Sister of the Blessed Carlo Acutis
Ajna George (27), who went to her eternal rest had been fighting cancer for the last 5 years. A very active Jesus Youth, she was the former JY coordinator at SH College, Thevara, part of the Ernakulam Teens' Team and the All-Kerala Music Central Team. This beautiful reflection was written by her parish priest Rev Fr Jean Felix Kattassery, Vicar of St Patrick's Church, Vyttila, Archdiocese of Verapoly, Kerala.
A life lived with utmost devotion to the Holy Eucharist from a very early age, of forbearance, surrender to and offering of the excruciating pains of cancer for the glory of God, embracing the Eucharistic Lord with a smile even as death drew close… This is not a reference to Carlo Acutis whom the Church recently declared Blessed. This is about one whose life closely resembled Carlo’s holy life; about Ajna George, a 27-year-old Jesus Youth, who left for her heavenly abode on 21 January 2022.
Striving to love Jesus. Smiling even when the cancer cells claimed her eyes, ears, liver, mouth, and jawbone. Adamant in her desire to walk to church for Mass every day even when her body wracked with pain. Stubbornly demanding to receive the Eucharist even during the lockdown. Asking Jesus for greater suffering even as everyone prayed for her release from a world of pain. There could be no more fitting appellation for Ajna, who amazed everyone around her, than that of ‘Sister of Blessed Carlo Acutis’.
I have read about saints who prayed for suffering and have also heard about saints who dedicated their lives to Jesus in the Eucharist. However, my eyes fill with tears as I ponder on God’s will, which granted me the opportunity to witness a holy life at such close quarters and allowed me to provide for her spiritual needs – O God, you are so great! The Church elevates a person to sainthood only after long years of intensive study and scrutiny. But as someone who has known Ajna personally for around 17 years, I can testify that her life resembled that of a saint!
Ajna must have been around 10 years-old when she was introduced to me as the sister of my classmate, Ajma. As she grew older, her love for Jesus grew. She often spoke of the spiritual nourishment she received from being active in Jesus Youth as a student in college. Having completed her undergraduate and postgraduate studies with excellent grades, she was appointed as Assistant Professor in the Department of Commerce at Sacred Heart College, Thevara. It was at this juncture, around four-and-a-half years ago that cancer cells were first detected in her jawbone.
Following treatment including emergency surgery, she resumed normal life, but those days of good health were short-lived. Even when the cancer began to affect her eyes, ears, liver, jawbone and lips, the smile on her face never faded, and the praise of God was ever present upon her lips. During this time, cancer did not only rob her of her vision in one eye and hearing in an ear, but also the beauty of her face. Two months back, she lost most of her ability to speak.
I deem it God’s will that as she entered the last phase of her suffering, two-and-a-half years ago, I was appointed vicar of her parish. Those days gave me an insight into her deep devotion for the Holy Eucharist. It often seemed to me that she was striving to love Jesus even more than Jesus loved her. She never stopped attending daily Mass, something she had been accustomed to since childhood, even on days when she was in great pain. She came to church for Holy Mass holding her mother’s hand, like a toddler learning to walk. How can I ever forget the words with which she stopped me from arranging transportation for her to come to the Church, ‘You’re tempting me to evade suffering, aren’t you?’
Her persistence was astounding as she stubbornly insisted on receiving Holy Communion even when churches were closed to the public during lockdown. Many were the times I was subjected to questioning by the police during my journeys to her home with Holy Communion! The very last week of her stay in the hospital, at the height of her illness will forever be the most memorable days of my pastoral life, days when her hospital room was converted into a chapel of Eucharistic adoration. Only after offering an hour of silent worship and adoration of the Blessed Host that I brought her would she receive Jesus on her tongue. And it was thus, having received the Eucharistic Lord that she went to her eternal rest. (It is to be noted that since she could not open her mouth, she used to receive the Eucharist dissolved in water, through a gastrostomy feeding tube. This had been her mode of receiving communion over the last seven months). That holy death will never fade from my mind. Having received the anointing of the sick and the Holy Eucharist, she held my hand and recited the ejaculatory prayer ‘Jesus, Mary, Joseph…’ for almost half-an-hour, her voice slowly fading till finally her life breath, her offering to God, ceased. It was on a Friday, at exactly 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the very time Jesus gave up his breath! O God, were you making me witness a saint’s entry into heaven? I wonder.
