By Purushottam Nayak
Raikia, May 7, 2019: Hundreds of Christians and Hindus attended a thanksgiving Mass for two sisters who became full-fledged Catholic nuns after suffering religious persecution as teenagers in Odisha’s Kandhamal district.
While Manjuta Pradhan professed final vows as a member of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph on April 27, her elder sister pronounced her vows in the Daughters of Charity two years ago.
However their village decided to honor both the sisters with a thanksgiving Mass on May 4 at Our Lady of Charity Church, Raikia, a major parish under the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese.
More than 2,500 people, including some Hindus who had persecuted the two nuns’ family, attended the Mass.
The two nuns hail from Badingnaju (village built on rock), a substation of Raikia.
Assistant parish priest Father T Francis Kanhar who led the Mass said the two nuns lived up to the name of their village by remaining like rock in their faith.
“During the 2008 communal violence, they underwent pain, agony, persecution as their Hindu neighbors d chased them from their native place. But they remained very strong in their faith in Christ that has brought them to this state. They have now become an inspiration to many Hindu neighbors. Nothing is impossible in the eyes of God,” the priest told the gathering.
The sisters agreed with their parish priest.
“Nothing can separate me from the love of God, neither persecution nor threat in life,” said Manjuta recalling the persecution her family had suffered.
She was in the ninth grade when radical groups unleashed unprecedented attacks on Christians of Kandhamal blaming them for the assassination of a Hindu religious leader.
More than 100 people were killed and some 56,000 were rendered homeless in the violence that began on August 24, 2018, and lasted for four months.
Manjuta and her family members spent several days in the jungle as their Hindu neighbour chased them from the village. Their attackers threatened them with death if they did not become Hindus, renouncing their Catholic faith.
Earlier in 2004, the radicals had vandalized the Raikia parish when Manjuta was in her primary school.
So, when she completed her studies at St. Catherine’s Girls’ High School, Raikia, in 2009, she had no difficulty in deciding her future, she said. She joined the FSJ congregation the same year as she wanted to dedicate her life for Christ who she believes had saved her family.
She made her first profession four years later at Chennai. Her final profession with nine others was on April 27, also at Chennai and the Mass was led by Bishop Sebastianappan Singaroyan of Salem.
The congregation’s main charism is to help poor and street children. It manages hospitals and schools. Manjuta is currently working in Andhra Shantiniketan School.
Manjuta’s elder sister Narmoda joined school in 1990 but left it before the tenth grade examination. She then went Bangalore (now Bengaluru) to work as a cook. After a four-year break she wrote the tenth exam in 2010 and joined the Daughters of Charity in neighboring Andhra state the same year.
She took her vows in 2017 and takes care of some 40 people who are physically and mentally challenged in the Kannur district of Kerala.
The charism of the congregation is to promote education, look after AIDS patients, the aged and mentally challenged, Sister Narmoda explained.
“I am very happy to serve people in love because god is love,” she told Matters India.
Their Hindu neighbors who attended the thanksgiving Mass admitted that they were misled by others.
“We were poisoned with the hate feeling towards our Christian neighbors by Hindu extremists who came from outside,” said Pratap Pradhan, a neighbor and a relative of the two nuns.
The homily was delivered by Father Prabodh Pradhan, who had spent a week in the forest without food and drink during the 2008 violence.
“Today despite persecution and threat to the existence of Christianity God continues to call Kandhamal survivors for his Kingdom,” the priest said and added, the vocation to religious life is “a sacred call” and that “no earthly power can hinder someone from doing the will of God.”
Sara Pradhan, the mother of the two sisters, thanked God “sincerely: for choosing her two daughters for His Kingdom. She also praised God for giving them good climate for the ceremonies although the entire state was preparing to face Cyclone Fani.
Also present were the nuns’ father Raphael Pradhan and their brothers Rudhiro and Rajan.