The Missionaries of Charity have been given a large school compound in one of Lima’s worst areas, called La Parada. They care for 80 handicapped children, most who had been abandoned at city hospitals. They also care for 30 homeless men. Sr. Sahana, the regional superior, told me yesterday that the Mayor of Lima is always trying to convince the MC’s to relocate to a better part of town. “We will give you a building—just get out of La Parada. We cannot protect you there.” Indeed, last fall the area exploded with riots when the city tried to turn a gigantic open market, overflowing with drugs, garbage, and violence, with a city park. Five people died in the riots, which poisoned the air with din and smoke for a week. The handicapped children cried all night from the violence just outside our walls, and coughed up black phlegm from the acrid smoke of burning tires. The national guard still watches the intersections, riot shields leaning up against their parked armored vehicles. In the midst of this wasteland, the MC Sisters have established an oasis of peace, as they do in all the world’s slums. They lovingly care for the “human garbage” of contemporary society, which simply cannot care for its most vulnerable. I went up to visit the severely disfigured children this morning and saw a glowing joy on their faces, at least those who had even the merest capacity to reason. The homeless men all reach out to clasp my hands with big smiles: “Buenos Dias, Padrecito!” Somebody has given these men a reason to smile again. At all times of the day, between their work, the sisters quietly slip in and out of the chapel to offer their work to Jesus.
But the senseless chaos from outside the walls thumps into this oasis, disturbing at least my peace. Almost every night, from 6pm to 2am, the local drug dealers stage concerts in the streets to cover their business. The noise thuds through the housing blocks while people drink, sell, and take drugs. In the morning, there is usually a terrible mess, sometimes a dead body, in the street. “Sister,” I asked, “how can they get away with that loud music? No one can sleep for blocks around! I was thinking of going out to ask them to turn it down.” The sister’s eyes grew wide, and then she laughed: “Oh no, Father, they would kill you. Nobody can talk to them.”
“But how do you sleep?” I asked (the sisters go to bed around 10pm, and get up at 5am). “Oh,” Sister Catherine Jos smiled, “we are used to it.” I’ve asked this question in many of the MC convents throughout the world. The answer is always the same: “We are missionaries. We are used to it.” Truly missionaries of charity! I marvel at how they maintain tranquility through this infernal din. They bring love, and order, and joy into our self-imposed chaos of rock music, drugs, and violence. They accept crude arrogance as just part of the human condition, and they love everyone despite it all. An absurd self-gratification rocks the peace of our neighborhood every night, but it does not rock the peace in our dear sisters’ heart, or cause the least frown to darken their radiant smiles. I suppose (sigh) I can get used to it as well, at least for a week, and practice a little charity myself.