Living the joy of the Gospel

“The mission of communicating life to others”

One of the newest members of the “Flame of Hope” family is a four-year-old boy called Anand. Anand suffers from cerebral palsy. His mother suffers from mental illness. His father, a labourer, travels far each day to get whatever work he can. There is no one to care for Anand.

Sr Ann Francesca welcomed him in to her home with open arms. She describes him as full of the joy of living, with a light in his eyes and a determination to be able to do whatever other children can do. ‘Anand’ literally means ‘joy’. Anand is one of 50 children at the Flame of Hope. 

Sr Ann Francesca, who is originally from Poland, used to work with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. She founded the Flame of Hope for physically and mentally challenged children in Kurseong, near Darjeeling, West Bengal some eight years ago.


Mother Teresa used to say to Sr Ann Francesca: “when you are on the street don’t keep custody of the eyes but look for poor people”. Another recent arrival at Flame of Hope is Munna. Sr Ann Francesca had seen him on the road a few times, half-dressed, barefoot, dragging one leg while walking. As the weather got colder, she got increasingly worried. In the winter, she says, “even poor people put on more clothes”, but the boy still appeared disheveled.

Eventually she found where he lived: a shack built of bamboo and old rice bags, a shelter that wasn’t really one at all, offering protection neither from cold nor heat, wild animals nor thieves – not that there was anything to steal. She found out that Munna is about eight years old, that he has a very large tumor on his back, and has no bowel control due to birth defects.

She took him back to her home and washed him. She says “you could see the joy as he looked at himself dressed, I suppose, not believing it was him”. Next day she took him to hospital. Following a series of tests she was told that the likelihood of being able to do anything more than slightly extend his limited lifespan is slim; any treatment is risky.

It has taken Ann Francesca a while to accept this as God’s will for Munna, especially when she sees him content at play. She has always been persuasive in raising the money necessary to provide even expensive medical care for the children but has come to accept that “not everything is in our power or can be achieved with money and skills”.

For now, Munna behaves just like the other children, and when necessary comes to her and whispers that it’s time to change his diapers.  She is glad at least to be able to protect him from the humiliation of walking around dirty and smelling.

She refers to John’s Gospel (10:10) “I came that they might have life and have it to the full…”. It seems that for Munna, she says, this ‘fullness’ is to feel loved, to have joyful days, not to suffer from an empty stomach, to be able to laugh with his friends, and have the possibility of attending school. 

In A Secular Age, Charles Taylor asks why, for 1,500 years, it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, yet nowadays many people find unbelief not only easy but practically inescapable. The main bulwark against belief today, he says, is our “buffered selves”; the way we have become isolated, closed in on ourselves and (so we think) invulnerable. And this is the reality for many people, despite Facebook, Twitter, snapchat, and instagram. In fact, these technologies only make things worse because they can provide the illusion of communion and intimacy with others.

“Our technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy”, Pope Francis says, in his exhortation The Joy of the Gospel (n. 7). He goes on to say: “those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others” (n. 9).

It is interesting how often Sr Ann Francesca uses the word “joy”. Since meeting her I have wanted to see what she sees, believe what she believes, and encounter for myself the living God who has given her such genuine inner freedom and daily replenishes her sense of the joy of the Gospel.

It is no wonder that she has already attracted several vocations, and that volunteers come to work with her from all over the world. Pray for her, and those entrusted to her care.

God is with us

In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis refers to joy nearly 100 times. Our joy comes from knowing that God is with us; that even though we are sinners, the Lord has looked upon us with mercy.

Joy is the opposite of desolation (n 2). It is to be found in little things (n 4). It is a characteristic of genuine discipleship (n 5) and is often found among the poor (n 7). Lack of joy leads to narrowness and self-absorption (n 8). The work of evangelisation fills us with joy (n 9). The enemy of joy is a sterile pessimism (n 84).