But of one thing, I’m certain – her sole desire was to share Jesus in the Eucharist with everyone she met. While on her sickbed, like St Therese of the Child Jesus and St Alphonsa, she offered all the suffering she endured for this very intention. Perhaps that is why her very death became a proclamation of the Holy Eucharist. How many are the glowing tributes to her love for the Eucharist posted on social media.
Despite the pain of losing a loved one, her parents Muttungal George and Achamma, a couple who gave birth to a saint and their family can rejoice, and all those who knew her can take pride, knowing that from her place near Jesus who loved her and whom she loved even more, she will continue to help us in our prayers to grow in devotion to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Our greatest blessing is that we lived at the same time that she did. Ajna, do remember us when you are in Paradise.
Ajna, Pray for Us
Ajna George had been participating in the Emmaus course (Jesus Youth’s Bible study formation course). Even when cancer claimed her mouth, right eye and ear, she attended sessions online and tried her best to complete the assignments with the help of others. A few days before her death, she shared with her spiritual director her sadness at not being able to attend the sessions any more.
Following is the eulogy delivered at the funeral service at Ajna’s home by Rev Fr Sabu Thomas, Asst Prof SH College, Thevara, Kerala, her spiritual father for the last five years.
Dear priests, parents of Ajna, other family members, friends, Jesus Youth family members and neighbours.
A little while back when praying the Office of the Dead, I was struck by the following verse, ‘Lord you are always good!’ Immediately after I sang these lines, I felt an uncomfortable thought pass through me like lightning. I felt disturbed and looked around to see how others were feeling about this Psalm.
For, in the situation we are in now, it may not be easy for our feeble minds to proclaim, ‘Lord you are always good!’ Our intellects may question why God had allowed this if he is so good in the first place. The minute Ajna’s medical report came out, everyone I came across had only one thing to ask. Why did this happen to a child who has been living for God? A child who did so much for her community and society. Without a doubt, I can say that there has been no other student in SH college who witnessed Jesus Christ like Ajna did.
Ajna was a person who passed her NET exam (qualifies a person for Assistant Professorship) while still a student, and got qualified to teach in the same college. A child with a lot of potential, dreams and ambitions. As she lies lifeless before us, how are we to understand when the Psalms proclaim, ‘Lord you are always good.’
But one thing is certain that though the whole world may have asked why God did this to her, the only person who never questioned till her last breath was our Ajna herself.
I still remember the day when I came here with Jith. It was a strange coincidence that the two news reached her the same day – the diagnosis of her cancer and her appointment as a professor in SH College. While driving here, I mentally prepared myself. I didn’t know what to say to console her, and she probably would ask me why this was happening to her. I noted a few Bible verses to say to her. But when we met her, she welcomed us both without any remorse. Her parents, on seeing us, began to sob but Ajna held them close and consoled them. She asked her mother to stop crying and bring us tea. We spent almost two hours with the family, talking together, praying together and reciting a Rosary together.
While we were leaving, surprise and curiosity got the better of me. I asked Ajna how she could accept this predicament with such ease. Her response, I have since quoted in many homilies, retreats, church feasts and I will still continue to quote them. Because those words have really inspired me. ‘In the midst of this suffering and pain, as I am preparing for my operation, I don’t have any complaints. If I come back to life cured, I’ll thank Jesus and continue being a witness for his kingdom. And if this brings my life to a close, then also I’ll thank him and be happy with him. I understand this is a part of the plan that my Jesus has for me.’
I know that these are not just mere words.
