Police Captain Rachel Evans, volunteers to serve food to the poor at a facility run by Mother Teresa's sisters in New York's South Bronx
Police Captain Rachel Evans, volunteers to serve food to the poor at a facility run by Mother Teresa's sisters in New York's South Bronx

NEW YORK (TIP): Mother Teresa, who was declared a saint by Pope Francis on Sunday, September 4 has been hailed as the “Saint of the Gutters of Kolkata.” But her sisters find they are needed as much in New York, the richest city of the US.

Suffering and want know no national boundaries. And neither do compassion and charity as the international brigade of Mother Teresa’s sisters bear witness in NYC.

Barely five miles from New York’s fabled “Billionaire’s Row” overlooking Central Park, sits the nation’s poorest area, the South Bronx where Park Avenue sheds its glitz for grit. Clad in blue-bordered white cotton saris, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity toil there tending to NY’s unwanted, the homeless and the rejects.

“We do feel Mother Teresa’s presence here in these sisters,” Nancy Rivera, who grew up in the area, told IANS. Rivera has since moved up and now lives in a well-off area, but still returns to her childhood neighborhood to volunteer at a church near Mother Teresa’s sisters.

She said that when she sees them pick homeless people off benches on the streets to clean and feed them, she senses “the invaluable presence of Mother Teresa.”

She added, “I am one of the lucky ones to have met her in person.”

Considered the poorest area in the US, census figures have pegged the percentage of people below the poverty line in the South Bronx at 38 per cent — and it rises to 49 per cent for children.

Sister Regipaul, a native of Kerala, heads Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity convent in South Bronx, the poorest area of the US with a segregated population of African Americans and Latinos. Photos courtesy IANS
Sister Regipaul, a native of Kerala, heads Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity convent in South Bronx, the poorest area of the US with a segregated population of African Americans and Latinos. Photos courtesy IANS

Sister Regipaul, the head of the convent in the South Bronx, said that 20 sisters from the US, Canada, Poland, France, Argentina, the Netherlands and India work there running a shelter for 18 homeless men, a soup kitchen that provides ready meals for the needy and a service that distributes food supplies to about 200 poor families, many of them immigrants adrift in an alien land.

Another convent in Manhattan’s Harlem has a shelter for homeless women with a soup kitchen, and in Brooklyn the sisters provide a home for unwed mothers, she said.

A more remarkable service is the home run by the sisters for AIDS patients in downtown Manhattan. The sisters were among the first to step in to care for AIDS patients in the early 1980s when the newly-discovered disease spawned fear and prejudice.

The sisters clean, feed and provide for the patients at the center, Regipaul said.

The Missionaries of Charity are organized into three regions in the US. In the East Coast province headed by a Korean, Sister Rose Clara Lee, over 100 sisters work in 17 centers, three in Canada.

Mother Teresa began the New York mission in 1971 and the late Sister Nirmala, who succeeded her, worked here for a while.

Regipaul, who hails from Thrissur in Kerala, worked in Kolkata and Mumbai before coming to the US 35 years ago. A difference between India and here is that the poverty of the spirit is greater in the US, she told IANS.

“In India, it is easier,” she said, adding “If the people are hungry you give them bread to eat, and it satisfies the need. Here the poverty is greater; they need food, but they are also very lonely. The loneliness is greater suffering than poverty.”