Healing and Evangelization
This new section entitled “Healing and Evangelization” aims to dedicate a space to the healing ministry as a method of evangelization. It begins with the presentation of the healing ministry and its missionary aspect, keeping in mind the platinum Jubilee of our presence in India – the first mission land of the MSI, who were invited by the then Bishop of Vijayawada- Rt. Rev. Domenico Grassi, PIME, for health care-particularly for the maternity cases in Gudivada. Sr. Betty Peter, picturizes the initial journey of our six pioneers and concludes by adding her own experience as a doctor in the Sacred Heart Hospital, Gudivada.
Healing ministry—gave rise to our maiden mission in India
Being modelled after the healing that Jesus performed during His public ministry as narrated in the Gospels, healing ministry among teaching and preaching is an important element of the evangelizing mission of the Catholic Church. Flipping the pages of the missionary activity of the Church, one can perceive, how healing accompanied the ministry of the missionaries in spreading the Good news of Jesus to the world around. The healing ministry is perhaps the most dramatic and one of the most beautiful demonstrations of God’s love for humankind that we as missionaries make use of in our work of evangelization.
It is precisely because of this that six of our pioneer sister’s on 30 August 1948 left Italy, their place of origin and arrived on 28 September 1948 at Andhra Pradesh in India, to communicate to humanity the love of God through the healing ministry. True, our first overseas community was born to serve humanity through healing, particularly to assist women in their maternity in Gudivada. Today (1948-2023) we have reached the zenith of celebrating Platinum jubilee of our presence in India. A right moment to recall the past experiences and the rich contribution of our beloved pioneers, in this ministry and to this locality.
The dispensary at the initial stages was at its humble beginning in the shed, reaching out to tens and thousands of people, as the diary dated 2 October 1948 mentions, “We pay a visit to the house which we find very beautiful. A huge shed was erected in front of the house … which perhaps will be the beginning of the hospital.” Further on 12 October of the same year it mentions, “The work in the dispensary keeps increasing more and more; we remain until 1pm and still do not succeed to finish the number of patients who come. We have to send them away by force.” While the diary of the consecutive year dated 1 January reads, “At 10.30 pm we are called for a delivery case and the two Sisters come to bed at midnight past half hour; a baby girl was born.” Seems that right from its infancy the pioneer sisters were employed day and night to serve the humanity on their feet.
The initial months of the diary of Gudivada community mentions it clearly that the healing ministry of our pioneer missionaries in no way endorsed an attitude that neglected suffering or omitted the redemptive value of the Cross. The diary dated 16 January 1949 mentions, “At noon a woman in childbirth is brought and her conditions are serious. She is a catechumen. Also another woman in serious conditions is admitted.” While on 17 it mentions, “We were disturbed all the night on account of the woman in childbirth and towards 5am a still-born baby boy is delivered; after about an hour, also the mother dies; she was too weak. During the day also other serious cases arrive.” Life demanded from them the packages of sacrifices not in portion but in fullness.
They did not have much time to learn neither the language nor the customs. Urged by necessity, immediately they had to plunge themselves into the activity, facing with courage and spirit of sacrifice the inevitable difficulties of the beginnings. Despite their tireless service in the dispensary, they would find time to visit the villages in order to distribute medicine or to attend the people in need. The note of 21 January 1954 makes it clear, “Sr. Maria Ida Moina, along with the lady Doctor goes by ‘bandi’ [bullock-cart] to a nearby village for a delivery case.”
For the newly arrived pioneers’ life had been a tough row to hoe in an unknown territory. Sickness and death were every other day realities. Innumerable accounts are mentioned of the death of both women during pregnancy or delivery and the children during birth. Besides the physical diseases, the pioneers were to handle people suffering from fear, anxiety, guilt, shyness that had caused due to cyclone. They listened with sensitivity, moved by compassion wiped their tears, found ways and meaning to alleviate their sufferings. Sickness makes people vulnerable and therefore ministering as a medical practitioner to them during those helpless moments of their lives, the missionaries imprinted the image of Jesus Christ in people’s hearts.
Today, Sacred Heart Hospital, Gudivada, has become an icon of the healing ministry of the MSI to the people in need. Initially a small dispensary but now is developed as a General and Maternity Hospital, with 110 beds, having the facilities of IP, OP, LAB, SCAN and 24 hours of casualty with holistic approach. From a humble beginning, the hospital today has been sought after by the poor and the needy in the locality. Thanks to the hard ships, sacrifices, dedication, commitment and love of the pioneers that keeps alive the scope of the hospital in reaching out to the needy. Kudos to them for their uninterrupted services while on earth and unceasing prayers from heaven. May we continue to follow the footsteps of Jesus, who went about healing the infirmities of the people during His public ministry.
Sr. Betty Peter, Sacred Heart Hospital – Gudivada
Sr. Betty Peter Payyappilly hails from Kerala, the Southern State in India. She has been a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate since 1988. She completed her MBBS studies in the year 1995. Right from her formation days, Sr. Betty was inclined to take care of the sick and weak, therefore, even before she could complete her studies she had been serving in various hospitals in Andhra Pradesh. Since 2013 she is serving at the Sacred Heart Hospital Gudivada.