Testimony of Sister Yaileny Ponce Torres, Daughter of Charity, at the celebration of Vespers with Pope Francis, priests, religious and seminarians in the Cathedral of Havana the 20th of September 2015.
Dear Holy Father: When I finished my seminary and I learned that the community was sending me to serve God and the poor in a Home for physically and mentally handicapped people called “The Age of Gold” I was afraid and I cried and cried… I knew that of all the works we are in, this was one that would demand more of me. I still have clearly in my mind and my heart the words of a sister who told me, “you are going to the house of mercy which will demand more from you, but the greatest demand will be that you keep your eyes fixed in Jesus. Filled with God you will know how to embrace human misery, that is to be merciful and, above all, “you will know how to be mother of the poor”. Many times, when the mission gets harder, I remember these words.
“The Age of Gold” is an institution directed and administered by the Ministry of Public Health; it houses 200 patients of both sexes suffering from different pathologies related with chronic encephalopathies. Their ages are between 12 and 71 years old; but due to their fragile condition being dependent on total care for mobility, understanding and communication, we call them “children”.
How much our “Good Father” has surprised me, giving me such great happiness amid them! Today I say, with all certainty, this place is BEAUTIFUL. Those who know the place know what I am talking about. Its beauty It is not in cleanliness or harmonious where resides. It is beautiful because God is manifested in His fragile sons and daughters.
“Remove your sandals because the place you are is a Sacred place …” were the words Moses heard when he tried to come closer to the bush which was burning without wasting away. The “bush,” wild and humble, useless and even rejected, served as a means of Gods Revelation. Because of God’s presence the land was blessed. Because of faith, feet were undressed to feel the contact of the sacred earth, consecrated in a sign of reverence and respect. These are the expressions that live every day our hearts in our relation with patients and staff: take off our shoes in front of God’s mystery who is alive in the life of those who, for many, are invisible, who do not count; they are valued as a useless load or rejected, because they are different.
Although the great majority of the “children” can’t articulate words they can communicate. It was necessary for me to adapt my senses at theirs, to differentiate in a scream happiness or pain, distinguish an anxious look that requests attention from one that responds to “good morning” greeting of the day. It has been a slow learning. At the beginning, all seemed the same and all their sounds similar but you can know them in their unique personality. They also exercise their mercy with us; they teach us with patience to understand them, forgiving moments of an abrupt treatment, with their lives questioning us about the essential.
When they give you a smile, a gaze of happiness, I know that only for that, only for making one of them happy, is it worthwhile to remain in this Island and give your life, because Kingdom is already present in them. “Blessed be the poor because to them belongs the Kingdom of Heavens.
Dear Pope Francis, I hope this testimony is good to recognize all the charitable work, the mission, the formation, the prayer that all the religious communities of men and women are devoted with generosity. The religious life in Cuba has different charisms, in action and contemplation, searching to go closer “with the love of mercy” to sick people, to children, to elderly, to the handicap… with the recognition of the dignity of every person. It is an inseparable part of the Good News of the Gospel, of which we are all witness amid our people, confiding always in the guidance of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd and of Mary our Mother.
Holy Father, please Bless me!
When the Pope blessed the Sister he told her to please not ever give up embracing these people!
Source: Website of the Cuban Episcopal Conference.