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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Greetings From Shrine Rector

“Amazing!…Astonishing… Totally Unexpected!”
Such is the impression on visiting this beautiful Marian Shrine, christened as Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni for the first time.

This unique Marian Shrine is dedicated to Our Lady of Good Health, popularly known to Indians as Annai Velangkanni, for it was at Vailankanni, a coastal hamlet on Madras shores of the Bay of Bengal in India that Blessed Mother Mary seemed to have appeared to a couple of children in the 17th century and in course of time God had sanctified the place through innumerable miracles through Mary’s powerful intercession to become a national and international centre of pilgrimage for the past three centuries. Pope John 23rd of happy memory raised it into a Marian Basilica and called it the “Lourdes of the East”.

The magnificent shrine called GRAHA MARIA ANNAI VELANGKANNI in Medan is the first in Indonesia and the second in the world as pilgrimage centre besides the original at Vailankanni in India. It is located on the outskirts of the city of Medan at Jalan Sakura III, Tanjung Selamat, North Sumatera, Indonesia. The architecture of this shrine is totally different from the norm. Several religious symbols adorn the building, but these are in harmony with the structure of the shrine and form a beautiful unity. Aesthetic and religious values blend in to express the loftiness and the great mystery of the divine majesty. If you feel that you would like to go on a pilgrimage, then, this Shrine of Mary Annai Velankanni would be a good choice.

It was as though a dream that had come true and a miracle that had taken place, because with only a strong faith and conviction in the Providence of God as my initial capital, I, Rev.Fr. James Bharataputra, S.J., an Indian Jesuit missionary to Indonesia, for the past 40 years (Father James as people usually call me) ventured into such a monumental work that was eventually to cost more than four billion Rupiah (Equivalent to US$ 500,000) at a time when the Indonesian national economy was very unstable. Certainly it seems illogical and uncommon for many; but not for a man of faith. Moreover, with no Building Committee for fund raising, no qualified designer and architect, no professional contractor and no real artist to do the paintings and relief works, except a highly qualified Catholic engineer, Johannes Tarigan who offered his services free to work out the structure and supervise the construction of the building, it seems madness to venture into such a huge project. But as it turned out, the fact that God was behind all these efforts to create such a beautiful church and Community Hall is plain for us to see.

The whole concept and format of the shrine were inspired by God in my constant prayer of contemplation on the Mystery of the Incarnation, as given in the Spiritual Exercises, a book of jottings of spiritual experiences of St. Ignatius of Loyola., the founder of the Jesuit Order and a great spiritual Master who led the seekers of God into God-experience through Retreat. Following exactly the points of that contemplation as suggested by St. Ignatius, I deigned the whole building as the construction went on.

The text of that contemplation is: “Imagine how God, the Three Divine Persons in heaven look down on the whole expanse of the earth, filled with human beings in such great diversity of colour, languages and so on. But they quarrel and fight with each other and commit sin. As a result they all go to hell.

“Out of compassion, the Trinity decides to save mankind from sin and death sends the angel Gabriel to Mary of Nazareth to ask for her consent in becoming the mother of His Son, Jesus. And when Mary expressed her “fiat” God left heaven and came down to the earth and became man in Jesus and remains with mankind as Emmanuel, God-with-us.”

Having relieved of all the parish commitments, I had concentrated only on this project during the four years of the shrine construction ( from September 2001 to September 2005), through planning, playing the roles of an architect by designing of a contractor by employing ordinary workers on daily wages and supervising the construction. day in and day out. But God has been inspiring me all the time, providing the funds all the means needed in so many mysterious ways.

I am a dreamer by nature and I dream dreams. I dreamed of the shrine to be an evangelizing edifice to tell the story of Salvation History of mankind, based on the Bible and the teachings of the Church. through its format, symbolisms, ornaments sculpture and paintings. Attempting on enculturation I chose Indo-Mogul architectural combination by which to explain that this shrine is the place where heaven and earth meet and a place where the divine and the human embrace each other and its is here where God wants to meet His People irrespective of race, creed, and language.

All the credit and glory goes to God because He had the plan to be realized and used mostly amateur hands to achieve this marvel. At times God’s inspirations came to me during my dreams and at times I wake up from my dream and jotted down some of the details of my dream lest I forget them. I do not know how to describe this extraordinary spiritual experience by which I felt that it was God who had been dictating His plan in detail as I was proceeding with the construction. Mary Annai Velangkanni seemed to look after my health all the time, although I had had some health problems before I started on this job. Twice I had serious motor cycle accidents and came out unscathed thanks to the protection of Mary. At no time did I feel worried about funds for the work because the Lord was providing my weekly needs through the generosity of hundreds and hundreds of Marian devotees who had been sending donations through my bank, mostly in anonymity. Hardly ever did I feel tired or exhausted in my work at an age of 68.

