“Caro Papa, mi chiamo Sandia. Ti amo, io sono Indiana e questo regalo è per voi.”
[Dear Papa, I am Sandia. I love you, I am from India and this gift is for you]
These were my first words to Pope Francis. This was my dream come true, to be in my wedding gown standing alongside my beloved husband and embracing Papa Francesco. This dream is engraved in my heart and will forever remain.
Meeting Pope Francis was like meeting Jesus; I had tears in my eyes, tears of overwhelming happiness. I did not expect to get a warm hug from him, not just one but two! How incredible is that? And since I knew I would be highly emotional on that day, I wrote a letter to him, expressing my happiness and joy on being the first member of my family to greet a Pope in person. This is one of my most special moments akin to experiencing Jesus in the flesh. Afterwards my husband told me that I got the maximum time and attention from the Pope; I felt like I was walking on the clouds.
I met my husband in a church-like setting. I was introduced to him after an anniversary celebration mass. It is rare to find your soulmate in Church but what is even more rare is to find someone who shares a similar devotion to God and faith. I guess I prayed quite hard for this; to meet someone who at least believes in God and goes to church. I used to dread waking up for Sunday Mass as a child and now I perceive it as a privilege. I want to go to church because I need my food of inspiration for the week, to face it with confidence and to bring meaning to it. I desire Jesus and want him to be a part of every moment of my life. I can state several reasons why I look forward to going for Mass every Sunday.
During our initial days of dating, my husband and I would attend mass every morning. I would pick him up on my bike and if I was late he started walking to church. We are contrasting personalities but the one similarity in our relationship is our faith. Nowadays, we don’t manage to go for daily mass (although we should try), but we do pray together every morning and at night before bed. Our one mantra is never to go to bed angry.
My mom sowed the seed of faith in my brother and I. She made sure we never missed a Sunday mass followed by Sunday school; she got us to learn Psalm 91 ‘Prayer for Protection’ by heart so that every morning before we left home for school or any special occasion she would ask us to recite Psalm 91. Now, every morning I say it for my husband and our families back home in Mumbai and Milan. I was also a sucker for retreats or Catholic events. I found myself volunteering a lot in church; at 20 I felt the Youth Movement was my calling. I take great pride in having priestly friends, my feelings toward confession is smoother now; it’s like a conversation with espresso.
I would like to share my ‘Good Samaritan’ story which happened just a few months ago here in London. I was walking home one sunny day, it was unusually hot and I was on my way home for lunch. I was just two minutes away from my home when I saw this young couple helping an elderly couple.
What happened: This elderly man (Brian) was exiting the hotel, when he tripped on the stairs and hit the back on his head on the pavement. He was bleeding profusely and was wriggling because he wanted to sit up. His wife (Gillian) was trembling with fear because she didn’t know what to do, she was in shock. She was holding her husband’s hand and when I saw this right in front of me I said to myself “Sandi, do something”. I asked the hotel staff if an ambulance was called and I was told it was on its way. Then I asked if a doctor was called for, they said no, so I ran off immediately to get a doctor from the nearest health clinic. I was dismissed at the health clinic because a doctor doesn’t attend to emergency situations that happen outside the clinic. To me this sounded like the most absurd excuse – this was a life and death situation!
I was so angry with the health clinic but in the meantime, I saw two police officers before I headed into the clinic, then I decided to run back to the scene and in the process catch up with the police officers and explain the situation to them. Little did I know that the police officers were already informed about the accident and they reached the accident site before me. They started to perform emergency first-aid for Brian, they even asked us why we didn’t call them first (how does the common man know that a police officer also gets first-aid certification in the UK?). Although I had my first-aid certification, it was for Paediatric emergencies. The young couple were still trying to stop the bleeding with the towels while the woman held an umbrella to provide some shade for Brian. I knelt down near Gillian, she was still trembling, I encouraged her to keep talking to Brian, to keep him awake coz I knew if he stopped communicating, he would become unconscious. I tried to calm her and with my other hand to keep Brian stable by telling him how strong he is.
The ambulance arrived 20 minutes later, it seemed like forever and once they moved Brian onto a stretcher, I stayed by Gillian’s side, I just couldn’t leave her. Then the ambulance service workers gave Gillian a form to complete. In a situation like this, your mind goes blank it’s even worse when you’re an elderly person. I took the form and asked Gillian the questions as patiently as I could. The hotel staff was thoughtful enough to give her a glass of water. After the form was completed I asked Gillian if she would like to call her family, because I soon realized she was on holiday with her husband Brian in the UK and were originally from Australia; also Brian was 87 years old! Her hands were still shaking so much. I managed to connect with her brother who resides in the UK, but it would take him an hour to reach London. I sent him the name of the hospital they would be taking Brian to and within minutes Gillian had to get into the ambulance to accompany Brian to the hospital.
Throughout this ordeal I just kept chanting Jesus’ Holy Name. I went home with a heavy heart, that image of so many blood-soaked towels on the pavement will never leave my memory. I asked Gillian’s brother about Brian’s condition and he informed me that Brian was induced into a coma and now under observation. Only time would tell whether he would survive or not.
A week later I received the news, (only because I was passing by the hotel) that Brian had passed away. I was terribly sad; I had been praying for a miracle. I was informed that the whole family had arrived at the hotel and a private funeral service was being organized. I left a note for Gillian, expressing my sympathy to her and the family and how Brian is celebrating with the angels. I had also offered a mass in my parish for his soul, that he may find blissful peace. I received a card a few days later from Gillian with the funeral hymnlet. She thanked me for my kindness, help and sympathy to her and her family. I have kept her card in my treasure box and that’s where it will always be. This elderly lady thanked me, but I should have thanked her for giving me the opportunity to be a ‘Good Samaritan’.
Sandia Furtado is from Bandra, Mumbai and currently settled in London after her marriage to Matteo Busà (of Italian origin). As a PR professional, she worked with Below the Line and the American Chamber of Commerce in India. She has recently switched career roles to being a Montessori/nursery teacher and is also currently studying at the London Metropolitan University.
But her claim to fame is having played the role of Nethra Reddy in Shahrukh Khan starrer ‘Chak De India!‘ She was also cast in Alyque Padamsee‘s musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar‘. She and her mom are active members in the Focolare movement.