By RENEE WEBB
It’s not uncommon for people to hold up St. Teresa of Kolkata as a role model of compassion in service to the poor, but one young Catholic from the Diocese of Sioux City was so impressed by the saint that she wanted to do something about it.
“I’ve always looked up to Mother Teresa and her work,” said Rebecca Loew, a parishioner at St. Malachy in Madrid who is a sophomore at St. Benedictine College in Atchison, Kans. “To do her work, where she worked is something I wanted to experience.”
Loew was one of 15 college students to take part in a mission trip to India, which was led by a priest from Benedictine. Loew served as one of two student leaders for the trip.
“For the first three days we worked with the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata,” she said. “I worked in two different homes. One was a home for handicapped children. We helped with laundry and everyday care of the children – prayer, music time and physical therapy.”
Loew spent the mornings with children, helping them walk and stretch. Then, in the afternoons, she worked at the first home established by Mother Teresa for the dying and destitute.
“There were about 30 women all lined up on cots and you help them go to the bathroom, feed them and just love them the best you can,” she described. “They were all sick, some more extreme than others.”
Most of the children, Loew noted, had been abandoned and they were found by the sisters.
“It’s so different from our society,” Loew said. “Their culture doesn’t care about the children or the elderly. Their religion believes in reincarnation. If you are poor, it’s because you led a bad life in your last life. They don’t care about the poor or the elderly because they are about to have their life renewed.”
On the other hand, in the homes run by the sisters, she was able to witness care, concern and respect for life.
“The kids were some of the most joyful you could ever see, even though they have so little,” Loew said. “We have so much here, but you see so many unhappy people here. They literally have nothing but are so happy and joyful.”
Serving in the home for the dying and desolate, the accounting major acknowledged was hard “because I’m not cut out to be a nurse, but it was very good for me and very humbling because you are doing such personal things for them. You don’t speak their language, but have to communicate with the language of love.”
During their free time in Kolkata they were able to meet up with a woman from Kansas City who runs a home for slum children.
On the fourth day of the trip, they took a 12-hour train ride to Bagdogra in northern India where they were able to participate in a retreat facilitated by Catholic volunteers from the United States. The Benedictine students provided support and helped attract others to the retreat.
“We were being missionaries in India – in a place where you can’t even say missionary,” she said.
What stood out for Loew the most during her trip to India was the level of poverty – not just material poverty but spiritual poverty.
“I can see why Mother Teresa felt the need to do her work there. It is very needed,” said Loew. “Here, I feel like if we see someone who is poor or in need, the majority of the people would want to help them or wouldn’t let them get to the point where they would die. But in India there are so many of them, but nobody cares for them but a few people.”
Even with the sisters and volunteers who take service trips there, she said there is no way they come close to helping everyone who needs it.
By experiencing the same type of work done by Mother Teresa, Loew said she could bring those experiences back with her and apply it to her own life. It has also made her see the many blessings in her own life.
“It is a good eye-opener because as a college student it would be so easy to be focused on what classes I am going to take or what job I am going to get. Life is so much more than that and you have to remember the most important things in life,” she said. “This trip will help me focus on the bigger things – loving people and seeing the needs of others.”
This is not the first mission trip Loew has had the opportunity to take part in. Last year during spring break she was able to take part in a service trip to St. Louis where she and three other students volunteered with a group of Missionaries of Charity at a soup kitchen, a rehab home for women addicts and at an inner city shelter for women and children.
While completing a three-month study abroad program in Rome and Florence, Loew was able to do a week-long mission trip to Albania. Working with the Servidoras Sisters, Loew was able to spend time at a home for disabled women as well as assist at a home for girls.
Once she is finished with school, Loew doesn’t want to stop taking part in service trips.
“They help me to remember what is important in life and what I need to focus on in life – to serve others and the less fortunate,” she said. “I never want to get so caught up in my job that I forget what is really important.”