A popular pilgrimage to celebrate a Marian feast in Pakistan is as popular with Muslims as with Catholics.
"I gave two goats as offerings for St. Mary also revered in the Quran," said Malik Rasheed Mustaq one of the Muslim sponsors for the food for the pilgrims.
His gesture was in keeping with the Muslim tradition to offer niyaz (food offered on special religious occasions).
His first daughter was born after six years of his marriage after he beseeched the Blessed Mother's help. "Since then I have been giving niyaz every year. I do not tell my family about it as it's a personal thing," added Mustaq, father of three.
Hundred of thousands of Catholics and Muslim devotees joined in the 66th annual pilgrimage to the National Marian Shrine for the Sept. 8 feast of the Nativity of Mary. They started pouring into Mariamabad village, 260 kilometers south of Islamabad on Sept. 4. Tents were erected for those staying in the compound.
Many young people cycle or arrive on foot despite the summer heat from their homes, a journey that may often take them some days. Several organizations held medical camps to treat pilgrims usually suffering from swollen feet, dehydration and high blood pressure.
In keeping with tradition, thousands of Muslims also took part, out of their personal devotion to Mary, whom the Quran honors as the mother of Jesus, considered a prophet.
Devotees come from all over Pakistan come to the shrine to pray and intercede with the Blessed Mother for special favors, candles, incense sticks and covering the statue of the Blessed Mother with colorful embroidered dupattas (long scarfs).
"All religions teach peace and love," stated a banner sponsored by a Muslim organization that was among the other colorful hangings around the shrine.
Father Mushtaq Mushtaq Pyara, secretary of the pilgrimage committee said he meets many Muslim and Sikh families during the three-day celebrations at the shrine who come to pray around the clock.
"An Muslim elderly woman refused to leave the prayer stage until our catechist blessed her," he said. "Many come and share the miracles in their life during the testimony sessions,” he said.
Even political figures such as the wife of a former Punjab governor, a Muslim, visited the shrine, he added.
"There were 2,200 people including 400 Christian youths who volunteered to manage check posts. More than 400,000 people are present in the compound at any time of the day as they come and go. There is always the security threat but we trust our Muslim district administration and the deployed police officers," said Father Pyara.
Five bishops celebrated Masses on "Family and Holy Mary," the theme selected for this year's three-day festival at the shrine.
Lahore archdiocese administers the shrine in Mariamabad, literally the city of Mary. It is part of St. Mary and St. Joseph Parish, established by Belgian Capuchins in 1898.
Pakistan's most popular Marian shrine traditionally draws several hundred thousand of Pakistan's 1.5 million Catholics, as well as Muslim and foreign Christian pilgrims.
UCAN India Posted on September 8, 2015