You Will Have the Poor with You Always

Federica Maifredi, serving as a lay missionary in Togo is my guest writer today. I remember Fede from her budding missionary days when she was in Rome preparing for her first mission in Sudan, where she served for two years. Here, she shares what a day visiting the sick is like in her current mission in Togo.
The title of her story, ‘You will have the poor with you always,’ echoes the words of Jesus’ when the disciples rejected the woman’s use of ‘costly perfumed oil’, seeing it as a waste (Matthew 26:6-11). When I first read this story, I felt overwhelmed at how much suffering she encounters on a daily basis, and how little at times she could do to alleviate that suffering…her time seeming wasted.  And yet, there is joy that emanates from the words.  Enjoy!

Today, the ninth of March 2011, just like every Wednesday, I visited the so-called ‘Cabanò’: a section of prisoners in the city hospital of Tokoin. The conditions of the sick prisoners are worse than other prisoners, inhuman for anyone. Not only, but those who do not receive visits do not have sufficient food to stave off hunger … (in prison one gets maize porridge; here one gets a handful of rice morning and evening, according to whether the guards outside are more or less hungry!) Two rooms without windows are the living space for about thirty people, who can only console themselves thinking that at least the lodging is free!

Naturally, there are those who have a family, those who are well off and can afford to smoke and there are the poorest of the poor. Those with family are all together in the bigger room; their beds are covered with pieces of faded cloth (pagne), reasonably clean. They have packets of powdered milk, tins of sardines; some have bread, others a bowl of soup with fish and rice. There are people who take care of them. The poorest of the poor are reduced to skin and bone, piled up on filthy mattresses, without a pillow. And yes, I almost forgot: no visits!

During last weekend, people said that Monsieur Koffi “had left”. Here they use this term. No one uses the word ‘death’, it causes fear! It seemed that he did not even have a rag in which to be wrappped. His companions told me this today when I brought them some of our old sheets to cover their mattresses. I thought I would not find Monsieur Koffi, but instead … instead, this morning, he was lying on his mattress with two pieces of cardboard under his pelvis, in a coma, before “leaving” … He was reduced to this state for having tried to steal a sheep where he lived. Someone reported him and later he finished up here. Today, as I was going out to get a cool fruit drink (the wish of a boy affected by AIDS who gets thinner every day) …, finally he decided to leave too. Now this boy, on a stretcher, will probably end up in the mass grave with his friend Koffi if no one claims them.

I continued on my way and accompanied a young mother of seventeen who had brought her tiny baby, only fifteen days old, for a neurological examination. I thought “I am the one accompanying others, but it seems to me that it is the Lord who is accompanying me on this first day of Lent.”

Lazare was born with a malformation of the brain, hydrocephalus. He never cries, not even if he is hungry; he eats little and does not move. And yet he is so beautiful. The doctor who examined him said he must return next Friday and, perhaps, it would be possible to operate the following Monday, that is, if there was enough money to buy all the operating material and pay the doctors! The result was not guaranteed.

Then I had to show the same neurosurgeon the clinical situation of a young man of twenty-three who had fallen from the first floor while working as a builder and who was now completely paralyzed. His sister, Abla, had been with me from 7.30 this morning. Now it was two in the afternoon, but the hope of hearing someone say something positive was so high that she had resisted until then, without showing any signs of hunger or tiredness. Dr. Beketi looked through the medical notes and remembered the case quite well. The boy had been in hospital for about a month and the family had been told quite clearly that this had been a very serious accident. Koami would never be able to walk again. Abla explained, with tear-filled eyes, that now her brother was not able to remain lying down. Certainly, the family had been warned that this could happen. We returned home, Abla and I, in the car.

She still had not exhausted the source of her hope and she begged me, with a disarming smile, to come in. I could not have imagined a scene more “charming” than what appeared before my eyes: in the courtyard of red earth, under an arbor of dired branches, surrounded by squawking chickens and two cats that were licking each other, I found this boy with such a beautiful face, lying on a bed made of two planks of wood and a layer of thick sponge. I felt I was in a parable. Yes, the parable of the paralytic. And where was Jesus? “Jesus, where are you?! Please come, we need a miracle!” What must I do now! I did not have the courage to tell him the truth and what the doctor had said. Koami, who spoke French much better than his elder sister, told me that he felt great pain in his head, that he had finished the Paracetamol tablets, and even the gauzes for medication were finished. He asked what could be done for his swollen feet and so I pulled him up without thinking twice; Abla helped me while the mother watched at a distance, curiously. His smile of approval, the sensation of feeling better and that the pain was relieved a little, shone from his eyes and they seemed to shout to me “this is a miracle!” I regained my hope and trust; we live near him so I can bring him medicines and visit him, without difficulty, more than once a week.

