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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Non-Christians in church flock

Like every year, hundreds of people from across the city converged on a 199-year-old church off Baithakkhana market, near Sealdah station, to observe Good Friday.

Interestingly, a sizeable number among the devout at the Church of Our Lady of Dolours (picture on right by Aranya Sen) were non-Christians.

And, to retain this unique character of the church ' participation of non-Christians in church activities ' the authorities have taken a novel decision: to involve non-Christians in the year-long 200th anniversary celebrations, beginning next year.

'Ours is, perhaps, the only church where large numbers of non-Christians come every day, sit with folded hands in front of the idols and pray,' beamed Father Peter Arulraj, priest of the church.

The main attraction, however, is a statue of 'Our Lady', known as 'Mother of Mercy' and believed to be the city's oldest marine shrine.

'The statue was gifted to the church by a pious lady some time in the beginning of the 20th Century. It was probably washed ashore from a shipwreck and found by the lady on the river bank. The statue has driven a large number of people to visit the church regularly,' Fr Arulraj said.

He cited a number of other examples to prove the popularity of the church among non-Christians. 'You will never find the candlesticks of this church unlit. Someone or the other comes in every moment and lights a candle.'

According to him, the church was built at a time when Sealdah had a dense Catholic population. 'Now, the count has dwindled to less than 250 families in the entire Sealdah-Baithakkhana belt. But one can find people praying here all day, and many of them are non-Christians. That's what makes our church unique,' he said.

When Mother Teresa passed away, the local populace, again non-Christian shop-owners, were prompt to commission a statue of her and donate it to the church.

'Our church also boasts a rare collection of wooden and bronze statues of the saints,' Fr Arulraj said.

Baithakkhana, as the area is known, means 'a resting place'. It got this name from a huge tree under which a large number of people would come together every evening and pass the time. 'In keeping with this historical characteristic, we keep our church gates open all day so that anybody who is tired can sit and rest for a while,' the priest added.

The architecture, too, is remarkable. The church is sound-proof. Engineers and architects who visited the edifice recently said the structure has been built in such a way that silence always reigns in the main section, irrespective of the bustle outside.

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