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Catholics mark twenty-five years of pilgrimage to Kunkujang Mariama

Dec 14, 2011, 2:34 PM | Article By: FR. EDU GOMEZ - Parish of the Resurrection, Brikama

It was in the year 1986 that the first pilgrimage to Kunkujang Mariama took place. Prior to that year, some concerned Catholics who were frequent to the Poponguine pilgrimage of Senegal raised the issue of having a shrine in The Gambia. This idea was discussed with Bishop Michael J. Cleary who was then the Bishop of Banjul. He gave the green light and places like Njongon, Albreda of the North Bank and kunkujang Mariama were earmarked. 

Kunkujang Mariama became the choice after some study of the different places. Kunkujang Mariama was chosen because of its proximity, convenience for prayer and the interest and encouragement demonstrated to the Committee by Father Jack Sharpe, the former parish priest of the area.

The story of Kunkujang Mariama did not have anything to do with the appearance of Mary or any visions seen. The place was specially chosen as a place for pilgrimages which Gambians could identify as their own.  After its inauguration, it was named as the Shrine of our Lady Queen of Peace.

This year, Saturday 3rd December was the date chosen for the pilgrimage to mark the Silver Jubilee celebration.  Thousands of people from all over the diocese and beyond converged in Kunkujang Mariama.  All were neatly dressed in the special ashobi made for the silver jubilee. The ashobi was light blue colour material with the picture of Mary, the Blessed Virgin and the silver jubilee inscriptions on it.

The pilgrims in their ashobis added colour to the environment in Kunkujang. Some pilgrims I met came from Senegal and others from U.S.A., U.K. and the Scandinavian countries as they had come home for their annual holidays. The programme of the day began at 8am with the welcoming of the pilgrims. The first part of the programme began with an open air exposition of the Blessed Eucharist for adoration and worship. This took place while the priests took place while the priests of the diocese took seat around the grotto area to hear confessions. The sacrament of reconciliation was necessary to prepare pilgrims for the holy mass.

After the devotion and adoration of the Blessed Eucharist pilgrims were led to another prayerful experience. This time it was the Rosary prayer which was led by the Presentation of Mary Sisters. The prayer of the rosary was done with great devotion and the Sisters prayed in the local languages. The multiplicity of languages enabled the people to be involved in the prayers as they prayed in their own language which they understood. Songs dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary also accompanied the prayers.

The third part of the propgramme was the Stations of the Cross and it was led by the St Kizito’s Parish. The Stations of the Cross is a devotional prayer that enabled the pilgrims to reflect on the mystery of the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the paschal mystery. During the Stations of the Cross, the pilgrims walked along the mapped out areas inside the grotto praying and meditating. This devotion lasted for one hour after which pilgrims walked back to their seats to prepare for holy mass.

The celebrant for the celebration of the holy mass was Bishop Robert Ellison, assisted by Bishop Emeritus Michael Cleary, the former Bishop of Banjul and about twenty six priests from the diocese, Nigeria and Senegal. The mass was jointly animated by many choirs from parishes in the urban area. The joint choirs sang heartily the Latin parts of the mass and were actively and fully supported by the large congregation. There were also beautiful songs dedicated to Mary, the Blessed Virgin composed by Gambian choir masters.

The Bishop, Robert Ellison in his homily narrated the historical background to the Shrine of Kunkujang Mariama and spoke on how the scripture of the Bible and the Quran honours Mary, the Blessed Virgin. Mary was the chosen woman by God who bore Jesus Christ in her whom delivered him by the work of God (Lk. 1). The Bishop went on to encourage the pilgrims to pray for peace for The Gambia after presidential elections and peace for the whole world.

During mass also the head of the Organising Committee Mr. Pierre L. Sarr gave a Vote of thanks to all present. He highlighted that over a half a million dalasis was fund raised and used to develop the shrine. He also narrated that the Committee had built a new sanctuary which housed the celebrants at mass. A new set up was made at the grotto which bore the statue of our Lady. Lastly Mr. Sarr urged the pilgrims to be generous to the shrine committee so that more works will be done especially with the dusty, sandy and stony road that leads to and from Kunkujang Mariama.

The pilgrimage and unique celebration of the silver jubilee of Kunkujang Mariama was laudable and many pilgrims were pleased. They all went home joyfully praising God who had made the day possible and successful.

May God’s holy name be praised forever more!!