Story of a vocation
Sr Sheetal Parmar
She breezes in from Mamfe where, I am told, she made her mark at the bishops' meeting themed on Amoris Laetitia. On her way back to Kumbo where she coordinates the family life movement and a host of related programmes she stays the night at the Mill Hill guesthouse in Bamenda (NW Province, Cameroon).'You must talk to her, these nuns are truly amazing', Fr Nol Verhoeven mhm tells me when we disperse after supper. Sr Sheetal Parmar clearly is quite a phenomenon.
We agree to meet and talk after Mass the next morning.
'Lord you have seduced me!'
The story of a vocation.
Born into a profoundly Catholic family in Mumbai, India, Sr Sheetal Parmar, was a precocious youngster showing early signs of intellectual brilliance and an ability for science. But circumstances beyond her control made her switch from science to psychology mid-way her schooling, taking Sanskrit as an interesting sideline. A brilliant career in education beckoned. But behind the scenes, deep in her heart, a drama of an entirely different nature was slowly unfolding.
She had abandoned the faith of her upbringing in her teens finding it impossible to believe in a God who allowed innocent suffering, rampant injustice and sheering inequality to exist in the world she inhabited. She questioned the tradition she had grown up in. The charismatic leanings of her deeply religious mother, the predilection for cloying holy pictures and popular devotion in her local Catholic environment put her off. God had vanished from the scene.
But her heart was restless. She could not find inner peace. 'I know now, that God was pulling at me. But I am a hard nut to crack. I was not going to be seduced so easily!' Her inner struggle, a veritable wrestling match with God, continued for quite some time.
All attempts from her surroundings, including her parish priest, to make her change her ways fell on deaf ears. She was not going to surrender that easily. 'But God kept pulling at me'.
Then one day in her early twenties, she was invited by her mother to join a charismatic group retreat at the well-known Divine Retreat Centre in Kerala. She agreed to come and found herself tentatively listening in on the edge of a massive crowd of worshipping charismatics singing alleluias and giving loud testimonies. She heard someone announce on the public address system: ' There is someone among us here who does not believe'. Her mother sitting in one of the front rows looked back at her. Could this be about her? She still resisted. Then suddenly from deep inside a feeling of great warmth came all over her, her inner turmoil seemed to come to a boiling point. God pulling her by the scruff of her neck? She surrendered. When she was invited to come forward to testify, she did, without any embroidery – she had come home.
A feeling of deep inner peace came over her. But she also knew that this was not the end of the road. God had not finished with her. 'He kept pulling at me'. Hadn't her friends told her earlier that she had a religious vocation – to her own fierce denial?
So one day she found herself on the doorstep of the convent of the Daughters of the Cross. The way she announced her desire to enter must be among the most unlikely ever heard in this context: "I don't like you. My past experience of you is very mixed. But deep in my heart I have received a call to join you". And so she did.
Just over a year ago she came to Cameroon to join her congregation's community in the diocese of Kumbo. Within no time she got herself involved in the family life movement and related programmes. Bishop George Nkuoh, undoubtedly sensing her unusual potential, recently appointed her coordinator for the whole diocese.
"God still has plans for me, she says, He is still pulling at me. But I still am a hard nut to crack, a free spirit. I have my resistances and, so my professors told me, am an innovative thinker".
Walking the hard road towards wholehearted surrender Sr Sheetal does not hide her struggle with a seemingly small concession to local Cameroonian custom: wearing a religious habit including a veil. It is something her congregation at home has long since abandoned in exchange for the Indian sari.
Fons Eppink mhm
Fr Nol Verhoeven mhm, Sr Sheetal Parmar