Eighteen years ago, 22-year-old Samundar Singh stabbed a Franciscan Calarist nun 54 times on a bus in broad daylight, dragged her body off the bus, and left her to die on a road side in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. He was sentenced to death for the brutal crime.
Now, Singh has been invited to Rome by the pope, who expressed a desire to meet him after watching an Italian award-winning documentary film on Singh's life, The Heart Of A Murderer, the Vatican Radio reported.
Singh, along with an Indian Catholic priest who counseled him in prison and the sister of the murdered nun, have been invited to watch a special screening of the film in Rome with the pope himself.
In 1995, Singh brutally murdered Sister Rani Maria on the orders of local landlords who were opposed to her social work for poor farmers. Singh was arrested and given the death sentence, which was subsequently commuted to a life term.
While in jail, Singh became a Christian under the guidance of Swami Sadanand, a Catholic priest who regularly visited Singh during his imprisonment and was instrumental in his change of heart.
Singh was freed after serving around 12 years in prison because of a petition signed by Rani Maria's family, the Clarist congregation and the bishop of the state of Indore.
The slain nun's younger sister, Sister Selmy Paul, forgave Singh when she visited him in prison. She hugged him and called him her brother.
Every year, on Raksha Bandhan, a Hindu festival celebrating the love of siblings, Paul ties a "rakhi" (sacred thread) around Singh's wrist symbolizing the bond of protection between a brother and a sister.
Samundar, whose wife left him during his imprisonment and whose son died, considers Rani's family as his own. He regularly visits her tomb calling it it a "sanctuary of peace and strength."
Catherine McGilvray, an Australian-Italian director who heard of Singh's story from an Indian missionary, said, "I was deeply moved by the images of the mother kissing her daughter's murderer and of the assassin becoming like a real brother to the sister of his victim."
The Italian film, which won an award at the World Interfaith Harmony Film Festival in L.A. this year, reportedly moved the pope to the point where he expressed his wish to meet Singh, Paul and Sadanand.
However, the Times of India reported that neither Singh or Sadanand have a passport to travel to Italy. Singh told TOI, "I have also lost all necessary documents to get one."
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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