Teresa Trujillo is about as materially poor but spiritually rich as you can get.
Lucky to weigh 50 kilograms and crippled by polio, the 61-year-old lives in crisis accommodation in a rough slice of upmarket inner-city Sydney.
As vulnerable as she is courageous and living in conditions most able-bodied people would find hugely challenging, she doesn’t know from one day to the next what her future holds.
Completely reliant on the charity of others, she is ineligible for any type of government assistance, doesn’t have a Medicare card, bank account or pension.
The roof over her head is temporary and all her meals are provided by the shelter she currently calls home.
Completely alone, she has no family or friends to speak of, and what little she owns fits on the back of her donated wheelchair.
From the outside she appears to have nothing, but give her the opportunity and she’ll very quickly tell you she has everything.
Teresa has her faith.
Placing her life in the Lord’s hands has become a constant source of inspiration not only for Fr John MacDonald, parish priest of St Peter’s at Surry Hills, but the whole community.
An integral part of the eclectic inner-city parish, she attends daily Mass, Bible study three times a week and loves nothing more than to help others in need.
Her smile is infectious and her eyes light up when she talks of her life with the Lord at the helm, despite the challenges of living in emergency housing with some of Sydney’s forgotten souls.
During the recent Walk with Christ through the streets of Sydney, she could be seen at the front of the Corpus Christi procession, wheeling with Christ.
She said she has given her life completely to God and has absolutely no fear.
“I see some pretty terrible things on the streets, but I am never afraid because I know he is always by my side,” she smiled.
“As long as I can go to Mass everyday and spend time with him that’s all I really need, everything else is taken care of.
“I have no idea what the future holds, or where I will end up, but I really don’t worry because God is in complete control of everything I do.
“I have given him my life and no matter how that looks I know he is walking that road with me.
“People ask me how I can be so happy when I have so little, and I say, ‘Because I have faith.’
“I have nothing, but I also have everything.”
She arrived in Australia 25 years ago to say goodbye to her gravely ill sister, who was in a coma.
Teresa’s prayers were answered when she woke up just hours before she boarded a flight from the Philippines.
Instead of coming for a three-month vacation, Teresa found herself a full-time vocation.
Despite her own physical challenges and very limited mobility, the pair were found government housing and Teresa became her sister’s full-time carer, looking after the cooking, cleaning, and shopping.
Teresa happily catered to her sister’s every need, but was denied the only thing she needed in return.
“All I wanted was to be able to go to Mass each day,” she said.
“Spending that hour with God gave me so much joy.
“However, my sister became worried that our neighbours might mistake me leaving our unit at the same time every day for me going to work, which could put our accommodation at risk. So the only day I was allowed to go was Sunday.
“I was miserable, because that was the only thing I really needed. I would cry every day because I couldn’t go.
“I stayed like that for many years, looking after her but eventually her condition deteriorated, and she ended up in hospital and sadly never came out.
“When she died, I lost what little I had and then was told I had to leave the apartment because I wasn’t eligible.
“I had nowhere to go and spent the next few weeks sleeping on a friend’s floor but once again was told to leave as it was not sustainable.
“I couldn’t believe after all I had been through, I was homeless.”
Unbeknown to her, “Team Teresa” stepped into action.
Her former parish priest Fr Jerzy Chrzczonowicz, now at St Joseph’s Como, and current Parish Priest Fr John MacDonald and the local Missionaries of Charity, the Sisters of Mother Teresa, took over.
Along with the support of Vincentian Tony Cranney and the St Vincent de Paul Society, she was found accommodation, provided with food and most importantly access to her local church.
He said her resilience and more importantly faith life, taught him much about his own.
“Teresa’s long and sometimes tough journey really is incredible and continues to be such an inspiration,” Tony said.
“Most people wouldn’t survive a night in her shoes, but here’s this vulnerable woman in her 60s, who inspires everyone she meets by the way she has handled adversity, had polio as a child, came out to Australia to help her sister and ended up cooking, cleaning, and looking after her.
“And through all of that including potential homelessness she has never given up her faith, and if anything, it has been strengthened.
“When she came to Australia Fr Jerzy was so good to her and now she is at St Peter’s Surry Hills, Fr John is doing the same.
“She has and continues to live such a challenging life and hasn’t lost one ounce of faith, which to me is very inspiring and something we can all learn from her.”
Growing up in a devout Catholic family in Manila, Teresa said going without material things had shown her what’s important.
“For as long as I can remember, my parents would always talk about the three pillars, praying, fasting and almsgiving,” she said.
“For me, the first two were easy. But almsgiving was something I couldn’t do, because I didn’t think I had anything worth giving. Now I realise I do, we all do. I don’t have material things, but I have time.
“There are so many old people out there who all are alone like me. I know what a difference it has made to my life that people have helped me, so I try and do the same for others.
“When I see these people alone, I stop and talk for as long as they want. I’m so happy I can do what God wants me to do.
“He has shown me it’s not all about material things. I knew I didn’t need them to make me happy and I hope other people can see that through me too.
“I truly believe it’s not only faith that gets us to heaven but doing God’s will and if going through all this gets me there it’s worth it.”