When those we love go away, they never really leave us;
they are with us now, wherever we are.
Those whom we have cherished, live on forever,
for love wraps itself around the heart.
Although it's difficult now,
someday beyond our tears and all the world's wrongs;
beyond the clouds and all that we can see and touch,
we shall all understand.

Bhavya Kirti

(A Fraternal Tribute)

24th April 2013

At the beginning of this Exequial Mass Sr Delphine has already given us details of Sr Christa’s early days, so I will not repeat the same. The fact, however remains, that out of her 78-year sojourn on this earth, Sr Christa spent a good 70 years, in one form or another, in the shadow of St Mary’s (IBMV, now CJ sisters). I will here share with you some lesser-known vignettes of her life and testimony.

Sr Christa, or Christine de Noronha, as she was then known, was already a trained teacher, working at St Mary’s, Kanpur. In fact, she was my first catechism teacher, preparing me for my Confirmation in 1958. It was she who told me about St Francis of Assisi, to which I have borne testimony in one of my recent articles.

When she expressed a desire to join the religious life my father, Chev Peter de Noronha KSG CE, felt that she needed to “see the world outside” before she went “inside”. In 1957 he took the whole family on a trip to Kashmir. In 1958, the centenary year of the apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes, Dad took her on a trip to Europe – Lourdes, Rome, the Brussels World Fair etc. After “seeing” what the world had to offer she still “saw” something else; a call to religious life in the IBMV congregation, as it was then known.

She was Dad’s favourite, the jewel in his crown. He was legitimately proud of her joining the convent, to which he bore eloquent testimony in his Will of 1968. Sr Christa was very attractive and had several suitors! She had beautiful long hair. When it was shorn off she sent a lock to dad with the, perhaps light-hearted, comment “a relic of the future saint”. Dad lovingly preserved that. I will digress here to say that in those days it was indeed a great sacrifice for an Indian woman to tonsure her head and wear a plain white sari. They were symbolic of widowhood, considered an ill omen in Indian society.

Just this morning I met a lady whom Sr Christa had taught when she was preparing to join the convent. This ex-student spoke of how approachable, good-natured and human she was. This “being human” was one of her endearing qualities. I met many of her students from the Teacher’s Training College. College students have a critical awareness and questioning attitude, very different from the imitative nature of school children. Christa passed muster with these collegians. So too in the seminary. Many of those whom she had instructed told me how empathetic and compassionate she was to them. For those of you who have been following the words and actions of our new Pope Francis, you will have observed how “human” he is. His first words as Pope were Good evening, have a good meal etc; words that endeared him to a cynical world.

Here in India we give great importance to the Guru-Shishya relationship. Bp Ignatius has just said to us that we should take a message home from this funeral service – Sr Christa’s last message to us. The message that I would hope you take back is the immense impact that a good teacher can have on his/ her pupils, and thereby on society. Many of you sitting here are from the educational field. Never ever forget what impact you have on others.

I will now let you in on a little secret. In 1997, for our dad’s birth centenary, Sr Christa spent a month in our home. Sr Delphine has already mentioned that Christa was a voracious reader. But do you know what she was reading during her stay with us – children’s books by Enid Blyton and cowboy novels (westerns)! The child in her was alive. Did not Our Lord say that we need to be like little children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? It was precisely these human and childlike qualities that endeared her to many.

Sr Delphine just mentioned how, over the last couple of months, when she was bed-ridden, she suffered much; but never complained. In fact, when my wife and I visited her just two weeks ago, she was cheerful and mentally fully alert. I wish to now especially thank Sr Delphine and the entire community at 32, for the loving care that they took of Sr Christa. It was not easy. Special thanks to Sr Janet, who had been nursing her these last days. Last year, when we had come for Christa’s Golden Jubilee it was Sr Neelu who was ministering to her. God bless you all. Special thanks also to our Bishop Ignatius Menezes who took so much care to preside over this service. He was not just fulfilling a duty. Thanks also to the choir (perhaps Christa was singing along with you), our brother priests present here, and all you dear ones who have come here to pay your last respects to Sr Christa.

This morning, while praying in the chapel, these lines in Hindi came to me. I share them with you:
Papa ne kaha
“O meri Muniya
Dekh lo yeh Duniya”.
Jawab aya,
“Mainay dekh liya yeh dhakosla
Kar liya mainay phaisla
Jeevan bitaunga vahin
Jahan hai ishmandir ka ghosla”.

Loosely translated it is an imaginary conversation between my father and my sister:
Dad says
“My darling daughter
See the world before you decide”.
The answer comes,
“I have seen the shallowness of the world
I have made up my mind
I will live my life
Nestling in the Lord”.

Leave you with these words that I address to Sr Christa:
“O mere papa ki muniya
Chhor gayi tu yeh duniya
Dikha diya tunay rasta
Hamare vasta.
Hum bhi ah rahein hain”.

It means:
“Oh beloved of our father
You have gone farther.
You have shown us a new way of living;
We are now in your following”.

Allan de Noronha

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