‘You did it to me.’ – My time in Kolkata

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road and, if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – Samwise Gamgee (Lord of the Rings)

It was almost a year ago to the date, on the 8th of January, that I left for Kolkata, India. I was going for five months as part of my intermediate year out of Seminary, yet if I were to be brutally honest with myself, at that time I had absolutely no idea what I was going to find there. Stepping outside the plane and making my first journey across the city to where I had arranged to stay in a Salesian house, I was rendered speechless by the chaos, the incessant noise and the rancid smells.

I spent my time there volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity (Sisters and Brothers of Mother Teresa) helping out in some of the many homes they have scattered all over the city. Everyday, after Mass and a breakfast of sweet chai and bread at Motherhouse – where Mother Teresa lived for many years and is buried – volunteers coming from all over the world would leave for the different homes which look after those who are abandoned, alone and sick – the poorest of the poor.

A great part of my time there was spent in a house opened by Mother Teresa herself – Nirmal Hriday. This converted Hindu pilgrim hostel has for the last 50 years served as a welcoming home for the dying. Men and women who are abandoned in the streets and gutters of the city, taking their last breaths, are brought in and cared for. They are washed, given whatever medical attention is possible according to their condition, a clean change of clothes and a hot meal which – on many occassions – would be their last. Working in the infirmary there challenged me. The Gospel came to life in a truly physical way – “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me…truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25)

In the end, on the faces of the homeless and destitute, the sick and dying, the young and abandoned that I met daily, I found God… and myself.