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Missionaries of Charity – total service to the poor

By Kaelanne Jordan
mediarelations.camsel@catholictt.org

The Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity (MC) are considered to be amongst the most recognisable religious community in the Catholic Church.

Founded by Saint Teresa (Mother Teresa) in 1950 in India, the religious congregation was established to love and serve the poorest of the poor—both materially and spiritually—not only in the slums, but also all over the world wherever they may be, irrespective of social class, creed, or colour.

What began as a small congregation of 12 members in Kolkata (then called Calcutta), it is now an organisation with over 5,000 members operating orphanages for disabled and neglected children, soup kitchens, homes for the dying, a leper colony, to name a few, in various parts of the world. In addition to the Sisters, the congregation also includes contemplative Brothers and Fathers.

According to RomeReports.com, when Mother Teresa passed away in 1997, there were 3,914 Sisters and 363 Brothers serving the poor. In 2016, there were 5,161 Sisters and 416 Brothers. The MC is now in 139 countries, compared to the 120 countries in 1997. They have also added 164 houses and counting to their mission over the years.

Today, the number of vocations and interest in the congregation continues to increase.

Locally, the Sisters’ presence in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain was initiated in 1989 at the invitation of then Archbishop Anthony Pantin CSSp. Some 30 years later, ‘Mother Teresa Sisters’, as they are sometimes called, remain a visible presence at 1 Church Street, Success Village, Laventille.

The House is a large two-storey, white and blue building, the distinctive colours of the saris worn by the congregation. It is situated obliquely opposite Success RC School and Corpus Christi RC Church.

It was only 9.50 a.m., but the Sisters—Sr Francilla MC, the Superior of the House; Sr Kuesmmila MC and Sr Leonice MC had already put in a day’s worth of work.

The Sisters usually wake at 4.40 a.m., have prayers at 5 a.m. and attend 6 a.m. Mass before tackling an array of daily tasks: tending to 15 female young adults with disabilities, and preparing hot meals to distribute to over 50 families for 10 a.m.

Sr Francilla explained that pre-Covid, individuals would usually consume their meals in the eating area and interact with others. They would recite prayers and listen to the day’s Gospel reading.

This arrangement is now hampered because of the Covid-19 pandemic and its implications to her vulnerable charges.

Tia, 25 years old, is the eldest among the girls. Pointing at a photo on the wall, Sr Francilla showed a young baby Tia who has been in their care since she was a toddler.

In a hushed tone, close to a whisper, Sr Francilla explained how the rest of girls came into their care. She shared stories of two sisters who were locked inside their homes for days on end and some being abandoned at hospitals by their families.

An experience of love

During the chat, it was evident the girls all shared one commonality— their love of music and love for each other. At multiple times throughout the interview, Sr Francilla was embraced with appeals of hugs and gestures of affection by her charges.

During the interview, a musical rendition on the keyboard was done by Tia which garnered much delight and excitement among the girls. One girl, wheelchair-bound, smiled, and clapped approvingly.

Sr Francilla directed for the rest of charges’ names to not be mentioned, explaining, “They are vulnerable. We have to give them their dignity….”

Some of the girls, Sr Francilla shared, attended learning institutes. She said they had between 20–27 charges in their care at one time. All the girls are cared for until death. The girls receive regular visits from Msgr Esau Joseph, Vicar for Health, and a consultant doctor.

India-born Sr Francilla arrived in Trinidad in 2017. She mentioned she was familiar with the region having been stationed in Grenada in 2010. She joined the religious congregation in 1985 and professed her final vows in India in 1994.

“We are set all over the world. When we go to a place, we try to adapt to the culture and the place,” she told The Catholic News. Trinidad, however “was very different,” she said.

“At the same time, it’s very different to what we are used to…the culture…the way they dress…hair…lifestyle also different,” Sr Francilla said. “They used to ask me ‘do you speak Spanish?’ and I would ask them, ‘Are you speaking Spanish?’” she said, laughing.

She continued, “We are happy…very much happy in this place. Like Grenada, Trinidad people are so beautiful. Indians and Africans…We love people. Beautiful, nice people. We are like one,” she said.

Sr Francilla underscored that establishing a centre in what society would refer to as a ‘hot spot’ is the overarching charism of wholehearted and free service to the

poorest of the poor. She explained that the congregation’s work depends on the circumstances of the communities in which they find themselves.

“Laventille. Everybody say, ‘Laventille’…Why did you come here? God’s blessings…Nothing [referring to crime and violence] took place till today…. they are so good to us, every one of them…We are very much happy in this place,” she said.

 

The dignity of all

The walls of the House contain various images and sayings of St Teresa, such as ‘I Thirst’ which is displayed in the chapel located at the back of the main residence.

Sr Francilla explained that St Teresa’s thirst of Jesus is the unifying element of her vocation and her religious charism, her spiritualty and mission.

“Jesus said ‘I thirst not for water but for souls’…So we do this by doing all the small things by serving the poorest of the poor through service…. Mother said you do immediate service….We don’t receive anything in return from anybody. Whatever we do, we do free. Mother said don’t even expect thanks from them,” Sr Francilla said.

Their work also extends far beyond the home. The Sisters visit families in the Success Village, Laventille and Beetham environs, distribute hampers to needy families every month and do hospital visits.

“Our apostolate is also for the spiritual. Another way we meet people is we pray for them. By praying for them, many say they receive Jesus. We bring their name at Adoration and pray for them every day…Our apostolate is two-fold: the action and the contemplation.”

Sr Francilla said that the congregation usually executes missionary activities/outreach in twos. With the current contingent of three, the congregation is “short staffed”. Ideally, there are six Sisters to any one community. Questioned on whether there are plans to deploy more Sisters to the Archdiocese, Sr Francilla seemed unsure and spoke of visa issues.

However, the reach of their efforts is all the more impressive when you consider that the Sisters employ practically no technology. There is no television in the residence. The Sisters do not use the shower, as they prefer to bathe with one bucket of water.

Missionaries of Charity Sisters each own three saris. The saris are made by lepers at their rehabilitation centre in India. These saris are strictly hand washed. The saris’ blue signifies the colour of Mother Mary and the stripes represent their three religious vows: a broad one for the vow of poverty and the other two represent chastity and obedience.

The white signifies a fourth vow taken by Missionaries of Charity, of whole-hearted service to the poorest of the poor.

“Mother decided this people, we treat them and give them dignity. They make it by machine. Nowhere else you can buy it,” Sr Francilla said touching her sari. She explained that two of the garments are for everyday wear while the third is used for emergencies and special occasions such as feast days.

The Church celebrated the feast of St Teresa on September 5. Sr Francilla told Catholic News that the Sisters observed the Day with Holy Mass, a sharing of lunch and cake and ice cream.

“Someone brought a TV, and the children watched our Mother’s Legacy…The children enjoyed it,” Sr Francilla said, with a smile.