Clergy and laity had high praise for Lingareddy Johannes Reddy, an Indian layman in the Archdiocese of Hyderabad who has spent more than five decades preaching Christianity and helping the needy.
Reddy, a 77 year-old father of eight, has spent his life ministering to the people of Mariapuram. Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad met Reddy during a recent pastoral visit, calling him "a great builder of people."
Reddy's and two other Catholic families moved to the area when he was a teenager. They were the only Catholics for miles. They bought some land and called it Mariapuram, which means "Mary's Village." Because of the remoteness, a priest could only visit twice a year from a neighboring diocese.
Reddy didn't have a Bible when he began teaching villagers the basics of Catholicism. He said he learned the basics as a child from his father, who would explain them in the evenings after farm work. Reddy said he wanted to share the "strong Catholic faith and firm belief" he had inherited. As many as 200 people would attend his evening catechetical classes, which sometimes lasted beyond 10 pm. His wife Jetrudamma also taught prayers, and Reddy would conduct prayer services.
He also engaged in the corporal acts of mercy. He distributed food to the poor, provided jobs to the unemployed, and treated some ailments of his neighbors even though he had only a fourth-grade education. He even helped settle family problems and land disputes.
In 1968, 170 people of Gattupally village were baptized. Ten years later, the archbishop of Hyderabad sent a priest to begin a mission in the area. Reddy acknowledges that on his own he brought about 600 people from three neighboring villages to the Church. The parish now has more than 1,200 Catholics.
One of his sons became a Jesuit priest, while another studied medicine and now treats the village.
Father Stanislaus Manickyam, a local priest, says that Reddy has inspired local Christians to lead a good Christian life.