Day 11, 9 March 2012
I am presently in Bangalore, India, on my way home to New York. However, I have another 30 hours before I will arrive there because of two long layovers. I wanted to share with you details of the final pastoral visit I made this morning before departing directly for the airport.
This final visit was a clincher, the best possible way to conclude what has been a most rewarding and fulfilling experience. This visit had all the ingredients that make this India sojourn so humanly and spiritually satisfying.
The place is the St. Anthony’s Dayssadan, a home for children with physical disabilities run by the Preshitharam Sisters (old/broken link: https://satnadiocese.org/main/congregationofpreshitharamsisters.asp). The director of the facility is Sister Tessy, and she is accompanied by six other caring and loving sisters.
The drama began the instant we arrived, when we were welcomed by all the children gathered at the front entrance to greet me with singing and clapping. Now, what I did not know was that about 80 percent of these beautiful children are not able to walk. They assembled there under their own incredible efforts. When the welcome ended they proceeded to crawl inside the building, down a long corridor (with the marble floor immaculately clean), then up a flight of stairs. I had tears watching them, as they demonstrated how they have overcome their disabilities. As I would easily discern, it is the result of the loving patience of the sisters, their devotion to teach these little ones how to overcome and to share with them the love of God for each of them. Let me tell you about three of these youngsters who typify the miracles taking place at this institution which is supported by CNEWA.
One boy of about 15-whose arms, hands, legs and feet are horribly contorted-demonstrated mobility by rolling himself down the long corridor, then amazingly up a long flight of stairs, all the while with a smile from ear to ear. I was choked up by his display of determination. His climbing up the staircase defied gravity, but not his human spirit.
Another special child was a 12-year-old boy, the only one presently confined to bed. He is recovering from surgeries that, hopefully, will reverse the ravages of a disease that form birth has eaten away at the bone structure in his joints. And because he is immobile, his condition is also complicated by bedsores. But do you know how this beautiful child welcomed me? He sang the most beautiful rendition, in perfect English, of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The three of us had tears.
One other resident was a 16-year-old girl, dressed in a bright red sari, who joined five other girls in performing a dance for us. But three of the them either had limbs missing or were unable to walk. Two of them crawled up onto a little stage; the one in the bright red sari with a radiant smile also bounded onto the stage. The sisters told me she has an artificial limb and loves to dance. And that was an understatement. Now the beauty of the dance was that three were able to stand and dance (including the one with the prosthetic limb) with amazing vigor and precision, while the other three sat on the floor and used their hands in dance moves. There are really no disabilities with these lovely children — just challenges.
When I walked around to give each of them some candy — as has been the custom during all of our pastoral visits with children — I became very much aware of their physical challenges, as some of them could not put out their hands to accept the candy. Their joy in welcoming me prompted one of them to ask me to pray for all of them. Their response to my blessing was to sing together a lovely hymn, alluding to how God watches over us all. What a powerful life lesson for me.
The sisters here are saints, completely devoted to the care of these special children. I feel that this visit with the sisters and His little ones, was the perfect way to put it all into perspective. God loves everyone: the poor, the disadvantaged, those with special challenges. And we are privileged and have the honor of reaching out to the needs of so many in India. As much as we might do in helping them, we receive infinitely more as we experience their courage, their kindness, their patience, and especially their FAITH. Yes, above all they are filled with faith. Their trust in God watching over them, with a little help from our CNEWA family, is the great equalizer. It not only keeps them going, but it also brings joy and happiness to their lives.
I take this opportunity to thank all of you for joining me as we have walked in the missionary footsteps of St. Thomas. Everywhere his footprints are evident. We are all blessed by the legacy of St.Thomas and for having visited with the poorest of the poor.
I would like to acknowledge our regional director, M.L. Thomas, for his exceptional work in coordinating all our CNEWA efforts in India. He, along with his very devoted staff, serves as the conduit for our charity. It is a huge operation: 349 institutions helped, 22,000 children under sponsorship, thousands of seminarians as adopted spiritual sons, 700 women novices being sponsored and countless projects and programs. M.L. — along with Thomas Varghese from our office in New York, who accompanied me — did a yeoman’s job in making the long list of preparations for my visit.
Thomas was a great traveling companion, with a storehouse of knowledge and experience of the Indian church and the Indian people. As the former regional director here for seven years, he has a thorough knowledge of all the programs, institutions and projects. And everywhere we traveled, Thomas was warmly greeted as an old friend and face of CNEWA in India. Thanks, Thomas for all that you do for the poor!
Thanks to all the hierarchs who so warmly welcomed me; to all the priests, sisters and lay leaders who direct and administrate countless programs; to Ebby Joy, staff member in the Cochin office, who so dutifully and joyfully served as our driver — but especially my profound thanks to the poor, who continue to be my best teachers in being a good priest.
During my long flight home, you will be in my thoughts and especially my prayers, as will all of our family in India. God bless all of you!