The World

"Big or small, you can be a saint." The Pope, at the Bethlehem Center

We offer a testimony from the Bethlehem Center in Bratislava, of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa of Calcutta) where the Pope has been on his visit to Slovakia on Monday. Francis encouraged the caregivers to always keep smiling.

František Neupauer-September 14, 2021-Reading time: 3 minutes
missionaries charity pope francisco

Photo: ©2021 Catholic News Service / U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Monday, September 13, 2021. The Holy Father Francis arrives to visit the Missionaries of Charity, who work in the Petržalka neighborhood of Bratislava. There are currently six nuns working in the Bethlehem Center, in the midst of apartment blocks. They will soon be joined by a seventh nun from India. During the week they care for about thirty homeless people, or those in other difficult situations. During the weekend, the number increases to between 130 and 150. The sisters prepare food parcels for them, and talk to them. 

"You can be a saint."

Pope Francis greets the faithful and enters the first floor of the building. Outside, the children chant: "It doesn't matter if you are big, it doesn't matter if you are small: you can be a saint". Inside, away from the cameras, is the moment of the meeting. During these moments, the television stations talk about the life and work of Mother Teresa, who opened her first house in Calcutta precisely when the forced liquidation of religious orders and congregations was taking place in Slovakia (in 1950). In Slovakia, the communist regime of the late 1980s assumed that all the nuns would soon die out and the process of atheization would continue. This did not happen, among other things thanks to the illegal admission of religious men and women to the path of consecrated life. In 1987, Mother Teresa came to Slovakia, where she wanted to set up her house, but at that time, when her sisters were already working in Cuba or in the Soviet Union, she was not allowed to help the weakest in Czechoslovakia.

What goes on behind the closed doors of the Bethlehem Center? The Pope meets with the people served at the center and with the nuns. "He put his hand on my head and blessed me. I wished him good health," Juan tells me about his experience. Joseph is still drawn to the Holy Father's words. "He said to us, 'Look at me!' And we all looked at him..., but we didn't understand what he meant. He was pointing to his smile. He wanted to tell us to keep a smile on our faces despite the pain and suffering." Jose also gave a television interview. "When I talked about what I lived through when my father died, my brother... I saw the cameraman's tears fall," he added emotionally. 

"I'm thirsty."

A nun from Poland from the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity, who has been working in Slovakia for several years, guided me through the rooms where the Holy Father was. "You know, it's not that we needed this visit so much; but for people whom the world considers no one, it means a lot." We talked about the situation in Slovakia before 1989, and how St. Padre Pio had visible stigmata for 50 years and St. Mother Teresa experienced the stigmata of a forced emptiness, of loneliness, of the stigma of Christ crucified on the cross, crying out, "I thirst!" also for 50 years. 

In the community of the Missionaries of Charity in Petržalka there are no Slovaks, but during the visit of the Holy Father there was among them a Slovak woman: a doctor, Maria Sládkovičová, who has the religious name of John Mary. During the communist regime, she smuggled in religious literature, and participated in the secret Church. She met Mother Teresa during her visit to Slovakia in May 1990 and later became one of her sisters. For many years, she devoted herself to children suffering from AIDS. Today she is experiencing the presence of a serious illness in her life. She was sitting in a wheelchair. Pope Francis addressed a special word to her....

The authorFrantišek Neupauer

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