Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sadness turned to joy

There are times when, if we pay attention to the media, it would seem that the world is full of nothing other than tragedy and despair… and yet…

On Sunday night a 19 year-old was stabbed and killed in London … and his parents forgave the murderer. “I forgive them. My son is with Jesus because he was baptised”, his mother said on camera.

This evening, a friend sent me such deeply disturbing photographs of the violence recently perpetrated in Orissa in India that I’ve been able to think of little else, holding both Christian and Hindu in prayer … and a Poor Clare Colettine friend sent me the following story of an event that happened in 2002, that, as with the parents of the murdered teenager, show that God exists for nobody could show such love were there not an even more loving God…

YEAR 2002- a Catholic nun has gone to a prison to tie a thread around the wrist of a Hindu man who is a murderer OF HER OWN BLOOD SISTER. Her unusual deed symbolically declares she accepts him as her brother. Even more remarkably, she did it for the person who murdered her sister.

Franciscan Clarist Sister Selmy Paul tied a silver-colored "rakhi," lace thread, on the wrist of Samandar Singh on Aug. 13, the hindu festival of siblings known as "Rakshabandan" (knot of protection between brother and sister). During the festival, Hindu women perform the ritual on male siblings to seek their protection and blessings. Singh is serving a life term in a federal prison for the 1995 murder of Rani Maria, the nun's older sister. Rani Maria, also a Franciscan Clarist, joined the congregation in 1980 and inspired her younger sister to follow. The prison is in Indore, Madhya Pradesh state, about 800 kilometers south of New Delhi.

Sister Maria was 40 when Singh stabbed her more than 50 times. He began plunging his knife into her while she was on a bus to Indore from Udainagar-Mirzapur, a village in the state's Dewas district. She was then to continue her vacation journey by train to Kerala, her home state in southern India. Sister Maria jumped off the bus as soon as Singh began stabbing, but he followed and continued to stab her, even after she fell to the roadside.

In those years, Sister Maria was working among landless people in Udainagar-Mirzapur. Upper caste landlords who opposed her work reportedly hired Singh to kill her. A court handed him the life sentence one year after the murder. Singh, now 33, addresses Sister Paul as "didi," elder sister, and the nun, who teaches in a school on the outskirts of Indore and is in her late 30s, calls him "chhota bhai," younger brother.

Sister Paul told UCA News on Aug. 17 she forgave Singh "the moment I touched the severely gashed body of my elder sister." Meditating on the crucifix, she added, "further strengthened me" eventually to "adopt him as my brother."She earlier told reporters she wanted to meet Singh after she overcomes her grief, but she did not know how and when that would happen. Someone suggested that Rakshabandan is the best time to make such an approach, so she decided to meet her sister's killer during last year's Rakshabandan festival.
Singh, a primary school dropout from a poor family, told UCA News he regrets his act. Some Hindu fundamentalists "misled" him to believe, he explained, that his victim was involved in converting Hindus to Christianity and that she was asking her converts to desecrate "Bhagwad Gita," a Hindu holy book.

When "Selmy Didi" came to meet Singh the first time, the prisoner said he experienced inexplicable happiness. As he displays the silver "rakhi" she tied on his wrist this year, he says, "I am short of words to express my feelings. One gets this heavenly feeling when one's sister ties 'rakhi.'"

Sister Paul says her family's seven members have accepted Singh as their own. "Though the death of my sister is an irreparable loss to us," Sister Paul remarked, "we have gained one more member" in Singh.

Earlier this year, Sister Paul accompanied her mother and a brother on a 2,000-kilometer trip to Indore, to meet and show Singh that the family has forgiven him. In a gesture of forgiveness, the nun recalled, her 72-year-old mother kissed Singh's hands, "which were once soaked by the blood of her own daughter." Witnessing that, the nun added, was an "unforgettable experience."

Sister Paul also remembers seeing Singh sob uncontrollably last year when she tied "rakhi" on him. She said he looks happier this year. "He prostrated before me and affectionately welcomed me," she said.

Singh said he feels bad that he can offer Sister Paul nothing in return for her gesture of love and forgiveness. Traditionally, brothers give gifts to sisters on Rakshabandan. "I am a convict and have nothing to offer," he said. "Besides, what could I give her when I am indebted to them for my life?"

Sister Paul said that after she first met Singh, he wrote "an emotional letter" begging for the family's pardon. Since then, he "has metamorphosed into another human being," she said.

Singh says he wants to serve society once he is released from prison. Every day, he looks at a passport-size photo of his victim and begs "her to pardon me." Only now, he said, does he "realize I committed the most reprehensible sin by taking the life of an angel who worked for the poor."

Sister Paul's gesture of forgiveness has won admirers, including Divine Word Bishop George M. Anathil of Indore. He says that she has "upheld the Church principles of forgiveness and reconciliation" and has chosen the occasion well, since Rakshabandan stands for "sisterhood and brotherhood".

God bless,

Sr Janet