The main aim in putting up this Marian shrine here in Tanjung Selamat Medan is not because some extraordinary and miraculous thing had happened or some apparitions of Mary had occurred to warrant a shrine here. But on the contrary. I wanted Mary to perform miracles here in Medan as she has been performing at Vailankanni in India for more than three centuries drawing people from all walks of life and status and make them know her son Jesus clearly, to love Him dearly and follow Him nearly. As every shrine of pilgrimages is a place of welcome and encounter of God with His People and on the same token people with people who come together as children of God respecting one another and loving one another as brothers and sisters of the same Father in Heaven,. irrespective of one’s race, tribe, tongue or belief. And thus to experience with the psalmist: How beautiful it is to live as brothers and sisters in the Lord’s house on earth!

Having said this I let the shrine speak and tell its own story. I wish you enjoy your tour of this shrine, feasting your eyes on this “Something Beautiful from God”

Respectfully yours in the Lord,
Rev. Fr. James Bharataputra S.J.
Shrine Rector

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Shrine Story

I have story to tell...
It gives me a great pleasure to extend a warm welcome to each one of you. my honoured Guests, my dear Pilgrims and my beloved Devotees of Mary of Our Lady of Good Health whom the Indians, lovingly, call Annai Velang-kanni or Arockia Matha.
I had a miraculous birth on 1 October 2005 and was christened as Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni। Graha meaning home or sanctuary or shrine in Sanskrit। Really I am the handy work of a “God’s Dreamer, Rev. Fr. James Bharataputra S.J., an Indian Jesuit missionary who came to Indonesia 40 years ago and has been working the archdiocese of Medan for the past 35 years. For him I am something of a dream came true.

Did I say that I was a miraculous child? Yes, indeed I am. I am really the handy work of God Himself - so glorious and majestic, uniquely mangnificent and imposingly a rare beauty for the onlookers.I was the product of 4 years in the making and except for a well qualifies engineer, I was shaped by amateur hands, with no official Building Committee, with no proper architect, or a qualified contractor, and skilled labourers and not even with any professional artist or sculptor, into a thing of rare beauty. Surely, ”A thing of beauty is joy for ever”. Are you ready for a tour of Graha Annai Velangkanni? I will be your guide to explain My Indo-mogul architectureal building struded with symbolism in shape, colours, ornaments sculpture, murals and paintings that manifest the Salvation History of Mankind as found in the Bible and the traditional teachings of the Catholic faith in an attempt in inculturation. You enter through the local culture evident in the entrance arch with the Rumah Adat Batak (the traditional houses of Tobanese and Karonese of Batak Tribe. The multiracial people in their cultural dress sculptured of the pillars of the compound wall of the shrine symbolize that every is welcome here. The relief of Msgr.A.G.P.Datupara, the welcoming archbishop of Medan.

The lofty and imposing structure, set in Indo-Mogul architectural blend, invites you to feast your eyes on my beauty. I was conceived by that Jesuit dreamer to be a place where heaven and earth meet and where God Almighty, the Trinity of Christian faith would like to meet human beings of good will to give them a taste of the divine. These central ideas have been expressed symbolically by my structure that consists of two floors: the Comminty Hall of St.Anne, the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus is at the ground floor with the ramps on both sides represents the earth. Hence on their inside wall you see the creation story in murals on a globe. Whereas, the first floor with its seven-storey tower represents heaven. For number seven is considered to a perfect number in almost all the cultures and it is in heaven that perfection is found.The three domes seen on my structure represent symbolically the Triune God in heaven.Now I invite you to look at the asphalted road that leads to me and the ramps that will take you to the first floor. Symbolically, they represent the embrace of the divine and the human, the former represnting weak and sinful man/woman coming here and falling in prostration pleading for help and the latter using Mary’s ( look at the huge statue of Mary with child Jesus) motherly arms that are represented by the two ramps, taking the human in loving embrace in order to make her Son Jesus, the Savier of the world, known and loved and be united with Him.

As you proceed , you can not but notice the small fountain in front of the portico at the centre of St. Anne’s Community Hall. In reality it brings to memory the Gospel scene of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the Jacob’s well, symbolically inviting every visitor to me: ” If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” ( John 7:37) “ Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water, springing up int everlasting life” (John 4:14}.

