they find hope in Jesus Christ and through the intercession of the Blessed Mother,” he said. “Even though the pandemic, the sickness is there, they are trying to get strengthened and overcome this situation.”