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"Holiness is not the luxury of a few. It is everyone's duty: yours and mine."  ~Mother Teresa

Pilgrimage to Kolkata



Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala, M.C.

From Thursday 27th December 2007 to Saturday 5th January 2008, 13 of our Brothers – 11 novices with their In-charges, Br. Damien M.C. (priest) and Br. Stephen M.C. (priest) – are making a pilgrimage to Kolkata, the birth place of the Missionaries of Charity. It is where Jesus spoke to our Blessed and beloved Foundress, Mother Teresa M.C. very personally and very lovingly. It is in this paradoxical city of Kolkata that she had the vision of the crowd, Our Lady, and finally Jesus on the Cross, from where He entrusted to her the care of His poor, asking her to bring them to him. "I have asked you. They (the crowd) have asked you and she, my Mother, has asked you. Will you refuse to do this for me-to take care of them, to bring them to Me?" (see MFG: 19)

We give thanks to Br. Geoff M.C., the General Servant of the Missionary Brothers of Charity of Kolkata, who so kindly made available one of their convents, Tengra, for the Brothers to stay during those days. Our heart-felt thanks go also to Br. Nicholas M.C., the Superior of Tengra house, for welcoming the Brothers and providing all the necessary help and guidance.

The success and the fruitfulness of our Brothers' pilgrimage to the M.C. Bethlehem now depends on the pilgrims themselves, how prepared they are, how informed of the places and the persons they visit, their historical and spiritual significance and importance. There is much to see, and there is much more to reflect, assimilate and share.

When in Kolkata the Brothers would like to listen, if possible, to Sr. Nirmala M.C., Sr. Lysa M.C., Sr. Gertrude M.C., Br. Geoff M.C., Br. Yesudas M.C. and others according to their time and convenience.

They also, besides visiting the places, would like to give wholehearted free service, especially in Kalighat and Tiljala for a couple of mornings, if it doesn't create much confusion and disorder.

In order to draw maximum benefit from this eight day pilgrimage to the birth place of the M.C.s, I have prepared a tentative program for the week, with some explanations of some of the most important places. This can be an incentive to better understand our M.C. Charism, our life and our apostolate.

In advance, I would like to thank each and every one who may be of help to our Brothers in and around Kolkata during their stay.

Kolkata (Calcutta). Kolkata is the M.C. Bethlehem where Jesus is born again and born anew in the abandoned and unwanted children of Shishubavan, in the dying destitute people of Nirmal Hriday-Kalighat, in the leprosy patients of Titagarh, in the crippled and abandoned children of Green Park, in the physically and mentally challenged ones of all our homes, in the homeless ones...in a word, in each and every person who lives and dies in poverty and hunger throughout the world.

We do not go to Kolkata to satisfy our curiosity, nor to feel better. We do not go to Kolkata as tourists, although we may be visiting many centres; nor do we make an excursion trip. We do not go to Kolkata to compare, to judge, to ridicule. No, we go to Kolkata as pilgrims who are unworthy to serve Jesus in the poorest of the poor. Our constant prayer therefore is: "Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our fellow men throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger; give them through our hands this day their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give peace and joy. Amen." (Pope Paul VI) We go to Kolkata to see, observe, listen, contemplate, watch, judge and act.

There are, then, many ways of seeing Kolkata, but we should see Kolkata with the eyes of Jesus; we should see it as Blessed Teresa M.C. saw it. Only then will our pilgrimage to Kolkata produce fruit and can be called a real pilgrimage.

We go to Kolkata as Missionaries of Charity. There are many places for us to visit, people to come to know. These places are like different chapters of a big book. We have to read them prayerfully. It must become a "Lectio Divina". We must read them with kindness, with Jesus' compassion, with Jesus' love.

Mother House. Mother House is the introductory and the foundational Chapter. Everything originated there and everything returns there, but it is not a house without Jesus: Jesus is its epicentre. It is here that the divine drama played its various scenes and continues to play. It is important then to say a few words about the Mother House, at 54/A, Acharya Jagadeesh Bose Road, Kolkata 700016. This is the present name of the street. It was known before as 54/A Lower Circular Road. Blessed Teresa lived in this place for over 44 years, i.e. from 1953 to 1997.

