By F. M. Britto
Parsahi, July 26, 2019: A Sacred Heart Sister (Pala) told me recently that her founder Venerable Father Mathew Kadalikkattil had informed his nuns that none of them would die of snake-bite. None of its members has died of snake bite in the 108 years old history of the congregation, she added.
Priests and nuns die of old age, sickness, accidents and even murder. But how many have died of snake-bites, though many serve in villages and jungle? I haven’t heard of anyone so far.
In fact Jesus had informed his disciples, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:19)
It is monsoon season now in Chhattisgarh. During the rainy season, snakes and scorpions come out from their hiding holes. In my Janjgir-Champa district, from Jan to June this year there were reportedly 232 snake-bite cases (before monsoon itself).
God has put enmity between the serpent and mankind from the creation itself (Gen. 3:15). As soon as someone catches sight of these deadly creatures, he hunts for a stick to end its existence. (Of course, if he has the guts to do it)
I have spent 40 years in jungle and rural missions of Chhattisgarh. On many occasions I had close encounters with these poisonous creatures. Every time the good Lord saved me from its deadly bite. And I am grateful to Him. And I do believe that He will continue to protect his disciples. Someway He reveals its dangerous presence to us. Let me just share one or two experiences.
Before going to sleep, I have the habit of going out of my room to switch off unwanted lights that burn outside. The other night too, I stepped out of my room and as usual lifted up the door curtain. My drowsy eyes saw something strange lying at my doorstep — a huge cobra. When I looked at it again with wide eyes to make sure that my dreary eyes were not dreaming, it raised up its big hood and turned back to flee in dread. Though scared to kill a huge cobra, the Lord gave me the fortitude to give a chase and to thrash a heavy hit on it with my hard bamboo. The raged cobra shot up its hood. But my further tougher strikes ensured its death.
Breathing heavy, I wondered how long it had been lying at my doorstep. It could have just visited my room. I was sitting just at the entrance on a chair. If it had come under my legs, my eyes busy reading a book until late at night, I would not have noticed it. A careless stamping on it would have put an end to my life.
Was it not God’s love and power to protect me from death? In fact Jesus had already foretold his disciples, “They will pick up serpents, and they will not harm them.” (Mk 16:18)
A few days earlier, I was dusting my bed room. When I lifted up a box, something began to move: A tiny crate!
How it had got into my bedroom, creeping through my office? Since when, it was sitting there? When I get up in the mornings, in darkness I put my legs down and walk to the adjoined washroom without light. If it was not God’s care for me, it could have been lying on the floor to end my life! Or it could have even bitten me when I had lifted up the box.
A few days after I went to pioneer Amera mission in a jungle, my drunken tribal neighbor rushed to inform me late one evening that he was bitten by a viper when he went to tie the cows at his cattle shed. That was the first time I encountered a man bitten by a snake. With hospitals located in far away towns, I did not know how to save the life of this young man with three little kids.
Providentially I had owned a few snake-stones made by late Father Antonio from Kerala. We applied the snake-stones around the wound. And my local Catholic removed his old, thick, plastic rosary from his neck and keeping it on his body began to pray for him before the Hindu villagers.
The venom had reached the man’s head, due to his consumption of mahua liquor. The restless Itwari was swirling around my little room in pain, bidding bye to his weeping wife and children. And I thought he might die that night.
But before I woke up, he had already got up. He walked to the neighboring Bodha village, five km away, proclaiming to the hostile villagers that if I were not there amid them, he would have died that night.
We had saved scores of tribal villagers by these snake stones.
Do we not read in the Numbers 21: 7 – 9 that when the Israelites approached Moses bitten by serpents, God healed them by making them to behold the bronze serpent, erected on a pole? Jesus lifted on the tree will guard us.
One of our Irish Dominican priest professors, who taught us in St. Charles seminary, Nagpur, told us that when he first landed at the Delhi airport, he looked around for snakes. He was told that India is filled with snakes. Whereas in their Ireland there are no snakes because they believe that their patron saint, St. Patrick, had driven them off.
If St. Patrick could do that, would not Jesus guard us, his disciples?