I have been here several times and last Sunday, together with Fr Prashanth, I came here and spent an hour with Ajna and her family. She looked very pale and tired. I am pretty sure that if any of us were in her place, we would have felt awkward presenting ourselves before others. But even that morning, she went to church holding her mother’s hands, participated in Mass and received Holy Communion. Ajna poses a big challenge before us, a big challenge. All of us, even in our small sufferings, lose heart and become shattered. For some young people, something as small as a pimple appearing makes them so upset. And we read in the news about suicides over trivial problems of life. Against this backdrop, we should be proud of this child who has been living pain for four years, uniting it with His cross, endured the suffering, went for daily Mass and received Holy Communion, even on the day of her death, saying, ‘Jesus, I give my soul into your hands’. If this child is not a saint, I don’t know who else is.
While Jesus was at prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, on seeing the hill of Calvary, his heart trembled foreseeing the pain he would have to bear. He asked his Father if it were possible to take the cup away. Going through these words we may ask ourselves why Jesus, being the Son of God, prayed so. Reading this, do we at some point expect God the Father to intervene and free him from the Cross? However, in the next verse we read that an angel came from heaven to strengthen him. For sure, a similar angel descended from heaven to strengthen Ajna and to be with her till the last moment. It is not when God obliterates suffering from us that we call him good. When we go through difficult times and accept it willingly as God’s plan, he will send angels to console and strengthen us and to be his witnesses in that suffering. It is such a God whom we ought to call good.
Wisdom 4:10 says Having won God’s favour, he has been loved and, as he was living among sinners, has been taken away. We can say the same of Ajna. Ajna pleased God. She was called early from this world of sinners.
We often use the example of the gardener who takes the most beautiful flower from his garden for his house or church. When God looked among us, he found a very beautiful flower and took her away before the world could taint her soul. This is a challenge and a wakeup call to everyone to look into our own lives.
I was Ajna’s spiritual father for the past 5 years at Sacred Heart College, Thevara. I have seen her spiritual life closer than anyone else. I still see the memory of her hurrying to the college chapel to say her personal prayer, as I returned to the monastery every day for lunch. Never have I seen in this college another student with such zeal and love for Jesus. She actively led all the activities of the Jesus Youth on campus. She was there in the forefront to take the destitute for a ride on the metro train, to take them to LuLu Mall, to visit their homes, to visit orphanages and hospitals, to collect clothes and so much more! For every outreach programme, she was there at its lead. It was during her time as coordinator that Jesus Youth flourished in Sacred Heart College. There has never been – before her or after her time – programmes such as these accomplished. These activities were intended to help students understand and share in the sufferings of others and provide the vision for future outreaches of the college. Standing here with us are many friends of Ajna who were there with her and who can testify this.
Dear parish priest and parents of Ajna,
You can be proud today that we have an intercessor in heaven to pray for us. There are times when we priests say the clichéd phrase, ‘not just pray for the deceased, we should pray to them’. Today however, it is with a heart full of conviction that we can say, ‘Ajna, pray for us to Jesus’.
To all of you attending this funeral today and those participating online, you are all blessed. Were it not for the Covid restrictions, many more people would have showed up today. For those who were unable to attend, they will regret the opportunity they missed to witness the funeral service of a saint.
Like the candle that’s lit near Ajna’s body, the warmth and brightness it emits while lit is something no one can ignore or deny, even if it is blown off. The glow that it gave will still be felt. Similarly the incense that is burned, its fragrance will still remain in the air. Just the same, even after burying Ajna, the twenty-seven years that she lived, a pure and saintly life, being a role model to her peers, the values that she upheld, the sacrifice that she lived, similar to that of St Alphonsa. That radiance will last forever in this parish, in this family, in the society and in our hearts forever.
Dear parents, let’s say goodbye to her with a happy heart because she has secured a place in heaven.
What She Left Unsaid
(An excerpt from a touching remembrance written by Jith George, a close friend of Ajna.)
My eyes brim with tears as the memories of you keep coming to me, Ajna. Why do my ears still ring with the familiar sound of you calling out, ‘Jithe’? Indeed, those calls were so filled with love! When like a songbird you flew into our midst, did you ever know that people would welcome into their hearts all that you sang and spoke, dear friend?
