I think for most people the only time we ever hear about leprosy is in a Sunday reading of the Gospel. “It’s that disease that Jesus healed people from.” “Yeah, it was incurable then.” “Outcast or something.” It can become like a distant fairy tale, but it’s real. There are still people with leprosy, and they are made outcasts. Mother Teresa saw them living in the garbage of the streets, and so built them a home, Titagarh. The place is about ten acres. They grow their own food, have a school for the children, and jobs for the adults. They can be healed while at Titagarh as well.
However, even if they are healed, they will not be accepted back into society. They will be shunned because they were once a leper. They have two options: they could go around begging and be homeless and make about eight Rupees a day, or, they can stay and work at Titagarh and make two Rupees a day. They choose to stay and work, with less pay, because it allows them to hold onto their dignity. That’s what they gain back by the work of the Missionaries of Charity.
If you ever visit, the MCs might take you on a tour; they will take you to the gardens where they grow food, and the school where they teach the children, and the weaving halls where they make the saris for the MCs (talk about being close to the poor), and they might take you through where they sleep. Many will be lying in bed, because they are too weak to walk or stand or work. You will walk down the hall of beds and try to remember the Bengali word for hello: “Na-ma-ste.”
Namaste. They will see you and smile at you and wave at you and greet you. The fact that they will smile at you is such a surprise. I thought lepers were sad people. They smile at you! They are so happy to see you and that you took the time to visit them.
Then, one will reach his hand out to you.
You will see it, and you will see how he is missing fingers, and the ones remaining are mangled and twisted. You will look at that hand and think of how contagious leprosy is. You will look at the bandage on his wrist and see that it’s covering a sore. Then you will glance at him, and you will remember St. Francis and how he kissed the leper. That leper he kissed was so lonely and just wanted to be touched. Then, without expecting it, for some good reason, you will stretch your hands to his, and you will hold his hands. You will feel the mangled fingers and notice the missing ones. You will smile at him, and he will smile at you with such serene joy. It’s like you just gave him life or something. You will look at each other. Something really big just happened. You will ask him his name, and you won’t be able to pronounce it. You keep saying Na-ma-ste. Namaste. Namaste. You don’t even understand what just happened. There will be a quiet moment, one more Namaste. And you nod and continue. Others will see, and they will reach out their hands. Namaste, namaste.
You will have seen that there is something more important than being grossed out, and that something is love, and His name is Jesus.
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