Saturday, June 20, 2009

Anna and Vicente: A Love Story Ends

One of the great love stories between a priest and a lay woman ended this week with the death of Vicente Ferrer from a stroke. Ferrer was a Spanish Jesuit missionary in India who left his order to marry Anne (Anna) Perry, a British journalist. Perry met Ferrer when she was covering his initial expulsion from India for the news weekly "Current". She was so impressed by Ferrer that she ended up leaving her job to campaign for his return to India and then joined in his work on behalf of the poor. In 1970, one year after Ferrer returned to Anantapur, he left the Jesuits and married Anna.

Thus began nearly four decades of a life and ministry together that produced three children, the Rural Development Association, and the Vicente Ferrer Foundation which does extensive charitable work in India. Ferrer won numerous international honors for his philanthropic endeavors including the prestigious Premio Principe de Asturias de la Concordia in 1998.

Earlier this year, Perry published a book about their relationship titled Un pacto de amor. Mi vida junto a Vicente Ferrer (Editorial Espasa, 2009). The Spanish newspaper El Mundo printed some excerpts. Here, translated into English by Rebel Girl, Perry shares a humorous anecdote about the couple's inauspicious beginning:

The return to Anantapur marked the beginning of our life together as husband and wife and, of course, as work partners.

A few details...For example, what should I call my husband? In the past, like everyone else, I had called him "Father". It would have been difficult to continue to call him "Father"; it would have been really...strange...He didn't have any problem addressing me; he simply continued to call me "Anna", but he certainly had a bit of difficulty when he had to introduce me. For a while it felt strange to him to utter those words: "This is my wife." He used to say: "This is....well...hmmm...hmmm..." and finally he would conclude: "This is Anna." Some time passed before he could say: "This is my wife."

Most of the Indian press printed positive articles about the fact that Father Ferrer had left the priesthood to get married. They generally said that he had decided to leave the Company of Jesus to dedicate himself body and soul to the welfare and betterment of the poor peasants in the Anantapur district. Then there were also people who were not in favor of Father Ferrer leaving the priesthood and getting married and by coincidence I bumped into one of them in Mumbai. This is one of those stories one hopes will never of those that only happen to other people.

Shortly after we were married, I traveled to Mumbai and passed by to greet Sheila, the secretary to the director of "Current", the weekly for which I used to work. Sheila invited me over to eat at her house. I had never been there before, nor did I know her husband.

At her house, Sheila introduced me briefly to Joe. "Anna, this is Joe." Then Joe said unexpectedly: "Have you heard what that shameless Ferrer has done? He's gone off and got married! Who does he think he is...marrying a girl half his age? Who could the stupid woman be...? What was she thinking, marrying Father Ferrer? Maybe she couldn't find anyone better?"

I sat unperturbed and looked askance at Sheila, who was in a real state of shock, mortified. "Joe, Joe,..." she interrupted, but Joe wasn't paying attention to her and continued ranting about "priests who get married and women who don't use their heads."

Finally, Sheila couldn't take it any more and screamed: "Joe, this is Anna Perry, who worked in my office and now lives in Anantapur and is married to Father Vicente Ferrer!" You could have heard a pin drop...

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