Sun | Feb 26, 2017

Diary of a ghetto priest | How can I love the Lord?

Published:Friday | February 17, 2017 | 12:17 AM
Two of the Jamaican brothers with lepers in East Timor.

"How can I love the poor, the most rejected of society, when I am in the prime of life, 25 years of age, and, loving to enjoy myself?" Then the brother told me of this most moving and inspiring experience of his life that became the very treasure and the way to his salvation. This led him to a remarkable change and immense joy in his life and his direction towards Christ and building His kingdom here on earth.

James came from a poor family of six and felt blessed to have God-fearing parents who nurtured all the children in the faith and taught them how to love. As a teenager, James loved to be with his friends and to be with other people. But one day, a poor "ugly" old man came to his village and bought something from his small shop. It was the very first time he had seen this man who was cleft-mouthed, and had ragged clothing and a torn slippers on his feet. As soon as he was about to leave the store, James started to bully him together with some of his friends teasing, "Cleft-mouthed ...! Cleft-mouthed ...! Cleft-mouthed ...! Ugly face ... ugly face ... ugly face! Get away!"

The old man was defenceless and had not a word of response. He was ashamed and hurried away from the youth and the crowd who laughed at him. That's what James would do if he saw anybody who was not normal like everybody else. He was rude to them without conscience not knowing any better. Of course, his mother would hear about what he was doing and she would scold him and punish him.

When James became 27 years old, the Lord had other plans for him. He felt called to religious life and not knowing what to expect. But he took the Lord's mandate and entered the monastery of the Missionaries of the Poor in Cebu City, Philippines whose primary charism is the works of mercy. There were many candidates from the provinces in the Visaya Region of the Philippines. They were of different backgrounds and characters. "Brother" James learnt about self-knowledge and learnt that he did love his neighbours as Jesus taught us.

He thought he might catch leprosy

As a candidate it was a mandatory that all young brothers go with the professed brothers and share and serve the food to the poor people in the ghetto area. The streets seemed empty, but as they saw the Brothers, poor old men and women gathered with children who soon became a crowd.

To Brother James' surprise some were lepers. He thought to himself, "Am I dreaming? Is this real? I never thought I would see a leper in the city!" He withdrew from them thinking that he might catch their leprosy.

When many were gathered, the brothers began to pray, followed by joyous songs of choruses from Jamaica, while the other Brothers played the guitar and the drums. It was a most joyous time. Everybody sang and danced.

Then after that the brothers shared and served the food. Then his fears for the lepers disappeared and it was replaced by love and giving. That event remind us of Jesus and the lepers and the passage from Mt. 25:40 which says, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."

On their way home after the ministry, the brothers were happy singing songs. Brother James was so joyful like never before, but why? "Because I was able to do something good for these people, poor people whom I used to chase and bully. I know Christ has inspired me to do that, to welcome them in my heart for they too are His children."

Arriving home in the monastery, the brothers visited the Blessed Sacrament, giving thanks for the day spent. Brother James found tears running down his eyes.