Wednesday, October 11, 2006

St Anne in Bukit Mertajam

Each year; in the month of July - from the 24th till the end of the month, there is the observation of the famous saint who once made her appearance in her place of worship in Penang. Also the mother of our Holy Mother, St Anne is respected and honoured for her presence (note I used the word observation for the saint and not celebration).
The St Anne's Church in Bukit Mertajam is famous for the sighting of her miraculous appearance in the 70's or early 80's (I cannot remember in detail; let me know if anyone of you know about it) which brings the huge crowd from all over Peninsular and even foreigners flocking to this church. In fact, the fame of this Motherly saint is more evident in the East as compared to our Western counterparts. Reason is simple; Catholics do not pray/worship saints but rather, we seek for their intercession in prayers and pray THROUGH them; not TO them as contrary to most beliefs.
Being a Catholic myself, I do pray through the saints as well and observe their feast days (which relatively means the day they were canonized - a Catholic term for naming the saints which goes through a public acclaimation process and approved/recognized by the Bishops and also the Vatican; basically the adminstration of the Church). Yes, saints were mere mortals before they were proclaimed as saints after death and also reviewing their lives a number of years before they are nominated/canonized as a saint).
According to the Catholic Online, Pope John Paul II introduced a revolution whereby the observation towards the canonization begins after death; astray from the conventional practice which begins several years after death followed by the beatification, and finally the canonization.
The path of canonizing a holy person as a saint requires a lot of effort along the way which is why this process/the status given is usually infallible and indisputable.
However, that does not mean that every holy person will automatically be canonized as a saint - there's a lot of holy Catholics who were not canonized as well. To date, we have more than hundreds of saints in the Catholic Church.

Anyway, steering back to St Anne, she was the revered mother of the Virgin Mary and was honoured by most of the Catholics. In fact, in Peninsular Malaysia, there are only 2 St Anne's churches; one in Bukit Mertajam and the other down south, in Klang (Selangor - the state next to KL). However, the former seemed to be a more popular site for the reason stated above and each year, most of the churches (Catholic churches) organized pilgrimages tour for their parishes and interested devotees to pay homage to the Mother of our Lady.
This year, since my parents came over to visit me, we decided to go to St Anne's as well. To avoid the crowd, we left as early as 5am - it is actually a reasonable time since I am already staying in Penang and it takes about 45 minutes- an hour to reach the place. I drove my parents there and though we were early, it seemed that there is an earlier batch of congregation there (some of them even spent their nights sleeping there!! - how devoted they are)
As soon as I parked my car, we made our way towards the church, waiving the folks who were trying to sell their stuffs (ranging from newspapers, flowers, candles, food, etc) outside the church. There is the old church and the new church - the old church is located on the top and then there is a flight of steps leading you to the famous grotto of the saint atop the hill behind this church where St Anne's apparition was first sighted. The new church is located on the left side and is built on the flat land and had the sense of Malaysian touch to its architecture which was pretty evident from the Minangkabau styled roof and it is a huge and spacious church which is locked most of the time. However, you can see the caricature model of the Last Supper if you stand at the main entrance through the grilled door :)
We made our way to the old church which stood tall and it looks just like any olden churches.

From the main entrance leading towards the old church on top, we passed the newly built statues which marked the 7 stations of the cross for the Easter celebration. We noted that most of the statues were newly established; courtesy of the generous donations from the parish and the people who came to the church.

Then we proceeded to the back of the church to obtain some holy water from the taps provided and this year, we brought our own bottles - my parents bought a couple of St Anne modeled bottles each time and this time we decided to use our own bottles instead. The holy water here is sold at a pretty decent price; nicely packaged in the bottles.
Then we made our way to the staircase and in between they had those plateau stops which allowed you to rest and breathe; actually it is not that high up; just that you need to be watchful of your steps as the staircase could be a little slippery at times due to the overflowing or retained wax droppings on the floor.
We stopped at the first grotto which I did not manage to take photos as there were limited space and the settings did not turn out too nice.
After making my prayers and offering my petitions, we continued on the second half of the journey to the top of the hill for the main grotto where St Anne is built on and where she was reputed to have appeared. I reached the top and saw another statue a few metres in front of the grotto which held Jesus Christ on the cross- the famous depiction of his pre-crucifixion.
There were lighted candles in front of St Anne while it was more subtle at the area near this cross. As I prayed, I heard loud sobs from another middle-aged Indian lady behind me. She sound troubled and my heart went out to her; I believe she must have had something important to ask for and that it is bothering her inner heart. Whatever it is, I prayed for her as well and her family and hope that her wishes/prayers will be heard and fulfilled.
Another thing about this Church that brought its fame was the adage that most of the devotees' prayers will be fulfilled and thus the endless pilgrimages of eager devotees each year. Even non-Catholics and Singaporeans made their effort to pay this place a visit. A quick conversation revealed that most of them here came every year without fail.
By 7am, we were done and decided to make a move for breakfast. We saw another batch of pilgrims in a bus as we were leaving.
A few days later, I actually read in the news that some of the pilgrims were involved in a bus accident which resulted in a number of deaths. Distressing...I pray for their devotion and that they may find peace after death....also May all the saints pray for them and the Good Lord bless their surviving families....Amen.

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