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  • » 03/07/2004, 00.00

    india - women's day

    Sister Nirmala witnesses to Christianity in her Hindu home town

    Ranchi (AsiaNews/Ucan) – "Jesus started chasing me when I was in Doranda and ultimately caught me in Patna." Mother Teresa's successor Sister Nirmala Joshi told the hundreds of mostly Hindus who gathered to greet the nun as she visited her birthplace for the first time in 57 years. Doranda, where Sr. Nirmala was born in 1934, is a suburb of Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand, 1,160 kilometers southeast of New Delhi.  Patna, where she attended university, is the capital of neighbouring Bihar. Hailed as  a "safedi devi", or "white goddess"  by the Hindus and Nepalese settlers who sought her blessing, she was garlanded with flowers while admirers bent to touch her feet. Only "goddesses" can do the work Mother Teresa did, declared Karuna Thapa, a Nepalese teenager who was "extremely happy" to have received Sr. Nirmala's blessing.

    Men, women and children wept and bowed as the Missionary of Charity arrived at the state police auditorium to share how she, born 'Kusum Joshi', a Brahmin of  the highest Hindu caste, became a Catholic nun.

    With her parents and four sibling living in a four-room mud house, she said 'something' happened to her when she was a 10 year-old girl. After visiting a temple of the Hindu god Shiva, she related: "I was running around with my friends in the courtyard of a nearby Catholic church. Here a statue with outstretched arms greeted me. At first I was scared, but later I found the statue was of the Sacred Heart of Jesus." In 1947, her family moved, eventually settling in Shilong, 1300 kilometers from her birthplace. There, Sister Nirmala remembered, she used to argue about religions, saying, "Hinduism is the best." She later studied at the Apostolic Carmel nuns'  Patna Women's College,  where she was inspired by her Hindu roommate who would kneel to pray when the bell for prayer rang. "I felt something happening within me," she recounted, "Again and again I had a feeling of God calling me. I felt Jesus had come alive to me."  It was when she finally moved to Calcutta that she met Mother  Teresa, who established the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. With her counsel,  Kusum was baptised April 5th, 1958, taking the name 'Nirmala', which means 'pure.' Her parents, though known locally as "affectionate" and willing to help anyone in need, would not accept her change of religion until two years later.

    Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, accompanied Sister Nirmala with several other nuns and priests. He observed that the visit to her birthplace was part of "God's plan" to make Christianity known to others, and that the "great enthusiasm" shown by the people, especially the Hindus, would make a "deep impact" on Jharkhand.

    Hindu Tufan Pradhan,  who lives in the Joshi's former home in Doranda, said he "truly feels very happy to know that one of the world's most renowned religious persons once lived in my home." Standing at the nearby Shiva temple, he commented, "..this is the place were little Kusum got enlightenment at the age of 10, and God took her away and handed her over to Jesus to serve humanity."    

     J.P. Chetri, a leader of  the Nepalese forum Jharkhand Gorkha Sangathan, confirmed that the shrine had become a "historical site" because of Sr. Nirmala. "It will be a holy place where a goddess was born among us " he said. Sunita Lama, a young Nepalese woman, believes that the Hindus accept Sr.Nirmala because she is from the highest caste saying, "Brahmins in Nepal are very much respected."

    Sr. Nirmala spoke in Nepalese about her childhood memories and credited her parents for instilling in her a spirit of service to the poor and destitute.

    "Only an eye to see and heart to serve them are needed " she told the crowd. "This is the only way to please the Almighty."

    Sister Nirmala became superior of the Missionaries of Charity in March 1997, six months before Mother Teresa died.


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