St. Teresa of Calcutta: God’s gift to Davao

“To do little things with great love.” – St. Teresa of Calcutta

One Wednesday morning, while the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity (MC Sisters) were distributing “arroz caldo” to the inmates of a local jail, the sisters noticed that an elderly inmate had thick rashes all over his body from head to toe. The old man was in great pain and discomfort because of his inflamed skin. He told the Sisters that many of the inmates have been suffering because of the unexplained rashes that their medicines and soaps could not relieve. The following day, the MC Sisters returned to the jail bringing with them a pail of herbal ointment which the Sisters prepared from the roots and barks of “pangyawan.” They themselves applied the ointment to the skin of the afflicted inmates. Thus on that day, another mission was added to the Sisters’ ministry here in Davao City: catechism, feeding and ministering to those in jail, especially the sick. The Sisters of St. Teresa of Calcutta are now on their second year of ministering to inmates, the “Incarcerated Christ in the distressing disguise of a prisoner”. In coordination with the Archdiocesan Commission on Prison Welfare, they have also organized “Kasalan sa Jail” and “Binyagan sa Jail”. With clearances from Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the MC home in Matina gives shelter to minor children, even newborn babies, whose mothers and fathers are both in jail and have no other relatives to look after them. In Agdao Home, they agreed to take care of newly freed inmates who are sick, dying, elderly and homeless. They make sure the dying in their care is given a holy death, and a decent pauper’s burial.

Mother Teresa, as she was called by those who love her, was sent by God to Davao City in the tumultuous year of 1983. She established a Home of Pag-asa in Fatima (where the present ANC is) with the help of Abp. Antonio Mabutas and generous Dabawenyos. It was a dual-purpose home both for sick and dying children on the second floor, and for the sick and dying and abandoned adults on the ground floor. The sisters began their ministry by visiting those in the slums. At first the people found them “strange” because of their foreign looks and broken Bisaya. They would visit the homes of poorest of the poor, regardless of religion, and help in cleaning their homes, do household chores, care for the sick that were abandoned in the streets of Agdao, bathe the children and teach them ABC. Eventually the people trusted them. Seeing the need for a bigger space especially for the children to play around, a philanthropist lady offered her property for the Sisters to use for as long as they need it. So in 1985, the present Home for Sick and Malnourished Children was established in Molave St., Juna Subd, Matina with four MC Sisters to take care of the children. Two other sisters remained in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Home for the Sick, the Dying and the Abandoned, in Fatima. In July 21, 2003 it was transferred to its bigger and spacious present location in Agdao. Not all of the kids are orphans. The sisters care for sick children that have been brought to them by poor parents for treatment because they could not afford the medicines. The kids stay in the Home for the duration of treatment, and are returned to their parents when they are cured. There are also orphans or abandoned children. Some heartless parents abandon their newly born babies in the hospital because these are deformed at birth; the social worker brings these babies to the MC home where they are lovingly cared for by the Sisters with the help of MC lay workers and volunteers. While being treated in the Home, kids who are of school age are enrolled in nearby public schools to continue their studies. The same thing is true in the Agdao Home. Not everyone there is elderly. Some are young adults who are sick and poor. So the Sisters take care of their treatment, both physical and spiritual. There are also the elderly who have been lost in the city or were abandoned by their families. Aside from taking care of them with much love, the Sisters do their best to find their families. However, in some cases, even when located already, the families refuse to take them. At present there are 55 residents in Agdao and 28 kids in Matina.

The MC Sisters do much more than running Homes: Women from the slums are taught about parenting, family values, proper nutrition for kids. Mothers of children in the feeding program are organized into a Rosary Group and learn the basic catechesis of our christian faith for them to impart to their children. However, even non-Christians are welcome to join the group. “Kasalan” or mass weddings are regularly organized so that the union of living-in couples are blessed through the sacrament of marriage. Often, the sisters work on the documentation and even provide the wedding gowns, the veils and the wedding rings. There are also skills training, such as sewing, conducted by a retired school teacher for the women and workshop/camps for the youth during the summer months. Regular Outreach missions or dispensaries are done in depressed areas or far-flung villages such as in Catigan, Bombaran in Eden, Samal islands, Tibungco, New Carmen, Dacudao in Calinan, Lumundao, and in the fishing communities in Toril and Matina. During these missions, catechesis, food and medicines, clothes and slippers are given. In times of disasters and natural calamities such as fire and flooding in the city, the MC Sisters are quick to bring aid, relief and emotional comfort to the victims. In the aftermath of typhoon Pablo, the MC sisters and volunteers traveled sleepless for two nights to the hardest-hit areas to bring aid. In Agdao Home, food and medicine distribution to indigents are done on first Fridays to tuberculosis patients. Second Sunday is for the poor outpatients afflicted with cancer staying in Balay Dangpanan. They are those indigent cancer patients who come from outside Davao City and have to stay longer here for the duration of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. The sisters give them cooked food, rice, noodles, fruits, toilet papers and clothes. In Matina, food and medicines are given to tuberculosis patients every first Fridays. On first Mondays, the Home is open to the general public who ask for food and medicines. Catechism is given to children every Saturday and Sunday mornings and evenings. The Sisters would like to emphasize, though, that their Homes are open to the hungry every day.

I saw Mother Teresa and heard her speak in person in 1984 at the Cathedral. I realized now it was the Holy Spirit who led me to the cathedral that day. I saw this short, petite nun dressed in blue and white sari speaking in the altar. Her back and shoulders were slightly bent. Her raspy voice was gentle yet powerfully penetrating at the same time. My heart beat faster and I had goose bumps when I realized it was her! Such was the effect of her presence on me. I have been volunteering with the MC Sisters since 2012 and until now I am still amazed by their boundless love, joy and energy in doing what they do to the poorest of the poor whom everyone would rather pretend not to see: the prisoners, lepers, the sick, orphans, beggars, elderly, abandoned babies, and those dying without dignity and love. Then like a mother’s reminder these words of Mother Teresa would come to me: “I see the face of Jesus in the poor, and I do it for Him.” Would you? (Marian Carmela Raquel)

There is one comment

  1. Dolly

    Great article, Ian! Thanks so much for giving us a vivid portrayal of the awesome work of mercy of the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity. God is alive, indeed!

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