Working at a Catholic hospital in the Muslim-majority region of Jammu and Kashmir, for the last 18 years has been a "graceful moment," says an Indian nun and physician.
Sister Mary Placida works as a full-time doctor in Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Joseph's Hospital, Baramulla, Jammu and Kashmir. It is the only Christian hospital in the Kashmir Valley.
"Milestones are memorable moments that bring joy in our lives when we recall the pathways that God has led us through in unfathomable and miraculous ways," says Placida, a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM).
She never imagined herself as a frontline missionary and physician in the Kashmir Valley.
The Indian-federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir is the subcontinent's northernmost geographical region. Mountains dominate the landscape, with deep, narrow valleys and high, barren plateaus.
Furthermore, the region is plagued by insurgency and counterinsurgency as a result of political conflicts and heavy military deployment.
"When I think back over 30 years ago to the time of my novitiate, I was hesitant to make my first profession due to ill health," Placida recalled.
She was blessed to discern her vocation to be a Catholic nun with a holy priest, the late Father Roger H. Lesser, a British-born Indian priest.
At the outset of the conversation, he asked Placida whether she wanted to become a doctor and assured her that the Lord was calling her.
"I experienced the healing touch of God, and, with conviction and courage, I made my first profession to be a nun," she said. "As I muse on this event, I am grateful to the Lord for this inexplicable gift from God. As this prophecy came true, I was sent to the frontier mission in India, in the valley of Kashmir."
When she began to work at St. Joseph's Hospital, Baramulla, as a full-fledged doctor in obstetrics and gynecology, the Kashmir valley was under militancy, cross-border terrorism, socio-political upheavals, and natural calamities like earthquakes and floods.
The Delhi Province of FMM nuns once decided to close down the hospital. All of these affected the growth of the hospital.
St. Joseph's Hospital, founded in 1921, provided numerous services to the valley with its 300-bed capacity.
"Many well-wishers and project agencies, including our FMM institute, came forward to help us out in our endeavor to revamp the "Mission at St. Joseph's Hospital," says Placida.
The basic nursing course began in 1968 and has since been upgraded, allowing FMM nuns to continue to empower young Muslim women.
"Through all these developments, we have come to practice modern medicine to a certain extent, but we still have a long way to go," she said.
Looking back on these 18 years of service in this remote mission in Kashmir, she is dumbfounded and marvels at how the Lord has led her.
"When I count the numerous milestones on my journey, I feel immense joy, and I stand in awe as each milestone reveals to me the hidden face of God," she adds. "At this juncture, I continue to surrender to the will of God, saying, ‘My God and my all.’"
The "Mission at St. Joseph's Hospital" was started in Baramulla, in Kashmir Valley, on 21 September 1921 by Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. Franciscan Missionaries of Mary sisters came from Rawalpindi to start a hospital at the request of the Mill Hill Fathers.
After setting up a temporary dispensary followed by a maternity hospital and dispensary in 1931, a full-fledged general hospital was established in 1937.
The basic nursing course started in 1968 and was upgraded through which young women in this predominantly Muslim population and empowered.
St. Joseph Hospital is the only Christian hospital in the valley of Kashmir.
St. Joseph's Hospital, St. Joseph's School and St. Joseph's Catholic Church share the same campus.
The hospital has served the valley for 101 years braving wars, insurgency, curfews and shutdowns. St. Joseph's is affiliated with the Catholic Health Association of India and Missionaries Health Services.
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