MUMBAI, India – For 50 years, the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus religious congregation has served the most marginalized in India pointing “to the presence of God” in their hearts.

The religious congregation was founded in Spain in 1877 and first sent a group of sisters to India in 1968.

On Oct. 6, Bishop John Rodrigues, an auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Bombay, celebrated Mass to mark the order’s Golden Jubilee in the country.

“We thank God for all those whose lives have been touched through the communities and institutions. We recall the foundress, St. Raphaela Mary and the pioneers who came to India in 1968.  We thank God for those who are presently associated with the institutions, the sisters led by the regional superior who strive to live their charism. Our hearts are filled with gratitude,” he told the sisters.

The focus of the ministry of the order in India are children, especially the mentally and physically challenged. They currently run several schools and hostels in India.

“God rests in the hearts of these children. They are special in the eyes of God, held tenderly in his care. The sisters of Handmaids of the Sacred Heart remind us of this fact,” Rodrigues said in his homily.

“While many boast of their great achievements we ask what is the essence of a human being and we discover that it is the ability to give and to receive love. These children have that to the highest degree – the ability to give love and to receive love. Through their work, the sisters point to the presence of God in the hearts of these children, they are truly engaged in holy work,” the bishop continued.

After the Mass, the special needs children performed a skit on the life of St. Raphaela Mary, and a dance by the children belonging to the marginalized Tribal community in Roha.

“It is a time for grateful remembrance of those first missionaries who came to India 50 years ago. It is not very  difficult for me to imagine their generosity and missionary zeal, their desire that many Indian brothers and sisters might come to know Christ and adore Him especially in the Eucharist,” said Sister Rosario Fernandez Villaran, the superior general of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who was present for the jubilee celebrations.

She noted the sisters came at a time when society looked down on the mentally challenged as ‘crazy’ or ‘useless’ and often isolated them – and in some areas even killed them.

“The first handmaids in India looked on them with mercy and took their first steps to the peripheries, working to educate and demonstrate to the world that they are God’s gifts and we need to treat them with dignity and respect,” Fernandez Villaran said. “Surely, they faced many difficulties, but if today we are here it is because they and those who followed them and all of the Sisters who are present here have remained focused on the Heart of Jesus.”