My friendship with Ajna goes back a long way, I’ve known her well for many years. We studied together at Sacred Heart College, Thevara, and we were both part of Jesus Youth Kerala Music Ministry. When I heard that she’d been diagnosed with cancer, I rushed to her home along with our beloved Fr Sabu Thomas. The scene that unfolded before us there was more heroic than the most heroic movies. Cancer had arrived, like Goliath, to trample down her dreams and her faith; but she stood, like David, with the smooth stones of spirituality and fortitude that she’d perfected over the years! What I later saw was my dear friend preparing to move into the heart of the battle, armed with a smile.
Her long slew of operations started with replacing her jawbone with a piece of bone from her thigh. This bone was replaced several times by other bones when the onslaught of cancer got worse. When it got down to the last viable bone she said, ‘Hey, I’ve got just one precious bone left to be used on my face. The doctor said that if this doesn’t work then nothing else can be done’. With slight unease she continued, ‘Can you pray that I am able to receive Jesus every day? That’s all I need. I would not be able to go to church if I start chemotherapy’. That day I realised how much she loved Jesus even in the midst of so much pain. She loved Jesus more than her life. Perhaps that was why I never wasted any opportunity I got to spend time with her and visited often. Each of those days I spent at her home were truly holy days. Holy moments spent with a living saint!
I went to see her after that operation as well. Her hair had all fallen and the procedure had disfigured her face. Ajna had been a really good singer, but the operation had taken away half of her lips. How would she teach with half her lips gone? How would she sing? She would never be able to sing again. Would she be able to bear this? These thoughts ran through my mind in a frenzy as I thought of how much she loved singing and teaching. As I stood before her with these distressing thoughts, she said to me, ‘Hey, this gloomy look does not suit you. Be happy’. That was when I realised that she was truly the best singer! Instead of the lamentations of pain, those partly removed lips of hers sang psalms of joy. Never before, or even after, have I seen a singer who so courageously lived the praises she sang to God. How happy she used to be when I visited her at home! She would eagerly get me to have the savouries her mother prepared. Never once did we see that sadness of a person who had not been able to have food through her mouth for months, or one who had possibly forgotten all sense of taste. That day we laughed a lot. Yes, it’s true, all Everests of sadness melted away when talking to her! When even the simplest things of life exasperate me, I visit Ajna and I start looking at life from a different perspective. She couldn’t tolerate anyone being sad around her. That was why even during the most intense pain she would remain silent, not even letting her mother know how much she was suffering. Not once would she talk about the excruciating pain, rather preferring to eagerly ask about the lives and activities of her visitors!
Ajna’s name was perfect for her. The word ‘Ajna’ means inner eye. With this ‘inner eye’ she would see and notice what was left unobserved by others. Read minds. I am reminded of an incident which occurred on 31 October 2020. The JY Teens Ministry was organising a massive online gathering, ‘TMG FINALE’, and had asked Kerala Music Ministry to arrange the music for it. There was to be a grand performance by the band, ‘band show’ as we called it. And so, several of our bandmates had already gone shopping for new clothes the previous day. Even though I too would have liked to get a pair of new clothes, I decided against it as I didn’t have enough money. The next morning Ajna called me, ‘Jith, where are you? Can you come to Kacheripady, Ernakulam right now? It’s a bit urgent’. Borrowing Fr Sabu’s bike from the college, I rushed there. Ajna was waiting with her mother in front of Seematti (a clothing store, famous in Kerala). I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Gesturing me to discipline a disobedient mask that had slipped off my face, she said that she wanted to buy someone clothes, and wanted my help. She led me into the shop, towards the men’s section. ‘Why are we here?’ I asked, ‘Aren’t we getting clothes for you?’ Pretending not to hear, Ajna started looking through clothes with her mother, and asked me which ones I liked. Like an expectant mother buying clothes the first time for her unborn child, she excitedly kept looking. I was dumbfounded. ‘We’re here to buy clothes for you,’ she then said. Don’t tell anyone, but Jesus asked me to; it’s not me, it is Jesus giving this to you.’ Instantly I felt the flood of God’s love wash over me! God’s love flowed down my face in twin streams. The next day, dressed in those new clothes, when we sang praises to God, I thanked Him for Ajna: the gift of a friend and truly, a soul sister.
Heroic faith of a life heroically devoted to Jesus
Bedwin Titus K, Ajna’s friend and fellow member of the JY Kochi Central Prayer Group core team remembers her.
