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A Visit With Sister Susan,
the Stigmatic Nun of Kerala
by Jim Martin
My journey through Southern India rewarded me with the wonderful experience of the unique beauty of Kerala state. Two days of boating along the inland waterway system provided a welcome respite from the dust and confusion of bus and train travel, as well as memorable views of thatched huts clustered among coco palms and wide-horned water buffalo relaxing in flower-covered ponds.  The destination was Mar Gregorios Ashram and Sister Susan Kuruvilla, a stigmatic Christian nun well known in the region for her orphanage and the weekly healings she conducted there.

The ashram was a small block and cement structure.  It surrounded a dusty courtyard populated with goats and other small animals and had open space for activities such as winnowing rice and drying sap from rubber trees.  I was welcomed with open arms by Sister Susan and her assistant Matthew. I recall her saying, as she cleaned a sewing machine and other household items out of the small room that was to be my sleeping quarters, "You are my son, I am your mother. You may stay with us as long as you like."

Like Mother Teresa, whom I had visited twice in Calcutta, I found Sister Susan to be slight of build, gentle, humble and deeply pious. Unlike Mother Teresa, who had been granted the Nobel Prize for Peace at about that time, Sister Susan remained relatively unknown to the outside world, with the exception of a few foreign supporters and institutions where studies on her had been performed. I read articles from a Canadian newspaper with a statement to the effect that her wounds must be 'authentic,' as opposed to self-inflicted, as they would otherwise either infect or heal over time. 

According to Sister Susan, the story began when she was thirteen years old and was viewing a painting of Christ in a local church that was part of a Christian sect founded here by St Thomas. She described how Christ manifested to her from the painting, asking her to devote her life to God. As a teenage schoolgirl, she was understandably overwhelmed by the event, and returned home to discuss the matter with her family. The answer was yes, she would, and the following Good Friday she was temporarily marked with the wounds of the crucified Christ--cross-shaped incisions on her palms and soles and another on her forehead (and possibly on her side as well). Some time later the stigmata also began to appear every Friday, and eventually every Tuesday as well.

During the week Sister Susan would be busy with overseeing the children in her care, daily maintenance of the facilities and preparation of food and products for consumption and sale. Much of her time, though, was devoted to prayer, often standing before an open Bible in a small room off the public area.

Imagine the prayers that might be offered by such a person, chosen by the Holy Spirit to bear her burden, to make such a sacrifice for suffering humanity...  Imagine what guidance, encouragement and inspiration she must be receiving in return…

On Tuesdays and Fridays, following a session of prayer, Sister Susan would lie down on a pad in the center of the largest room. Slipping into her trance state, she began to moan and thrash about, clutching and kissing her crucifix as the wounds on her hands, feet and forehead spontaneously began to bleed. Ashram staff and visitors such as myself had gathered around her to witness the transformation and comfort her with soft pillows and with woven grass fans. After some time she began to 'speak in tongues'- uttering words from what I understand to be an ancient Middle Eastern dialect, possibly the language spoken by St Thomas.

Following this, she would rise and offer blessings and healings to the people standing in line before her. Unlike the Philippine psychic surgeons, whose work I felt unable to accurately evaluate (see story in Sept/Oct ConneXion), I believe Sister Susan to be exactly what she appears to be, a compassionate and devoted woman with an incredible gift from spirit and an awesome responsibility to use it.

From the ashram I moved on to other wonderful adventures, including a healing siddhi, Parmeshwar Swami, and the fire-walkers and hook-hangers of Kataragama in the forests of Sri Lanka. I carried with me two gifts from Sister Susan, which I consider most precious: a blue and white plastic rosary, which today hangs in my bedroom as a constant reminder of my days in her presence, and her reply to my question, "What is God?" She responded simply, "God is love, and love is sacrifice. God is love, and love is sacrifice."

These and other stories from around the world will next be presented in a slide show and talk program on November 18th at Sellwood Spirit Feathers in Portland. For information please call 640-3668.

Jim Martin, Lic. Ac. is an acupuncturist with offices in Hillsboro (640-3668) and Scappoose (543-7266). He presents slide and lecture programs about travels in search of strange and wonderful people and places around the world.   Email: mjmartin214@aol.com

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