The Daughters of Charity in Cuba

by | Sep 24, 2015 | Daughters of Charity, News

DC CubaRemove the sandals from your feet because you are on holy ground…  The Daughters of Charity in Cuba

[This article and picture were first published on the website of the Daughters of Charity from the Central American Province.  The Pope’s response is taken directly from the Vatican website, the celebration of vespers with priests, men and women religious and seminarians at the Cathedral in Havana, Sunday, September 20, 2015]

Words of Sister Yailenys Ponce Torres at the Cathedral of Havana

September 20, 2015

When I concluded my seminary formation I knew that the community was going to send me to serve God and the poor at the Home for the Physically and Mentally Challenged (La Edad de Oro).  I was afraid and I cried much.  I knew that all the different works in which we minister would place a demand on me.  I recalled the words of another Sister, words that touched my heart: You are going to the house of mercy where much will be demanded of you.  The greatest demand will be that you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.  Filled with God you will know how to embrace human misery, you will know how to be merciful and above all you will know how to be a mother to those poor persons.

La Edad de Oro (The Golden Age) is an institution directed and administered by the Ministry of Puublic Health and provides services to some two hundred patients (of both sexes) who have distinct pathologies related to chronic encephalitis.  The men and women are between the ages of twelve and seventy-one, but because of their fragile and dependent state, because of their difficulties in speaking and understanding, we refer to all of these individuals as “children”.

God has surprised me by gifting me with happiness while ministering in the midst of these individuals.  Today I have no hesitation in stating that the place where I live is BEAUTIFUL … and those who know of this place also know what I am saying.  Its beauty is not rooted in its cleanliness or its harmony but rather it is beautiful because there, in these weak and fragile children, God dwells and is revealed.

Remove the sandals from your feet because you are on holy ground…  Those were the words that Moses heard when he attempted to approach the burning bush.  A bush, small, seemingly useless and unnoticed, became the means which God used to reveal himself.  As a result of God’s presence the ground was holy and blessed … then, through faith, the bare-footed Moses (a sign of respect and reverence) was brought into contact with this holy ground.  Every day we want to make this same type of gesture to the patients and to the many other men and women with whom we serve.  Let us indeed remove our shoes before the mystery of God revealed in the lives of those persons who in the eyes of so many are invisible, valueless, useless and despised simply because they are different.

Even though the great majority of these “children” are unable to put their thoughts into words, that reality does not mean that they are unable to communicate.  It became necessary for me to adapt my senses to theirs so that I was able to distinguish a cry of joy from a cry of pain, able to distinguish an anxious look that was asking for attention from a look that was a response to my greeting of “good morning”.  This has been a slow learning process.  In the beginning everything seemed to be the same and all the sounds seemed to be similar to one another … but slowly I began to notice the difference as a result of their unique personalities.  These patients exercise a great deal of mercy toward us their servants: they are patient in teaching us how to understand them; they forgive us for our abrupt treatment and manner; their lives make us question the manner in which we live our life.

When these individuals smile or show their happiness, I know that by making these individuals happy it is worthwhile remaining here on this Island and committing my life to these persons.  Indeed, it is in these very individuals that the Kingdom of God becomes present and is brought to fulfillment:  Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Dear Pope Francis, I hope that through these words of witness you will become aware of the charitable ministry, the formation and the mission and the prayer of all the men and women who are members of the various religious congregations in this country.  The members of religious life in Cuba, through their contemplation and their different charisms and their various ministries … these men and women seek to reach out to the infirm, children, the elderly, and those who are incapacitated in any manner.  We seek to minister to these individuals because we desire to affirm their dignity.  Our ministry is intimately connected to the proclamation of the Good News and as Church we want to be witnesses among our people, trusting always in the guidance of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd and Mary, our Mother.

Holy Father, bless me!

Sister Yailenys Ponce Torres

Pope Francis’ Response:

Sister also spoke to us of the least, of the little ones, who, whatever their age, we end up treating like children because they act like children. The least, the little ones. These are words that Jesus used, words that appear in the list of things on which we will be judged: “What you did to the least of these brothers and sisters, you did to me”. There are pastoral services which may be more gratifying, from a human point of view, without being bad or worldly. But when we seek above all to prefer serving the little one, the outcast, the sick, those who are overlooked and unloved… when we serve these little ones, we serve Jesus in the best way possible.

So you were sent where you didn’t want to go, and you cried. You cried because you didn’t like it — which doesn’t mean that you are a “whimpering nun”, right? May God free us from whimpering nuns who are always complaining. This phrase isn’t mine; Saint Teresa of Avila said this to her nuns; it’s her phrase. Woe to the nun who goes about all day moaning and groaning because she suffered an injustice. In the Castilian Spanish of that age, she said: “Woe to the nun who goes about saying, ‘they treated me badly for no reason’”.

You cried because you were young, you had other dreams, perhaps you thought that in a school you could do more, that you could organize young people’s futures. And they sent you there, to the “House of Mercy”, where the tenderness and the mercy of God are most clearly shown, where the tenderness and the mercy of God become a caress. How many women and men religious “burn” – let me say it again, “burn” – their lives, caressing what is discarded, caressing those whom the world throws away, whom the world despises, whom the world wishes did not exist, those whom today’s world, with new technologies, when it looks like they may come with a degenerative illness, thinks of “sending them back” before they are born. The little ones. A young woman full of dreams begins her consecrated life by making God’s tenderness, in his mercy, alive. At times they do not understand, they have no idea, but how wonderful it is for God, and how much good it does us, for example, when a person with palsy tries to smile, or when they want to kiss you and they dribble on your face. That is the tenderness of God. That is the mercy of God. Or when they are upset and they hit you. “Burning” my life like this, with what the world would discard: that speaks to us of one person alone. It speaks to us of Jesus, who out of the sheer mercy of the Father became nothing. He “emptied himself”, says the text of Philippians, Chapter Two. He became nothing. And these people to whom you dedicate your life imitate Jesus, not because they wanted to, but because this is the way they came into the world. They are nothing, they are kept out of sight, hidden; no one comes to see them. And if it is possible, and there’s still time, they get “sent back”.

So thank you for what you do and, through you, I thank all those many women consecrated to the service of those considered “useless”, since they cannot start a business, make money or do anything “constructive” at all – these brothers and sisters of ours, these little ones, the least among us. There Jesus shines forth! And that is where my decision for Jesus shines forth. I thank you and all the consecrated men and women who do this.

Translated: Charles Plock, CM