I’ve known Ajna for the past 10 years. I first met her during a prayer group meeting at Sacred Heart College, Thevara. I had gone there to conduct the praise and worship for their prayer group. From the very beginning itself, I found Ajna to be a very humble, innocent, and shy person. But she had a strong desire to bring her friends and college mates closer to Jesus. Talking to her I could feel her love for Jesus, but she always used to say that she was unworthy of his love. Jesus was someone very personal to Ajna. It made her sad when people drifted away from God or when their interest in attending the college prayer group waned. But she would strongly pray for them knowing that God had a plan. If someone said something bad about Jesus or the Church or Jesus Youth, she would become really sad. She used to bounce back after recharging herself with simple conversations with Jesus. We would confidently say, ‘If Ajna is sad, you can find her in a chapel’.
She had this beautiful way of emptying herself and letting Jesus take complete control of the things she did. I have witnessed numerous times her graceful handling of many things that were new to her. From difficult situations to big programmes, she beautifully handled them all.
It’s not like Ajna didn’t get worried/tense, I remember how she used to really worry on the day before a programme where she was the coordinator or when things didn’t go as planned. The more worried she would get, the more she would pray, and the more she would talk with Jesus. I remember how happy she would become when the programmes concluded successfully or when a problem got resolved; she would be filled with praise making sure to share with everyone that it was Jesus who did it.
She had a strong conviction that Jesus would make everything for good and that he was there with her, loving and caring for her. She also had a strong desire to share that love she experienced. There was always a loving grace in her conversations that was hard to miss. Ajna was instrumental in bringing a lot of youth close to Jesus. Her testimony on her love for the Holy Mass has transformed many young people.
After a few years of limited contact with Ajna, it was with happiness that I learnt of her posting as assistant professor in her own alma mater. But later, when I came to know that on that same day she received news of her cancer diagnosis, I was shocked. My initial thought was how could something like this happen to her? How could such suffering come to so innocent and humble a person who was in love with Jesus?
One afternoon, 6-7 months back, I called to ask her if she was interested in attending the Central Prayer Group at Kochi. She had mentioned that she had stopped attending online meetings due to her condition, since her face was disfigured, she was hesitant to come on video. But she said that she would try to attend and even asked if it was ok that she turned off the video during the meeting. Unaware of her situation at that time, I casually asked if she had had lunch, that’s when she explained that it had been some time since she consumed solid food. Her food intake was now through a tube to her stomach.
From the next week itself, she began to attend the prayer meeting and never missed a single session. The only prayer meeting she missed was the week when she was admitted for the last time, she was heavily sedated.
Messages from Ajna
The following screenshots are a few conversations I had with Ajna during the past few months. When you put these messages in context with the pain she suffered, only a saint would be able to think like this. Each word typed by Ajna was laborious and strenuous for her amidst the severe headaches.
In December 2021, she had shared the following message briefing her situation.
After reading the message I was deeply saddened. A particular thought gnawing at me, ‘What if she loses eyesight, hearing, and her ability to talk? Wouldn’t it be a complete silence? How would she hold up in that void? The only person to whom she could talk to was Jesus’. I panicked and was worried. In my desperation, I wanted to make sure that she was still on talking terms with Jesus. But I really struggled to frame the words. So I put in a voice message asking whether she is able to have conversations with Jesus these days.
The above reply was a bit too much for me to take in. I had absolutely no idea what to answer back. I ended up restating, ‘Even if you reach a point where you cannot hear, speak, see, Jesus is there with you whom you can talk to’.
From her reply I was sure that she had a very strong holy bond with Jesus. Only a saintly person could praise God and acknowledge his presence while going through so much pain.
Even though I knew that her face was disfigured, it was when I saw the body that I could really understand the extent of her suffering. All the above conversations and sharing she did during the prayer groups were hours and hours of painful sacrifice and she did it with no complaints. She never gave up.
Even though all who know her are deeply saddened by her death, we are also happy that she is now able to be with the love of her life. I thank Jesus for letting me know her.
As we have begun to say, ‘Ajna, pray for us’.
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