02/02/2009, 00.00
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An oasis of contemplation in India’s sleepless business capital of Mumbai

by Nirmala Carvalho
The Carmelite convent in Andheri East is a place of peace, home to ten cloistered nuns, “the hidden heart of the city,” according to its mother superior. On the day the Church invites everyone to pray for the Consecrated Life, here is the story of Sister Mary Joseph. Born in a family of Hindu Brahmins, she became a Canossian and then a cloistered nun.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – “Mumbai is called the city of dreams; the city that never sleeps; the financial, business and commercial capital of India. And yet God gave us the gift of his vocation as contemplatives in Mumbai. In a city so much on the go, we are an oasis of love and peace,” said Sister Soccoro, mother superior of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a Carmelite monastery in Mumbai’s Andheri East suburb.

AsiaNews visited the convent today, World Day for Consecrated Life and Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, a day when the Church celebrates the many consecrated people who make or renew their vows.

“When Mumbai was hit by terrorist attacks on 26 November, we felt a deep urging to be consecrated to the Father by the hands of Mary and to be the hidden heart of the city, a city that was bleeding,” Sister Soccoro said, and “pray that the Lord conquer all, touch everyone’s heart, bring peace to the city that surrounds our monastery.”  

The monastery relies on baking hosts and selling them to the city’s many parish churches. It also helps out financially other Carmelite convents with sick sisters and men religious who come to Mumbai before travelling to other places in the country, Sister Soccoro said.

The cloistered convent of Andheri East plays a crucial role for India’s Carmelites, but today it faces serious problems like cracks, breaks and water infiltration caused by monsoon rains. The nuns depend to a great extent on the generosity of the community who donate money and food.

The convent in Andheri East was founded in 1965. Currently, it is home to eight Carmelite nuns and two sisters from other orders, including Sister Mary Joseph (pictured) née Radha Krishnan, the fourth daughter of a devout Hindu family from the Iyengar Brahmin caste, who entered the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites on 19 March 1977.

Her story of conversion begins when she was teaching English and social sciences at the Canossian convent of Mahim, near Mumbai.

She was a fervent Hindu, observing all the precepts and festivities of India’s traditional religion. However, in contact with the Sisters of Charity she felt what today she describes as an “urgent and incessant calling to meet Jesus.”

In 1971 she was baptised by Fr Agnelo Rufino Gracias, now the auxiliary bishop of Mumbai, on 15 March, Feast of the Annunciation, “a fitting day to say ‘Yes’ to Mary,” according to Father Agnelo. Soon thereafter Radha Maria Krishnan joined the Canossian Daughters of Charity.

Her decision to convert, leave the family and take her vows was a hard blow to her parents and brothers.

“Only after 15 years did my father write to me, telling me how much pain I caused him by running away from home,” said Sister Mary Joseph as she came to be called.

For a long time her family blamed her for the humiliation they had to endure as a result of her conversion. Only after many years did Sister Mary rebuild a relationship with her parents, brothers and sister. Although they are all still Hindus, they “do visit me at the monastery with their children.”

Joining the Canossian nuns was only one step in Radha Maria Krishnan’s journey.

“When I was a postulant, the mistress of novices read us the story of Saint Thérèse de Lisieux,” she said. “I was very much taken with it. I asked another sister for a picture of the Little Flower (the saint’s nickname) and I kept it in my breviary. One day when I happened to look at it, I got a strong urge to become like her, a Carmelite.”

Now “when I read in the papers about the suffering of martyrs, the killing of the unborn or euthanasia, the persecution in Orissa or in other parts of India I get very emotional. With simplicity I pray to the Lord for these events,” she said to explain the value of the vocation for the cloistered life.

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