Q & A with Sr. Lissy Vallippalam, quenching Christ's thirst through counseling
Sr. Lissy Vallippalam became a counselor in 2003 when she left teaching to join a retreat center in Kerala, southern India. Since then, the 61-year-old member of the Sisters of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has become a solace for people of various ages and professions.
She took up counseling full-time after a surgery to remove a benign tumor in her uterus six months ago. Vallippalam is now a counselor at Devamatha ("Mother of God") Hospital in Koothattukulam, about 30 miles southeast of Kochi, Kerala's commercial capital. She said she discovered that childhood experiences, changes in modern society and media have affected interpersonal and family relations in society.
In an interview with Global Sisters Report, she shared her life and experience of guiding people.
GSR: Why did you become a counselor?
Vallippalam: I am basically a teacher. However, during my annual retreats, I felt inspired to take up retreat preaching. My spiritual directors also encouraged me.
Since 2003, I have served as the director of our retreat center at Palai [a Catholic stronghold]. Along with a team of priests, I have preached retreats in various parishes of Kerala.
After our sessions, many people, including religious and priests, came to me for counseling. Since I had studied theology and a course for formators, I used my skills and prayer to help them. It is a divine grace that I get to quote the right biblical verse at the right time. My reflections are based entirely on the Scriptures. I am happy that God worked through me to bring peace and contentment to many.
Now you are full-time counselor. Why?
Six months ago, I underwent two surgeries, both without anesthesia because I am highly allergic to medicine. If you ask me if was painful, my answer is, yes, it was very painful. I was blindfolded during surgery, but I felt suffocated, and they removed the cover. I could see the proceedings in a mirror. When I felt the pain, I prayed to God because I had no other choice. The tumor had grown so big that either way, I was in danger. The doctors took a risk in operating on me. I felt the protection of God over me.
While I was convalescing, my superiors requested me to be at the service of the hospital as counselor. I gladly accepted this because I want to serve the spiritually poor.
Who comes to you for counseling?
People from all walks of life find their way to me. Psychiatrists and doctors also direct patients to me when they notice medicines do not bring required healing.
A cardiologist sent me a 38-year-old man suffering from severe chest pain. Repeated visits to the doctor did not help him much. The man told me, "Sister, I am able to survive because of my good deeds." He explained the good deeds as providing food and clothes to the poor and needy. I was not convinced. He told me about friction between him and his wife. As he kept sharing his difficulties, I could see in my mind's eye that a snake was wrapped around him with its neck resting on his shoulder. I realized he was under some addiction.
Gradually, he opened up. He was abused as child, and when he grew up, he too became abusive. He was gay. This created problems in his married life. He also told me he could not attend Mass or pray without distraction and often could not complete it. He was also addicted to pornographic films. He visited Hindu temples searching for peace and ate the food offered to idols. At the end of counseling, he agreed to go to a priest for confession. Such type of sharing does not come about when they speak to a medical doctor or psychologist.
You call your service "gifted counseling." Could you elaborate?
In gifted counseling, Jesus reveals the problem or the situation of the counselee before you in symbolism. We rely much on God working through us. In my case, I had a lot experiences through the 12 years in a retreat center. Many psychological cases can be restored to normal health through gifted counseling. In certain cases, I send them to doctors for medication. Many illnesses occur because people do not repent, or they harbor anger and grudge.
There was a 65-year-old man admitted in our hospital. He had not received the sacrament of reconciliation for years. He was also not in a good relationship with his family. He was on his deathbed. His sister, who knew he was about to die, requested me to meet him. Praying with him and talking to him, he relented. He shared his mistakes done during youth and the lives he had ruined. Finally, he agreed to go for confession. A few days later, his sister returned to thank me for helping him to die a good death.
In another case, a couple brought their 7-year-old daughter to me. They said she was naughty and stubborn and left her with me. While talking to her, she said, "My parents always prefer my younger sister. They appreciate whatever she does. Even if I get first in class, they do not appreciate me." The parents told me they showered more attention to the younger child, who was sickly, to keep her healthy and happy.
Many are not aware of the deep, buried hurt feelings. A nun came to me saying she had lost all interest in life, although she performed all duties assigned to her. After prayer, she shared, "My mother had not realized that she was carrying me in her womb until five months." As the sister said this, she felt relieved and freed. That changed her life. Now she is a bright and cheerful person.
How were you introduced to healing prayer?
In 1978, as a junior nun, I attended a charismatic retreat. During the retreat, I was blessed with the gifts of tongue and healing. The retreat preacher confirmed this. I was asked to pray over sick people who got healed. That confirmed that God called me to the healing ministry. But I did not know how and when to begin. So I continued my training to be a teacher.
I started teaching in 1982. In 1985, I attended another charismatic retreat. Here, I received the gifts of understanding, counseling, wisdom, proclamation of the Word. Once again, the retreat guide assured me.
I was appointed director of postulants and junior sisters, which gave me an opportunity to practice my gifts. I guided the young ones in retreat and helped them experience healing. The superiors sent me for a course for formation personnel and later for philosophy and theology courses that lasted five years. After the studies, I was appointed headmistress of a school.
In 2003, I was asked to move to our Kristhu Jyothi ["Christ's Light"] retreat center in Palai as a preacher and counselor. All this while, Jesus' words, "I thirst," kept ringing in my ears. I felt God wanted me to help save souls for him. He called me to build up his body. I resigned from the school and joined the retreat center full-time. During 2003 to 2012, I preached retreats alone and in a team to people irrespective of age. I have conducted retreats for all members of our various provinces.
My clients include couples, families, divorcées and youth. I have been associated with Kerala Catholic Youth Movement and Mathru Jyothi [Mothers' Forum].
Please say about something yourself.
I am the fifth among eight children. Except for two brothers and one sister, all others have become religious. Two of my sisters are in my congregation. I joined them in 1975. During my novitiate, I had a vision of Jesus crowned with thorns, calling me by name. He said, "I thirst for souls." That touched me deeply, and I made Jesus' request the main purpose of my life.
Why did you join the convent?
From childhood, I used to attend daylong adoration on Maundy Thursday in our parish. The inspiration to become a religious sprang from those moments. The atmosphere at our home was also quite religious. My father was the headmaster of the parish catechism classes, where my eldest brother also taught.
Where do you find more happiness, here in the hospital or at the retreat center?
In both places, I help God's people. I came to hospital a year ago because of my illness.
In the hospital, I get many Muslims and Hindus for counseling. They are sent by doctors and psychiatrists. Often, what they need is inner healing. I can make them understand about sin in their life, which is the main cause for disharmony and pain. I tell Catholics to go for confession to seek God's forgiveness. This gives me more satisfaction. In the retreat center, we cater to mostly Catholics.
I have helped unite many married couples. When those seeking divorce come, I pray with them. Most get reconciled and agree to continue their life together. I am happy that I cooperate with Jesus to save souls for him.
[Lissy Maruthanakuzhy is a member of the worldwide Congregation of the Daughters of St. Paul in India and a correspondent for Matters India, a news portal that focuses on religious and social issues.]