The door to the entrance to the Mother House remains the same. It has witnessed persons of all walks of life, every kind of status, position and possession. Presidents, Prime Ministers, political leaders, as well as simple peasants...all have entered through that door. It has welcomed above all many of the poorest of the poor, sick and weak people, sinners, saints and thousands of young girls who offer their lives in service to the poor, who have become the Society's wealth and strength.

Mother House today is a world-renowned place, even after the death of its founder; perhaps it is even more so now than ever, because love never dies.

As we go in we have on our right side the imposing tomb of Blessed Teresa, which has become a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of peoples of all religions and walks of life.

There is a big statue of Blessed Teresa in bronze in the courtyard, just outside the hall where Mother's body lies, and then there is the grotto of our Lady of Lourdes. In another small room there is the little Mother Teresa Museum, and then the archives. One of the most important sights there is her room and the steps leading to it. Today the pilgrims are allowed to see it only through a grilled door.

The most important place, however, in the Mother House is yet to be mentioned, namely the Chapel where Blessed Teresa used to spend hours before the Lord, where her crucified Spouse inspired and illumined her, where her soul was flooded with Jesus' spirit and life, where her whole being was penetrated and possessed so utterly that her life became only a radiance of Jesus' life, Jesus' presence, Jesus' love. He shined through her and was so in her that every soul she came in contact with felt Jesus' presence in her soul, so much so that they no longer saw her but only Jesus. As Jesus stayed with her she could shine as Jesus would shine. In this way she became Jesus' light to others. Yes, as Jesus wanted her to be his light, she became his light to others. This was her life and her apostolate, and this as Missionaries of Charity is our life and apostolate as well.

In the very place where she sat for 44 years and prayed, today one of her statues is placed. This statue is sculptured according to the way she used to sit and pray. She used to bury herself, recoiling herself wrapped in silence.

Every morning at 6.00 there is the Holy Mass for the community, participated in also by hundreds of volunteers and Co-workers who come from the various parts of the world, belonging to various religions or no religion. They all praise and thank the Lord, every day in words and songs, and above all in the celebration of the Eucharist. This is the M.C. upper room. Without this upper room experience our work will simply be social work and will not be God's work. If it is not God's work, it cannot be M.C. work either. Blessed Teresa was very emphatic on this fact from the very start. I still remember what she told me on 30th November 1966 in the Mother House parlour, when I said that I was interested in doing social work. She jumped in and said: "We do not do social work, we do God's work". I did not understand it then, but now I do. In the first encyclical letter, his holiness, Pope Benedict XVI writes: "The saints – consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta – constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbour from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others." (Deus Caritas Est: 18) The Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, writes: "Dear friends, if you learn to discover Jesus in the Eucharist, you will also know how to discover him in your brothers and sisters, particularly in the very poor." (Message to the Youth, 2004)

Blessed Teresa M.C. wrote back in 1947: "These desires to satiate the longing of our Lord for souls of the poor - for pure victims of his love - goes on increasing with every Mass and Holy Communion.." (MFG pg. 19)

Nirmal Hriday-Kalighat. The next place to visit and give wholehearted free service is the home for the homeless dying destitutes called "Nirmal Hriday - Immaculate Heart, Kalighat", which was opened on 22nd August 1952. Blessed Teresa M.C. and the Sisters right from the beginning took only those patients who would be refused by the city hospitals. The ambulances of the city of Kolkata now not only found more work, but also a place where they could easily deliver their patients. Those who lived on the streets of Kolkata like animals, in "Nirmal Hriday" began to die like angels, loved and cared by the Sisters and Brothers. One cannot continue to be cold or indifferent after working with and for the dying destitute people; one must determine, decide and act.

