Last November, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced the addition of the popular church in its list of pilgrimage sites under the Mukhyamantri Tirth Yatra Yojana.
”We were getting requests from our Christian brothers to add some pilgrimage sites to the scheme. We have decided to include Velankanni Church to the scheme,” Kejriwal had said.
Also known as the ‘Lourdes of the East, the church is one of the most revered sites for Christians in the country.
However, officials close to the development said there have been fewer applications.
”We have only received 500-600 applications ever since the scheme resumed following a disruption due to the third wave of coronavirus in January this year. There need to be at least 1,000 applicants for the pilgrimage,” an official said.
The scheme was introduced in July 2019, but was suspended due to the outbreak of COVID-19. It was resumed last December after nearly 23 months.
However, it was disrupted again in the first week of January due to the third wave of COVID-19 driven by the Omicron variant and resumed on February 14 with the flagging off of a Dwarka-Somnath train.
The official said the feeble response to the Velankanni pilgrimage could be due to lack of awareness or that only fewer senior citizens from the Christian community might be residing in the national capital.
Overall, 63,077 beneficiaries have availed the scheme under which the government fully sponsors pilgrimages to people aged 60 years and above on 15 routes.
The government pays for travel, accommodation and other expenses of each pilgrim, who can also take along an attendant with them. Each train carries nearly 1,000 people.