The whole conscept of my being here seemed have been inspired by the Jesuit dreamer’s contemplative prayer found as the First Contemplation, entitled ”The Mystery of Incarnation”, in the Second Week of the book of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order and one the great Masters of Spiritual life in the Catholic Church.The Spiritual Exercises has been widely used to direct Retreat lasting for a week or a full month to help people to have the experience of God in prayer through several methods of prayer and penance.St Ignatius invites every retreatant to use all his faculties to enter into the mystery of God and discern all the movements of the soul in the light of faith and taste the Lord. I seemed to have been contemplated up on by this way: these following words: “ Imagine, how the Three Divine Persons seated on the royal throne of the Divine Majesty, look down upon the whole expanse or circute of all the earth…inhabited by so many different peoples… in such great diversity in dress and in manners acting. Some are white, some black; some at peace, some at war; some weeping, some laughing; some well, some sick ; some coming into the world, some dying; etc And behold all nations in great blindness, going down to death and eternal fire So in Their mercy They decree that the Second person of the Trinity to become man to save the human race… So, They send the Angel Gabriel to Mary in the city of Nazareth in the province of Galilee..asking for her consent to become the Mother Jesus.. When Mary gives her ‘Fiat” (consent) the Second Person of the Trinity left heaven, came down to earth and became man and remains with the human race as “Emmanuel” God-with-us in the Church.”.

So to say, I am the concretization of this Mystery of Incarnation, very symbolical innature, that will become evident when you see things in the church on the second floor. They are all in triplets: The Bible on its throne placed next to the altar of Mary and the Tabernacle in the form of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the other altar speak of this mystery of the Word of God becoming flesh in Mary, and dwelling among His Poeople in the Eucharistic Bread as Emmanuel “God with Us”. The Sacred Host is kept in the Tabernacle to remind the faithful, the true and real presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of Eucharist till the end of the world just as Tabernacle the Israelites carried the presence of Yahwe in their sojourn towards the Promised Land.

Before going up to the church on the First floor I would like you to look at the two banana trees planted in front of St. Anne’s Community Hall. Symbolically it means that to all who come into the embrace of Mary, God promises salvation and eternal life in her Son Jesus Christ, for according to the Indian tradition banana tree represents unending life.

Why the banana tree is chosen? Because in Indian, Karonese and also in Javanese culture, banana tree has a powerful symbolic value. In cultural and festive events especially for weddings, the Indian Tamils use live banana tree to represent fertility and unending posterity of life and when giving their blessings to the newly wed they say: “ May you both, like these banana trees, be fertile and full of life to see your children and children’s children for ever and ever.”The ascending roads have a balustrade that is covered with paintings from the creation narrative as told in the Book of Genesis, from the first until the last day of creation. But, as we know, man eventually committed sin and was expelled from Paradise. So, for people who just want to have a social meeting, this hall can be used without restrictions. Both Hindus and Buddhists can use it. But people who are in quest of the Emmanuel should go on pilgrimage; they should ascend on the road to the house of God, upstairs. The entire pilgrim’s road is lit with forty lamps. Those who are seeking God need not be afraid for they will not walk in darkness, but their faith will enlighten the way. Furthermore, before they start climbing, they are reminded, again symbolically, that the quest for God is not easy. The road to heaven is full of crosses, so on this road they will also find the sign of the cross to be seen all along the road.

The forty lamps on the hanging road remind us of the journey of the people of Israel to the Promised Land, forty years of wandering through the desert. The lamps remind us also of the forty days of fasting of Jesus in the desert. Perhaps it should make us think also about Fr. James who took four years to build this shrine. Four and forty seem to be God’s biblical numbers. The whole church building rests on twelve columns. This is a symbol of Christ’s Church that was built on the foundation of twelve apostles. So on each column the statue of one of the apostles is standing as its guardian. But on the entrance of the church you will notice two huge statues of St. Paul and St. Francis Xavier. They two are called apostles in a special sense for apostolic achievement. St. Paul is the Apostle of the Gentile and St. Francis Xavier, a missionary of the Society of Jesus, who is honored with the title Apostle of Asia and during his travels he also visited some parts of Indonesia like Ambon and Ternate. Hence they are placed outside of the church.Upon entering the Church you will be greeted by the Lord with warm word: “ Come to me, all who laboured and are heavily burdened, I will give you rest”

