Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 30, 2009

Home from Kolkata

   I am home from Kolkata and my heart will never be the same again. I already miss the men at Mother Teresa’s homes. My heart aches because I have seen their faces, touched their broken and fragile bodies, heard their cries, and watched them die. They are no longer the people I have read about, they are now the people among whom I have walked. I will think of them daily and look forward to returning to Kolkata to serve them again. In the meantime, I will continue to look for Jesus in His distressing disguise in my own community. Here are some final thoughts about serving in two of Mother Teresa’s homes in Kolkata.

   The Worst of Suffering | My time at Prem Dan (home for the destitute) and Nirmal Hriday (home for the dying) exposed me to the worst of human suffering. Throughout my years of travel I have seen terrible human suffering — much of it from a safe distance. This past week I saw human suffering up close and personal. I met and held the people who have lived lifetimes in social and emotional exile in dark and filthy places on the streets of Kolkata. Whether stripped of dignity by caste, deformities, or other vulnerabilities, each of the men I met wore the guise of distress. Death reduced their population daily at the homes where I served, but Suffering always sent in replacements. These men live each day with the awareness that Death may soon come to escort them away from their band of brothers.

   The Best of Service | This week I met dozens of volunteers from all nations and all walks of life who were drawn to Kolkata because of the enduring legacy of a diminutive nun named Mother Teresa. Even though language differences kept some of us from communicating with each other, we all understood the needs of the residents and worked together in perfect harmony to care for them. The Italian volunteers were my favorites. I looked forward to doing laundry with them each morning. They lifted our spirits by singing at the top of their lungs. Mother Teresa said, “I very often tell the Sisters to approach the poor with joy, knowing that they have plenty of reasons to be sad. They don’t need us to confirm their sadness for them.” The Italian volunteers filled the air with joy.

   Kali’s Devotees | Nirmal Hriday is located in a space adjacent to Kali’s Temple (Kalighat) in Kolkata. The name Calcutta (Kolkata) is believed to have been derived from Kalighat. Every afternoon we walked through a gauntlet of merchants hawking religious stuff, lots of it, on our way to Nirmal Hriday. The crowded street between the vendors’ shops was littered with the wreckage of suffering humanity – people with twisted or missing limbs, steeped in their own filth, crying out to passers-by for help. Kali’s devotees kept their distance from them, perhaps because they believed that karma had assigned these individuals to this wretched incarnation because of something amiss in a previous existence.

   Little Jesuses | I worked alongside Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity as they tenderly ministered to the least of these. These women are like little Jesuses. As taught by Mother Teresa, they look for Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor and suffering. And, when they find him, they do for that person what Jesus would do. Christ set the ultimate example of caring for others and calls His followers to do the same. Worldview does matter when it comes to caring for the least of these, including those from Hindu backgrounds. I am especially grateful to have shared this experience with Jon and Holloway. I saw Jesus in these faithful men, and so did the recipients of their kindness. I am blessed to call them my friends. The journey will continue for us here at home as we care for the least of these in our own community. Thanks to each of you who prayed for us daily.

• • • • •

PS | Please take a moment to read Jon’s reflections on our trip. You’ll enjoy his insights.


  1. Omar,

    It has been a wonderful, biblical works that you have done with Missionary of Charity!!!

    You have been very closer to those people, those who needs someone’els loves! I guess that, it was a great opportunity served the people likes Lazarus in the Bible. (Luke 16:20).

    Thank for the posted!


  2. Omar – you have done it again. Thank you so much for taking us along with you on this remarkable trip. You have taken a sacrificial endeavor and made it into a privilege.

    As a hospital nurse, I naturally encounter situations of the human condition that are less than lovely, but I always have ample provisions for protection and sanitation.

    As you touched dirt, filth and decay with bare hands, I am convinced you had the protection of God’s grace, in exchange for your willingness to convey His love to the least of these.

  3. Lanni speaks of being a hospital nurse and the human condition. As a nurse, I also can relate to her thoughts. I attended an event hosted in Dallas for an author who had written about Mother Teresa. The thing that struck me the most regarding the work in Calcutta, was the ability of Mother Teresa to provide comfort in death. We all wish for that hand to hold, as we make our own passage. How many hands and broken bodies did this woman cradle giving a final dignity to some who had never received such a gift, in their lifetime?


  4. Lanni and Tammy…

    Thanks so much for your comments. I must admit that it was a bit of a challenge for me to touch other human beings whose bodies were in such wretched conditions. But, that touch was so important to them, and as I came to understand, to me as well. Mother Teresa defined clothing the naked as more than putting clothes on the least of these. She said that we should clothe those individuals with dignity and worth. This, of course, requires that we touch them. The beautiful thing is how God then uses these experiences to touch us. Thank you both for how you have allowed God to use you to touch so many through your compassionate work as nurses.


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