Missionary Life

India is a land of diversities of religions, languages, and cultures. It is the cradle of different religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. The vast majority of population are Hindus 81.66%; then come the Muslims 12.5%, Christians 2.18%, Sikhs 2.01%, Buddhists 0.85%, Jains 0.34%, and others 0.44%.  .
Indian society is structured on the caste system. There are four primary castes Brahmins, Kshatryias, Vaisyas, Sudras. A caste is a group of families bound to each other by special rules for the observance of ceremonial purity, especially as regard to marriage and food. Traditionally the Brahmins are the priestly caste and used to keep the highest positions of honour in society. The Kshatriyas make up the ruling group and are professional warriors. Engaging in agriculture and commerce, the Vaisyas form the producer and consumer sections of society, while the Sudras are consigned to the lowest rank and their lot is to do the menial work and serve the higher castes. Those with out any castes like Tribals are gradually marginalized and relegated as ‘outcasts.’ They used to be exploited in many ways by the upper-castes. This social system has also brought extreme disparity among the people of India, divided into the highly rich and the desperately poor.  One may note that the caste system is slowly breaking down under the impact of modern life, although modernity is slow to penetrate into the remote villages.
It is mostly Hinduism that has shaped India and constitutes the most prominent religion in the northern parts of India, where most people do not know Jesus and his gospel. Assessing this situation and urgent missionary need, FCC sent missionaries to North India in 1960, where they worked as the first Indigenous women missionaries. It was the knowledge that there are millions of people who have not even heard of Jesus Christ that led Sr. Rani Maria to the northern missions.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach the Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Lk.4: 18)”. This Gospel verse was the motto of Sr. Rani Maria, who wrote it down in her personal recordings.  She was convinced about her missionary call.  For greater efficiency in her work as a missionary she realized that she has to master the language of the place.  Accordingly she bid farewell to the mission fields on 9th July 1975 and engaged in language study at the Provincial House of Sisters of Notre Dame, Patna.

Bijnor

After her language study Rani Maria arrived at St. Mary’s Convent in diocese of Bijnor on 24th December1975. 

Bijnor will be the cradle of her missionary life. She used to say, “I was born and brought up as a missionary in Bijnor.”

Owing to the lack of qualified local teachers, Sr. Rani Maria was appointed as a teacher in St. Mary’s School Bijnor, in spite of her desire to serve the poor in the villages.

She served as a teacher for two years from 8th September 1976 to 7th August 1978. During this period after the teaching hours, she was engaged in social ministry.

After two years of teaching in the school, she got fully involved in social service until 21st July 1983. To make herself competent for better service to the poor villagers, she did her higher studies in Sociology. Along with her studies, she continued her social ministry without any failure.  On May 22, 1980 she made her final profession at St. Hormis Church, Ankamaly.

Although she did not spend many years in Bijnor, she could reach out to every little child, every sick and weak person in the interior villages and huts.  Rev. Fr. Varghese Kottoor CMI, the then Parish Priest of Bijnor writes, “The Franciscan simplicity and cheerfulness of Sr.Rani captured the hearts and minds of all with whom she came in contact”. Sr. Infant Mary too testifies: “The biting cold, heavy rains, intense heat, irregular meals, lack of water, and journeys through dangerous moments, lonely moments of helplessness… nothing was a hindrance to Sr. Rani Maria.” On hearing of her untimely death of Sr. Rani Maria ,Fr. Kottor recalled her words, “I would die for these poor people.”

Odagady

On 21 July 1983, Sr.Rani Maria was transferred to Odagady in the diocese of Satna. She arrived there on 25th July 1983 and was appointed coordinator of the social activities.  She worked to uplift the poor and downtrodden.

