Mangaluru: Infant Jesus Shrine feast cut short this year

By John B Monteiro

Mangaluru, Jan 17: The annual feast of Infant Jesus Shrine on Carmel Hill, Bikkarnakatte, Mangaluru is a multi-days celebration on a grand scale. It was shrunk to one day this year in the face of continued and enhanced devastation by Covid 19 and its variation, Omicron. This time around, it started and ended on the usual starting day – January 14. Against this backdrop, it is interesting to trace the background of devotion to Infant Jesus - not widely known even among devotees – of this magnet that draws devotees through the year, especially weekly on Thursdays, and the annual multi-days feast in mid-January.

Every Thursday the roads in Mangaluru lead to Carmel Hill, at Bikkarnakatte, which is the setting for Infant Jesus Shrine. The history of Carmelite Fathers goes back to several decades. While the Infant Jesus novena has gained accelerated popularity, even beyond Catholics, over the last few decades, the Carmelite Order and the Infant Jesus devotion trace their origin back to many centuries. But, we must start at the beginning.

The Carmelite Order traces its starting point to Mount Carmel in Palestine and to Prophet Alias (850 BC). The spirit of prayer in silence and solitude was kept alive by Christian hermits, who peopled Mount Carmel, near the fountain of Alias, down the centuries. Since 1209 there had been written rules for the community of hermits residing on Mount Carmel with the following features: obedience to the Prior, separate cells, continuous prayer, solitude and common oratory. Fasting, perpetual abstinence and vocal prayers were additional elements. In 1229 Pope Gregory IX added the absolute poverty of the Mendicant Orders. Incidentally, they are called Discalced Carmelites, which means walking bare feet – a great penance in the cold settings of Europe. Some of these rules have been relaxed later in the face of wars and plagues.

After the conquest of Goa in 1510 by the Portuguese, many religious orders sent their priests to India. The first Carmelite, Fr Benigno, visited Goa in 1610. Then on the Carmelites established foundations all over India and had a checkered history of their growth. In 1838 the Pope withdrew (the present) Karnataka area from Goa’s jurisdiction and this led to Mangalore becoming an independent bishopric, the first incumbent being Bishop Bernardin (1845–1852). He was succeeded by Monsignor Michael Antony and then followed the third and last Carmelite Bishop, Monsignor Marie Ephram, held office from 1859 to 1873 when he died of malaria while on a pastoral visit to Shirva. Then followed Jesuit bishops.

The Belgian Carmelites, with a view to starting a foundation of their Order in Mangaluru, sent Fr Marcel and Fr Hyacinth to scout for a suitable site. They selected a hillock at Bikkarnakatte, then called Bangera Hill, and now famous as Carmel Hill. The foundation for the present complex was laid in 1947and the rest is Carmelite history. The centre of Carmelite activities at Carmel Hill is the nurturing and promotion of devotion to Infant Jesus. That takes us back to the origin of this devotion.

It was the time of Protestant Reformation under Martin Luther. The Protestant army that laid siege to Prague was defeated by Catholic King Fredrick II. The victory was attributed to the prayers of Carmelite Fr Dominic. In gratitude, the King founded three monasteries for the Carmelites. In 1624, they were also given Holy Trinity Church which earlier belonged to the Protestants. The Carmelites renamed it after Our Lady of Victory and this church became the cradle of devotion to Infant Jesus.

In 1628, the Princess of Spain, Polixena, presented her wedding gift – a beautiful statue of Infant Jesus – to the Prior and said: “I hereby give you what I prize most highly in this world. As long as you venerate this image you will not be in want.” True to the statement, it was observed that the prosperity and decline of the devotion corresponded with the prosperity and decline of the Carmelite community. In 1631, Swedish Protestant Army laid siege to Prague and plundered the Carmelite Monastery. It threw the statue of Infant Jesus on a heap of rubble. Seven years after peace was established the statue was discovered in a heap of thrash and got restored. The news spread like wild fire and then onwards the devotion of Infant Jesus spread rapidly. The Carmelites took it upon themselves to nurture and propagate the devotion wherever they went.

In 1655, the devotion to Infant Jesus received official approval when Infant Jesus was crowned by the Bishop of Prague. Later, in 1895, Pope Leo XIII gave the devotion worldwide authorisation when he approved the statutes of the Sodality of The Infant Jesus of Prague, founded by Cardinal Francis Schoeborn, Archbishop of Prague.

Devotees who keep gazing at the unique architecture of Infant Jesus Shrine at Carmel Hill are lost in rapt silence upon entering its precincts. The weekly Thursday flow of devotees begins at daybreak and continues till late evening. Services are conducted in several languages – Konkani, Kannada, English and Malayalam.






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Title: Mangaluru: Infant Jesus Shrine feast cut short this year

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