The Oblate Historical Dictionary, Volume 2, under the rubric “Jaffna,” tells of the origin of an evangelization event that continues to this day:
“With the beginning of the year 1859 the mission of Jaffna was born again by a great renewal. The mission band, which was comprised of great and energetic missionaries Bishop Étienne SEMERIA, Fr. Christophe BONJEAN and Fr. Constant CHOUNAVEL, o.m.i., inaugurated the great Parish Mission on 26 December 1858. … Fr. Christophe Bonjean explained his own experience in the mission of Jaffna as ‘what was not then our surprise – what was not our joy to see the people participating with a most remarkable enthusiasm in all the exercises of the Mission! This enthusiasm was all the more edifying for us and the more meritorious for our Catholics because very heavy showers of rain, such as could be seen only in the tropics, fell almost without any interruption during the last days but they did not by any means succeed in cooling down the zeal of the people. From all sides the faithful were seen hastening under a beating rain and then remaining in the church in spite of their wet clothes. One day it rained so heavily after the morning exercises that it was absolutely impossible for the people to leave the church; they wished to have another sermon but, as the Fathers had already retired to their cells, they spent the time in an excellent manner in making the Way of the Cross. We had ordinarily more than 1,000 and at times 1,500 people very remarkable figure if only we were to bear in mind that many persons were able to come for the Mission only alternatively as someone was needed to stay at home to guard the house. Moreover the majority of our Catholics are poor fishermen, depending on their daily work for their bread; a day without a catch of fish meant for them a day of complete fast.’… The Mission was successfully completed on 27 February 1859.”
The website of the Jaffna province, http://www.omijaffna.com/, reports that the tradition continues.
The Oblate Grand Mission has a very long history (159 years) in the Province of Jaffna, Sri Lanka. The very first Grand Mission was inaugurated by great and energetic missionaries, viz. Bishop Semeria, OMI, Fr. Bonjean, OMI, and Fr. Constant Chounavel, OMI, on 26 December 1858.
Six Oblates from the Oblate preaching community conducted a Grand Mission at St. Sebastian’s Cathedral, Mannar, for 36 days, i.e., from the 22nd of January to the 26th of February, 2017 with the support of few Oblates from other communities.
The Grand Mission included mainly family visiting (2100 families); zonal masses; seminars on different themes on weekends; Eucharistic celebrations for the students at the schools as well as in the zones; AGAPE at the zonal level; rectification of marriages and administering the sacrament of initiation for the converts from other religions and the children from the Catholic families who have not received these sacraments at the proper time.
The faithful were very enthusiastic and participated in the mission activities in a very active manner. The priests of the diocese, particularly the parish priest, and other religious working in the parish were very appreciative of the Grand Mission. The Grand Mission came to an end with a Eucharistic celebration which was presided over by the Vicar General of the Diocese, followed by a cultural programme in the evening.