A young sister in a community in Bangalore was diagnosed with cancer. Hearing the news, her Provincial took the next flight to be with the suffering sister. Cancelling all her engagements, the Provincial stayed with the young sister in the hospital for two weeks. Before she left the hospital, she delegated some sisters to look after her with love and concern.
An 89-year-old nun was admitted in a hospital due to illness related to old age. Sisters from all communities spread across seven states of north India came to meet her and show their affection and care. They wanted the senior sister feel that she was cared for and loved by the members of her congregation.
In many cases the religious sisters are taken care of by the community when they are sick and dying, though a lot of austerity and rigidity are imposed on them while they are healthy and working.
In the name of the vows of poverty and simplicity many traditional religious congregations deprive their members the necessities of life such as internet, mobile phone, decent dress, and nurturing friendship and relationship with people in the society. The rules and way of life differ from congregation to congregation. At least they compensate all these deprivations when sisters suffer from serious illnesses like cancer, and are at the point of death.
Some traditional congregations which practice maximum religiosity with rituals and devotions force the sick and dying sisters to practice austerity or poverty and make them suffer “for God’s love”.
A sister who worked hard with dedication during her entire life was suddenly diagnosed with cancer. Many tests, surgery and chemotherapy followed. She was then shifted to a small convent near to the hospital, and the Provincial asked the superior to take care of her. She was left alone in a room. Neither the Provincial visited her after the surgery, nor enquired about her condition over the phone for nearly four months. Seeing her pathetic situation, the family members of the sick sister offered to come and stay with her and accompany her to the hospital every time. However, the Provincial regularly sent a sister to get the signature of the sick sister on cheque book to get her pension amount from the government as she was drawing salary as Headmistress over the years. Despite being a ‘milking cow’ for the congregation over the years, the superiors did not think of employing a woman to give nursing care to the sick sister, despite knowing the trouble her family members were taking!
The nuns are busy with retreats, night vigils, family prayer meetings and many other routine practices. The paradox is that they, who find time to visit the sick in the families, do not have time to be with one of their own who is sick and suffering in the convent. Convents have rules to make the sisters to live detached from the family; yet when they fall sick, the family members have to make time and money to take care of them!
The cancer-affected sister was brainwashed over the years due to the excessive religiosity and devotions to the extent that she did not feel hurt by the inhuman attitude of her superiors and members of the community. She silently suffers pain for the “love of God” and forgiveness of her sins and sins of her family members, as taught by some preachers who exploit the sentiments of simple people!
All nuns will not have the stamina to suffer the pain and rejection the way St. Alphonsa and other brand of canonized ‘saints’ did. They feel betrayed despite their sincere life and lifelong service for the congregation.
A 62-year-old nun who was suffering from intense pain due to cancer in another traditional convent committed suicide by hanging herself in her room. After some routine treatment in an ordinary hospital, she was shifted to a convent. The community members did not bother to take care of her because she was in her last stage. All were busy with their routine chores and religious observances. Frustrated by the indifference of the community members, she decided to end her life. Since the Church had influence over the government administration, the suicide was declared as a natural death due to cancer! Though the family members knew the truth they opted to keep silent because they did not have the means to fight the case against the Church and the congregation.
Examples of such man–made hells in the religious communities and Church institutions are numerous. The mighty structure of the Church and the routine religious practices have brainwashed the members to live ‘happily’ in this man-made hell.
Many people suffer and die due to cancer and AIDS (Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome). Another worst killer disease is the ‘Religious AIDS’ caused by the excessive obsession of religiosity which makes priests, nuns and their superiors insensitive, inhuman and hypocritical. The whole religious life and the system get paralyzed. The immunity is such that no renewal programs will change the individuals and the structure. Because of this immunity, numerous radical and prophetic exhortations of Pope Francis also do not affect them. They continue remaining with their ‘funeral face’ and ‘death culture’ in the community. Neither the individual nuns and priests, nor their communities, are able to attract people. They are defeating the mission of Christ.
The hypocrisy of those in leadership position and authority is very visible. While they enjoy all the perks and privileges, they deny even the basic facilities to other members in the name of poverty and simplicity! Though the members do not speak about it they whisper their dissatisfaction whenever they get an opportunity. Many feel that they were trapped in a man-made hell.
This hell can surely be changed into a heaven if we could build our foundation on Christ. Christo-centred life is the only solution. Each one should ask this simple question: “What would Jesus do if He were here? What is the mind of Christ? What is the heart of Christ?” The early Christian community proved that it is possible. St. Francis of Assisi proved that it is possible. Universal Solidarity Movement (USM) is living and working on the basis of the life and teachings of Christ. We need to give up the ‘old wineskin’ fully and use the ‘new wineskin’ without patch work. Making heaven or hell is our choice, and it’s in our hands.#(Published on 27th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 13)