Joy in Service

By Vissia Hernandez

The Missionaries of Charity is a Catholic religious congregation founded in 1950 by an Albanian-born, Indian Catholic nun who dedicated her life ministering to ‘the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for’ from the slums of Kolkata, India, to missions across six continents. In 2003, she was beaitified by Pope John Paul II as Blessed Teresa of Kolkata.

In addition to the religious vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, Missionaries of Charity take a fourth vow, to give ‘wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor’.

I was a bit hesitant and concerned as I began my interview with Sister Ligaya MC in the Missionaries of Charity’s Formation House in Tayuman St, Tondo, Manila. But an hour later, I came away blessed from a most inspiring encounter.

In June 1990, a car accident in Pakistan left the newly professed missionary from Davao severely brain-damaged. That Sister Ligaya miraculously survived and continues to faithfully and (like her name, the Tagalog for ‘joy’ or ‘happiness’) joyfully serve the poor, the sick and the dying, are testaments to the Lord’s Divine Mercy and the industrial-strength faith and devotion of her MC Sisters and their beloved foundress.

In her blue-edged, white sari, Sister Ligaya serenely blends with almost a hundred similarly-swathed Sisters and postulants in the Formation House.  But the moment she speaks, the extent of her 22-year old injuries becomes painfully evident. Every strangled word is accompanied by spasms, involuntary jerky movements and urgent gasps for air. I apologized and wanted to call off our interview immediately, but she assured me she was fine and wished to go on.  And so for an hour, we conducted our interview: partly in guttural whispers, partly in jerky mime, and several times, with Sister Ligaya patiently writing down her answers in my notebook. This is her story.

They were crossing an intersection, on their way home from the Don Bosco Home for Boys in Karachi, after a week of teaching Hindu children the basics of reading and writing, when a bus rammed her side of the van, throwing her out of the vehicle and smashing her head against the tarmac.

Sister Ligaya immediately lapsed into a coma as her brain swelled and started hemorrhaging. When the doctors, suspecting brain stem injury, advised her superior that she was beyond hope, her superior hastened back to their community and had the Blessed Sacrament exposed for a 24-hour vigil. She then ordered the Sisters to fast for Sister Ligaya’s recovery.  After three weeks, Sister Ligaya woke up from her coma, in pain, unable to speak or see clearly, but with her mental faculties intact – the first miracle.

On her way back to the Philippines for further treatment, she was brought to the Mother House in Kolkata for a blessing.  As they laid her on Mother Teresa’s bed, she remembered that Mother was present during her first profession. The year before, Mother blessed her as she was starting her new mission to serve the sick and the dying. Now, Mother was praying over her again, as she lay sick and possibly dying.  And then it happened - her vision, blurred since the accident, suddenly cleared up as she beheld the beloved lined face of their Superior General, smiling kindly at her – the second miracle.

For the past 20+ years, Sister Ligaya  has been a miracle-in-progress, not so much for her remarkable recovery, but more so for her joyful and unbroken spirit.  In time, she walked again and cheerfully took on increasing responsibilities in the Formation House: helping prepare the sanctuary for Mass, planning the activities and lessons for the catechists, assisting in the kitchen and eventually heading the kitchen.  For ten years, she planned and supervised the preparation of inexpensive yet tasty and nutritious meals for over 90 patients in the Home for the Dying, an MC institution which provides free hospice care.

There was only one more interview question remaining. Sister Ligaya somehow sensed it and talked about the source of her obvious joy.  She wrote in my notebook, ‘I was so touched by the life of Blessed Mother Teresa. I also want to face my suffering as a gift of God; it is no longer a suffering, but a real communion with God. In offering it, I honor and glorify Him and all souls. Besides, I would rather suffer here for a while, than much longer in the afterlife’.

I am not used to hearing about the power of fasting and adoration vigils, healing miracles, and the Christian dimension of suffering, mentioned so matter-of-factly, but coming from a Missionary of Charity, I was not too surprised.  After all, about 5000 multinational MCs live with these spiritual realities everyday as they continue Blessed Teresa’s mission of loving service to ‘Christ in distressing disguise’ - the world’s needy in 133 countries and over 450 MC charity centers worldwide.

Turning to leave, Sister Ligaya remembered something and whispered, ‘The Dutch nurse, who cared for me when I was comatose in Karachi, became a Missionary; she is now our regional head in Sri Lanka – a miracle from a miracle!’ Smiling, she joined the other white saris in prayer.

Sister Ligaya’s recovery is coming along very well. Please continue to pray for her.