Kalighat tells us that no human being, no matter how miserable he or she may be, how old and unproductive he might have come to be, should be considered useless...nor that working with them is a waste of time. The more repugnant and miserable the persons were, the more tenderly and lovingly Blessed Teresa took care of them. Blessed Teresa M.C. did not look on those people simply with her eyes and her feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. She went beyond exterior appearances and perceived in others an interior desire for a sign of love and of concern. She continually gave them the look of love, which all people ardently desire, whether rich or poor, leprosy patients, handicapped or destitute people. All without exception crave for love, and to all, irrespective of caste, colour, religion or nationality, she met their deepest need of the heart.

Titagarh. After seeing the leprosy patients at Titagarh, one is forced to question oneself what he is, how he is...and how he lives, accepts, forgives, believes, loves and serves. Seeing the wonderful work they do in Titagarh, one is forced to ask oneself what he is doing with what God in his goodness and mercy has given him. He is forced to accept with joy the gifts of God and use them for the glory of God and for the good of others. One becomes creative, ceases to complain, and does not want to waste his time in judging and grumbling, but makes good use of it for loving and serving.

Titagarh puts an end to our comparisons, to our inferiority or superiority feelings and attitudes. The leprosy patients who work there preach to us not by words, but by their actions, by the work they do. They do not waste their time brooding over their sickness and weakness; they do not shed tears to draw others' attention to them. Instead they immerse themselves in creative and productive work, in weaving clothes from the materia prima, from cotton they spin and weave and make beautiful bed sheets, saris for our M.C. Sisters; they make their own sandals, slippers, shoes and artificial limbs, while many others work in the field...etc. To watch the leprosy patients work with such seriousness is a grace and an edifying experience.

We must contemplate. They may be crippled, disfigured, without limbs and without beauty, but their immortal soul can be pure and holy. They also spend some time each day in prayer, because they know that their God is a merciful saviour and that one day they too will be with him in Paradise. (cfr Lk 23: 42-43)

Their life is a paradox. They suffer in a threefold way: first of all physically, because the leprosy germ gets into their nervous system and destroys its function. Wherever there are leprosy patches there is no sensation.

They also suffer psychologically, as they can easily fall into psychological depression. They can often be thrown out of the family; as a result they feel rejected and unwanted by their own people. This also brings to them terrible moral suffering of remorse of conscience, even of despair. It is here that the leprosy centre at Titagarh stands out as a beacon of hope and joy and an edifying example to many normal people who are often unhappy because of some little problems they have to face in their everyday life.

Shishubavan. It is the home for the orphaned babies. This house is within walking distance from the Mother House. It is almost impossible for those who visit this home not to be drawn to the little ones of Jesus, as they reflect his purity and innocence. The M.C. Sisters try their best to educate them in every way possible, helping them feel wanted and loved with their prayers and sacrifices, with their tender love and care. The Sisters almost every day welcome the little ones of Jesus in His name. Here in 78 Acharya Jagadeesh Bose Road, Kolkata, the Sisters live Jesus' words in action: "Anyone who welcomes one little child like this [child] in my name welcomes Me [Jesus]." (Mt 18: 5)

Our visit to Shishubavan will remind us, then, of heaven. It will make us remember Jesus' words of wisdom. It is such an incredible way of teaching and educating the disciples and their followers about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus dramatizes the scene. He calls a little child to him, whom he sets among them and says: "In truth I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And so, the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 18: 1-4)

