.- An abandoned hut on the outskirts of a central Indian town has become a prayer center at the instruction of a 10-year-old boy who claims to have visions of Jesus.
Rohit Rajan Toppo, a sixth-grader, initiated the center in a village near Ambikapur, Chhattisgarh state, 1,300 kilometers southeast of New Delhi, reported UCA News.
Known as "Nani Ashram," it attracts hundreds of people including Hindus. "People come to pray here every day," says Fr. Suman Xaxa, who heads the team that runs the five-room center.
Its transformation began in November 2005 after Toppo told a neighborhood prayer gathering that they needed to clean up the house and turn it into a prayer center, recalls Sr. Elizabeth Ekka, who has been associated with the center since its inception.
She said that elders showed the boy other nearby houses in better condition, but he would not be swayed. "The Lord wants this house," he said. So villagers repaired and cleaned the abandoned hut. Toppo has lived in one of the rooms with his parents and two younger brothers since February.
The name "Nani Ashram" refers to an elderly St. Anne nun who managed a diocesan farm and stayed there years ago. People fondly called her nani (grandmother).
Toppo told UCA News that when he prays, he sometimes gets a feeling like an electric current passing through his body, and then Jesus appears to him in the form of the Divine Mercy image and gives him messages.
The prayer center is "going to become a big center," said Toppo, who studies in a Hindi-medium school run by Ambikapur diocese.
His mother Sushma told UCA News that her son used to have short periods of severe pain in his legs and body, which started on Dec. 22, 2004. The best hospitals in the region could not diagnose his ailment. "He got completely healed only by prayer," on March 15, 2005, she said.
Toppo's father, Gyan Prakash, said the boy had his first vision of Jesus on March 3, 2005. In that vision, Jesus promised he would bless Toppo's family and also asked the boy to tell his grandfather to stop making thawich, a Hindu medallion. Prakash keeps a record of happenings and messages given to his son.
People come to pray at the center, some for more than a day, and others claim to be healed there. Each visitor is charged 10 rupees (about 22 US cents) as a registration fee and 25 rupees a day for food and accommodation.
Bishop Patras Minj of Ambikapur believes what is happening at Nani Ashram is "genuine," he told UCA News. "Many are coming in groups. It has reawakened people's faith."
Toppo continues to attend school, wearing a crucifix over his shirt. He said people speak about him, but no one ridicules him. "Some boys ask me to pray for them," he told UCA News.