By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: Father Jacobus (Jim) Borst, a noted missionary, retreat preacher and educationist from the Netherlands who was asked to leave India for alleged conversion works, died on September 5, the national Teachers Day. He was 88.
The Dutch missionary had spent most of his 55 years in India as a teacher in the troubled Jammu and Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority state.
Father Borst “was suffering from heart ailments for some time now. He died at 11:45 am today,” Father Suresh Britto, who was with the elderly missionary at the time of his death, told Matters India over phone on September 5.
The Dutch missionary had gone to New Delhi in the last week of August to get a pacemaker and returned to Srinagar a couple of days ago.
The funeral has been scheduled for 2 pm on September 7 in Srinagar, Father Britto added.
Church people in the state say the Dutch missionary had done “yeoman service to the Kashmir Valley,” the heart of the state’s predominantly Muslim area.
Father Shaiju Chacko, spokesperson of Jammu-Srinagar diocese, told Matters India that “Father Borst was the last surviving Mill Hill Missionary in Jammu and Kashmir state.”
Father Borst had endeared himself to the people of the northernmost Indian state with his affectionate behavior, locals say.
Mohammed Shamim, a Muslim who had known Father Borst for years, described the missionary as “an affable priest” who was “always ready to talk to us and listen to us.”
Shamim other Muslims rallied behind Father Borst in April 2004 when Jammu and Kashmir´s Criminal Investigation Department told the missionary to leave India within 10 days.
The priest’s trouble began in 2003 when a national daily named him among those it said were leading the conversion of Muslims to Christianity.
Father Borst was then the principal of the Good Shepherd School in Kashmir Valley. Some Muslim groups had accused him of using the school as a cover for converting people.
While the missionary remained unfazed, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India branded the government move “myopic.”
Officials of the Jammu-Srinagar diocese that covers the entire state had rejected the allegations as unfounded and pointed out that only 15,000 of the state’s 10 million people were Christians.
Father Borst was born on August 3, 1930, in the Netherlands and joined Saint Joseph’s Missionary Society of Mill Hill, commonly called Mill Hill Missionaries, in 1945, soon after World War II ended. He was ordained a priest on May 7, 1957, in London, where his society was founded in 1886.
He came to Jammu and Kashmir in 1963 where his congregation had pioneered education and healthcare in the early 19th century.
Borst was also the principal of St. Joseph’s School, Baramulla, for two years from1974 and served as a parish priest of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in the same town.
He directed Burn Hall School Srinagar for some time. He also translated the Bible into the local Kashmiri language.
In 1975, he went Bihar state, eastern India, where he worked until his return to Jammu and Kashmir in 1993. He is considered one of the pioneers of Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement in India, Father Chacko said.