By Father Jacob Nangelimalil
Sr. Rani Maria, a Franciscan Clarist nun, was a model of Christian missionary spirituality. As a relative and an adjacent neighbor in Pulluvazhy, I know Sr. Rani Maria’s family very closely.
Having seen the different phases of Sr. Rani Maria’s life and having experienced her missionary zeal and activities, I could promptly say that Sr. Rani Maria is a prime model of missionary spirituality in the modern world. The Gospel Verse Lk. 4: 18, was the Motto of Sr. Rani Maria: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach the Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” She was convinced that the Lord has called her to be a missionary in North India.
Moreover, Sr. Rani Maria lived genuinely the Franciscan charism. Sr. Liza Rose recollects, “Sr. Rani Maria used to get up every day early morning at 4 o’clock. She spent a lot of time in personal prayer. Afterwards she took part in the community prayer in a very active way. She was enthusiastic and creative in leading the community prayer.”
It was in prayer that she found strength to face all challenges and difficulties and to dedicate herself totally to the oppressed and marginalized without hating their oppressors.
Sr. Rani Maria started her missionary works in Bijnor on December 24, 1975. Fr. Varghese Kottoor, CMI, the then parish priest of Bijnor writes: “the Franciscan simplicity and cheerfulness of Sr. Rani Maria captured the hearts and minds of all with whom she came in contact.”
Sr. Infant Mary too testifies: “The biting cold, heavy rains, intense heat, irregular meals, lack of water, and journeys through dangerous moments, lonely moments of helplessness… nothing was a hindrance to Sr. Rani Maria.”
On July 21, 1983, Sr. Rani Maria was transferred to Odagady in the diocese of Satna was appointed coordinator of the social activities. She worked to uplift the poor and downtrodden. She was firmly convinced that no sacrifice would be too much in order to secure the total liberation proclaimed by Christ. She organized educational programs for the children, the young, and the aged.
She conscientized the poor about their exploitation and enabled them to realize their rights and duties as citizens of India. As a result, she became the object of the displeasure of their oppressors, who looked upon her work to uplift the poor as attempts to convert them to Christianity. Her life was at times under threat. Threats only made her more enthusiastic and zealous.
Witnessing the life of Sr. Rani Maria, the then provincial Sr. Marianna stated: “Oh! What a missionary zeal! What courage! How can she do so much? Oh! This is an extraordinary personality. I would have be extremely happy if I got a little of this charism. If she carries on this manner, Sr. Rani Maria would surely fall victim to murderers.”
Fr. Mathew Vattakuzhy, the then Social Work director, remarked: “Many Adivasis and Harijans were attracted to Christianity by her sincere concern and love for them, effective developmental activities, selfless works for the people etc.”
Bishop Abraham Mattam recollects: “Sr. Rani Maria was convinced that an evangelizer should be interested in the life of the poor to give them Christ, his love and his redeeming message, thereby helping them to attain special growth and material welfare.”
On May 15, 1992, Sr. Rani was transferred to Sneha Sadan, Udainagar. As an experienced Social worker she knew that villagers had become over dependent on the money lenders who devoured their meager earnings and property. Sr. Rani Maria made the poor people aware of their rights and injustice perpetrated on them. She would often approach the government officials for the sake of the poor, usually only to meet with refusal and rejection.
On one occasion, holding in her hand the crucifix hanging from her neck, Sr. Rani humbly told an officer: “Sir, we have accepted this way of life and come here not because we have no means of livelihood at home, nor is it because our parents have pushed us out of our families. Look! We have accepted this way of life, a life of sacrifice, in order to work for Christ in the poor.” Gradually, her gentle manners, sincere dealings, unselfish way of actions, and above all her pleasant way of speaking won over admiration even of the officials.
Sr. Liza Rose who was then superior of Sneha Sadan Convent, Udainagar remarks: “Sr. Rani Maria mostly worked among the Adivasis and among those who were marginalized by society. They loved her as a mother because this was for the first time that they saw a person, who shared their life, lived with them and acted in their favour. Her life was set apart for the poor. It was her nature not to run away from difficulties and oppositions.”
Since the developmental programs for the poor tribals went counter to the vested interests of the unscrupulous moneylenders and social exploiters, she became the object of their hatred. And her enemies decided to get rid of her and Samandar Singh was hired by them to execute their plans.
On February 25, 1995, as she was travelling in a crowded bus to catch the train from Indore to her native place Pulluvazhy, he stabbed her in the bus. When she fell down, he dragged her out of the bus, while he continued to pierce her brutally with knife. She died of 54 stab wounds on the roadside at Nachanbore Hills, near Indore.
Eight days before her death during her last visit to the Provincial House, on the occasion of the Canonical Visit of Mother General Henry Suso, Sr. Rani said: we should not seek safety and comfort in our mission work, with courage and trust in God more and more sisters should get ready to risk themselves in serving the poor and needy in the undeveloped villages of the missions.”
Sr. Rani Maria also confided to her Novice Mistress Sr. Infant Mary: “I would desire to die a martyr for the love of Jesus and for my poor downtrodden brethren.”
Sr. Rani Maria’s family showed a marvelous example of Christian forgiveness, which was lauded internationally, when it accepted Samandar Singh as a member of their family, after forgiving him. Rani Maria’s young sister Sr. Selmy Paul, also a member of the same Religious Congregation, accepted Singh as her brother by tying “rakhi,” a sacred thread, on the festival of siblings Rakshabandan. Rani Maria’s mother Eliswa accepted him as her “son in the place of her daughter.”
These gestures of Sr. Selmy, Mother Eliswa, other members of the family and of the village made Samandar Singh to regret about his criminal action. He now leads a life of repentance in his village in central India. He visits occasionally Rani Maria’s tomb and her family in Pulluvazhy. He also attended the funeral of Eliswa, the mother of Sr. Rani Maria, in September 2016.
Sr. Rani Maria now, has been cleared for beatification by Pope Francis. During an audience with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Pope authorized the ‘Congregation for the Causes of Saints’, to promulgate the decree of the martyrdom of Servant of God Sr. Rani Maria.
According to the text of approval of the Roman Congregation, Sr. Rani Maria’s courageous sacrifice and martyrdom has helped to sow “the seed of love and justice and brotherhood in many hearts.” Sr. Rani Maria, thus becomes a true model of Christian Missionary Spirituality.
(Source: Faridabad Diocesan Bulletin, Santhome Messenger March-April 2017)