As many as 82 fishermen pilgrims from this island town started off on Friday for the consecration ceremony of St Antony’s church at Katchatheevu, an islet ceded by India to Sri Lanka in the 1970s. The pilgrims including four Fathers and three Sisters, left the fishing jetty in Rameswaram in three mechanised boats to participate in the ceremony, Rev Fr. L Sagayaraj, Verkodu (Rameswaram) Parish Priest said.
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Police and central security agencies carried out security checks on the fishermen before they were allowed to undertake the pilgrimage. A 1-foot tall idol of St Antony, to be installed in the church, was carried by the pilgrims, who are expected to return this afternoon, he said.
The boats were provided necessary protection by the Indian navy and coast guard personnel, who accompanied them till the International Maritime Boundary Line, police said. The Centre had given its nod for the participation of 100 fishermen pilgrims from Tamil Nadu in the consecration ceremony of the newly built St Antony’s Church at Katchatheevu islet in the Palk Bay, but only 82 had registered, Sagayaraj said.
The permission was granted following a plea made by Chief Minister O Panneerselvam on December eight to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to direct the External Affairs Ministry to facilitate the participation of fishermen devotees from the state intending to attend the consecration ceremony of the church.
The ceremony, scheduled earlier for December seven, was postponed by the Sri Lankan government to December 23 following the demise of J Jayalalithaa. The issue of ceding the islet remains in controversy with major Tamil Nadu parties demanding that it be taken back by India.