Nuns of indigenous Franciscan Clarist congregation join other pilgrims to pray at tomb of Blessed Sister Rani Maria at Udainagar in Dewas district in Madhya Pradesh on Nov. 5, a day after she was declared Blessed at a function in Indore city. (Photo by Saji Thomas/ucanews.com)
Some 16,000 people took part in the beatification ceremony of a Catholic nun murdered 22 years ago in central India Nov. 4, putting her on the path to become India's first saint who is both a woman and a martyr.
All four Indian cardinals, scores of bishops and thousands of nuns joined the ceremonies led by Cardinal Angelo Amato, special representative of Pope Francis to declare Servant of God Sister Rani Maria Vattalil a Blessed in Indore.
The nun from the locally founded Franciscan Clarist congregation in India through her life and death realized two beatitudes — Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied … Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs, Cardinal Amato said during Mass.
Blessed Rani Maria was stabbed to death Feb. 25, 1995 as she traveled from her mission area in Udainagar village to Indore town to board a train for her home state of Kerala in southern India. Her mission work was part of Indore Diocese.
Powerful money lenders and landlords who opposed the nun's work among villagers to make them financially self-sufficient hired Samandar Singh to assassinate her.
Singh, then 22, stabbed the nun as terrified bus passengers remained mute spectators. He then dragged her out of the bus and stabbed her till she died. Medical examinations recorded 54 stab wounds.
Singh, who completed a jail term and repented, also attended the ceremony, joining family members of the slain nun.
"I cursed myself for what I did, but today I realize that it was the will of God," he told ucanews.com.
"I now know it was a gruesome thing to do, but God has turned everything for her glory and she is now known to the world," said Singh, whom the nun's family accepted and welcomed as a family member in their ancestral home soon after completed his jail term.
In 2007 Indore Diocese began the process for her canonization as a martyr, which if successful will make her the first woman martyr in India.
India has given the church six saints — Mother Teresa, Alphonsa, Chavara Kuriakose, Euphrasia Eluvathingal, Joseph Vaz and Gonsalo Gracia.
The first Indian to become a saint was Gonsalo Garcia, a Franciscan brother and missionary from the Mumbai region who was martyred in Japan. The only other Blessed from India who died a martyr's death was Devasahayam Pillai, a convert from Hinduism. Pillai's canonization cause is the first initiated for an Indian layperson.
Villagers remember nun's work
A day after the beatification ceremony a special thanksgiving Mass was celebrated at the mission church in Udainagar where Blessed Rani Maria is now buried.
Apostolic Nuncio to India Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro lead that Mass for some 2,000 people, including local villagers with whom the nun worked.
"She was a gem of a person who always came forward to help us," Raheli Bai, a 60-year-old tribal mother of 12 told ucanews.com.
The work the nun started helped her children go to school, which also helped Bai's grandchildren go to school. "Now we know the value of education," she said. Education of women in the area was a priority for the nun, Bai recalled.
Geeta Bai, another woman from the village, told ucanews.com that the nun helped them "through self-help groups and other developmental and awareness projects." The self-help groups contribute money to help members take soft loans to start income generating projects.
When the village women faced a water shortage that forced them to walk kilometers to fetch drinking water, the nun helped them start a bore well. "She was so affectionate to us and very caring for our needs," she said.
Many repeated several stories of how the nun helped them escape poverty, exploitation and bonded labor. One becomes a bonded laborer after a family pledges their children to work for landlords in return for high interest loans.
Boby George, who came from the nun's native parish in Kerala to witness the beatification ceremony, said the nun, who spent most of her life in the northern mission, was known as a "smiling nun" in her home parish.
Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore told ucanews.com "she has showed us with her life that a life based on gospel values is possible."
The martyred nun "is a great inspiration for us to dedicate our life for the poor and the needy in the challenging modern world," said the bishop who coordinated her cause with the Vatican.