Bp Sebastian Adayanthrath
Sister Rani Maria a nun murdered by hired killer for her social activity gets beatified. What message it gives to the people of India?
It sends quite mixed messages to the people of India. Many people in India are still upset about such a gruesome event and do not really know the reason why she was murdered. For them it is a moment of vindication for what she stood for.
For many others who are involved with the most vulnerable people in India and their welfare, the message is that the Church upholds social justice and it is the integral part of our faith. Working for social justice is the critical part of living out and proclaiming the faith. As a sanyasi, she could very well stay within the confines of the convent, say her prayers, eat her meal, share her faith with companions and enjoy a relaxed life. But her faith compelled her to go outside the confines of the convent and stand up for values which are highly rejected by the consumerist society. That is the special significance of her beatification. For those people it is a real boost to go forward and commit themselves for social justice and receive any hurt that would come on the way.
The heart of the message is: India has still yet to go a long way in establishing social justice for the most vulnerable people. Many people in India do not even know that they are human beings. They live a deeply inhuman life. They work hard but they do not earn much, they produce but they cannot afford to eat the fruits of their labour, they build beautiful houses and buildings but they do not have a house of their own. They build hospitals and operation rooms but medical care is inaccessible to them. Many of them are raped, many are beaten up for asking what is due for them and many end up in jails for crimes which they have not committed. The community of the faithful are called upon to stand for them and when you stand for a cause you do pay a price. Rani Maria paid the price and it sends a healthy message to Indians. It means to say unless you stand for something, you will fall for anything.
Rani Maria is no mystic or pietistic woman, no wonder worker in charity. She was opposing a feudal system that prevailed in the Indian society. Beatifying such a person do you see a changed perspective of the Church with regard to holiness?
It is right that you say it. Even during the council one of the Cardinals got up and told the Holy Father, that even if you are keeping all the vows and saying all the prayers, unless you do something to transform the unjust structures of one’s society and community, you are living in great sin. It is a prophetic statement for we understood holiness as being quite humble, soft, submissive, obedient etc. Rani Maria proposes a different kind of holiness. You stand up for God’s people and their human rights and paying the price is the new form of holiness for we live in a world where there are 800 million people and 200 million people do not have basic necessities of life.
It is told if we only India spends half of the money it spends on the armaments, it could feed its poor and homeless. They could bring human dignity for people. Hence it is time that the Church in India looks at holiness from a different perspective. You not only live a simple life within the precincts of the monastery and presbytery, but you talk about an unjust system which deprives many in your community of clean drinking water, hopeless sanitation systems, lack of low cost housing, accessible and affordable medicine.
The Church in India seems to have forgotten the cause of the poor in the last 30 years or so. Today many talk about perpetual adoration, healing retreats, pious novenas, new and big churches, beautiful presbyteries for parish administration, programs to attract youth to the church etc. We might need all these, but one gets the feel that the cause of the poor is falling through cracks. There are good numbers of charitable works in our communities but not enough talk about giving the poor their due share and no proper dialogue and discussion why there is so much inequality.
It is a naked truth that nobody wants the poor, neither the government, nor the multinational companies nor the powerful political parties. Their last resort is the Church and it is great to have some beacons like Rani Maria. Definitely the Church is sending a strong and wonderful message to its faithful: holiness means to stand up for your brothers and sisters and if necessary give your last breath for them. It is a clarion call for the Church to recapture its original charism.
Is justice understood as essential part of spirituality in India and even in the Church?
In the context of Kerala, there are 4 million people from other states who are working on our roads, in our industries and helping the economy to move forward. In my own personal experience, many of these people are employed by good Christian faithful. However a good number do not make sure that these brothers and sisters from other states do get their due salary, that they get a day off during the week or are they included in the insurance program in case of an accident etc. Many of these employers go to Church regularly and visit pilgrim centres and even donate good amount of money for worthy causes. But often they fail to do justice to our brothers and sisters from outside the state even to the extent of allowing them for Sunday mass. My strong feeling is that justice is not considered essential part of our spirituality.
I basically feel that as Indians we do not see many of the human issues as spiritual issues. We do bifurcate between these two and nobody taught us otherwise. Christianity is communitarian spirituality but our strong motivation is personal spirituality where I and my God play the most important role. This problem is paramount in the society too. They do not find any problem in hurting a human person but they will be very upset if a statue of a particular Goddess or saint is harmed. Why is this strange phenomenon? Why are we so insensitive to a human person who is created in the image and likeness of God?
In all honesty one must say that justice is not understood as essential part of spirituality neither in our country nor in our Church. Are we trying to understand it? Yes… we are making good efforts in that direction and many of our living saints are helping us to do the same.
Sister Selmi tied Rahki on the wrist of Samandar Singh which made him a different person. How do you read this rite of Rani Maria’s younger sister?
I thought it is a wonderful gesture from Sister Selmi. It meant a lot for her to do such an action especially on someone who has been instrumental in ending the life of her sister. That paved the way for Samandar Singh to come to Pulluvazhy and visit the parents of Sister Rani Maria. It was just like opening the door to their family.
We need such beautiful gestures in India to make Christ real to our people. We may speak about crucified Christ but people know Him only when we undertake actions which resemble Him. Jesus prayed for those who killed Him in a most gruesome way. That still remains as the most powerful scene in human history, inviting human persons to forgive and forget and go forward to unite ourselves with those who hurt us and make our life so tough and difficult.
The sad reality is that real culprits are still standing behind totally unconverted and willing to make any other attempt to kill innocent people or rape them to humiliate their cause. Samandar Singh was a hired hand to carry out their wishes. But the gesture of Sister Selmi has sent a strong message to them. I admire her courage and Christian understanding of love.
Don’t you think there is lot of anger and hatred in the contemporary Indian consciousness, why and how to overcome?
For me my beloved country, India, remains a violent nation. There is tremendous economic inequality, terrible caste consciousness, unhealthy political games and above all religions fighting for God and not for human persons. Often people are not told the truth and some of our leaders know very well how to flare up people.
There are three things that we should do to overcome this reality
1. We need to provide education to all our brothers and sisters. Christian missionaries have been on the forefront for this cause and many of the Christian missionaries are really hated for doing it. As a nation we should be committed with our will and with our money to provide education for everyone.
2. Religious leadership must not use the faith of the people and their devotion for political gains. They should be given a chance to understand what true religion is and how noble its causes are. Religions in its truest sense call for dying for another, caring for our neighbours and dream of a world where justice is served for all.
3. We as a nation should be committed for social justice at least providing basic necessities for everyone. It is their due share; it should not be made the good will of a particular political party. We need leaders who would make an attempt to ask themselves how each decision that they make affect the poorest of the poor in our country.
The beatification of Rani Maria raises more questions than answers. Often in life, raising questions are more important than getting all the right answers, for questions carry the potency of building a better future for everyone.