Andhra Pradesh: a new church in memory of Sister Ida, the "golden mother" of Vegavaram
by Benigna Menezes*
The diocese of Vijayawada inaugurated the place of worship, which is dedicated to Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, in the village of Chainatalanarva. Fr Raju, Sister Ida's "adoptive son", is the local parish priest. The nun spent 63 years in the service of children and lepers in India where she was among the first missionaries of the Immaculate to arrive.

Vijayawada (AsiaNews) - Villagers in Chainatalanarva, Andhra Pradesh, now have a church of their own where they can pray, "legacy of a true missionary who was taken from Italy and planted in Vegavaram to produce fruits of love and charity in the name of Jesus," said Fr Almaraj, Jesuit provincial in the Indian state, as he spoke about Sister Ida Moiana, a missionary of the Immaculate who spent 63 years in India, devoted to children and people suffering from leprosy.

In honour of the nun, who died at the age of 97 in 2011, the community built a church, which opened on 26 July, feast day of Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, to whom the church is dedicated. The date is also the nun's 100th anniversary.

Sister Ida was part of the first group of Missionaries of the Immaculate (six in all) who arrived in India on 2 October 1948 to start the mission. As a congregation affiliated with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), the nuns were sent to the village of Gudivada (Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh) to help the missionaries already present, focusing in particular on the treatment and care of the sick.

At the time, the area was in the grip of constant floods, famine and cholera. At Amalapuram and Gudivada, there were no medical facilities and initially the missionaries were working from two rooms with a thatched roof, one for pregnant women and the other that operated as a dispensary and surgery.

After opening many health centres and hospitals in several villages, Sister Ida was called to lead a leper colony in Vegavaram, where she stayed until her death. Here she took care of sick children, many of whom orphaned, earning her the nickname "the golden mother."

One of those kids was Fr Raju, Sister Ida's "adoptive" son, whom she raised in the leper house. The diocese of Vijayawada appointed him pastor of the new church in Chaintalanarva.

"I worked day and night," he said on opening day, "to fulfil this wish in memory of my adoptive mother."

* Mission of the Immaculate Conception, a congregation of women affiliated with the PIME