11/21/2008, 00.00
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From the cloister in India comes gratitude for the Pope who “understands our needs”

by Nirmala Carvalho
A Carmelite nun talks about her daily life in the cloistered monastery of Andheri East near Mumbai, about the days spent in prayer, the needs of their run-down monastery and the living conditions of its eight residents, who are grateful to Benedict XVI for saying that “our vocation to a life of prayerful contemplation is important to the world.”
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – “My heart is overflowing with gratitude for our Holy Father’s concern for us; it brings us immense joy and a deep sense of emotion that our beloved Holy Father understands even our little inconveniences. Above all, our grateful thanks go to him for affirming that our vocation to a life of prayerful contemplation is important to the world because often there are other voices that say that today it is necessary that we go out into the world and serve and not merely stay within the safe confines of the monastery,” said Sister Maria Xaveriana, a Carmelite nun from the Andheri East monastery on the outskirts of Mumbai.

Speaking to AsiaNews about her life and the needs of her monastery she repeatedly expressed her gratitude to the Pope for saying that cloistered monasteries needed help, including material help.

“I read on the Internet and shared with the entire community the appeal the Pope made yesterday,” she said. “Benedict XVI is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, our beloved John Paul II, who too clearly understood our mission and encouraged us in our vocation. Our beloved and cherished Benedict XVI shares John Paul’s concerns about the precariousness and the frugality of our life. We are moved by his tenderness; he understands our reality and needs.”

The monastery in Andheri East is home to eight sisters, plus two who are waiting for the green light from their old convents to move definitively.

Sister Maria describes her days. Individual and communal prayers are their main features.

“We pray six times a day in the quiet solitude of contemplation for about two hours each. We meet as a community five times a day for Matins, Lauds, Office of Readings, etc., twice for half an hour and three times for 15 minutes each.”

“We spend most of our day devoted to our primary mission which is praying and intercession. The rest of day is dedicated to washing, cooking, cleaning and housework. We bake hosts which are supplied to nearly all the parishes in the archdioceses of Bombay, but this does not give us an income, we just about manage to recover the expenses incurred, and that too is possible because we do all the work ourselves.”

The nuns rely on the generosity of people to supports themselves. “Some people give us alms or donations. This is carefully accounted for and registered since our accounts are audited by the Charity Commission,” Sister Maria said.

Today however the nuns are facing serious problems with regards to the safety of the monastery building.

“Our terrace has been leaking for the past three or four years; walls and pillars have cracks and each year, during the monsoon season, we have to put plastic sheets to prevent water seepage. Yet somehow there are leaks and then all of us nuns are cleaning and mopping. During the rains the walls get damp; with the dampness, the walls get moulds; and these are health hazards as well as a source of damage for the structure.”

Repairs are too expensive according to an estimate made for the sisters. “The cost far exceeds what we can dream to spend, especially since we don’t have any money.” They turned instead to the archbishop of Mumbai, Card Oswald Gracias, who took it to heart to do something about the situation. Now, “let us hope that benefactors can come to help us,” Sister Maria said.

Besides the problems associated with the building, the nuns have to confront those of everyday life. Food can be expensive but they have not gone without.

“Our breakfast consists of tea and bread. For lunch and dinner we eat rice, vegetables and fish. We have bananas for lunch and dinner. Sometimes some benefactors give us fruits but we buy only bananas.”

The nuns take on the trials their life requires of them with happiness.

“We are happy. It is very encouraging to see the younger sisters take care of their sick elders. There is such an attitude of loving service, and all this is done in true spirit of sisterly joy, love and unity in the community.”

“Our life here is very fulfilling, praying and interceding for the Church, the world and people. Everyday we strive to make everything into an act of love and service, so as to live faithfully according to the Gospel, for Him and in union with Him.”

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