Dressed in a flowing gown of white lace, Simi Sahu approached the beautifully decorated sanctuary of the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola, Feb. 11, 2021, ready to be consecrated to a life of virginity for women living in the world.
Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito addressed the young woman with three questions: “Are you resolved to persevere to the end of your days in the holy state of virginity and in the service of God and his Church? Are you resolved to follow Christ in the spirit of the Gospel that your whole life may be a faithful witness to God’s love and a convincing sign of the kingdom of heaven? Are you resolved to accept solemn consecration as a bride of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God?”
To these questions Sahu humbly, yet with conviction, answered a resounding, “I am.” With these words, Sahu became the first consecrate virgin from the St. Thomas Syro Malabar Diocese of Chicago. She received special permission from Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath to remain Syro-Malabar Catholic and is now joining the Order of Virgins at the Diocese of Palm Beach. Although there are other consecrated virgins living in the Diocese of Palm Beach, she is the first to receive formation and be consecrated in the diocese.
What is a consecrated virgin? The Office of Vocations of the Diocese of Palm Beach explained that in the New Testament, we find the image of the Church as the Bride of Christ. This image reveals the intimate relationship Jesus wants with those who believe in him. Since apostolic times, this expression of the mystery of the Church has been demonstrated by women who are dedicated to Jesus in virginity. They experience the spiritual fertility of an intimate relationship with him and offer the fruits of this relationship to the Church and the world. Consecrated virgins dedicate their life in prayer and service to the Church but, unlike nuns and sisters, they live and work in the secular world. This vocation is rare with only around 200 Consecrated Virgins in the U.S. and around 4,000 in the world.
Sahu’s consecration was greatly anticipated, not only because it was a first for many to witness in the Diocese of Palm Beach, but also because of its almost year-long postponement from March 25, 2020. Shortly before the original date of consecration, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the closure of churches, schools, public buildings and more, making it impossible for Sahu to carry on with her plans.
That did not deter the young woman, however, from undergoing an extended discernment process. On Feb. 11, 2021, a limited number of family and friends sat in the pews of the cathedral socially distanced and wearing facial coverings, eagerly awaiting to see Sahu walk down the aisle. Many of her loved ones—in the U.S. and in her native India—tuned in from home via the livestream feed provided by Shalom Media. Members of the Emmanuel Church family, where Sahu works as the parish accountant, were also present.
Sahu chose a new date of consecration that coincided with the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, an image of the Blessed Mother who visited young Bernadette Soubirous with the intention of inspiring others to follow more deeply her son, Jesus Christ. The cathedral was decorated for a wedding celebration with lilac tulle lining the main aisle and brightly colored floral arrangements displayed on the altar steps.
This image of Sahu as the bride of Christ is outlined in the language of the rite, “God’s loving wisdom chooses those who made sacrifice of marriage for the sake of the love of which it is the sign. They renounce the joys of human marriage but, cherish all that it foreshadows.”
The rite continues, “Those who choose chastity have looked upon the face of Christ, its origin and inspiration. They give themselves wholly to Christ, the son of the ever-virgin Mary, and the heavenly bridegroom of those who in his honor dedicate themselves to the lasting virginity.”
These words are further symbolized in Sahu receiving a veil and ring from the bishop, denoting her commitment and devotion to her bridegroom, Jesus. The bishop also presented her with the Liturgy of the Hours, “the prayer of the Church.” Bishop Barbarito said to Sahu, “May the praise of our heavenly Faither be always on your lips, pray without ceasing for the salvation of the whole world.”
At the end of the Mass, Sahu turned to her family and friends in the pews, as well as to those watching from home, to express her gratitude for all those who saw her through the discernment process. She reflected on what it means to become a consecrated virgin during present times.
Sahu said, “I always wondered what the Second Vatican Council fathers had in mind to be proclaiming Christ as bridegroom in this vocation for some women to image the church as bride of Christ. I thought how interesting it was they chose the late ‘60s to be proclaiming this vocation. And 2021, hardly seems like a better time for such a spousal and amorous title for Jesus to be called the bridegroom. It seems a little bit much and maybe even a little shocking but, perhaps this title was made exactly for a time like this. Who is bridegroom if not Jesus?”
To view the livestream feed of Simi Sahu’s Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity for Women Living in the World from Feb. 11, 2021, visit the Diocese of Palm Beach Office of Vocations Facebook @PBVocations.