By Samuel Clear (Mission Coordinator)
She’s about 22 years old, confined to a wheel chair and drooling through a broken smile. She can’t speak a word of Spanish, let alone English, yet manages to communicate her needs with us through restricted contorted hand gestures and either joy for yes or aggravation for no. She wasn’t born that way though. Not until her father beat her, inducing severe brain damage, did she become the young woman we met today.
To fully process the heart-breaking day, where us pilgrims stepped off the paved road to work alongside the Missionaries of Charity in southern Mexico City, perhaps requires less than we may have at first thought. Sitting here in the early evening now, in front of the tabernacle and tilma at Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica, the resounding lesson of “Love without counting the cost,” cuts deep.
We were there for one day, but those missionaries, and more so those residents, will remain there day in day out until God calls them elsewhere. From the infants staring up at us wide-eyed, through to the physically and mentally disabled elderly requiring total assistance, the common factor was a desire to be loved, shown affection and recognition. The overwhelming reaction from the pilgrims though hasn’t been one of sadness, but of profound joy in being privileged to be the hands of Christ. The, at first, confronting landscape, when saturated in love, became a thing of beauty.
Arriving initially at the Missionaries of Charity house was a task! Two unnamed pilgrims were no-shows, sleeping in well past our 8am departure, and with no gentle waking nor breakfast, they were out the hotel door quicker than you can say, “Hang on, aren’t there 18 of us?” A pilgrim’s path is full of obstacles and detours and when in Mexico City, you can add to that more cars than every state in Australia combined! Donabel and the Spanish-speaking driver chatted the entire way. She had no idea what he was saying, which was apt, because he had no idea what she was saying. They both appeared content with that arrangement.
We thought we were headed for an orphanage to play soccer with awesome little kids and perhaps visit the bed-ridden elderly, but the 20km, hour and half drive landed us at the doorstep of significant personal change. The inconspicuous double-storey complex with a confined grassed courtyard housed around 20 disabled elderly, 15 disabled teens and 30 children, some with disabilities, some simply without a family. There was no fuss given for our arrival or to educating us about how the home worked. We were simply offered a five minute tour and asked, “Split up and help where you can.” So we did. Immediately a few pilgrims were reduced to tears. Where do you start? We slowly found our places and began playing with the children, feeding the elderly, pushing wheelchair-bound teens around, cleaning tables and simply offering smiles as freely as possible. One-year-old Diego wasn’t exactly difficult to offer a smile to though. He clung to the Bishop in particular, but was quietly sought out by a number of other pilgrims. At age one, he had all the charm in the world.
A heart-felt and genuine, “Thank you for helping us,” from a local volunteer broke me. How do they do what they do day after day and give so much alongside the Missionaries of Charity without receiving accolade, pay or even thanks from those they care for, was soul-searching. Sr Lariesa put it in perspective, reiterating Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s words, “We must give without counting the cost. God will not ask how much have we done, but how much love have we put into it.”
By late afternoon, as our time came to a close, two groups of High School students moved in to take our places. One teacher admitted that their students were struck with fear and sadness when they first arrived, but now, with each monthly visit, they looked forward with joy to being the very real presence of love in each person’s life. Moved by the experience of today, Lauren Langrell perhaps felt that the mission house was a beautiful place to stay and live as she jokingly stepped across the threshold into the private quarters of the sisters as they said goodbye. What she didn’t bargain on was a few of the sisters quickly throwing the gate closed behind her and locking her in. “Bye Lauren!” The sisters raucously celebrated their easy catch.
We returned to the Basilica and it’s serene surroundings for two hours of quiet contemplation. It was very quite. We are privileged, and we all posses a dignity beyond description. Driving back through the darkened streets of Mexico City to our hotel, Bishop Peter piped up, “Today alone has justified this pilgrimage.” Simple nods of the head concurred.
Lord Jesus, may they forget us and remember only you.
God bless and peace be with you.