He can read, so I can bring him some books we have at home; thus he can fly away from this courtyard, at least for a moment, and dream of beautiful things. We will find him a wheelchair and, when he feels better, perhaps we can get him into the car and take him to see the ocean.

But how many miracles can I work???

At this point, I remembered the other people I had met during the day (which never seemed to end) and I thanked the Lord for having let me hear His voice. “GO AND, YOU TOO, DO THE SAME” (Luke 10:37).

In reading this, may you be inspired in your reflection and prayer, to also take action so that, when you meet suffering, you may take it on yourself by sharing the burden of the others, minimizing the pain, thanks to the small miracles which each one of you is able to work. And if some of you do not feel prepared, the Master is ready to give us a hand.


Federica (Fede) Maifredi, Italian, is a Catholic lay missionary serving in Togo. She discerned her missionary vocation with the Canossian Sisters and their missionary voluntary service, VOICA. After two years as a volunteer missionary in Sudan with the Canossian Sisters and Voica, she made a life-long decision to be a lay missionary.


Related lay missionary stories:

Katie writes of The Beauty of Aru

Karen writes of her mission in Congo

Lydia continues to write at Life is Beautiful, Admire It about Congo since finishing her mission.

A retired Catholic couple write about their experience in East Timor.


Do Not Let Your Hearts be Troubled

These words from the Gospel of John, chapter 14, verse 1, present the theme for the young women’s day retreat hosted by the Canossian Sisters of Sacramento (my community) on Saturday, May 21.

Details about the retreat are available at their website.

If you are a young woman in the Sacramento area, consider coming, reflecting on the Word of God, and getting to know us!

We’d appreciate very much your prayers, so like our April retreat, this too may be successful!

God bless!

Three Reasons for Mary

The Bright Maidens posed this question for today: “Why Mary?”

It is a beautiful question to reflect upon as we begin this month of May, traditionally dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. As I reflect on the question, “Why Mary?”, particular passage of the Sacred Scriptures come to mind that convince me of Mary’s definitive role in our journey of faith, and how she is meant to be honored because of her role in salvation history.

Reason One: Luke 1: 26-38 – the Annunciation

Mary is, like many young women, looking for her future, but as we learn in the Gospel, her plans are interrupted at the words of the angel who tells her she is needed for a special project. she responds “Ecce ancilla Domini. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.” I am the handmaid of the Lord, be done unto me according to your word. What an example for us especially for a society that projects an autonomous attitude of focusing mainly on one’s own project.

Why Mary? She shows us that there is a bigger project in life than our own, and that it is manifested only when we, establish a rhythm of prayer that guides our actions and decision, rather than relying solely on our passions and practical desires; in her trusting the Word of God spoken through the angel, she was able to give an example for us, to become ‘Women of Listening’ to the desires of God, and include His will in our plans.

Mary shows us, that in following God’s design that flows from our obedience to His Word and His precepts (commandments), we to can sing a Magnificat of praise: “God has done great things for me, and Holy is His name!”

Reason Two: John 2:1-11 – the Wedding Feast at Cana

At the wedding feast, as the wine was running out, Mary approached her Son, saying, “They have no more wine.” Have you ever wondered about Jesus indirect answer to her? He responds, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come” (v.4). Mary doesn’t wait to clarify. She turns to the serveants and tells them, “Do whatever he tells you.” And it is through her intercession Jesus’ first recorded miracle in the Gospel of John takes place.

In this example, we are encouraged to rely on Mary in a role as an intercessor. She as a mother knows that if she asks her Son to do something, he will do it. It is a sign of her faith in Jesus’ divinity. She doesn’t know how wine will be supplied – that is not in the scope of her concern – but only trusts that Her Son will provide because she has asked Him.  Today’s Gospel points to this reality, in the kind of faith Mary exhibits: “If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14).

Why Mary? Mary, the Woman of Faith, understood these words of Jesus intuitively. She experienced through her relationship with Him that he never disappoints, but brings about everything, so long as it is not contrary to the Father’s will. We then, have recourse to Mary, to intercede on our behalf, just like she did for the wedding couple. And all will be accomplished so to glorify the Father.

