The congregation was among the first in India to include Tribals in the religious order. The nuns live simple lives with simple people, among the poor, like the poor. They teach the catechism, serve the poor and the sick, and educate young people. They are a gift of the Church of Odisha to the Church in India and the Universal Church.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The Handmaids of Mary (HM) in Odisha held celebrations on Saturday to mark the first 75 years of their congregation.
Mgr John Barwa, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, concelebrated the Mass along with six bishops in the presence of hundreds of priests and nuns. The prelate praised the nuns for their stupendous growth and service to society.
Fr Edmund Joseph Harrison, a Jesuit, founded the congregation in 1944 in Kesramal parish, Roukela, western Odisha. Fr Herman Westermann, of the Society of the Divine Word, later took them under his care in Sambalpur.
The consecrated women’s goal was to offer support to the missionaries' work helping the poor, women and children.
“The Congregation has been selflessly serving the Church. The Sisters are at the service of women and children,” Mgr Barwa told AsiaNews.
“Their primary purpose is the teaching of religion and catechism to both children in schools and people in the villages in a concrete, practical, adapted and appealing way, so that all may learn to love and practise well their religion.”
The “Sisters are also involved in the health care ministry, serving the poor, the marginalised, Tribals and Dalits. They are also providing vocational training to the youth, to enable them to become self-reliant through skills. This congregation works for the uplift of all.”
At a time when the Church hesitated to accept tribal people into religious congregations, Fr Westermann did not. “What he did was revolutionary,” the archbishop explained.
At present, the Sisters are a congregation of pontifical right and are present in Germany as well. They are a gift of the Church of Odisha to the Church in India and the Universal Church. The nuns live simple lives with simple people, among the poor, like the poor.
Sister Meena Barwa, the archbishop's niece, joined the congregation in 1995. She survived a brutal sexual attack during the anti-Christian pogroms in Kandhamal in 2008. She spoke about the support she received from the congregation after that terrible incident.
“In 2009, my superiors made me do a bachelor’s degree. I was staying outside Odisha, without revealing my identity to friends and teachers. I lived as ‘one of the girls’ in a convent hostel. Except for the Sisters, no one knew my identity. What was challenging was the freedom to be myself as a student sister.”
Soon after she was raped by Hindu radicals, “two of the sisters reached out to me risking their lives. My congregation didn’t send me back home. They saw to the minute details of my well-being along with my physical, emotional and spiritual healing.
“They gave me full support by telling to the world the truth of what happened to me and in Kandhamal. I got equal treatment like others; in fact, they loved me more than before.”