Samunder Singh, who stabbed and killed Sister Rani Maria, stands in prayer before a portrait kept in her former convent in Udainagar, a mission station in northern India, in this file photo. On March 23, the Vatican cleared her name to be beatified as a martyr. (ucanews.com photo)
The canonization process of Sister Rani Maria Vattalil who was murdered 22 years ago in India entered its final phase with church officials announcing the decision to beatify her as a martyr.
Pope Francis "signed a recommendation" from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints March 23 to promulgate the "decree of the martyrdom" of the Franciscan Clarist nun and beatify her, said a communication from Cardinal George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angamaly in Kerala, a southern Indian state. The date for her beatification will be announced later, the cardinal said.
The Franciscan Clarist nun, now widely known as Sister Rani, was stabbed to death aboard a bus on Feb. 25, 1995. A hired assassin stabbed her at least 50 times. Her work among poor landless people had upset some landlords in Indore Diocese in Madhya Pradesh, northern India.
The nun, then 41 years old, worked in Udainagar, a village in Indore Diocese. She was traveling to Indore, the commercial hub of Madhya Pradesh state, on the way to her home in Kerala.
The then Bishop George Anathil of Indore initiated the cause for Sister Rani's sainthood in 2001 by establishing two commissions, theological and historical, to examine her life. These then submitted their findings to the three-member diocesan inquiry tribunal that Bishop Anathil set up in June 2005 to carry forward the process.
A candidate for sainthood is declared a Servant of God after the diocese inquiry endorses the person as having led a heroic life of Christian virtue. The Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints then reviews the gathered information and may recommend that the pope declare the candidate "venerable."
The next stage is beatification, for which a miracle certified as due to the candidate's intercession is required, unless the candidate is proclaimed a martyr. Sainthood then requires another miracle on the same condition.
For beatification as a martyr, the church does not wait to establish a miracle, it only needs the pope to make a declaration of martyrdom, stressing that the person gave their life heroically and voluntarily as a witness of faith or in an act of heroic charity.
"The papal decision to beatify her as a martyr is a moment of joy and pride for the church in Kerala," said Cardinal Alencherry.
Sister Rani was a member of Syro-Malabar Franciscan Clarist Congregation. St. Alphonsa, India's first woman to be canonized in 2008, also belongs to the same congregation that has developed several mission centers in northern Indian villages.
Along with evangelization work, the murdered nun "also made social interventions to educate and empower ordinary poor villagers" to free them from the clutches of local money lenders and feudal lords, said the note from Cardinal Alencherry's office.
Her assassin Samunder Singh, while serving his life term in jail, repented and sought forgiveness from her family. "It was remarkable," the cardinal said.
Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, based in Madhya Pradesh, said the beatification of Sister Rani has once "again proved that the hard work of any missionary will not go in vain."
He told ucanews.com that beatification "will definitely boost the morale of missioners working in the area" where Christians frequently face violence from extremist groups who accuse church people of trying to convert Hindus.
The nun was killed because she worked to end "bonded labor which is modern slavery," the archbishop said. Her example will "continue to inspire" missionaries to work to uplift the poor, especially in "trying circumstances," Archbishop Cornelio said.