“Our Lady of Good Health”
VAILANKANNI, INDIA (1580-1620)
First Apparition: Vailankanni was a small fishing village on the coast of India with only a few dozen residents around 1580. While the men went fishing every day, the women and children tended the fields and animals. Along the main road was a favorite rest stop for many travelers – a fresh water pond with a large shady banyan tree to rest under. Every day, a poor milk delivery boy would take his pot full of milk door to door, making deliveries. At one point he grew weary and decided to rest under the favorite banyan tree by the pond. Suddenly he was bathed in a brilliant light – out of which appeared a beautiful woman holding an infant in her arms. She asked him if he would spare some milk for her child. Without hesitation he handed the pot to the lady. She fed her baby, thanked him, and handed the pot back. Then she quickly vanished before his eyes. But when he looked at his pot, it was completely empty – and he knew his master would be angry.
Despite his fears, he chose to be truthful with his master. The master was indeed angry, but then they both noticed that the empty pot was now overflowing with milk! Recognizing it as miraculous, the master was certain that the boy must have met a divine being – and asked the boy to take him to the spot of the apparition. They both went to the banyan tree and knelt in prayer. The Lady appeared again and, this time, identified herself as Mary, Mother of Jesus. Residents of the local Catholic community were ecstatic and renamed the pond, Matha Kulam – Our Lady’s Pond. Miraculous cures were attributed to the water from this pond. Later, a building was constructed over it, and it became known as “Our Lady’s Tank”.
Second Apparition: A lame boy had been helping his mother in Vailankanni by selling her daily pot of buttermilk to travelers along the main road. Buttermilk was a real treat, and he had no problem selling all of it by the end of each day. One day, as he sat along the side of the road, a strange and brilliant light surrounded him. A beautiful lady appeared in the light, holding an infant in her arms. She asked if she could have some buttermilk for her child. Without hesitation he poured her a cup, and she gave it to her child. Then she asked the lame boy if he would deliver a message for her to a certain Catholic gentleman in nearby Nagapattinam. The boy replied that he wanted to do her the favor but could not because of being so lame. She smiled and told him to stand up. Immediately, he was surprised that he could walk, jump, and run – for the first time in his life! She again commanded the boy to contact the Catholic gentleman in the nearby town of Nagapattinam to build a church in her honor. He was so excited that he ran down the road, thrilling the villagers who knew he had been unable to walk. The gentleman had no trouble believing the young boy because he had had a dream in which Blessed Mary had told him to do the same thing. He asked the boy to take him to the spot of this apparition. The first thatched church was built on that very spot by this Catholic gentleman.
Third Apparition: Sailing from Macau, China to Colombo, Sri Lanka, a Portuguese merchant vessel got caught in a tempest in the Bay of Bengal. When the sailors reached the point of absolute despair, they began praying to the Virgin Mary. They promised that if they would live, they would build a chapel in her name wherever they could find safety and land. The stormy sea soon became quiet, the clouds parted, and land was spotted nearby. Their ship reached the shore of Vailankanni safely on the 8th of September, Blessed Mary’s birthday. Holding to their promise, the Portuguese sailors returned two weeks later and built a church right there on the beach where they had landed.
September 8th is now the feast day for Our Lady of Good Health. Every year a procession begins on August 30, and people come from all over India – some walking as much as 200 miles on foot, because of their devotion and sacrifice to Mary. As many as 500,000 pilgrims visit every day during this week long celebration. Ironically, very few are Christians – most are Hindu, Muslim, Parsee, Egyptian, etc. The little church on the beach is now a magnificent basilica with at least eight million visitors every year.
After Vatican II, Pope John XXIII officially recognized this pilgrimage site as the “Lourdes of the East” due to the healing waters of the pond. Adjacent to this basilica is a museum of “offerings” left behind by hundreds of pilgrims – often with their personal stories of miraculous healings. There are many shrines around India now, dedicated to Our Lady of Good Health.