This weekend Father Joe celebrates 48 years as a Redemptorist Catholic priest. More than 40 of those years have been spent living and working “in partnership” with the poorest of the poor in the port slums of Bangkok. Here’s a few paragraphs from my book explaining what happened when Mother Teresa crossed paths with Father Joe forty-two years ago:
Not long after Father Joe began sleeping on a Slaughterhouse cot, Mother Teresa visited Bangkok and ventured into Klong Toey’s hard middle. It was soon after the 1971 release of her biography, Something Beautiful for God by Malcolm Muggeridge, but before she was a holy icon. Had she already been famous, chances are that the elders of Holy Redeemer would not have risked putting her in the unedited company of Father Joe.
Together, kindred spirits in poverty, slum nun and slum priest toured Father Joe’s portside ghetto for three days, walking some of the same planks and catwalks I would walk with him a quarter of a century later. This was long before AIDS and yaba would mix and combust, and still, Mother Teresa pronounced the Slaughterhouse as sorrowful as anything in the gutters of Calcutta.
“Spend your life working with these poor … if you can,” she told Father Joe.
And with that simple, direct charge, it was as if he’d been anointed.
“I remember thinking to myself that if this is what a Christian-Catholic saint is all about,” Father Joe said of Mother Teresa, “I could and would spend all my life trying to imitate her.”