12/16/2008, 00.00
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Calcutta: Christmas of the Missionaries of Charity, among AIDS patients

by Nirmala Carvalho
In the "House of Peace," the love of God is experienced through work in contact with the suffering. The drama of the disease becomes an occasion of redemption. The religious of Mother Teresa are celebrating Christmas by praying for the persecuted Christians in Orissa.

Calcutta (AsiaNews) - The Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa are preparing for Christmas at the "Shanti Bhavan" ("House of Peace") on Tengara Road in Calcutta, where they take in AIDS patients. Fr. Yesudas explains to AsiaNews how, among the sick and needy, he experiences that "it is only in love we fully realize we are persons. The more we become persons through loving others the more we come to know God who became a 'person"'on Christmas to redeem us."

Fr. Yesudas says that "at Shanti Bhavan, I see the struggles, pain and humiliation of people who are suffering from HIV/AIDS. I often wondered what made me to believe in the promises of the psalm when I pray. As I see these broken people in the hospital and in Shanti Bhavan, I ask myself, where was God's protection when they needed it most? Where were the angels for them?

 "As I sit with these unanswered questions, I do see the compassion and tenderness of the protection of God flowing through a group of HIV patients who work with us. I do see the particular quality of these helpers' gentleness with men and women in trouble manifesting the angels for them. I do come to believe, God is the God of the broken heart. The God of the bruised spirit and shattered body. Those are his shrines, where the power of his presence dwells, not the relics of the dead or the altars built by human hands.

"At the Tropical School of Medicine it was pregnant with life but inside the hospital the ward was filled with grief, life defeated by weakness and despair. As I was visiting the patients, I met Mrs. Sujata Mondol and her face had an innocent look and gentle smile. She was suffering from advanced HIV disease with an opportunistic infection called Toxoplasmosis Encephalitis. She suffered terrible headaches, confusion and seizures. Her husband had died with the same disease. She knew he was the cause of her infection. Yet she spoke of him as a good man who took care of her and her two daughters. Her love and appreciation for him was so deep the tears dropped from her eyes as she spoke of his goodness. Whenever I met her in the hospital I remembered the words of Don Helder de Camera - 'Some people are like sugar-cane: even when crushed in the mill reduced to pulp - all they can yield is sweetness.' The day Sujata died I was there at her side. There was a goodness  in her face, a light in her gaze.

"Mrs. Ashima Panja was another woman I met a few months ago in the hospital ward. She was very sick and nearing death. One of our helpers Mr. Asharam cared for her every day. Asharam was like an angel carrying her to the diagnosing centre for blood tests, MRI and other investigations. She could never forget the support and care she received from him. She had only one last desire - that she should only die in her home. A few days before her death, brothers were able to discharge her from the hospital and take her home. Home is a place she wants to die. It was her birth place. It was a place she invested love, and trust and hope, as well as anger, disappointment, and fear. It was a place someone who loved her truth out of her even when she was unable to find it in herself. It was a place she has touched God with her family. So she wanted to enter into a sacred act of dying at home and give that breath of God in her as a gift of life, a holy kiss to be passed on to her family.

"In October, I was invited to join a workshop in Delhi on 'Seeking meaning from life in the face of death.' Many speakers were trying to use theology to solve the problems to fight our despair and suffering. I was feeling deep in myself . . . theology? Theology is no use to anyone, it is an intellectual's toy, an elegant fencing foil, a useless courtly game, forget theology and let me listen to those who have come to share their suffering - in them there is God. As the sharing continued in the afternoon the hall was filled with the sharing of pain and grief and I discovered - a man or woman with aching body and sores, is the house of the dignity of God and God is not outside, watching, but he is being born in the middle of all the sweat and turmoil."

Fr. Alfred Kujjur, the superior of the "Shanti Bhavan," confesses the bitterness that he feels over the violence that has struck Christians in Orissa; a persecution that has not spared the missionaries of Charity, whose religious centers "were victims of the carnage twice in December and also in August. So in commemoration of the communal violence, we are not celebrating Christmas this year."

The Missionaries of Charity have also suffered violence and destruction: "Our Mother Teresa Brothers' hospital in Srasanada was a leprosarium, and our brothers were looking after leprosy patients, the unwanted even to their families, and most of them were Hindus, and yet they were targeted twice and their hospital and residence destroyed. This causes me much anguish, and yet our brothers are waiting to go back and serve the same people who attacked them."

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See also
More homes burned in Orissa. Statement by the bishops
Orissa: Christmas of Namrata, the little Dalit disfigured by a bomb
Widow of Graham Staines: "Do not give up hope, pray for India"
In India Church fights leprosy and prejudices
Kandhamal, Hindu fanatics burn down house of sisters of Mother Teresa


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