My first twenty four hours in India included the blessing of meeting Mother Teresa face to face and being impressed with her overwhelming humble presence. Arriving at the Archbishop’s House for Priestly faculties, another two were also to be future mentors, Jesuit Cardinal Lawrence Picachy and Archbishop Henry D’Souza. All in one day I was gifted with three wise spiritual giants with a world vision. They were always willing to help or give advice during their life time and also in their death, still feeling connected with them from Heaven. In the early years there were three other significant Jesuit mentors in Mother Teresa’s life, Fr. VanXem, Fr LeJoly and Fr. Henry. Being acquainted with these five allowed me to see how Mother Teresa’s spiritual foundation was created for what would transpire for her, from being a Sister of Loreto to founder of the Missionaries of Charity. (Pause for a moment to give thanks to God for the mentors in your life who helped fashion you to be who you are today.)
The next event in the first 24 hours was going to the Missionaries of Charity Brothers Novitiate to live with several Professed, about 35 novices in formation, three seminarian volunteers from the USA and a dozen street boys who slept there at night. At 31 years old it was still possible to adapt to any new situation. The words of Jesus came to mind: “…Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest, go on your way…” I was shown where on the shelf to place my metal plate, tin cup and spoon. Besides the dry bread and tea for breakfast the volunteers were given a boiled egg as supposedly we needed more protein. A bed roll was given with the instruction to sleep wherever you can find floor space. For the daily bath there was a ration of only one bucket of water and to save half of it for washing clothes. I was informed, not to unpack my suitcase as there was no place for my clothes but rather take two shirts and two pants from the donated clothing in the storage room. No more color coordination, just wear one set while the other shirt and pants were drying. My shoes would be shower thongs. A side bag was given to carry any personal items along with a thin towel for there was no toilet paper for the new experience of using an Asian squat toilet! As there was very few pieces of furniture we sat cross legged on the floor for Mass and at recreation. The big lesson learnt was that the poor for the most part do not have privacy and do not need many material possessions. Living so closely with others in a limited space with water rationed was an enlightening fact about identifying with poverty in a third world context.
Mother Teresa requested that I say Mass the following day at one of her first works, the House of the Dying. We arrived just as the Sisters came. Mother Teresa greeted me with a beaming smiling face asking how was my first night. Being naturally optimistic I stated “wonderful” while with holding the rest of the sentence “I survived!” Later I was to find out that Mother Teresa didn’t think that I as a Priest from the USA could survive my three month volunteer service. At the conclusion of my stay in India a Missionaries of Charity Superior informed that most volunteers stayed at the most several years that I was the only volunteer from all countries that the Missionaries of Charity sponsored in India, to remain for 25 years. It seemed like 25 weeks!
We speak of Holy Doors derived from the Holy Doors at St. Peter’s in Rome, but when Mother Teresa motioned to enter the House of the Dying, I really felt that I was entering a holy door, sacred ground, a symbolic basilica with a mystical atmosphere. I wasn’t disappointed! (to be continued)