Spirit of Mother Teresa shines brightly for pilgrims
by Kassy Short, Emily Kyle, and Nancy Ruoff
Special to the Leaven
Not every pilgrimage stop during World Youth Day was at a shrine or church.
A group from Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka found an elderly care center in Madrid every bit as holy.
On Aug. 13, a group of 15 teenagers and chaperones from the parish youth group sacrificed their day trip to Segovia to spend time at a facility operated by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.
Upon their arrival, the group spent time in prayer with the Sisters in their chapel in the main building. There, a simple crucifix adorns the wall next to the words that helped inspire Mother Teresa’s mission: “Tengo Sed” (I thirst).
Later, a young lay volunteer from Lithuania directed the group in cleaning the premises and completing other tasks that required attention. Inside the elderly care center, the youth spent the morning cleaning floors and chairs, washing windows and wiping down doorknobs. Outside, they swept and mopped the main entrances and swept the walkway around the main building.
At first, the elderly residents seemed a bit unsure of what to make of the young Americans. But it did not take long before random interactions began interrupting the youngsters’ cleaning efforts.
A resident named Max, for example, managed, despite the language barrier, to share his photo album with the visitors, including one of him as a teenager playing guitar in a band.
Volunteers Joseph Hooper, Justin Schmitz, and Kate Ruoff spent much of their time assembling a bookcase to be used in one of the facilities.
But Susan Beam, an adult chaperone, was asked to help out by shaving the AIDS patients in the order’s clinic on the grounds. She was tickled to learn that when word spread that a female volunteer was there to help shave that day — it was usually assigned to a male volunteer — all of the patients lined up.
In fact, the work performed at the care center turned out to be the highlight of the pilgrimage for some.
“The best part of the trip for me was when I had the opportunity to serve with the Mother Teresa Sisters of Charity for the day,” said 15-year-old Marisa Hooper. “Even though my tasks for the day seemed small, they turned out to make a big difference for the residents of the center.”
“I got to meet an individual named Thomas at the AIDS center,” she added. “At first, I was nervous about meeting this patient because he didn’t speak any English and I couldn’t speak Spanish. We ended up playing dominoes for a long time. I was impressed that, even though we couldn’t understand each other, we were still able to learn a lot about each other.”
Abigail Baeten and Joshua Ruoff learned that a smile went a long way as they served lunch to the residents.
Others put their high school Spanish to good use. Accompanied by facial expressions and a lot of hand gestures, many of the youths were able to learn about where an individual was from, what they liked to do — one elderly gentleman liked to salsa dance — and a little about their life.
Despite the fact that formal communication was limited, the pilgrims, volunteers, and residents all spoke a common language: The spirit of Mother Teresa pervaded the work of the Sisters and lay volunteers at the center.
The lay volunteer from Lithuania took time to share her story with a few pilgrims. Following college, she said, she decided to spend a year doing service work before looking for a job and settling down.
She had served with religious orders in France and Italy before coming to Madrid. When asked if she was planning to become a Sister, she laughed and said no. But when asked what she would do when her year of service came to a close in a few months, she grew quiet and simply responded, “I’m not sure.”
“My studies were in fashion design,” she said. “But after all this, material things seem so meaningless.”
The joy and spirit of Mother Teresa blessed the group throughout the week. They prayed a novena to Mother Teresa throughout the pilgrimage and visited the traveling exhibit “Mother Teresa: Life, Spirituality, and Message,” sponsored by the Missionaries of Charity.
The Sisters, too, were happy to visit with the pilgrims and answer questions and share their stories. One of the Sisters presented pilgrim Emily Kyle with a prayer card containing a relic of Mother Teresa — threads from one of her tunics.
The priests and seminarians travelling with the group, as well as the Sisters encountered throughout the week, became catalysts for conversations among the group about what it means to serve Christ and how an individual knows God’s plan for his or her life.
“I was so moved by the example of a simple little woman who started an order by God’s request,” said Troy Kyle, 47.
“I, too, might be an instrument of God’s plan to spread the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “One person can make a big difference. Are you the next Mother Teresa? And even if you are not, you know what they say — ‘Many hands make light work!’ — and there is much to do.”
And a “Holy Spirit moment” — as experiences of grace came to be coined by the pilgrims — gave 17-year-old Mary Khadivi, of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, cause for reflection.
“For the past few months, and especially on this pilgrimage, I have been open to the vocation of being a nun, but unsure if it was what God wanted me to do with my life,” said Khadivi.
“The first few days of our trip I had been considering the pros and cons of being a Sister, particularly on day six,” she continued. “That same day we visited the Mother Teresa exhibition. I had finished reading and looking at everything and went down to sit with a friend till everyone was ready to go.
“Mrs. Ruoff came by and asked if I had grabbed a slip of paper with a Mother Teresa quote near the chapel. I had not, so I went over and picked up one.”
That slip of paper gave her something to think about.
It read, “Give without counting the cost.”