More than half the participants in her retreats were illiterate tribal people from other religions. She spent the first four days teaching basic catechism. With the aid of charts, she taught them about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and the Sacraments.
Sr Xavier Valiakunnackal, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, has died after a brief illness. She was 75.
She had been leading a retired life in Nazareth Convent, Mokama, some 60 km east of Patna, where she had begun her missionary career nearly six decades ago.
Sr Xavier preached mainly among the tribal people of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh states in northeastern India. However, she traced her retreat ministry to experiences in Patna and in the Mokama hospital, where she began her nun’s life as the kitchen in charge.
The sari-clad nun often said she initially faced opposition and feelings of isolation.
She took up preaching full time on Sept 27, 1979, at the age of 41.
Initially, many people in Patna failed to understand her ministry. She said she also did not fully realize all its implications. 'Therefore, some people within the Church opposed it. I was stopped from preaching. Except for a couple of priests, who understood the value of this ministry, none supported me initially,' she said.
It all began to change when people from outside Patna came to know about her and invited her to conduct retreats. Thomas Menamparampil, then bishop of Dibrugarh, invited her in 1985. She began teaching catechism in Assam entered Arunachal Pradesh 10 years later.
Since she had no helpers she did everything alone — singing, preaching and setting timetables.
'I don´t speak philosophy to people. It is all simple talk that village farming people understand. For example, I compare spiritual life with a mango. The seed is the spirit. From the seed comes new life, and when the seed is good the tree is good. They understand that language better,' she explained her method.
'Muslims, Hindus and people of other religions come to my retreats. I tell them I don´t want to hide anything. Whether you accept or not, I will speak out my convictions and what I have experienced. After the retreats, several Hindus have told me that what I preached was right. Now, I feel that I am on the right path,' she said.
Although many bishops and priests supported her work, at some places she did face indifference, 'especially from the modern-day priests and nuns.'
Read full obituary: Nun preacher in Indian villages dies (Matters India)
Beautiful Feet which Carried the Good News (Conference of Religious India Bulletin)
Obituaries: Xavier Valiakunnackal, SCN (Sisters of Charity of Nazareth)
India - Shrinking space for freedom of religion in India (Indian Social Institute)