02/02/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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The Marcsri Centre, where among the poor and sick "one encounters Jesus"

by Melani Manel Perera
The organisation offers care and shelter to the poor and abandoned of all ethnic and religious groups. Rita, the founder, 73 years old, recalls the evolution of this important outreach, which after 25 years of activity now houses 800 patients in 23 homes at all over the country.

Kalutara (AsiaNews) - There is a house in Sri Lanka where sick people, young and old,  find love and comfort in the care of an ordinary woman, and the spiritual help of a Catholic priest. It is the "Marcsri Saranaseva Nivahana", a network of welcome centres, which marked its 25th anniversary on January 29th.  The occasion was celebrated with a Mass in Kalutara, 50 km from Colombo, where the first "Marcsri" house stands. The Mass was celebrated by archbishop emeritus Marcus Fernando, Harold Anthony, bishop of Galle, Fr Anselm Croos, and Fr Julian Tissera, the chaplain for Marcsri.

Among the religious, laity, and sick people with their families, there was also the founder of this initiative, Rita Perera, 73, known as "Sister Rita". Rita was a religious sister, but during the 1960's she was forced to revoke her vows for serious health reasons.  After a few years she married Marcus Perera, and although they never had children, "they were a very devoted couple", according to those who knew them.  They built their house in Kalutara, and called it "Marcsri". They lived a happy life, until Marcus died in 1982.  But Rita did not yield to sadness, and she began to try to alleviate her pain by going to visit abandoned people in the hospitals, the ones who had no one to take care of them. 

"I brought them homemade food, coffee", Rita tells AsiaNews, "and once I took up a collection and was able to buy three wheelchairs for the patients".  On January 29th, 1983, a man who had been released from the hospital came to her house asking for hospitality.  "He had nowhere to go", she explains.  She welcomed him, and from that day forward an increasing number of needy people, of all ages, found a home at Marcsri. "Children, the elderly, adults - I had nowhere left to put them, and I began sleeping on the floor along with them", Rita recounts.  "I made my home a refuge for the least fortunate". 

Rita takes care to emphasise that in her work she was "helped by Divine Providence", but was also by constant support from Fr Julian Tissera, who since 1989 has been the spiritual guide for the patients and has taken care of organising "discipline in the various houses".  Rita praises his ability to help "not with words, but with actions"; with his presence, he demonstrates that "Jesus is not encountered in theology books, but in the ordinary actions of every day, in helping your neighbour where you live". 

Today the "Marcsri" numbers about 800 patients of every ethnic and religious group, and has 23 houses in various places on the island.  The daily expenses are met with donations from Sri Lanka and from outside the country.  There is a fund called "Friends of Marcsri" that accepts donations. "It is incredible", Rita says, "I don't even know myself how we succeed in covering all of the expenses - travel, food, medicine, marriages, funerals - but there are many good people to help us; for years the electricity bill has been paid by one generous donor".  There are also many doctors who volunteer their time to help these unfortunate patients, like Dr Seneth Samaranayake, who instructs many of the Marcsri volunteers at his clinic near the main house.

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