We are observing the Year of the Consecrated Life with lots of celebrations, reflections and prayer services at local, national and international levels.
For me, the consecrated life is to do something different that promotes human dignity, equality and fraternity.
The word ‘consecration’ always reminds me of my commitment, dedication and my total ‘YES’ to God. I get many opportunities to remain committed, dedicated and to do all that God desires through me for His people particularly the voiceless, scattered, abandoned, neglected, marginalized and the weaker sections in society.
As I get into the real lives of these less privileged people, my heart is moved to help improve their standard of living and work for their human dignity. As the saying goes, ‘there is no rose without thorns,’ there can be no social justice without experiencing pain and difficulties. It may disappoint and discourage us, but never stops us from promoting justice and peace.
Let me narrate an experience of painful journey I had in the slums of Rourkela, a steel city in Odisha, eastern India.
A 13-year-old girl was raped in July 2014 and her parents went to complained to a slum leader, a woman. After listening to their cry, the leader responded by saying,” What is so big deal about it. Anyway your child will be raped by her husband one day. So do not make much noise about it.” The parents returned home silently.
However, they filed a First Information Report later with the help of the girl’s school teachers. Police arrested the rapist who was sent to jail for life. The girl remained in the same slum where everyone knew what had happened to her. So, she stopped going to school.
In December, I had to go to the police station to get permission to conduct public meeting in the labor office. A police guard, a Hindu woman, told me about the girl’s case. She wanted me to take the girl out of the slum and admit her in a missionary school. With this information, I found the family and explained to the parents about the girl’s future.
The parents were promised free education and huge compensation by different political parties. So they were eagerly waiting for them. The parents also gave 10,000 rupees to a political leader as a bribe to speed up the matter. So, the parents were the least impressed with my pleas.
So, I had to try other ways to get the girl out of the slum.
Day after day I pressed the parents to send the girl with me, but kept me ignoring me. I thought some good women from the same slum could make them understand. That too proved futile. Then, I sought the help of the same woman police guard. Her words too fell on deaf ears. Two leaders who worked among domestic workers also tried without success.
The parents thawed a little when a Catholic priest, who knew their language, talked to them. He told them to get ready with the school transfer certificate on a particular day. The day for the admission came but the parents never turned up.
Desperate, I started a special prayer daily for the family as only God could do anything for the child. The seats in the school were fast filling up.
During those days of disappointments and hopelessness it was my consecrated life that strengthened me to not give up. It kept my lamp burning with hope and trust.
One day, after a month, at 5:30 am, I got a call from the child’s father. He requested me to take the child away from the slum and admit her in another school. Even though the admission dates were over the Sisters were kind to admit the girl in the school as well as in the hostel. They realized the girl really deserved help and support especially since the government had failed to help her even after one year of waiting.
(Sr. Sophia Mary belongs to the international religious order, Missionary Sisters of Servants of the Holy Spirit (SSpS). A holder of Masters degree in Social Work she works in the slums of Rourkela, Odisha, India).