Within the house of God, the Lord offers every blessing and grace for eachone’s salvation and it is up to each one to receive or reject them. According to Catholic doctrine, God’s grace is obtained through prayer and the reception of the sacraments. So, on the ceiling of this church, you find pictures of six different sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Confession, Marriage, Anointing of the Sick and Priesthood. But are there not seven Sacraments? Yes Indeed, but a picture of the seventh Sacrament, the Eucharist, which is the source, center and summit of the whole of Christian life, is to be found at the vert centre of the church on the altar.To ascend the altar there are eight steps, symbolizing the Eight Beatitudes, which are the very essence of Jesus’ teaching that have to be proclaimed from the altar. So it will be clear that the faithful who come here don’t come only to pray but also to hear God’s word. The Beatitudes are written on the wall in different languages so that when people leave the church they can carry home with them for reflection and for living.

The backdrop of the altar itself is decorated like a kingly throne. This is deliberately so, because the Lord invites his people to sit on thrones in his Kingdom. In the background there are engraved three pictures that explain the meaning of the altar. An altar is a place to offer sacrifices. So on the left side you see Abraham’s sacrifice and on the right side the priestly offering of Melchizedek, which is a foreshadowing of the Eucharistic sacrifical meal at the Last Supper of the Lord that is represented in the middle. The Eucharistic celebration is a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, and hence the scene of Calvary is seen above the picture of the Last Supper. The scene of Calvary where Mary, the Mother Jesus and John ,the beloved disciple of Jesus, standing at the foot of the cross and where Jesus handing over His Mother as the final gift to the Church in the person of John said: “” Mother, behold your son; behold your Mother”, is a very moving testimony of Jesus’ total sacrifice of Himself for the salvation of mankind. This is one of the reasons for the Catholics to hold her on high esteem and have great devotion to her in their faith life.

Above the altar, at the inside of the vault, you see triple engrvings describing :the scene of Parusia and the Last Judgement: in the middle is the Second Coming of the Son of Man in glory, one side the famous painting of Michael Angelo of the first human being, created by God, namely Adam and on the other side you see the first human being glorified by God, namely Mary. as the Queen of heaven and earth. Here again you can see how Mary is the modal of every human being. As the final goal of the creation of man/woman is for him/her to enter into the Glory of God, and since Mary, one of the human race had already reached that glory, proving that it not impossible for human being to reach the glory of God through His grace, there is nothing stange or wrong for Catholics to come to her to learn from her and also to ask her help for their reaching that glory.

Finally, Jesus will gather all those who had been redeemed and take them to His Father’s house in heaven. The steeple you see in me is similar to a housing flat with seven-storey building symbolizes that in heaven there is a place for everybody. As Jesus said, “I am going to my Father’s house to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). In this way the whole teaching of the Bible and the Church has been pictured out in me . Just like it used to be in Christian Europe, in the medieval cathedrals, I can be called the "Biblia pauperum"(the poor man's Bible). In short, I am the Church of Proclamation, a new way of evangelization, a Sunday School. Any one who goes through me will certainly come to know of the History of Salvation and also of what the Catholics believe in I am open from morning till night. to anybody who is looking for a and Non-Catholics are welcome to come to think and pray. The Lord wants to pour out his grace to anybody, through Mother Mary.

This is a meeting place between God and his people. This has already been proven. From day to day more people come to visit this place. The construction was begun in 2000 with the permission of both the government and the Archbishop of Medan. On the feast day of Our Lady of Annai Velankanni, September 8th 2001, the first stone was laid. The shrine was built to prepare a place for divine intervention. The fact itself that this shrine of Mary Annai Velankanni could be built is already a sort of miracle. No professional architect, no professional contractor, no fund raising committee were engaged. All this is a great gift from the Lord through the intercession of Our Lady. Only one professional, Dr. Ir. Johannes Tarigan, was used. He is a lecturer at both the Catholic university and the Government University of North Sumatra. There was also a young man, Andrew, who had just passed his exams for Secondary School. He was the painter, although he never attended any art academy and only had his natural artistic talents to rely on. “So I always consider him as a small Michelangelo,” Fr. James says.

“All the ornaments of the building are his creation. But, of course, after these extraordinary miracles we are still hoping for other miracles from the Lord. It is as if I hear him saying, ‘All you who are burdened and tired, come to the shrine of Mary Annai Velankanni and you will receive my favours!’Truly, here is a spiritual oasis, that gives refreshment for the heart and spirit.”

Thank you for you patience and kind cooperation, God bless you all
Fr. James Bharataputra, SJ