It was during those days that the news about Bishop Franco of the Jalandhar Diocese began to emerge. Television was the main medium through which news from outside reached the cloisters. Only the Provincial Generalate had access to a multiplicity of newspapers.
All the convents received only Deepika, a daily newspaper owned and published by the Syro-Malabar Church. No one showed any interest in reading this paper. The little interest shown was confined to scanning the headlines and gazing at the pictures.
None of the clergy was interested in knowing what was happening in society. Everyone was interested only in spiritual matters, but even that was done mechanically. The Church also decreed this. No one baulked at the idea of complying with such infantile orders.
Yet the campaign by a nun against Franco made all of us uneasy. However, we all had very different viewpoints. I saw it as a sexual assault on a helpless and defenceless woman. I was enraged by the approach taken by the Church towards the complainant. I could only see it as denial of justice to a forlorn, powerless woman. I could see that the Church authorities were trying to pass off this crime as a product of enmity towards Christianity and the Church; they were trying to frame it as an act of religious hatred. Within the Church, the belief was that the complaint arose from animosity towards the Church.
At our convent, the talk around the dining table mirrored the stance taken by the Church, I being the sole exception. The other residents willingly swallowed the spiel fed to them by the Church authorities, hook, line and sinker. They also vocally expressed their opinions along these lines. They blamed and cursed the TV presenters and news anchors. The nuns branded them as muckrakers out to slander the Church.
None of them had a whit of empathy for the nun, one of their own fellow sisters who was compelled to complain as she was at the end of her tether. One of the often-heard arguments from the nuns was: why had she allowed herself to be taken advantage of, no less than thirteen times, despite knowing him to be a sexual predator.
They were conveniently completely ignoring the low position she occupied in the power structure of the Church’s hierarchy, the misgivings she would have had about people believing her, as it was her word against that of a prelate, and many such imaginable and unimaginable constraints she had to battle.
I was determined that I should stand with this isolated soul. It was a logical and natural conclusion as far as I was concerned. I was only heeding God’s wish to support those who are in trouble and in mourning.
I had a fairly good understanding of the use, power and reach of social media. I realised it had to be the channel to show my solidarity for my wronged sister; I began to post regularly on Facebook in her support. When this gained attention and traction, reporters from the Asianet TV channel came to our school.
In the meantime, a group of sisters started a sit-in protest at Vanchi Square near the High Court in Ernakulam, demanding justice for the persecuted nun. I decided to back those nuns who were fighting injustice. I also decided that I should go there in person and thought up a ruse to do it.
I had to do it this way because I was afraid that my move would be thwarted if it were publicly known. I declared that I was visiting my brother residing at Kalamassery near Ernakulam. Though the convent authorities may have suspected something, they didn’t oppose my trip.
The TV team came in the afternoon of the day I was planning to leave for Ernakulam. I spoke to them frankly about my stand on the whole issue. I had no misgivings or anxieties in relation to opening up. I was speaking to society at large with a clear mind. I had grown to realise that true service to God lies in such honesty.
I had reserved a seat in a private bus. I was cheerful when I headed to the convent from the school. By then, my interview had been telecast by the channel. Many who were sympathetic to my stand and supported it called me on the phone. They requested me to participate in the evening talk shows on some TV channels. I agreed without any hesitation. I would have to make a pit stop at one of the TV studios before heading to Ernakulam.
Just as I was leaving for my trip, one of the sisters sarcastically said, ‘Oh, now we’ll have to watch the TV to catch a glimpse of you.’ I understood that either the inmates had watched the telecast or someone from outside had apprised them of it. It was not as if I was the first person from the Syro-Malabar congregation to appear on TV or talk shows – for one, Father Paul Thelekkat was a regular on TV channels.
The inmates had little interest in watching the news. The majority of them watched only the never-ending serials on TV. These tear- jerkers held no interest for me, nor did I find time to watch these serials, the unchanging themes of which were illicit relationships and duplicities in families. Neither did the thunderous evangelism of Shalom TV move me.
I left the convent by 7.30 pm and reached the channel’s Kalpetta studio via the vehicle arranged by them. I replied to the talk show host’s questions without prevarication and boldly proclaimed my support for and solidarity with the victim. Then I left for Kalamassery in a bus arranged by the channel. I went to my cousin’s house along with my relatives who received me. From the time I had made up my mind to join the sisters’ protest, my mind was wholly preoccupied with their struggle. I found it impossible to accept my relatives’ suggestion to take a little rest.
I had my bath and change of clothes and headed to the protest pandal. I touched the hands of each sister participating in the sit-in by the roadside as the milling crowds passed by them. I felt as if I had been sanctified. The determined looks in their eyes flowed into me as pure energy. That was enough to banish the smidgen of qualms in my mind. I felt my mind clearing up and turning into a brilliant white sky. I held long conversations with those present. For me, each word was pregnant with passionate intensity and every sentence bore the heartbeat of Jesus Christ.
I was very animated and forgot that I had had no food. I was with the sisters till 4 pm. My visuals were all over the TV channels. I thought I should spend one more day with them.
I was never worried about the future, nor was I nervous about anything. I always used to live in the present and for the present day. Nevertheless, my relatives were unduly worried and fell prey to some irrational fear. I had to bow to their insistent wishes and abandon the idea of spending the second day with the sisters. Instead, I continued to lend my support to them through social and mainstream media in the next few days.
Excerpted with permission from In the Name of the Lord: A Nun’s Tell-All, Sister Lucy Kalapura, translated from the Malayalam by Nandakumar K.