Matriarch is role model in faith

I believe that it is only through reading the Bible and reciting prayers that one can be sustained in this life and the life after. Prayer used to be my strength and I make no compromise on it.

Jul 22, 2022


By Saji Thomas

At the age of 87, the bespectacled Thresiamma Joseph is often spotted with either a Holy Bible or a prayer book in her lap as she sits in the portico of her house.

The white-haired great-grandmother, clad in a nightgown, is often so engrossed in reading the Bible or reciting the prayers in her native Malayalam language, that she doesn’t even notice people coming and going around her.

One has to go close and shout Ammachchi (mother) in her ears or pat her shoulder to get her attention. Thresiamma will invariably look closely at the visitor and then offer a beautiful welcoming smile, displaying her still strong white teeth.

She will chat briefly with a familiar visitor and direct the person inside the house before getting back to reading.

The typical Malayalee matriarch believes “it is only through reading the Bible and reciting prayers that she can be sustained in this life and the life after”.

Thresiamma speaks in a mild but reassuring voice, with a gentle smile lingering on her wrinkled face. “Prayer used to be my strength and I make no compromise on it,” she said.

The mother of 10 children — seven girls and three boys — has her reasons.

Way back in 1949, she gave birth to her first boy a year after her marriage. Tragedy struck when he died after 13 days due to an unknown disease. “We did not have a hospital or medical facilities nearby to treat him,” she says.

The only available medical facility in her village in the hills at the time was in Kottayam, at least 110 kilometres away, and there was no transport facility then.

“I was very sad and disappointed to lose my first child and had no one to bank on other than God. So I kept praying,” Thresiamma recalled.

And then a miracle happened. She had a vision of an angel assuring her: “Don’t worry, God will take care of everything!”

After that, she gave birth to nine children. Barring the youngest two, all of them were delivered at home with the assistance of an untrained, village midwife, Thresiamma recalls.

“When the time for each delivery got closer, I would seek the blessings of Jesus through the intercession of Mother Mary, for the safety of the child and myself,” she says. “I had nothing but prayers to give me strength.”

Today, Thresiamma is among the few pioneers of Valiyathovala village, where she continues to live with her eldest son.

The typical forest village in the hilly Idukki district is surrounded by plantations of cardamom, coffee, tea, pepper, coconuts, and other tropical plants.

The lush green hills are covered in thick forests that are much cooler than the coastal areas, making them one of Kerala state’s top tourist attractions.

Thresiamma remembers migrating to the village sometime around the 1940s, along with her parents, seven sisters and three brothers from Vaipoor in Kottayam district under unusual circumstances.

Her father had an altercation with a local man who started making life miserable for their family. Things came to such a head that they had to flee for their lives.

“We had to walk at least 12 kilometres through dense forest from the nearest bus stop to reach this place, which had nothing but an erumadam [tree house],” she recalls.

Three years later, at the age of 14, she married Joseph Cheriyan, a resident of the village who owned 20 acres of agricultural land.

Cheriyan’s family was among the 40 Catholic families that lived in the forest village.

Though she had studied up to Grade Four, she settled down to cooking and taking care of herself, besides assisting her husband in the farming work.

“We never knew poverty,” she says. “Our families cultivated enough paddy, vegetables, fruits and tapioca.”
But they had to deal with the wild animals like elephants and wild boars entering and eating away or damaging the crops, Thresiamma remembers..

She remembers that when her husband died in 1984, her youngest daughter Julie was just eight years old. “While he was alive, I was focused on bringing up our children. But then I had to step into his shoes to keep the family going,” she says.

Since agriculture was their only source of income, Thresiamma, along with her young children and a few hired labourers, started working on the farm from dawn to dusk.

She would wake up at 4.30am and begin her day by remembering Mother Mary and seeking her intercession for the day. “I recited at least three rosaries every day and made it a point to attend Holy Mass as much as possible,” she recalls.

There was no church in the village then but a priest would pay occasional visits to offer Mass in a temporary shed with a grass roof.

She was never let down by God, she says, recalling the day when a rabid dog almost attacked her children while they were playing in the courtyard.

“I had no one around to help, so I folded my hands and prayed to Jesus to save my children from the rabid dog,” she says, while recalling how her prayer was answered and the dog went away without hurting anyone.

A devout Catholic, she always ensured that all her children were brought up in the faith — regularly attending Mass, catechism classes and other activities connected with the Church.

All her daughters are married and settled in Idukki and Kottayam districts while the younger son Sajumon, migrated with his family to Ireland.

Currently, Thresiamma’s village has around 600 Catholic families who live in peace and harmony with their Hindu neighbours.

The area also has Church-run schools and hospitals now. For example, a hospital that Hospitaller Brothers of St John of God began in 1968 in Kattappana is just 10 kilometres away from her home.

“I gained strength to lead my family from [my] regular prayers, reading the Bible and from the Holy Eucharist,” Thresiamma says.

“I used to attend Mass until the government imposed pandemic restrictions, and would hand over all my problems and my children to Lord Jesus and Mother Mary.”

Her son Cheriyan is an active member of the parish.

“Our mother is our role model when it comes to our faith,” he says.

“We never miss Rosary in the evening as my mother is very strict about it. Her entire life has been centred on prayers and Holy Mass. Even today she is the first one to reach the prayer room for the Rosary.

He says he personally experienced the power of her prayer several decades back when he was a child.

“Our neighbours came one day and alerted us about a wild elephant in our fields. The mammoth was moving towards a temporary house we had built. My aunt, who was inside it, ran to the safety of a tree house. But my mother did not show any sign of panic and folded her hands and prayed to Jesus,” he says.

The elephant came close to the house and simply walked away without creating any disturbance, Cheriyan recalls.

He also remembered how they had no money to buy insecticides and his mother would sprinkle holy water and pray to protect the crops.

“It worked every time,” Thresiamma said.

“Yes, the holy water and blessed palm leaves [of Palm Sunday service] also served as medicine whenever we were sick,” he says.

She would make the children eat a pinch of the ashes of the blessed palm leaves and drink some holy water at times whenever they had a stomach ache or would apply holy water or ashes of palm leaves on the forehead in case of a headache.

“There was no hospital or medicines available then,” Cheriyan remembers. “What sustained us was her unfailing faith in Jesus and Mother Mary.”

Even today, despite all the facilities and infrastructure the octogenarian still insists that “nothing works without the blessing of Jesus”.

Mathew Xavier, one of her neighbours and friend of her youngest son said: “Her true faith and sincere prayers reflect in her day-to-day demeanour. She is very caring and never disappoints anyone who visits her to seek help,” he observed. --ucanews.com

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Anthoney Methews
Faith can move mountains- PTL ????