A silence so loud. A preaching without speaking. A life lived with total commitment with absolutely no ado.
Reverend Sr. Guadalupe Velasco, MCJ, one of the three first Catholic Missionaries to work in Naga Hills, passed away at 12. 40 am on 11 March 2020 at Nirmali Convent, Laitumkhra, Shillong, as a nonagenarian, running ninety-seven. With her passing away, Nagaland’s direct connection with the first Catholic missionaries has come to an end and one of the earliest Catholic communities, Kohima village, has lost its sower of God’s Word.
To know about this unassuming extraordinary Catholic nun, who spent seventy-one years in Northeast India as a member of the Missionaries of Christ Jesus and sixty-six years with lepers,we need to go the land of Navarra in Spain and to the past, ninety-six years from now.
Away from the shores of Atlantic and Mediterranean, away from the land of Saints Teresa of Avila and Francis Xavier, there born a daughter, on 15 Feb. 1924,in the family of Pedro Velasco and Ascension Gelos as eighth among the nine children in a small town called Villafranca. She was destined to reach the Eastern most part of the Indian subcontinent which would become one day a new independent country in the world.
Spain, the land of Flamenco music and dance, bull fights, fantastic beaches and lots of sunshine, one of the cultural centres of Europe for hundreds of years, filled with beautiful cities and towns, is a country that has much to offer. This spectacular country, however, could not offer something which a young girl of seventeen was looking for.
Villafranca, though small, has more testimonies to bear witness to its greatness, antiquity, culture and Catholic Faith. The magnificence of the parish church and the presence of a monastery in this small town arean illustrated book of people’s faith.
Seventy kilometers away from Pamplona, famed for its celebration of the feast of St. Fermin and its customary connection with the running of bulls, Villafranca could not remain a cultural island. Bullfight found an easy way even to the lisping babies. Here, the matador was a hero, bravery was a virtue and daring was everyone’s mission.
Memories of the past, both nostalgic and bitter, take us to the Spain of 1930s when it fell a victim tocivil war and untold tragedies caused by the republicans. A Spanish Archbishop, Antonio Montero Moreno, wrote that the Spanish civil war claimed 6832 lives of which about 4000 were priests, 2500 were monks and 300 were nuns, besides 13 bishops.
The year 1937 shook the family of Velascos to its foundation. At that time, Gaudalupe was thirteen. The family had to see the brutal killing of the 22-year-old Antonio Velasco, their only surviving son and Gaudalupe’s brother. He had joined a movement against the republicans when they burnt down churches. Such gory realities, however, could not stop the God-fearing youngsters embracing priestly and religious life. Gaudalupe Velasco, affectionately called Lupe, was one such young girl, who dared to become a nun despite such anti-Church movements.
Having finished basic education in her native town, the teen-aged Lupe was told by her mother to become a tailor. It was while learning tailoring and being an active member of Catholic Action, she heard God’s call to join the Missionaries of Christ Jesus, the newly founded Congregation by Mother Maria Camino Sanz Orrio. She entered novitiate on 18 May 1945 making a life-long commitment.
The progressive new Religious Congregation of women was Post-Vatican before the Second Vatican Council was even conceived. The mission looked beyond Spain. Their life-style dropped the occidental demands. Ministry was founded on signs of the time. A clear sign from God to Mother Camino was the request from Bishop Stephen Ferrando of Shillong in 1948 to work in three different places of the Northeast, one of which was the Naga Hills where Sr. Gaudalupe was destined to be a missionary.
It was a moment when the soil of the Naga Hills and Manipur became the battle ground for the two aliens – the British and the Japanese. It was a brutal moment which promised only uncertainties and sorrows.
Providence brought the war to an end
People’s desire for peace did descend
And India soon became independent.
The Catholic Church in Naga Hills cannot be understood without a reference to the Second World War and the independence of India.
Since Nagas’ loyalty was displayed to the British, the end of war brought in a “war-gift”, a hospital, to the Nagas, in recognition of their service to the British soldiers during the war. The independence of India brought in the responsibility of managing the hospital by the Government. of Assam under which came the Naga Hills then, thus opening the way for the Catholic Church to enter this part of the country.
Sir Akbar Hydari, the then Governor of Assam, requested the bishop of Shillong, Msgr. Stephen Ferrando, for Catholic nuns to serve in the newly opened Naga Hospital at Kohima. This long awaited opportunity was eagerly accepted by Msgr. Stephen Ferrando. Losing no time, he invited the “Missionaries of Christ Jesus” from Spain, to take up medical services not only at Kohima in the Naga Hills, but also at Tura in the Garo Hills and,little later, at Raliang in the Jaintia Hills. Thus arrived at Shillong a team of five missionaries of Christ Jesus, which included their foundress, Mother Camino Sanz Orio, on 25 Nov. 1948.
After a month-long stay at Shillong, two nuns – Srs. Margarita Cifre and Velasco Guadalupe – left for Kohima with their chaplain, Msgr. Emmanuel Barson 29 Dec. 1948. Halting at Gauhati for a day and taking a night train they reached Dimapur after a thirteen-hour journey. They reached Kohima at 11.00 a.m, on 31 Dec. 1948, the last day of the year to inaugurate the dawn of the mission.
They began their stay first in the only hotel of Kohima until they moved in to the Naga Hospital. Eager as they were, they began their work in the hospital on 2nd Jan. 1949 cleaning the rooms, dusting off old mattresses, preparing beds and bathing the sick.
The sisters and their chaplain were forbidden from doing any pastoral ministry other than medical care. Their service was eventually described as “excellent” and it was “loved by doctors, patients and the military.” And the missionaries continued tending the sick and the chaplain meeting friends until the expiry of the contract for five years with the government.
Fr. R.R. Graviour Augustine