WINDSOR TERRACE — Although their backgrounds differ, Sister Lilia Kagendo of Kenya, Sister Anila Christy of India, and Sister Regina Mgbakor of Nigeria describe their missions’ work with references to the same verse: Matthew 25:40.
For example, Sister Regina, director of Maranatha Caring Mission, said her mission provides free medical care for impoverished people who sometimes travel several hours to reach the clinic in Umueje, Nigeria.
“They don’t come because it’s free,” she said, “they come because they are sick. And, because they represent our Lord Jesus Christ, we provide them free medical care, looking at what he says in Matthew 25:40: ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren you do unto me.’ ”
The three nuns are among 42 missionary groups worldwide that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio invited to participate in the Diocesan Missionary Cooperation Plan, more commonly known as the annual Summer Mission Appeal.
Each parish in the Diocese of Brooklyn is mandated to welcome them every year and live the words of Matthew 25, according to Father Charles Keeney, director of the diocese’s Propagation of the Faith office.
Father Keeney directs the program, sending a speaker to each parish in the diocese. He said this allows missionaries to make their appeals in person, “asking parishioners to help this most important work of the universal church.”
Father Keeney said he tries to match missionaries to parishes where they speak the same language as the parishioners.
He added that Sisters Lilia, Anila, and Regina are examples of speakers who have made presentations year after year because their messages inspire.
“Those three are real, authentic sisters, and they do very good mission appeals,” Father Keeney said. “And the people really like that.”
‘God Bless Your Souls!’
Maranatha Caring Mission opened in 2016 with two general practitioner doctors who live at the mission and a visiting surgeon.
Together with their nursing staff, the team has so far treated 23,804 patients, according to the clinic’s most recently available data. Among them were 850 hospitalizations, including 70 people hurt in traffic accidents.
Last year the mission began offering prenatal care. Since last September, the staff has delivered five babies.
Also, an ophthalmologist works two days a week performing a wide range of procedures, including cataract removals which cost the mission $100 each. So far, about 300 of these surgeries have been completed.
But with 150 patients on a waiting list, Sister Regina (Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) keeps pressing for $100 donations. And, according to Father Keeney, she gets them.
For example, he said, “She really impressed the people of Sacred Heart in East Glendale. The pastor was amazed at how many $100 bills were in the collection. So, she really hit these people in their hearts in a beautiful way.”
Father Fred Marano, the pastor, said the nun “was a very expressive, informative, and (an) engaging speaker. We were very appreciative to have her speak at our Masses.”
Sister Regina’s gratitude is immense.
“I like to tell people, ‘When you see me, you know, here comes the beggar!’” she said. “But a lot of people here in the U.S. make so many sacrifices that have kept the mission going. God bless your souls! They are doing all of these sacrifices for people they probably will never see. But their hope is that all of us will be able to meet one another in eternity.”
‘Consider Them as Queens’
Sister Anila described how her congregation, the Daughters of Mary St. Joseph’s Province, rescues mentally ill women from the streets of Tamil Nadu, a state in the southeast tip of India.
Initially, the sisters started out helping orphans, lepers, and elderly people who had no family support but the sisters noticed a lot of women with mental illnesses on the streets. Frequently, these women lose family support because of the stigma that such people are shunned, especially for marriage, when people fear they might pass the illnesses to succeeding generations.
Sister Anila said the nuns engage the women, feed them, and help them get cleaned up and treated with medications to improve their mental states.
“When they are in the street, they have nothing,” Sister Anila said. “They depend on the garbage can of a restaurant. But when they are inside our home, they have everything. We just consider them as queens because we are serving them.
“It is like in Matthew 25, you know, when Jesus says, ‘When you did it to the least of these brethren, you did it for me. I was hungry (verse 35) and you gave me food …’ ”
Sister Anila said parishioners in the Diocese of Brooklyn have been partners in this work since 2006.
“It has really been a blessing,” she said. “And also the director of the propagation, Father Charles, from day one, has been very, very helpful. And the people are very much welcoming.”
“The pastors are very helpful in accommodating us,” she added. “Without them, we may not be able to continue this mission.”
God Will Always Bless Us
Sister Lilia lives in the convent at St. Patrick Church in Bay Ridge, and she works in the finance department of the Brooklyn-based Franciscan Federation of the Sisters and Brothers in the United States.
But at every opportunity, she speaks to parishes all over the U.S. about the missionary work of her congregation, Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, in the East African nations of Tanzania, Uganda, and her homeland, Kenya.
Since their founding in 1923, the nuns have developed comprehensive services including education, healthcare, orphanages, and outreach to single mothers, street children, and people living with HIV/AIDS, just to name a few.
Sister Lilia said she is especially proud of how the mission helped little boys on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, grow into professionals, including a lawyer, a doctor, and recently, a seminarian.
She said parishioners in Brooklyn and Queens are especially interested to hear her first-hand observations of the conditions of street children in Nairobi.
“I tell [the stories] to let them know it is important not to get tired of sharing with the people who do not have anything,” Sister Lilia said. “Because God has given us our blessings, really. So we have to give it freely. And God will always bless us. That really touches people very much.”
Msgr. John Delendick, pastor of St. Jude Shrine in Canarsie, Brooklyn, confirmed the effectiveness of Sister Lilia’s stories.
“Our parishioners really were impressed by her,” he said. “She loves to sing, and so do our people. Sister was a pleasure to have visited us.”
Father Keeney urged all parishioners to check their church bulletins to see if a speaker from the Summer Mission Appeal will be visiting one of their Masses.