Reason Three: John 19:23-27 – at the Foot of the Cross

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother 11 and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

Ecce Mater Tua. Behold your Mother. When I first heard the Bright Maidens’ challenge to write a post on the topic, “Why Mary,” the tender scene at the foot of the Cross, was the first thought that came to my mind. It is, for me, the culmination of Mary’s ‘Yes’ at the Annunciation. She had no idea when she first said ‘fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum’ that she would one day find herself looking up at her Son on a tree of pain and suffering. Nothing could have prepared her for that day, where her own heart would be wrenched in two. No prophecy (like that of Simeon in Luke 2:34-35) could have told her how sharp that sword of sorrow would be, piercing her motherly heart. Yet, there at the Cross, participating in the suffering of her Son, she continued to say:




I believe that it is here, at the foot of the Cross, Mary teaches us the most important lesson for Christian living. Her “Yes” to God has no conditions placed upon it. No strings attached. It is freely given to God, with her recognition that Her life is forfeited to whatever it is God wants.

Why Mary? Whenever I, in giving myself to God, wish that I hadn’t been so generous, it is Mary that tells me, “No, Lisa Marie, be generous with your ‘yes’, no matter what it costs you.” Looking to her example, how can I take back my small offerings when she has made it her life project to fulfill what she began as that young fifteen year old girl, in that first ‘yes’ to God? My prayer is, that I too, may be faithful in my own daily ‘yes’ that continues to build on my vows as a religious, my first fiat, allowing the Lord’s project for my life, to become my own.

This essay is cross-posted at Canossian Sisters – Sacramento

Linked on Friday Morning Edition at The Pulpit.

Linked at New Advent.

Linked at National Catholic Register.

Linked by The Anchoress at Patheos.


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By the original ‘Bright Maidens’:

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A New Life in Christ

As we begin our Easter Season, we call to mind that the ‘new life’ we enjoy is because of the Lenten sacrifice and passion or our Lord Jesus on the Cross. The notes are up over at the Canossian Sisters of Sacramento, of a Lenten reflection given to young women. Still very appropriate for our season of the Resurrection:

The reflection was based on the Gospel of John11:1-45, and the reading from Ezekiel 37:12-14. We discussed how, to understand the Gospel, and the raising of Lazarus, we must reflect on the first reading for the 5th Sunday of Lent. The two readings go together. There are four key points in this short reading, promises of God:

1. I will open your graves;
2. I am the Lord;
3. I will put my Spirit in you; and
4. That you may live.

First, the promise of God that He will ‘open our graves and have us rise from them.’ We considered what can be meant by ‘grave’. Of course, there is the physical grave, or place of burial. Here, there is nothing left. The person who is buried ceases to live. There is no breath; only darkness. We have no control over death; it is a part of our human existence. But physical death is not the only way we stop living. We also considered that the ‘grave’ can also be metaphorically used to consider the ways we block ourselves off from living as God intended, through our sin. Sin, such as when we choose to put ourselves first before God, and put ourselves first before our neighbors, block us from living in God’s grace (the abundant gifts of His help) when we shut Him out, and turn our back on our brothers and sisters in their need. God wants to free us from the grave of sin – to unbind us from the things that keep us from loving. Some of these ‘blocks’ seem very small: when we refuse to take out the trash when we’re asked; when we say things to others knowing it annoys them; when we forget to say our prayers. But, what happens if we do the opposite? What happens when we do not hesitate to help when asked; when we see someone who is alone and befriend them; or when we are attentive in our prayers, and our time with God. These small acts of love work in us, to open our hearts to God’s grace. The more we do these kinds of things, we find our hearts grow to love, more and more like the heart of Jesus…

Go read the whole thing.

Our lovely participants:

The Sisters all wish to thank the many of my readers who prayed for the success of this retreat. “We couldn’t have done it without you!”

Next Retreat is scheduled for May 21, 2001.

If you’re planning to be in the Sacramento area and would like to come, contact us!

Please pray for our community, that has been serving the Diocese of Sacramento for 39 years, and hopes to keep on serving. We need more hands to make the work lighter.

Join us in praying for holy vocations to our Institute. Thank you!


Thanks goes to Elizabeth of Startling the Day for the mention in 7 Quick Takes Friday.

And, don’t forget to go look at Bright Maidens, a writing project by young Catholic women about young women and faith.


Related Posts:

Sister Elisa, Passing on the Faith

The Bittersweet of a Vocation

Last night, fellow blogger Punk to Monk tweeted the following message to me:

Message via Homboy McCoy

His blog post (no longer available since he “unplugged” to follow his dream!) relays the good news that he has been accepted to begin his postulancy – the beginning of formal instruction towards vows – in August. Apparently, the good news turned bittersweet when his family had a date in front of them. As if to say, “Wow, he’s really going to do this!” Which, of course, brings to the forefront the first of many ‘letting go’s’ in the life of a religious.

