Father Raju Vandanam Koppula, a 48-year-old Indian missionary with PIME, had been in Brazil since 2006. During the pandemic he brought aid to the people of the Jardim Itajai favela, where he had opened a parish chapel two years ago.
São Paulo (AsiaNews) – A 48-year-old Indian missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), Father Raju Vandanam Koppula, died yesterday in São Paulo due to the local variant of COVID-19.
Originally from Eluru (Andhra Pradesh), Fr Raju was placed in intensive care at Santa Cruz Hospital two weeks ago. His condition then deteriorated until his death.
Fr Raju was the parish priest of the Church of Our Lady of Angels in the Diocese of Santo Amaro, the local house of worship in the southern part of the immense outskirts of São Paulo.
In his parish the Indian missionary also took care of the new favela of Jardim Itajai, a poor neighbourhood established in recent years, which now has about 5,000 residents. Here PIME opened the Chapel of San José of Anchieta in 2019, which is the only point of reference for the community.
Fr Raju developed a missionary vocation after being struck by the testimony of Fr Domenico Vivenzi, an Italian missionary who like so many PIME confreres lived his ministry in Eluru.
Seeing this priest who came from afar, he came to realise that he too could give his life for those who live thousands of kilometres away. Ordained into the priesthood in 2005, he left the following year for southern Brazil, where he had already spent a few months as deacon.
“There is great work of evangelisation still to be done with respect to a very popular and generally superficial religiosity,” he wrote, describing his mission in a 2009 letter.
“What I miss the most is a little free time for myself, to write more often to acquaintances and friends, read a book, study something. But it's part of the 'game'.” Perhaps, he added, it is all part of the meaning of the words: “This is my body, which will be given for you.”
In 2016 he was recalled to India to be rector at the Queen of the Apostles College, the PIME preparatory seminary in Eluru. Three years later he returned to Brazil as parish priest in the Diocese of Santo Amaro.
Commenting on his work among the poor of Jardim Itajai favela a few months ago, he said: “This is the true meaning of the mission. We are in the service of everyone through the Word of God, the Eucharist, catechesis, but also human promotion. Let us continue the pastoral care of children and many other activities. It’s a project of hope.”
On the outskirts of São Paulo, Fr Raju also experienced the difficult months of the pandemic, bringing aid to people further impoverished by the lockdown, thanks to fundraising sponsored in Italy by the PIME Foundation through the Coronavirus Emergency project in the world.
“This is where the last of the last live,“ he said. “We purchased and delivered 2,400 litres of milk. Each family received 6 litres: there was a very long queue, almost 500 people.
“Some people ask us to buy a cooking gas cylinder; someone needs a visit to the hospital, a refrigerator to put in the house, or a subscription to public transport in order to go to work”.
Fr Raju fully shared the fate of these people, until he got sick and died just a few hours ago.