The hot debate before I left the United States was whether or not I would be safe traveling alone. Some said, “There was no other way to go,” others said, “It was contrary to the scriptures.” Of course yesterday I visited the shrines of one of my heroes, Francis Xavier, he went alone. Or did he?
While on pilgrimage, I have been asked the question many times. “Are you doing this alone?” I usually reply, “I am never alone.” And this is true.
The vision of the Church is that we are constantly supported by the endless prayers of the saints and angels. Even when a priest says Mass in private, with no congregation present, we understand that the congregation gathered, are the hosts of heaven. I have felt time and again the gentle guidance of those, whom for lack of a better description, I refer to as angels. I trust fully in the intercession of my predecessors in Faith in guiding my path, and leading me on my way. I am never alone.
But in a more physical way too, I am never alone. Everywhere I have gone, there is someone who listens to my story, and welcomes me as a guest, in their home, their convent, their rectory, their retreat house, wherever. In three months time, I have never stayed in a place where I was treated as a stranger. Several months ago, someone told me “You’re not going alone, you are always going to be with the Church. That’s not going alone.”
I think about this today, as I leave Goa. While I have been here I have stayed at a retreat house which has been built up for many reasons, but my take on it is that it was built for the empowerment of women. It was started by Fr. Antonio Rodrigues, a Remdemptorist priest, but also by woman by the name of Vera Bei. The retreat house empowers women in two ways. First, the programs that it offers are largely for women. It addresses the spirituality of women, and concerns that women face in the Indian society. It also provides counseling and emotional support in crisis. Secondly, it is run by women, who do all the scheduling, the booking, the management, and so forth. That is to say Vera Bei administers the details of the facility. She has been here seven years, the same amount of time that she has been a widow. Since the time of the completion of her married vocation, she has felt a calling to start a religious community with the responsibility of service to the Church. The center’s name is Dasya, which means “service.” The religious community would gather other widows to be a part of the community, and they would serve this retreat center.
The only problem is, she is the only member of the community. She cannot petition the bishop for formal recognition as a religious community until there enough people to actually make a community. Until then, every year she makes a public profession of commitment to serve as God has called her, in this retreat center. Every day, she gathers with those who are around to pray the office, the prayer of the Church and a requirement of any religious community.
Being here is complete chance. The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ in Bangalore knew a priest, who knew a priest, who could offer me a place to stay. At the same time, I can’t help but feel that it was important for me to have met Vera. I feel like God wanted me to witness to her dedication. She doesn’t feel alone, and she has no doubt that following God is sufficient. For her, it is as simple as that. God calls in many varied ways. We follow. There is no prescription as to what that is supposed to look like, but rest assured, in our calling, we are never alone.