Thousands venerate slain Indian nun on first feast day
Sister Rani Maria was stabbed to death in 1995 for her work to make poor people economically independent
Senior nuns of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation carry the relics of Blessed Rani Maria for veneration in Madhya Pradesh on Feb. 24, marking the first feast day of the nun beatified last year. (Photo by Saji Thomas/ucanews.com)
Thousands of Catholics gathered at the tomb of a beatified Indian nun to mark the anniversary of her murder, with leaders projecting her as inspiration for persecuted Christians in the country.
Six Catholic bishops joined some 200 nuns and 1,500 Catholics on Feb. 24 at the tomb of Blessed Rani Maria on her first feast day since she was beatified as a martyr last November in a step that took her closer to canonization.
"Blessed Rani Maria is an inspiration to church people serving the poor in a difficult time in our country," said Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara of Nagpur during Mass at the nun's tomb in Udainagar, a village in Dewas district of the central state of Madhya Pradesh.
The Franciscan Clarist nun was murdered on Feb. 25, 1995, by Samunder Singh, who was hired by money lenders and landlords who opposed her work among villagers to make them economically independent.
Singh, then a 22-year-old man, stabbed her on board a bus to Indore town as she travelled to her home state of Kerala. He dragged the profusely bleeding nun off the bus and stabbed her again until she bled to death as terrified passengers refused to intervene. The 41-year-old nun suffered 54 stab wounds.
"Martyr Rani had taught us with her life that no obstacle can stop us from discharging our missionary duties amidst persecution," Archbishop Viruthakulangara said.
Christians in Madhya Pradesh, where they constitute less than one percent of the state's 73 million people, have witnessed a series of anti-Christian incidents. Christian leaders say violence has increased after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) come to power in New Delhi in 2014.
Hindu violence against Christians has doubled in recent years, says the latest report of Persecution Relief, an ecumenical forum that records Christian persecution in India. It said India recorded 736 incidents of attacks against Christians in 2017 against 348 in 2016.
Madhya Pradesh alone witnessed 52 attacks against Christians in 2017 against 28 in 2016, the report showed.
Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore, where the martyred nun worked, told ucanews.com that missioners in the diocese have been facing "innumerable problems in carrying out our mission. And she [Blessed Rani Maria] is there before us as a beacon of hope and encouragement. She died witnessing to her faith. There are many others who died for faith in other countries. But she lived in our situation. That makes her a special example and inspiration for us."
Bishop Sebastian Vadakkel of Ujjain, also in Madhya Pradesh, told ucanews.com that the "blood of Blessed Rani Maria" has emerged as a "new wind of energy for missionaries across the world in difficult circumstances, especially those in India."
"The trigger for her murder was her work to empower the poor, which resulted in them stopping to take money from powerful money lenders who exploited them," he said.
Her assassin Singh also attended the Mass and special prayers for her beatification. He now leads the life of a farmer after serving a prison term. He has publicly expressed his repentance for the crime, seeking forgiveness from the nun's family.
"Didi [the nun's eldest sister] has taught me that hatred and violence have no place in our lives," he told ucanews.com. "As I sat before her relic and prayed at the tomb, I felt a sort of calmness that I can't explain."
Bishop Thottumarickal said the feast day Mass was brought forward a day from Feb. 25 because the church does not observe feast days on a Sunday.
Blessed Rani Maria was a member of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation based in Kerala. India's first female Catholic saint, Sister Alphonsa, canonized in 2008, belongs to this congregation.