I recommend reading the post which tells the straight-forward truth that one’s religious vocation is also part of the family’s vocation. There is a need, on the part of the family, to ‘get used to the idea’, which later they will find it to be a blessing for the whole family. Such is the reality of God’s providential love… which is so very wonderful to see unfold when one gives himself to follow God through an act of self-giving.

For those who are thinking of taking the plunge into religious life (and if you haven’t considered it, let me invite you to at least pray about it), here are some helpful scripture passages:

Purpose of Call
Exodus 3:14; Judges 6:12-23; Psalms 20-38; Luke. 1:13-17;
1 Peter 2:9

Seeking God
Hosea 6:1-3; Psalms 27 (26); 24:3-6; 105:1-4; 42:2-5,12; 84:2-4; Isaiah 55:6-13

To Individuals
Gen. 12; Ex. 3; 19: 3ff; 24:16; 1 Sam. 3; 2 Sam.7; Isaiah 6:13;
3 Ruth; Jeremiah 1:4-10;
Matt. 4:18-22; Matt 28:16-20, Mark 1:16-20, Luke 5:1-26;
John 1:35-51; Acts 9, 1 Peter 2:9-17

Psalms 25(24); Romans 11:33-36; Ephesians 1:3-14;
1 Corinthians 2:7-12; 1 Peter 1:1-10

Communication of the Spirit
1 Sam. 10:6; 16:13; Isaiah 2:2; 42:1; John 15:16, 26; 20:22; 14:16; Mark. 3:13

Given Freely
Jeremiah l:4ff; Romans 8:30; 1 Corinthians15:9-10; Galatians 1:15

Demands Faith and Obedience
Genesis 12; Matthew 4:18-22; 16:24-26; 8:18-22

Creates Newness in Person Called
Genesis 17:4-8; Luke 1:13, 31-32, 59-63; John 1:42

God’s Divine Providence
Exodus 19:3; Judges 6:13-14; Ezekiel 3:7-9; Jeremiah 1:7-9;
Matt. 10:1-8; Mark 3:15; Luke 9:1-2; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6; 4:7; Ephesians 4:11

Communal Aspect
Rom. 9:7; 1 Corinthians 12:lff; Colossians. 3:15; Ephesians 4:1-12
Rewards: Matt. 19:27-29; John. 15:15; 2 Cor. 2:15-17

Prayer for Perseverance
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Is. 41:8-16; 42:5-9; 43:8-12; Matt. 28:16-20; Luke. 9:2; 10:1-9; 24:46-48;
Acts 1:8; 10:42; 5:20, 42; 6:6; 13:2; 7:1, 52-53; 8:12; 4:3;18:10; 2 Cor. 2:14-16; 1:18-19

Isaiah 42:1-8; 49:1-7; 50:4-10; 52:13-53

Proverbs 22:1-2, 16, 22-23; Psalms 73 (72); 40:5; 18; 107; 72; Isaiah 66:1-2; 11:1-5; 61:1-4; Matt. 5:1-12; 6:19-34; 8:10-20; 11:2-6; 19:16-22;
Lk. 1:46-55; 4:18-21; 6:20-26; 12:13-21; 14:12-14; 16:1-13,19-31; 20:45-21:4;
Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35:1 Cor. 7:29-31; 2 Cor. 6:2-10; 8:1-15; James 2:1-9

Wisdom 3:16-28; 4:1-2; Matt. 19:12; 5:38; 1 Cor. 7:1, 7-8, 32-35, 36-40; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7; 1 Timothy 4:10-12

Deut. 4:32-40; 6:4-6, 13-19; Is. 29:13-24; 53; Ps. 50 (49);
Matt. 7:21-27;
John 6:35-40; 14:21-24; 8:38-42; Acts 4:19; 5:27-32;
Eph. 6:1-10; Philippians 2:5-11;
Romans 16:25-27; 13:1-7; 1Peter 1:1-2; 2:13-19


Be assured, Homeboy McCoy, and all others discerning religious life, you are truly held in my prayers.

God bless!

NOTE: About Homeboy McCoy, he is no longer available on the net, having unplugged his digital life to follow Christ as a postulant. Please keep praying for him. :)

Related Posts:
That “V” Word – Vocation

From Punk to Monk

Look into Your Heart

A Moment in Crisis