Well, we made it. At about 8 pm on January 1st (last night), the group of nine other seminarians, Fr. Kelly, and I arrived at the airport in Kolkata, India. Our travels totaled about 40 hours from the time we left Minneapolis, making stops in Amsterdam and Delhi, India. We spent the night at the airport hotel in Delhi, and began the new year with celebrating Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God in the hotel. Our flight to Kolkata from Delhi was delayed a few hours, but we arrived in Kolkata and made it to our lodging at the Baptist Mission House at about 10pm. It is a beautiful little oasis in the middle of the very busy and noisy city, and 1.5 blocks from the Motherhouse of the Missionaries of Charity! What a blessing.
This morning, we got on a bus and drove to a Leper Colony founded by Mother Teresa at the outskirts of the city. She had noticed that those affected by the disease, especially once they began to become crippled from the leprosy, were being outcast and forgotten by the society. So she helped create a place where they can live with dignity and especially have an opportunity to work. Most of the people who end up at the Leper Colony have begun to experience degeneration of their fingers and toes, and eventually hands and feet and eyes. They mostly work on maintaining the facility or weaving cloth to sell. When we arrived, we had Mass in their small chapel and then took a tour of their facilities and helped serve their lunch: rice (which I slowly learned was called “bhaat” in Bengali), sauce, vegetables, and fish served to them right at their cot. Some of the guys helped feed the food into the mouths of those unable to feed themselves. After lunch we returned to the center of the city and spent the afternoon at the Motherhouse of the M.C.’s. It was so beautiful to visit and pray at Mother Teresa’s tomb and to pray a Holy Hour with our Lord and many of the Missionaries of Charity Sisters, along with the other volunteers who are there to assist the M.C.’s.
It has been very difficult for me to see the sheer magnitude of the poverty here, especially as I try to imagine the lifestyles of these people who live on the sides of the road. It has been quite overwhelming, and I’ve felt some hopelessness creep in: “how could one hope to find a solution to this massive problem?” But in today’s Gospel, John the Baptist, when speaking about Jesus, says, “but there is one among you whom you do not recognize.” I was struck by this line at Mass today. The Pharisees don’t recognize Jesus because they have certain expectations of what He will be like. Similarly, Jesus is here in each of these people and I wasn’t seeing Him. And it is my inability to recognize Him “in the distressing disguise of the poor,” as Mother Teresa would say, that leads to the thoughts of hopelessness at not being able to fix a problem. After this realization from the Lord, I was able to look a little more for Him in the lepers and in others, and was given the grace to really enjoy being with them and just to delight in being in their presence as I greeted them or fed them rice. It is only divine love that will allow any of our human efforts to be at all successful; and, in the eyes of our loving Father, success is not fixing a material problem, but it is that his children would know his unconditional love. I pray that at the beginning of this trip I can continue to receive the grace to see everything as He does.
Thanks for all your prayers and support!! Know that you’re in our prayers here.