Sister Fatima Emmanuel with volunteers at Samaritan Hope Home, a center that provides shelter to the homeless and food to the hungry in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur. (Photo supplied)
Sister Fatima Emmanuel was struck by the plight of the poor when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Malaysia and a nationwide lockdown was enforced in March last year.
The 57-year-old Catholic nun, based in Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, has been running Samaritan Hope Home, a center for poor, homeless people, since 2018 with an aim to offer them shelter and support services to rehabilitate them.
In addition, she and some volunteers have been providing 350 packs of food and drinks to the poor and hungry at the center every day. But pandemic restrictions hindered her vital services.
“People were not allowed to congregate and therefore the homeless could not come to Samaritan Hope Home for their meals. So, we had to change our modus operandi to pack the food and distribute it at the door of the center instead,” Sister Fatima told UCA News.
However, it was not effective either as due to a strict lockdown in Kuala Lumpur, the homeless were forced off the streets and temporarily housed in community halls. The nun and the volunteers decided to visit the halls to provide at least 200 food packets every day.
“This was a golden opportunity to work together with people of different faiths and to give witness to Christ’s love,” the nun said.
I can testify to many miracles that happened at Samaritan Hope Home where we experienced the multiplication of two fishes and five loaves
Samaritan Hope Home relies on generous donations from people from various faith backgrounds and basic ecclesial communities, parish-based Christian community groups.
Sister Fatima had to secure special permission from the police to carry on her services.
“It was stressful to keep a balance between the hungry faces and the new rules,” the nun said.
It was even more challenging to prepare and deliver food as the regular volunteers working for Samaritan Hope Home had trouble coming to the center. The homeless brothers of Samaritan Hostel came forward and lent their support.
“Indeed, it's beautiful to see their transformation and now they have become volunteers at the place where they have taken their food for living,” Sister Fatima said.
The center also receives phone calls from refugee families and foreign migrant workers who desperately need help amid loss of jobs and income. The nun offers them what she can but also refers them to like-minded people and communities.
“In good and bad times, the Lord has given us the strength to continue. I can testify to many miracles that happened at Samaritan Hope Home where we experienced the multiplication of two fishes and five loaves,” the nun said.
Fatima Emmanuel was born to a Catholic family on March 5, 1964, at Taiping town in Perak state of Malaysia. She was the second of four children.
Her family was not only religious-minded in prayers but also in action as her paternal grandfather was a catechist.
“My grandfather and parents taught me how to share with the poor what we have from a young age,” the nun recalled.
The desire to serve the poor planted in childhood inspired her religious vocation to become a nun one day.
In Africa, the people taught me that one can be happy and contented with the little that we have
At the age of 20, Fatima joined the Little Sisters of the Poor (LSP), a Catholic religious congregation for women founded by French saint Jeanne Jugan in 1839.
The order has about 2,300 members in 31 countries and their main charism is serving elderly poor people. LSP nuns serve some 13,000 elderly poor people globally, according to its website.
The spirit of St. Jeanne Jugan inspired Sister Fatima, who found joy in “littleness and humility in the Church and serving the elderly poor.”
As a nun, she has been a missionary in various countries in Europe, Africa and Asia for more than 30 years. She returned to Malaysia in 2014.
The missionary experiences taught her great life lessons.
“In Africa [Congo, Nigeria and Kenya], the people taught me that one can be happy and contented with the little that we have. The people taught me joyful faith in the midst of suffering and acceptance of the situation that we are in. They taught me to see the hand of God even in the midst of war,” the nun said.
She said that people in Africa also imparted another lasting impression.
“They never question God in the midst of suffering. Instead, they are thankful for the providential care of God. The African community built up my faith to be stronger and more joyful in life,” Sister Fatima said.
Back home in Malaysia, the nun served the LSP community in Kuala Lumpur. In 2015, she paid a visit to Carl's Kitchen Feeding Program, a soup kitchen run by the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur. Until June 2018, the soup kitchen provided free meals to poor and needy people.
Sister Fatima was deeply touched by the sad and confused faces of people coming to collect food at Carl's Kitchen. However, she was not ready to get involved in the ministry as she had been serving the poor with the LSP for decades.
It was not easy to leave my familiar zone and my community, but God has another dream for me and for his work
She then had second thoughts and decided to serve the poor of all ages, not just the elderly.
Following two years of discernment through retreats and spiritual direction, she left the order in 2018 to work independently to serve all homeless people. Archbishop Julian Leow of Kuala Lumpur allowed her to exercise the ministry to the homeless in the archdiocese.
“It was not easy to leave my familiar zone and my community, but God has another dream for me and for his work,” she said.
Sister Fatima started to visit homeless and poor people on the streets to offer them food and medical supplies. Soon, a group of volunteers joined her. Together, they rescued some homeless men, sent them to rehab facilities and helped them find jobs.
In November 2018, she established the Samaritan Hope Home for the homeless.
At the center, homeless people get breakfast and lunch from Monday to Saturday. They can freshen up, have a shower and wash clothes. They can stay as long as they have nowhere to go. Twice a month Catholic doctors offer free medical check-ups. The inmates help with the upkeep of the center.
The nun and the volunteers celebrate birthdays of inmates and festivals like Chinese New Year, Eid, Diwali and Christmas at the center as a gesture of imbibing family spirit and a sense of belonging.
Sister Fatima says they need a bigger and better place to serve and rehabilitate more homeless people. In April 2020, she rented a two-story building in Selangor. This new Samaritan Hostel is a temporary shelter and has seven inmates.
She says her strong faith in God and prayer give her the energy to overcome all challenges.
She believes that God has been providing all the spiritual and physical needs of Samaritan Hope Home including volunteers, benefactors, donations and transformation of the homeless.
“We cannot be missionaries without prayer because prayer is an essential part of mission. We must believe that God won't abandon the poor and that they are precious in his eyes,” the nun said.