She was firmly convinced that no sacrifice would be too much in order to secure the total liberation proclaimed by Christ. She organized educational programmes for the children, the young, and the aged. She conscientized the poor about their exploitation and enabled them to realize their rights and duties as citizens of India. As a result, she became the object of the displeasure of their oppressors, who looked upon her work to uplift the poor as attempts to convert them to Christianity. Her life was at times under threat. Threats only made her more enthusiastic and zealous. From 1st June to 31st July 1985, as a woman of prayer in the midst of heavy responsibilities she found two months time to spend in silence and solitude at the Prayer Bhavan Portiuncula, FCC Generalate, Aluva. From 30th May 1989 to 15th May 1992 Sr. Rani Maria served as Local Superior. Meantime she took Master’s degree in Sociology from Rewa University. She served as the Provincial Social Service Department Consultant of  FCC Amala Province, Bhopal from 8th Sept.1991 to 15th Dec.1994.
Observing the life of Sr.Rani, the then Provincial Superior, Rev Sr. Marianna stated during an official visitation, “Oh! What a missionary zeal! What courage! How can she do so much? Oh! This is an extraordinary personality. I would have be extremely happy if I got a little of this charism. If she carries on this manner, Sr.Rani Maria would surely fall victim to murderers.” During the nine years of service in Odagady, Sr.Rani Maria changed the face of Odagady through the developmental activities carried out with the cooperation of the people of the locality. Fr. Mathew Vattakuzhy, the then Social Work director, remarked: “At Odagady a few Christian Families had settled down before the mission station was started. Sr.Rani helped them to grow in Christian faith by regularly visiting them and teaching them catechism. Many Adivasis [poor natives] and Harijans [outcasts] were attracted to Christianity by her sincere concern and love for them, effective developmental activities, selfless works for the people etc.  Bishop Abraham Mattam recollects: “Sr. Rani Maria was convinced that an evangelizer should be interested in the life of the poor to give them Christ, his love and his redeeming message, there by helping them to attain special growth and material welfare”.

Udainagar

On 15 May 1992, Sr.Rani was transferred to Sneha Sadan, Udainagar. She arrived there on 18th May. As an experienced Social worker she made a thorough study of the tribals of the villages and realized that they had unconsciously fallen into the debt trap laid very cunningly by the Baniyas (tradesman) of Udainagar. Those villagers had become over dependant on the scrupulous money lenders who devoured their meagre earnings and property. The poor were not aware of the grants that government had allotted for their socio-economic development. Through various conscientization programmes Sr.Rani Maria made them aware of their rights and injustice perpetrated on them. Thus, poor of Udainagar became active citizens and started to free themselves from the bondage to their heartless moneylenders. She would often approach the government officials for the sake of the poor, often only to meet with refusal and rejection.  They even laughed at her interest for the uplift of low caste people.  A novice, who once accompanied Sr. Rani Maria to the Bank Manager, narrates what she saw.

Holding in her hand the crucifix hanging from her neck, Sr. Rani humbly told the officer, “Sir, we have accepted this way of life and come here not because we have no means of livelihood at home, nor is it because our parents have pushed us out of our families. Look! We have accepted this way of life, a life of sacrifice, in order to work for Christ in the poor.” Gradually her gentle manners, sincere dealings, unselfish way of actions, and above all her pleasant way of speaking won over admiration even of the officials.
She drew upon the Franciscan Charism, she dedicated herself totally to the oppressed and marginalized without ever hating their oppressors.  It was in prayer that she found strength to face all challenges and difficulties. Sr. Liza Rose recollects, “Sr.Rani Maria used to get up everyday early morning at 4 o’clock. She spent a lot of time in personal prayer. Afterwards she took part in the community prayer in a very active way .She was   enthusiastic and creative in leading the community prayer.”
In 1994, Sr.Rani Maria was elected as the Provincial Councillor of the Social Service department, in which she had to coordinate the social service activities of the Province. As a result of developmental works in Udainagar, the marshy places were converted into agricultural land. The men folk were engaged in small-scale business. Those capable of going for higher education were given the opportunities. She chose a few youngsters and gave them training to become animators. She taught them how to help the poor and themselves by getting financial assistance from the government and private banks of Udainagar and Indore. Thus she could eradicate the evil of poverty to a certain extend from Udainagar. Sr.Liza Rose who was then superior of Sneha Sadan Convent, Udainagar remarks: “Sr.Rani Maria mostly worked among the Adivasis and among those who were marginalized by the society. They loved her as a mother because this was for the first time that they saw a person, who shared their life, lived with them and acted in their favour. Her life was set apart for the poor. It was her nature not to run away from difficulties and oppositions.” Since the developmental programmes for the poor tribals went counter to the vested interests of the unscrupulous moneylenders and social exploiters, she became the object of their hatred, which grew steadily in step with the progress of the poor.  And her enemies decided to get rid of her.  They waited for an opportunity.  They did not have to wait long.
Eight days before her death during her last visit to the Provincial House, on the occasion of the Canonical Visit of Mother General Henry Suso, Sr. Rani said, “We should not seek safety and comfort in our mission work, with Courage and trust in God more and more sisters should get ready to risk themselves in serving the poor and needy in the undeveloped villages of the missions." On the same occasion she confided to her Novice Mistress Late Sr. Infant Mary, the continuous death threats she was receiving. And she disclosed to her, “I would desire to die a martyr for the love of Jesus and for my poor downtrodden brethren.”