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"Love Them One by One"

Silvia tells of the work among the Missionaries of Charity in Pacifica--a source of new life for the the San Jose community.

Sister Salvina greets the volunteers.

About six months ago, Peppe and Caterina, a couple of friends from one of the CL communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, started to go and help the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Theresa’s sisters) in their work with the homeless. The sisters have a house in Pacifica, a coastal community just South of San Francisco, where they care for the terminally ill homeless. They give them love and care as they near the end and accompany them to a peaceful death. Peppe and Caterina started talking about this charitable work enthusiastically (which seemed absurd, given the premises), but more and more friends started joining them on Sundays, and without any formal announcement, the beauty of this experience has now touched more than twenty people.

I went for the first time on a Sunday morning and was welcomed with the other volunteers by the huge smile and lovely gaze of Sister Salvina. . .

Sister Salvina begins by asking my name as well as that of the others and then immediately proceeds to lead us in prayer. The prayer is from Mother Teresa and really sets the tone for the day. “Love them one by one” and “We have only today.” Without any further explanation, we get into the van and drive to reach the homeless encampment.

Sister Salvina is small framed. Her voice is soft, and she speaks quickly and joyfully. She starts by calling the homeless by name, inviting them out of their tents. She threatens to leave if they don’t come out. Her figure does not exert any power, but she is clearly an authority for all of us. I cannot help but be fascinated by her, recognizing that something exceptional is happening. At times she asks something of me, but mostly I need to pay attention, be aware and follow her lead.

She gets moved when she sees Tony, one of the youngest homeless, crossing the street drenched and shivering. You can feel the pain in her voice, that of a mother who sees her own son suffering. She stops the van and we proceed to change Tony into dry clothes. The whole time she is talking to him, asking him questions, and giving advice with loving care. I am seeing Christ in her face.

Back at the sisters’ house in Pacifica, I need to use the restroom before driving home. In order to do that I have to enter the hospice and walk the long corridor. I tiptoe in, not without some anxiety and a sense of intruding, ready to justify my presence and expecting a sad, somber atmosphere. Instead I meet Sister Lumen, who doesn’t seem to mind my intrusion in the least. She welcomes me, asks where I am from, and how my Christmas holiday was.

While she talks, I am wondering how she can be so joyful and upbeat in a place where suffering and death is all around her. She proceeds to tell me that between Christmas and New Year’s three of their guests have died. I start to tell her how sorry I am, but the words get trapped in my throat looking at her luminous smiling eyes and joyous face. At that point it is clear to me that she is certain of the positivity of reality, that Christ had conquered death and there is no space for fear or sadness. Those men had reached their destiny, and she is witnessing that to me with her smile.

The experience of this charitable work has changed many of us, has given new breath to our friendship and school of communities and brought us renewed unity. I experienced firsthand that God has created man with a positive outlook and an affection for reality. If that is possible in the most dire and adverse conditions of homelessness and death, it must be true for every moment of my life.

Silvia Restelli, San Jose, California


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