Sr. Theresa Kastner, MM, reflects on her time in Haiti in light of Jesus's example of humble leadership and ministry.
Jesus, the humble “King” entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, presents a compelling image that challenges the domineering and arrogant behaviour of a number of current world leaders today (Mt. 21:1-11). Truly, as St. Paul so eloquently expresses it, “he emptied himself [and]…humbled himself” all for our sakes (Phil. 2:6-7). Everything Jesus says and does as he begins this final journey through death into life “speaks to the weary a word that will rouse them” (Is. 50:4).
As I reflected on these passages, I was transported right back to the two years I was able to be in mission in Haiti, where donkeys are numerous and humble servants of God are readily encountered. In this suffering land where I went to minister, I was instead cared for in a most tender and healing way by “Maria” (not her real name), a resident of a village for abandoned elderly that I visited twice each week to try and be of service.
The compound had 250 single-room cottages, each with a bed, a chair and table of some kind, and a place to keep a simple supply of clothing. Whenever I went there, I would wander among these small houses, stopping to visit the residents, chatting with them in my halting Creole. They were always gracious and welcoming and exceptionally patient with my faltering efforts to communicate. I slowly got to know several of them who unfailingly greeted me with a warm smile. Maria was one of these and her tiny home was among my first destinations each time I arrived.
While the people in the village were well cared for by a missionary community, their accommodations and their food were extremely simple. Nevertheless, every time I arrived at her door, Maria would invite me into her small room and give me something to eat. Visitors to the compound would sometimes leave precious gifts of food and it was these treasures that Maria shared with me. It would have been an insult to her to refuse such generosity and hospitality.
One time she had two oranges – an amazing luxury – and she took one, sliced it, squeezed it, added a little water and some hard to come by sugar from a tiny packet, and served me a glass of orange juice. I sat on her bed and she sat on a small stool as we shared the joy of this wonderful feast!
Near the end of the second year in Haiti I was very ill with an amoeba infection and, having lost a great deal of weight, needed to return to the U.S. for medical care. The day before I left I asked one of our Sisters – who was much more fluent in Creole – to come with me to explain to my friends in the village why I was leaving. When she told Maria I was going home for health reasons, Maria began to cry and she said, “I knew she was ill because I watched her continually losing weight.” At that moment I understood why she always made sure I had something to eat each time I visited!
Truly it is the humble of the earth who teach us the genuine meaning of service and sacrifice as they care for us, and, by their kindness., heal our weary bodies and spirits.
Photo of Sr. Theresa and "Maria" courtesy of Sr. Theresa Kastner.