“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.