Fr Shay Cullen: following in the footsteps of Mother Teresa

 When I first went to Calcutta to work in the dying houses of Mother Teresa, among the lepers and with the hungry street kids that populated the railway stations I was a temporary chaplain to the brothers of charity founded by Mother Teresa. We lived a life of simplicity and deprivation. No cooling air fans, no soft beds or tasty meals. A slim mat on a hard concrete floor was our resting place in a large room that doubled as a meeting and prayer room. We awoke before dawn rolled up our mats and washed in small cubicles from a bucket. The day began with morning prayer, sitting on the floor in a circle reading and meditating on the scripture and then we shared the Eucharist. There was a shared spirit of unity, dedication and a vision of purpose which we needed to strengthen our resolve to face whatever human degradation the day would bring. Working in pairs we were set off to the streets to find the sick and the dying and do whatever we could to ease their suffering. We were like ants on a mountain insignificant and I wondered what good can we do to change this affront to human dignity. I went with the portable clinic, a converted van that had all the necessities to treat the lepers that hid themselves behind in the slaughter houses of the city where only the untouchables would dare venture and ourselves. The lepers were banished and excluded. How happy they were to see us stretched out their decaying hands and feet to be cleaned and treated and parts to be amputated by the medically trained brothers. My work was to unwind the filthy bandages and wash the putrid wounds. A daunting task at first. They eagerly took their medicine in the vain hope that they would be cured. What a shocking reality of such sadness, human suffering and the pain of being unwanted, outcast and living worst than hungry dogs. In a world of inequality where the rich give not even the waste and crumbs from their sumptuous banquets to feed the poor I asked where was the loving compassionate healing God in all of this. No wonder Mother Teresa doubted if there was a God at all. And yet she carried on serving the poor in her spiritual desolation and inner loneliness crying out for a God whose presence she could not see or feel - that was heroic virtue indeed, truly saintly. On other days I was in the dying house, a converted Hindu temple. Here we brought the dying whose skeletal bodies were like the dead of Auschwitz. They were snatched from the gnawing rats on garbage heaps or in the gutters and with dozens of the sisters, who lived in voluntary poverty themselves, we treated the dying as the precious children of God. They received respect, reverence and love. Did a loving God allow it to be like this? Could God not intervene with a mighty hand to bring down the mighty from their thrones, lift up the downtrodden and establish a kingdom of justice and peace with food and dignity for all as Jesus wanted? Down in the railway station where trains came roaring in every twenty minutes dozens of children, mostly boys swarmed all over the carriages of arriving trains devouring the left over food scraps and collecting rags and any bit of junk that could be sold. There are millions of abandoned street kids around the world. They are exploited as child workers, sexually abused and thousands illegally imprisoned. They are deprived of a childhood and a life of value and today in the Philippines it is the same, a rich nation with millions of poor. Injustice and greed are the roots of social evil and it thrives because the rich refuse to put aside their greed and build a just society. Yet Mother Theresa saw the injustice and poverty everyday for over 60 years and yet she never gave up being one with the poor and the abandoned. Although the joy of experiencing God throughout her life was unattainable God was with the poor through her and through them, God was with her.

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