“I had a vision to spread the devotion of Mary here,” Fr. James Bharataputra, an Indian Jesuit priest who has been on mission in Medan, Indonesia, for the past 50 years, tells Fides in all simplicity.
On the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where indigenous groups live and where a rather traditional version of Islam is widespread, this 84-year-old missionary has become an emblematic figure, known and appreciated in the province of North Sumatra. It’s for good reason: this native of Tamil Nadu in India, naturalized Indonesian in 1989, built a huge Marian shrine called “Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni” (Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Good Health) in Medan.
He became a priest in 1970 and began his pastoral work in Medan after always dreaming of being a missionary. “I am still amazed at how God’s loving providence led me to this mission land. And I am just as amazed at the great trust placed in me by my Jesuit superiors. It was they who allowed me to serve in the local Church, the Archdiocese of Medan,” he says.
When he started his work in Medan, he realized that the local population, especially families with fewer economic possibilities, did not have access to good enough education. So, he sought to address that need by founding an elementary school, called “Karya Dharma” (Works of Charity). But in the Indonesian Church, Father James is best known as the founder and rector of the Marian Shrine “Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni,” also located in Medan.
According to Radio Veritas Asia, he took the decision to build the shrine in the year 2000: “While doing pilgrimage in Europe with a group in the year 2000, one of the group members were found missing in France. Fr James sought the intercession of Mother Mary of Velangkanni and the person returned safe. That moment he decided to extend the devotion of Mary to Sumatra.”