By Giada Aquilino
Hers is a commitment that unites both service to the marginalized regardless of belief and the care of creation. This is the mission carried out by Notre Dame Sister Mary Jyotisha Kannamkal, SND in Bihar, in Northeast India. Born in Kerala in 1960, she entered her religious Congregation in 1987. “Initially, I was a teacher,” she tells Vatican News, “but my inner voice challenged me to leave the institutionalized teaching and enter into the service of the people on the margin”, in particular women and girls. Since 2010, after obtaining a Masters in social services, and an internship at the United Nations in New York, Sister Jyotisha has been responsible for the initiative of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission in the Province of Patna, in collaboration with the International Union of Superiors General, and is a member of UNICEF-Bihar’s Interreligious Forum for human rights, as well as being a Laudato Si’ Animator in the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM)
The cry of the earth and of the poor
Sister Jyotisha says she is “enraptured” by the 2015 Encyclical Laudato si’ by Pope Francis on the care of our common home. “What especially impressed me was the spiritual perspective of the interconnection between the social and the environmental crises that require an urgent ecological conversion, a radical cultural revolution that promotes an integral ecology that responds to the cry of the earth and the poor”. Because of this, she adds, “The reason why I became a Laudato SI’ Animator is because I am disturbed by the impact of ecological crisis on the poor especially the last two three years of drought and flood that the people faced with leaving them with no means for their basic needs. My inner voice is urging me to commit myself fully for building solidarity for the Integral Ecology”.
Patna is located within the state of Bihar, home to 125 million inhabitants. The World Bank reported that in the second decade of the second millennium, 36 million people in Bihar were living in poverty. Between the end of last October and the beginning of November, people waited in long lines for one of the first elections since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, in this case for local government positions. As AsiaNews reported, many voters ignored the measures regarding the use of masks and social distancing. “The suffering and misery of the poor people by the socio-environmental crisis has intensified by the global pandemic today. The disproportionate effect on the poor people in the country like India is very alarming”.
During the current Covid-19 crisis, Sister Jyotisha is particularly concerned about the “extremely difficult” and “heartbreaking” irregular situation of itinerant workers, many of them day-workers. Employed at one time in the megacities, many of them returned to their villages because they now found themselves unemployed due to the pandemic. Sister Jyotisha criticizes the “increase in the unemployment of youth, having no option for livelihood for the family”. She focuses once again on the poor whom, she emphasizes are left, “distressed and hopeless leading more to suicide and other anti-social activities. The women, girls, children, the elderly and those are physically ill are the worst hit people in the country. In spite of the ‘Samaritan Activities’ of a few with human fraternity in the society”, the pain and suffering of a vast portion of the population still remains. And “those who are poor continue being poor”. The premature “loss of human life by the pandemic and climate change,” she add, “is giving us a red signal to the way we are living today”.
“I see Laudato si’ as a spiritual tool to bring back the materially driven world” to spiritual values and to a cooperation to seek the common good, the Indian nun explains. “It is a time for us to awaken our spirituality as a vital, real and dynamic energy to combat the inter-linked human and ecological crisis that we are facing today”. The spiritual ideal of India, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, indicates that “the whole world is one family” and Pope Francis’s Laudato si’ “is calling us for a fraternal relationship with everyone and everything that God has created. To be family means feel responsibility to care for each and every member of the family”.
At the Laudato sì school
Collaborating with the GCCM spurred Sister Jyotisha not only toward promoting integral ecology, but also toward a formation in line with the spirit of Laudato si’. Her provincial says the Sisters of Notre Dame have already adopted the policy of ‘Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation’. In that perspective, Sister Jyotisha works with her younger Sisters in community in creating “a new way of living the religious life”.
Last May, “the celebration of the Laudato SI’ Week 2020 in the provincial house has created awareness and motivation in the sisters for the need and importance of ecological conversion in the care and protection of our common home". Thus began various initiatives for Laudato Si’ Year that runs until 24 May 2021: a 6-month education program on the Pope’s Encyclical for the young professed Sisters; nature walks; an annual retreat for Sisters under the age of 60; the creation of a “positivity bank” for the common home in which each community in the Province “deposits” a positive action along the lines of integral ecology.
An interreligious dedication
“The main concept heighted in the training on Laudato SI’ was the need for growing towards an Integral Ecology”. Sister Jyotisha recounts how she has made sure that her fellow Sisters are prepared for this ecological conversion “through small steps like saving water, electricity, not wasting food managing the bio-degradable waste, reducing, reusing, recycling, not using single use plastic, use and throw items, aerated drink, Jung food, proceed food etc. They were encouraged to experience God in the interconnectedness of all forms of life and safeguard all that God has created”.
In September, she organized a webinar in respect of the provisions related to the pandemic. She “gathered” from the State of Bihar the representatives of UNICEF and the leaders of all the local religious and traditions to celebrate the Season of Creation 2020. She even organized a painting and poetry context for children, convinced that “taking care of Mother Earth means taking care of humanity”.
* With the collaboration of the Indian Section of Vatican Radio - Vatican News