Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Who do you belong to?

"I went through a time of panic and fear, like I had never known before, during the Ebola epidemic. The fright came to me when Dr. Matthew died (cf. Traces, 2001, No. 2, p. 19). I felt my life and the lives of those in my house to be in danger. Even the problems at work increased. I began to “argue” with Jesus. I found myself repeating the phrase from the Psalms, “From the end of the earth I call to you with fainting heart.” This was the right phrase to describe the state of my soul. I saw myself destroyed by my weakness, by my nothingness. I saw the house [of Memores Domini] become, again, the locus of the covenant, of the promise that everything that is in me is made secure, saved. I saw the tenderness of Jesus who forgives me in the face of Clara, of Corrado, when I returned home, and this gave me peace. Through that gaze I realized my imperfection, I realized that I am wanted precisely for this reason, because Jesus came to fulfill me. I belong to this tenderness because He has a plan for me. And I felt strong because of this. If there were not this certainty that continues in our houses, everything that is in me and in the world would truly be nothingness, ashes. Instead, when I come home there is a smile waiting for me; I find a smile. At times I wonder, “Why do they smile, truly? Why do I see so many people who have nice jobs, beautiful children, husbands, wives, but no one is truly content with what he does and what he has?” It is an attraction that moves us, this is the condition for happiness, for smiles. I absolutely agree with Father Giussani on everything he is teaching us. I have seen people destroyed by ideology, destroyed by exalting a particular, but in the end nobody is satisfied with this either and they are too afraid to cry out. We are lucky, because even I saw myself drowning in this ideology, but with humility I cry out in that place where I belong, I cry out to God with secure certainty.
For me, this is not feeling or being greater than they are, but being moved by the fact that my nothingness is not lost. Moved before the mercy that generates me. There is nothing that corresponds to me more than this."
This testimony from Rose was published in 2001 in Traces. Rose is the director of Meeting Point, an NGO working with AIDS patients and their families. I was able to hear She talk about her experience at the last International Assembly at La Thuile, in a presentation on Vocation and Charity. One of the thing that touched me most was her saying that (I am paraphrasing here) she was just responding to need. Not just a general need, but concrete need of persons. But, ultimately, you have to come from a place where you can answer the question "who do you belong to?" You have to belong to someone who says that "even the hairs on your head are all numbered." It is hard for us to belong to someone. When growing up one of the questions I was asked, to see who I was, was "who's (child) are you?" If you are not coming from 'belonging', its all just work, just futile.

Belonging is a funny thing: it is hard to do, but we do belong. Also, if you belong to someone who thwarts our freedom, life becomes unbearable.

The latest issue of Traces has a letter from Vicki, who is a member of Meeting Point. Fontanavivace has the text in Italian. I will update the link when it becomes available in English.

In the mean time, here is a write up about Meeting Point.

You can Support MP through AVSI. You can also support MP by going to a concert. So, what are you doing on January 19th?

And Lastly, Rose's speech at Vatican:


Friday February 9, 2001

I would like to begin by thanking the Holy Father. Allow me to say that he is also the Father of everything that I have been doing from the very beginning. Throughout my life no one has ever shown me such a way of giving witness to human value, the value of the person. I have learned from his untiring and constant insistence on the conscience of what man is. I would like to thank You Holy Father, not so much because You are helping us with funding, but rather because You allow my own person to be whole.

If faith determines my work, then the unity of my person is safeguarded. Faith, that is to say the sense of responsibility in the face of something much larger than myself.

As all my work pivots on the human being, it is necessary that faith permeate the way I act, thus generating the correct subject so that you know how to treat the other person well.

At present, it is popular to undertake various projects and it is quite easy to confuse or substitute man with that which we must or can do for him. And then when things do not go as expected, we become violent to him and to ourselves as well.

What really matters is positive value, which technical development has utilised, so that man is not a mechanical object, a cog in the machine.

Man is a composition of needs. If we cannot perceive that, if we do not possess this sensitivity, it is like passing him by with indifference.

In Uganda many have undertaken projects to distribute condoms, defend human rights, overcome poverty, defend women and children, etc. However, these simply pertain to projects and never to the person. The person is nobody, reduced to his problems.

For example, a person has AIDS or a headache, I am dealing with AIDS, not with the person suffering from AIDS. It is not possible to cure a piece of a human being, you have to cure the person. Touching only a part of the person implies touching whole of his body.

I work with the AIDS victims, children, adults and orphans. It is an adventure and it is even entertaining, since I face wishes, characters, needs, traditions and attitudes which are totally different. It is interesting to work with what is called "man and his needs".

Why help people? Who are they to us? And who am I?

"Meeting Point" is the concrete experience of a group of friends who have found themselves in the position of facing the HIV/AIDS issue, either because they are personally suffering or someone in their family or amongst their close friends is affected by AIDS and they desire to discover a sense of suffering and death.

The purpose of "Meeting Point" is not to allow AIDS victims to face alone their sickness and death. This is possible only through a mature and daily companionship which takes all needs into account.

First of all we offer a human relationship, a friendship which with time deepens and whereby the children and the sick discover how to face reality with liberty and joy unknown before and along with them we grow.

