For two weeks in May, Brs. Patrick Reilly and Adam Neri led a group of six men on a missionary expedition to Calcutta, India. Their destination was the motherhouse of the Missionaries of Charity to participate in the work begun by their famous foundress Bl. Mother Teresa. The brothers coordinated their plans with the Missionaries not only to assist in their service among the poorest of the poor but to evangelize the other volunteers as well. Below Br. Adam Neri describes the experience.
We divided our time into four major areas: prayer, fellowship, service to the poor and evangelization. Each day we began early with morning prayer at 5:20 followed by mass at 6 with the Missionaries of Charity and the other volunteers. In the relative cool of the early morning this time for prayer was essential. Breakfast with the other volunteers opened up many opportunities for the men to visit and evangelize among the 40 to 70 volunteers who came and went throughout the days we were there. These morning mealtimes were blessed opportunities for building friendships that blossomed into opportunities to share the Gospel with our fellow volunteers. We met people from all over the world. Though they represented many different cultures and languages, almost all spoke English, which was a great help to us! Among them were Catholics and other Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and those who had never heard of God. We spoke about the Lord Jesus to them all, respecting their level of interest and openness. At least five times a day I gave my personal witness and on one occasion had a marvelous opportunity to share the basic Gospel message with two men from China who had no religion whatever. They had never heard of Jesus, but were eager to know about God. Such a privilege.
These relationships blossomed over the two weeks while serving together. We invited men over to our guesthouse for dinner on several occasions. This opened the way for an evangelistic prayer service (like a Spirit Nite, if you’re familiar with our weekly student meetings). About 15 volunteers came for fellowship, praise and worship (another group of 10 volunteers joined us when they heard the music), and a presentation by a Franciscan priest on the Gospel message. What a great night of faith building and fellowship!
Our service to the poor included us breaking into 3 groups for our two week service. Some men went to an orphanage for disabled boys called Daya Dan, another group went to a different orphanage for boys called Nabo Jabon, a third group went to the home for the dying, called Nirmal Hriday or Kalighat. These were our main areas of service. Three days we all came
together to serve, going to a long term care facility for sick men called Prem Dan, and to a leper colony called Titagar. All in all, our witness of working and serving together was very noticed by all we came in contact with, from the sisters to the volunteers to the patients. Our men had many profound experiences of encountering the Lord in his suffering flesh. We had intense moments, difficult moments, sad moments, funny moments, all of which drew us into a deeper union with Jesus, the only one who can meet the true needs of us and those we met.
The extreme heat sent us back every afternoon for a time of rest after lunch. With temperatures toping 107 and a thick, humidity on top, it felt like 120 degrees on most days. I'll never complain about Tallahassee heat again! Our afternoon continued with evening prayer followed by 20 minutes of worship. We attended evening holy hour, rosary and adoration, came back for dinner, had night reflections and debriefings from the day (very powerful times of sharing), then did night prayer and hit the sack.
Calcutta is chaotic. It's loud, dirty, crazy, jammed with traffic and did I mention LOUD?! Everywhere there is garbage and sewage, packs of wild dogs, goats, sheep and cows wandering wherever they please. We saw homeless people all over. There were stark contrasts. A block away from us was a Jaguar dealership complete with shiny vehicles and lots of security. Right in front of the gate was an entire family living on the street.
We saw incredible poverty, in fact and in spirit. Yet in all of this we also saw tremendous beauty. Calcutta is a beautiful city. Not because of its streets, buildings or cars. Those are filthy. It is beautiful because of the people: their smiles and dignity shining through despite the grime and muck of human degradation. In those we had the honor of serving, we saw the face of Christ, came face to face with our own selves, fears, and limitations. We bathed the feet of Christ, cleansed his wounds, taught him to read and write, sang to him, laughed with him, played ball with him, held him when he wept, and sat in prayer by his side as he passed from this life to be with our Father. It was a privilege none of us will soon forget. For myself and Br. Patrick it gave us deeper motivation for the life we live in the Brotherhood of Hope. It is a daily occurrence for us brothers to encounter the Living God in his broken body through our brothers in the common life and through those we minister to in the outreaches. God is so good to us!
I realize how much I love the life we live. We get to do this every day: encounter the Living God in us and our brothers, rely on Him totally as our All-Sufficiency, and speak about the joy of a life lived in Christ. We are a happy few, we band of brothers.