“We should assist the poor in every way and do it both by ourselves and by enlisting the help of others…. To do this is to preach the gospel by words and work.” Vincent de Paul
It was the afternoon of October 6, 2019, and Saroj Visuvasam, SCN, was returning to her place of mission at Snehalayam, Trichy, after being part of a family gathering to remember their father on his first death anniversary. The actual journey from her home to Trichy would ideally not exceed a 90 minute bus ride. With rains making the fields and small hillocks along the roadside a sight to behold, Sister Saroj was in deep appreciation of nature when the bus slowed down on the expressway. As she looked for the reason, she observed a frail, half-bent elderly woman trying to get across the roads, a highly dangerous act given the speed with which vehicles were traveling. The woman looked lost and the conductor of the bus was trying to help her move out of the way. At that moment, Sister Saroj felt an urge to get involved. She later recalled that her conscience kept asking, “If it was my mother, would I not be moved?” She took her bag from her seat and stepped off the bus to help the woman.
And so began an experience that she will never forget, says Sister Saroj. It took all of 30 minutes to help the woman cross the six-lane expressway, and when Sister Saroj asked the woman’s destination, the woman had no idea. The elderly woman was talking about going to her daughter’s home but had completely forgotten the name of the village in which her daughter lived. She also had no money. In fact, because she did not have enough money, she was asked to leave the bus in which she was traveling. The woman was able to mumble the name ‘Paganur,’ a village familiar to Sister Saroj. However, there were four possible villages – South Paganur, North Paganur, Upper Paganur and Lower Paganur. Sister Saroj was in a dilemma as to which of the four villages the woman’s daughter might live.
Sister Saroj decided the two would travel by auto rickshaw. It would cost 350 rupees for the ride. Upon reaching the first of the four villages, Sister Saroj tried to enquire from passersby if they knew the elderly woman. None of them responded positively, so Sister and the woman moved to the next village. Again Sister Saroj asked those along the way if they could identify the woman. The search continued beyond the second village when they stopped a young man on a motorbike who immediately identified the old woman as his grandmother. Relaxing now, Sister Saroj handed the elderly woman over to the young man. As the auto rickshaw turned to take Sister Saroj to Snehalayam, she noticed from the rearview mirror that the young man had left the elderly woman behind and was gone. Sister Saroj was shocked by the young man’s actions and asked the driver of the auto rickshaw to turn around and pick the woman back up. Now they were at least sure of the village to which the woman belonged. As they reached the village where the woman’s daughter lived, one of the ladies identified the woman and agreed to take her to the daughter. The elderly woman was very tired and worn out by now. This time Sister Saroj was assured of the safety of the woman. Sister Saroj asked the driver to now reach her to Snehalayam. A deep sense of peace and joy filled Sister Saroj as she headed to the safe confines of the convent.
A journey of 90 minutes took all of three and a half hours, but Sister Saroj was sure that Mother Catherine Spalding and St. Vincent De Paul would find her their worthy daughter. Her transformation was not complete yet. When she reached the convent gate, the auto driver asked for 100 rupees instead of the originally agreed upon amount of 350 rupees. And this is what he had to say to Sister Saroj, “If you could take such trouble to help a stranger, why should I not do the same?” And then Sister Saroj knew “any act of kindness leads to a transformation which is contagious.” As the community of Sisters listened to a reading from Luke 10:25-37 on Sunday, October 8, the word came alive in the little act of love that their Sister Saroj did to help an elderly woman, alone and lost, and far from home.