Corporal Works of Mercy in the Himalayas
Missionaries of Charity Aid Nepal Relief Effort
KHANI DHANDA, Nepal — As news came out of Rome on May 19 that the Holy See is considering canonizing Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in September 2016, during the Year of Mercy, the good works performed by the congregation she founded provide tangible evidence that her legacy is alive and well.
This reporter on May 16 accompanied half a dozen religious sisters and eight religious brothers from the Missionaries of Charity on a trip to distribute relief materials to the populace in mountainous Nepal, which was rocked by a devastating earthquake on April 25.
Early in the morning, the team left Kathmandu for Khani Dhanda, with three truckloads of food and shelter materials.
“We had problem with looters on our earlier trips. That’s why police have come to accompany us,” explained Sister Claire as the team prepared to make their fifth trip in as many days to serve Nepal’s neediest.
Once the Missionaries’ convoy crossed the Mitra Park police station limits, a new police team took charge of the motorcade. Soon after, senior civic officials stopped the convoy and insisted that they needed an official permit for the relief work.
The police officers politely told the Missionary brothers and sisters that the government had given strict orders that aid groups should be asked to leave the materials with them, so that the government can distribute them “evenly, without duplication or neglect of some areas.”
All five vehicles, including two vans carrying the 14 missionaries and half-dozen volunteers, were escorted by the police to Lalitpur District headquarters. Then, the sisters sprang into action: They began praying a Rosary.
Upon reaching the district office, courteous junior officials helped the nuns prepare relief items — rice, lentils, sugar, salt, woolen blankets and tarps — while waiting for government permission.
As Saturday is a public holiday in Nepal, they had to wait for the official green light.
“I am also a government official. Why should you waste our time like this? You know what kind of service these sisters are doing for the poor,” said Shree Ram Phokarel, a Hindu and a senior government official accompanying the Missionaries of Charity team as a volunteer.
As time ticked away, some of the nuns could be seen praying a Rosary with a couple of the consecrated brothers.
Bishop Simick Intervenes
Bishop Paul Simick of Nepal, alerted to the situation, promptly contacted top government officials. Yadav Prasad Koirala, the chief district officer of Lalitpur, reached the office in an hour and met the mission team.
Koirala politely told them that it was dangerous for them to take relief material to remote places and that the government could do it if the relief material was entrusted to them. The government, he explained, is eager to ensure that relief distribution is “equal and covers all places.”
But the sisters politely told the official that they are “used to taking troubles to serve the least” and that they wanted to take relief materials to remote areas where others had not yet gone.
The sisters also reminded the top district officials that they had distributed coupons for food and shelter to more than 200 deserving families in the Khani Dhanda mountaintop — two hours of mountainous travel — and had promised to deliver supplies on that day.
Finally, the officer relented and asked his staff to prepare the formal permission certificate. With permit in hand and as the convoy started moving, the nuns began singing a hymn of thanksgiving. As the convoy headed up a winding mountain path of dust and rocks, the Missionaries of Charity worried about the waiting victims.
After a delay due to hazardous road conditions, the convoy reached the mountaintop. After saying a prayer of thanksgiving, the team ventured out to greet the villagers who had gathered.
Soon, the Missionary brothers, who traveled to Nepal from India to assist in the relief effort, doled out the food and supplies.
The distribution of relief kits to 140 families at Khani Dhanda was smooth and efficient. Though hardly any one of those on the mountaintop knew who the nuns in white, blue-striped cotton habits were, they were overjoyed to receive aid from the Missionaries — who, along with a group of Buddhist monks, were the only ones to bring relief there in the three weeks after the quake.
With the mission complete, the convoy started the climb down the dusty mountain path. It was time for more thanksgiving prayers.
Shanti Rai, a young Catholic woman who had accompanied the Missionaries of Charity sisters twice to Khani Dhanda, told the Register that following the sisters in their relief work was “an unforgettable experience.”
Her first visit to the mountains with the nuns was on May 9, after the weekly Mass at her Godavari parish — 10 miles from Kathmandu.
“The sisters invited us to join them to visit the affected families, and four of us accompanied them,” recounted Rai, who is working with an international social-action group.
All through the trek to the mountain, Rai pointed out, the nuns led them in praying the Rosary and praying for the people suffering due to the earthquake.
“When we finished, the sisters said a special thanksgiving prayer,” added Rai. “We had walked eight hours that day. But we never realized this. It was not social work, but a deeply spiritual experience.”
Anto Akkara is based
in Bangalore, India.
- May 31-June 13, 2015