The Catholic Church beatifies, (the first step towards formally declaring someone a saint by the Church), Sr Rani Maria, a member of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, on Saturday, 4th November, 2017.
Sr Rani Maria,(Mariam Vattalil) was born at Pulluvazhy, Ernakulam district, Kerala, on 29 January,1954, as the secondchild of Mr Paily and Eliswa. They had seven children. Marykunju (little Mary), as she was affectionately called, was brought up in a deeply Christian atmosphere. No wonder that the intense religious atmosphere of her family imbibed in her, at a very young age itself, the thought of becoming a nun and give herself totally to God.
During the Panchayat election in December 1994, there was a clash between two fractions of Kannad village and those of Sr Rani Maria. Jeevan Singh instigated the police to take action against the poor and police jailed some innocent ones. Sr Rani Maria with the help of a good lawyer got them out on bail and fought their case in court. Jeevan Singh was infuriated as she thwarted his plans. He decided to get rid of her at any cost; he hired a thug and waited for an opportune moment.
At 8.30 in the evening, 25th February 1995, Sr Rani boarded a bus for Indore. A group of three, Jeevan Singh, Dharmendra Singh and Samundar Singh also boarded the same bus. The first two had done meticulous hatching of a plot to kill Rani Maria while the third committed the atrocious crime. When the bus reached a secluded spot, it stopped for a while for the passengers to ease themselves.
The trio now went out and split opened a coconut and performed pooja on the stonedeity nearby. They came back to the bus and distributed the kernel among the passengers, in a happy mood. Rani Maria asked him: “why are you so happy and excited today?” As if answering her question, he stabbed her on her face and dragged her out of the bus and kept on stabbing her till he made sure that she was dead. All the while, Sr Maria kept on uttering just one word: “Jesus, Jesus…!” The co-passengers were afraid to intervene, frightened for their life. The two who masterminded the gruesome crime soon disappeared into the thick forest. The murderer was the last to flee the scene, after inflicting as many as fifty-four wounds on Rani Maria.
The little known village of Udainagar where Rani Maria’s mortal remains were laid to rest, achieved overnight fame and a sea of mourners and admirers of the martyred Nun visited the place on the funeral day and continue to visit it ever since. The words of Bishop Anathil who officiated the funeral services were really prophetic: “Sr Rani Maria is a martyr, her tomb will become a pilgrim centre. She preached the Good News of liberation to the poor…. the people of this place will receive abundant blessings through her.” The prophecy came true when Pope Francis approved the cause of her beatification on 23rd March 2017 and confirmed that Sr Rani Maria will be BEATIFIED on 4th November 2017 at Indore.
Samundar Singh was convicted of Sr Rani’s murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Sr Rani’s younger sister, also a nun of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, and her mother visited Singh in prison and conveyed their forgiveness. The Sister went a step further, and tied Rakhi on his hand on Raksha Bandhan Day.Singh was released from prison in 2006 after the Vattalil family pleaded that he be released as they consider him part of their family. Singh was moved to tears when he heard of Rani Maria’s beatification and looks forward to be present at the unique event.
Fr George Chathanatt, ssp