Alice, 46 years of age and suffering from AIDS for 10 years, was desperate, looking for drugs to hasten her death. I did not know what to do about her. Before going to work, I would go visit her and sometimes stayed there without saying a word, I could not even comfort her. After a week, crying she told me: "You know, I had my husband, I have six children, the relationship with my husband was the only relationship which meant something to me, it filled me with meaning. Now he is no longer there, it is as if everything has lost its meaning, I lack consistency, I feel lost, I just want to die, help me die now. I will not tell anyone." That was eight years ago. Many people accuse me of having given her some special medicine, she now weighs around 90 kilos and she says: "You simply have to look up to someone having a sense of life, and you also will live." Now she is a volunteer at "Meeting Point", since she wants to do what I do.

Our friendship with the sick and their families is a school where we learn how to realistically and truly love the life of others and their destiny. Condoms and fear are a negative approach, proposing no solutions to cope with the challenge of the epidemic.

We offer our patients and young people psychological support, along with

advice on basic health and proper sexual behaviour. I have already told you that it is an adventure working with adults, youth and children. There is a lot to discover and it cannot all be said today: "I have understood what man needs".

It so happens that I was happy about the time, the money, the food and the medicines that I gave my patients. Then, the opposite occurred. In spite of everything, at a certain time the children, instead of going to school began spending their time in the trash, they refused to talk or pretended they were sick so as not to go to school, or they would hide under their beds or behind the house, or they would not eat. The sick refused medicine, nor did they want to eat. I felt like leaving everything and running away. That is how the question came to me: "But who are these people to me?" and "But who am I to them?"

Up until a short time ago everybody in Uganda knew that they belonged to a tribe, a clan, a family: one knew that he was someone. Now that has lost meaning: families have disintegrated, tribes no longer are concerned with the general interest, but only for their particular interests. Once a child used to belong to the whole tribe, to a whole people, and that gave him consistency and dignity.

Now children and women find themselves without defences, without dignity, and they become melancholy, without any will to live and without expectations.

They do not have a value for their families, after all this wives do not have value for their husbands, nor husbands for their wives. For whom do we live? For whom do we get married? For whom do we procreate?

Losing the very idea of ourselves has made us lose the sense of everything. Having lost the point which gave meaning to them, they no longer know why they must go to school or why they must take medicine, or talk, or whatever. In the end, they do not trust anyone.

What we have tried to do is basically enter into a relationship with them. It is apparent that we are not there to replace their parents, but it is apparent that we love them, that they are important and that they are valued by us. It is not possible to give the idea of the dignity expressed by the formula "being someone" if not one within a relationship.

"Meeting Point" is present in the suburbs of Kampala, Hoima and Kitgum. Kampala is a town built upon seven hills and there is a slum at the foot of each one of these hills. We go through the slums every morning. In the city many people suffer from AIDS. As a result the problem of orphans continually grows. If orphans are not cared for, they will end up living in the streets.

As the population grows, so also the more the disease spreads and this causes great confusion about judgements and feelings, among which are dominant fear, shame and rejection by relatives for their sickness. This adds up to great difficulty. There are no families welcoming orphans, whose numbers are growing.

Women and men between the ages of 20 and 45, that is to say the most active section of population, are the most affected by the sickness. Most of them die in great poverty after long suffering, with a sense of helplessness and having had to give up their employment.

At present we are giving assistance to about 600 sick registered at "Meeting Point" and nearly 1,000 orphans throughout Kampala.

We care for the sick from a medical viewpoint visiting them at home and taking medicine to those who cannot afford the costs of hospitalisation. Of major assistance to orphans is the paying of their school fees, so that they can at least attend primary school. We distribute food and other goods of primary importance: blankets, soap, pans, etc.

We also care for widows and the sick also from the legal point of view - (problems pertaining to heritage, adoptions, etc.).

I am not here to describe all that we do. But what I do want to tell you and that is really close to my heart is the human person, that which concerns man. I know that you know this but as I work with them in Africa, my frailty appears more vividly before my eyes. Since I cannot stand alone, it is much easier to have an intuition of man's greatness and of how much the human being is worth, an absolutely unassailable value.

The human person is something which internally contains a complexity or mixture of emotion, wrath, reaction and tenderness which is inconceivable in any other natural phenomenon. Therefore the things we use such as time, money, food, medicines are but a tool an expression for telling the person that they are worth more than the whole world is worth and that they are responsible for this and for their own lives. It is not a collective responsibility. If it is not belonging to every single man, then it is not necessary, but completely useless. That is why we need responsible people to look up to. To be precise when using instruments on a person you need to love that person, and have consideration for that person.

In the face of the drama of the life we lead in Africa - diseases, wars, conflicts - to be part of our happiness, we need someone having passion for our dignity, and respect for our person.

My teacher used to tell me that the novelty in the world is when man belongs to something, for it is within the experience of belonging that everything changes. From this a new society, a new civilisation can be generated.

This is what I have seen happen in my life and in the lives of the people I care for. It seemed something abstract, but then I saw people change, I saw the sick that I thought would never change, change - and they have changed me, too.

The children who call me Mum - because they have found life. The prostitute Vicky who says, "I do not know what 'Meeting Point' is, but what I do know is that there are people who care for me, and that I want to live for them - Akello's children, a woman at the refugees' camp.

Well, I have already said that belonging to someone appears as something abstract, instead it is the awareness of what the human person is. The responsibility toward the dignity of that person can change the face of the world and go as far as tearing down the structures that frame it. What I wish is that the object of my work is One, that is to say the relationship with a friend. It is this position that can make me change and create something new within the existing structures.

Thank you.

1 comment:

clairity said...

I'm glad I can be there. This is an impressive ongoing story.