Where is Your Calcutta?

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By: Marie Foley

When I was selected to partake in a summer medical mission to the Philippines, I was definitely excited, but also really skeptical. I looked forward to the adventure and I honestly did desire the opportunity to serve others, but in no way did I feel capable. I didn’t know how Christ was going to use me because I didn’t feel qualified. How could I help? What could I offer? Yet despite these doubts, I prepared for my journey. Our goal as a mission was to show all the villagers that we were acknowledging their humanity and giving them the love and attention we knew they deserved. Lots of humans need physical and material attention, they are suffering, they are starving, they are hurting, but all humans need love. You can bring medicine, but true change happens when you bring love. All humans need love.

I was blessed with an opportunity to bring love to an elderly woman named Helen. The Missionaries of Charity sisters found Helen in a mental hospital, where she was strapped to a wooden board as her bed and wasn’t moved for many days or potentially weeks. She was deprived of human interaction, spoken words, and even human touch. Due to this awful physical abuse, Helen had over 20 deep bedsores that were eroding away her skin on her wrists, on her ankles, and completely down her back. These gaping wounds were visible through her muscles, down to her bones, and even touched her skull. When the sisters found Helen, there was a worm crawling out of her skull. The degree of her pressure ulcers was so severe that she was unconscious and could not move. The sisters rescued Helen, picked her up, and carried her back to their home so that they could give her the care she deserved.

Two sisters asked me to give Helen a bed bath, so I grabbed a soft towel and warm bucket of water and carefully washed away the dirt and dust away from her arms and her legs. Then I sat down next to Helen and brought her towards me so I could wash her back. With her back pressed close to my stomach, I held Helen close to my lap. As I placed my hands on the ribs of this dying, forgotten, unconscious woman, I glanced to my right and saw the small crucifix that was sitting next to her pillow.

I was struck. I peered into the open wounds on Helen’s skull and saw the open wounds in Jesus’ side. In that moment, I knew that I was holding the body of Christ here on earth. I felt like Mary, who had held the mistreated, forgotten and abused body of Jesus in her arms after He had been taken off the crucifix.

All throughout Catholic grade school and high school I was always told to “treat others as you would treat Jesus,” but I never knew how to do that until I held Helen in my arms. The same Jesus, who two thousand years ago was nailed to a cross, is still here on earth being nailed to wooden boards — in the Philippines, in our own country, and in our own homes. Mary was letting me hold the body of her Son in that moment and I was overwhelmed with a responsibility to love. By giving my life to the service of others, I was truly giving my life to Jesus.

When you let Christ break your heart, it’s not something you can just forget and leave across the ocean. The Philippines rocked my world because I was shown what it truly means to love without counting the costs; to love until it hurts. Our world is starving for love. Love isn’t something that needs a degree, a plane ticket, a qualification, or honestly any training. Love just needs a “yes.” As Pope Francis said, “anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and show that love.” We all have a vocation to go out and show love. Where is your Calcutta?

Marie is a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studying Secondary Mathematics Education. She is going to India this summer for a mission trip, enjoys eating popcorn for every meal, driving minivans, and drinking coffee.