BANGALORE, India — Sister Maria Nirmalini, superior general of the Apostolic Congregation of Carmel, is the new president of the Conference of Religious in India, the national body of major religious superiors. She also leads the women’s section of the conference.
An educator for most of her life, Nirmalini has received the Best Principal Award and Best Teacher Award from the Delhi State Government and the World Disaster Education Award instituted by the International Association of Disaster Educators. world peace. She was also invited to address the German bishops’ conference on the 2008 attacks on Christians in Kandhamal, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha.
In her first interview after becoming the head of over 130,000 Catholic religious men and women in India, including 103,000 professed sisters, Nirmalini shared with Global Sisters Report her views on various issues, especially the empowerment of women. nuns in India. Excerpts from the interview follow.
Q. What are your immediate priorities as head of CRI?
A. First, I must address the growing challenges faced by our sisters in India. I was first elected to head the women’s section of the CRI. So let me start with them.
In February, the executive members of the women’s section met in Goa. We discussed primarily the challenges faced by nuns in India – the mysterious deaths of nuns, clergy sexual abuse, patriarchal oppression and property disputes.
We also picked up a conference-sponsored survey on the challenges of religious women in India. The results of the survey were presented in the form of a book, “It’s High Time”. The conference did not officially publish the book, perhaps because its findings revealed harsh realities and painful truths. But I assure you that my team will take the recommendations into account.
Q. What are your immediate proposals for meeting the challenges of religious?
The first plan is to form a “grievance cell” with representations of female religious doctors, psychologists, lawyers, counselors and spiritual guides. If such a forum already exists, we will make it work. The forum will offer a “confidential listening” to sisters of any congregation and assure them of our support. The aim is not to pass judgements, but to provide a platform for “listening, advising and accompanying”.
So far, we haven’t provided our sisters with a platform to at least listen to them, forget to give them support. We continued to blame patriarchal systems and clergy suppression. Now is the time to empower sisters to be assertive and worthy while playing creative roles in the church. I want to see them “independent”.
Q. What are the strengths and weaknesses of nuns in India?
A. Our educational institutions are centers of transformation and empowerment. Our medical facilities bring a touch of healing to all, our social work centers act as tools of justice, freedom and dignity for the smallest and most lost in society. We have an important role in society, but unfortunately we have not realized our strengths or affirmed our dignity as God’s chosen women.
I was amazed to find that we have over 100 qualified doctors, hundreds of lawyers, thousands of teachers, several engineers, social workers, psychologists and other professionals. And yet we remain dependent, helpless and obedient. Our strength is our ability to transform others, and our weakness is our ignorance of our own power.
Q. So do nuns need to be freed from clerical imperialism?
A. I am not in conflict with the clergy. The religious also trusted me by electing me president of the CRI. I am here to defend the equality, freedom and dignity of men and women religious. At the same time, I want the nuns to become dignified, assertive and confident.
Religious who serve the dioceses must affirm that they are there to serve the people and not the diocesan structures. Some nuns are afraid to protest if they are mistreated because they don’t want priests to use the pulpit to put nuns down in front of the laity. I have heard of such cases. It is these priests who need to be freed from the patriarchal mentality which goes against the Christian spirit and witness.
Q. What other challenges do Indian nuns face?
A. Another problem is the lack of exposure and coordination between us. The more we are exposed to similar situations in other congregations, the more broad-minded and focused we become. The sisters working in the field of education hardly know any other ministry. I have observed that some serving nuns refuse to admit the poor, even Catholic children, to their schools, saying they are “less intelligent.” Let’s not forget that we are above all for “the lost and the less fortunate” in society.
This is also the case in other departments. This causes an imbalance. During my tenure, I intend to address this trend on a national scale.
We also want to encourage more coordinated exhibition activities and programs. People in education should serve in social apostolates or visit other areas. This can be done within the congregation or in collaboration with other congregations.
Q. You spoke more for women. But you are president of a body which includes priests and brothers. What are your priorities for them?
A. Only the new executive body of the women’s section is now in place. The executive body of the whole conference has not yet taken office. Once this is done, we will clearly establish our priorities.
However, one of the priorities is to develop a culture of collaboration in mutual respect, acceptance and coordination. The promotion of coordinated activities at the local level is another priority. The grievance cell will also take care of their problems.
It is high time that we recognize the role of the laity in the Church by promoting lay participation at all levels. We have kept them away until now because we were afraid to share our power and our assets. I am happy that some congregations encourage lay associates. It’s a good decision. Vocations to congregations are dwindling. The only alternative is therefore to promote lay associates.
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Scaria, based in India, has written for ucanews.com since 1991. He also writes for Matters India, a news portal that focuses on religious and social issues.