Photo: Veena Titus and Walton Schofield take delight in sharing time together. Photo by Bethany Keener
When Veena Titus first came to L’Arche she got choked up every time she tried to speak about her son.
“There was so much emotion because I had walked through life without talking about myself and my needs,” she said.
Living in New Delhi, India, Veena and her husband Philip faced the difficulty of having few resources to support their son, Sunil, who has Autism. What was harder still was the advice from several people of faith that they should ask God to forgive them, for surely they had done something terrible to be punished with a child who had a disability.
“God loves us and stands by us in moments of suffering,” Veena softly asserted. “We are not punished. But there are people who still believe that.”
Veena and Philip came to Maryland to attend seminary in the early 1980s. They arrived with one child and went back to India with three. Even from early on, Veena knew that Sunil, their youngest and only boy, was developing differently from her two older children.
“I remember going from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital to find out what could be done and asking the question ‘will he be alright?’” Veena said.
For sixteen years the Titus family did their best to support him. Sunil attended a school for children with special needs where he was safe and happy. Veena was frequently called to the school to talk to other parents who were struggling with society’s beliefs that their children were a punishment and a burden. One colleague who had a child with a disability told Veena that if she were dying, she would first poison her child, knowing how difficult his life would be without her there.
If it were not for her faith, Veena would feel the way her former colleague had—hopeless in the face of daunting challenges and few resources. But she’s always believed that God is with her on the journey, and that faith was what made her reach out to others. Veena realized her own suffering could be used to help others in need. She worked with youth at the church her husband pastored, a home for the elderly, and with people who had addictions and HIV/AIDS.
Those years “brought a sense of strength and built me in a way,” Veena said. Her work gave structure to their life, gave Sunil things to do, and helped her “not cry so much,” when people said hurtful things.
Eventually, Sunil returned to the States to live with his sister in Columbus, Ohio. He attended high school, and continues to live there in a supportive community.
But for his mother, being so far away was difficult. So, in 2009, Veena and Philip applied to return to the States. Veena spent a year working at the The Lab School of Washington, teaching children with ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities.
Then she found L’Arche, and the embrace of the core people at Ontario house was exactly what she needed. “These are people who have a sense of trust and closeness to God’s heart in a powerful way,” she said. “They encourage us to trust God and keep working hard, just like they do.”
Whether Veena has an aching back or an aching heart, the core people offer prayers and hugs to ease her pain. When she enters the room, Walton Schofield greets her with a wide smile and his signature “purring”—a sound he makes when delighted.
The young adults who come to be assistants at L’Arche encourage her as well. She sees their faith in action as they give of themselves day after day, helping her believe there are people who truly care about her son and others who have disabilities.
“L’Arche has been and continues to be a great source of personal inspiration for me,” she said. “It is a sign and symbol of God’s great love, demonstrated through everyone who collectively makes L’Arche.”
Though she is grateful to be on the same continent as Sunil, Veena’s heart still straddles two countries. She knows the five L’Arche communities in India have limited funding and still face discrimination, and would like to be able to return to help them some day. Her unspoken wish is clear when she speaks wistfully of the home she and Philip still own in New Delhi, noting there is not yet a L’Arche community in that city
“I want to be part of L’Arche for as long as I possibly can,” Veena said, her eyes shining with love.
When she enters the dining room at Ontario house and the purring starts, its clear she is wanted there, too.
In India, L’Arche is known as Asha Niketan, which means Homes of Hope. The first community opened in 1970 in Bangalore. Today there are five communities: Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Nandi Bazar (Kerala), and Asansol (West Bengal).
Want a home-cooked Indian meal made by Veena? Mark your calendar for Solidarity Night, March 2, 2013. The annual talent show and silent auction raises funds for L’Arche USA’s Solidarity fund to support communities around the world, and Veena will be auctioning off an Indian dinner.