14, Creek Lane, Kolkata. This is the actual birth place of the M.C. child. Blessed Teresa writes on 21st February 1949: "Good news of the house at 14 Creek Lane. How strange and wonderful are the works of God. In all its poverty the place is still very rich. I must take what You give, not what I prefer." This upper room apartment belonging to the Gomes family was given to Blessed Teresa to begin the Society of the Missionaries of Charity. It is here that the first twelve girls came to join her; it is here that on the feast of our Lady of the Holy Rosary, Saturday 7th October 1950, the Archbishop Ferdinand Perier S.J. of Kolkata erected the Society of the Missionaries of Charity into a diocesan Religious Institute. It was in this house where the first group of twelve Sisters, together with Blessed Teresa, began their historic noviciate, and where they stayed until February 1953. It is from this house that in January 1953, when the pilgrim statue visited Kolkata, it was brought in procession with the Rosary to the Mother House, just before the Sisters came to live there. Listen to what Blessed Teresa said: "Our Lady must occupy the house first!" "The whole night was spent praying the Rosary along with the Sodality of St. Teresa's parish.", writes Sr. Gertrude M.C., the eye witness and one of the very first Sisters to join Blessed Teresa. (cfr. Sr. Gertrude: "Our Lady in Mother's life", p. 113)

Today, when we visit 14 Creek Lane, we must remember that we are visiting the M.C. cradle where the baby was born and lived for the first four years of its infancy.

Prem Dan Tiljala. This belonged to the Imperial Chemical Industries (I.C.I.) till 1973, when the company handed it over to the Missionaries of Charity of Kolkata. This is now known as Prem Dan, which means Gift of Love, and is a much larger extension of Kalighat. What has been said of Kalighat can be applied here as well.

Missionary Brothers of Charity of Kolkata. The Brothers of the Missionaries of Charity was founded by Blessed Teresa on Monday 25th March 1963, on the solemnity of the Annunciation, with five young men, three of whom were blood brothers. They lived in Shishubavan, Kolkata, until May 1966, when they moved to 16 Koyala Sarak, Kidderpore, Kolkata, where they were until mid-January 1967. Since mid-January1967 the Brothers have lived at 7 Mansatala Row, Kidderpore, Kolkata 700023, which became their Mother House and Generalate under Br. Andrew M.C. (Ian Travers Ball S.J.) R.I.P., their Co-founder. They are now a Pontifical institute and have several houses with many Brothers. In Kolkata they have many houses, beginning with Mansatala Row, Pipe Road, Howrah, Tengra, Dumdum, Barackpore, from where they take care of the main Titagarh leprosy centre, and Kanchrapara. Their present Servant General is Br. Geoff M.C., to whom we owe much gratitude for allowing us to stay at their place in Tengra. They are going to move their tertian Brothers to Kanchrapara in order to accommodate us in their house in Tengra. Br. Yesudas M.C. is one of the General Councillors. We also owe much gratitude to him for all the trouble he has taken to help us stay at their place for the entire period of eight days. Let us offer many prayers and sacrifices for their intentions.

The M.C. Contemplative Sisters at St. John's Church, Sealdah. Somewhere around 1988, when His Excellency Rt. Rev. Henry D'Souza visited us in Rome, he verbally invited the Contemplative Brothers to take over St. John's Church, Sealdah, and told us to have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and other spiritual apostolates, which the Contemplative Sisters are now doing. He also told us that when he reached Kolkata he would send me a formal letter of invitation, but it did not happen, as he perhaps talked with Mother Teresa, who decided, I suppose, to have the Contemplative Sisters come and take over the place...and so that happened instead.

After the discovery of Mother's Founding Grace document, we can understand better why the Contemplative Sisters are there and not the Brothers. In any case, the Sisters' presence, their prayers and sacrifices produce fruits in abundance. Many people, including many non-Christians, come to meet with the Sisters and to pray with them, as it is the walkway for thousands of people who come and go to Sealdah train station. To visit and pray with the Sisters is always a great grace for us.

Conclusion. The list of places the Brothers could visit could go on and on. The ones indicated above are some of the most important ones. Seeing these "holy places", we realize that Love feels no burden, values no labours, would like to do more than it can do, without excusing itself with impossibility, because it believes that it may and can do all things. In fact, it is ready to do everything for Jesus, with Jesus and to Jesus. Love never gives up, but continues to love, give and forgive.

Let us entrust our pilgrimage to the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, who went every year in pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as the gospel of Luke says (cf. 2: 41). With them, and in the same spirit, we too go in pilgrimage to the M.C. Bethlehem. Let us pray much.

God bless you.