Manila – As an act of Christian charity during this Jubilee of Mercy, the staff, seminarians, volunteers and confreres visited our brothers and sisters with Hansen’s disease at Tala, North Caloocan on March 21st. About 90 patients are staying in four wards of a hospital there. We spent time listening to their stories and praying with them. We also brought a meal and some personal care items. Many spiritual insights were gained in listening to their stories and visiting them. It is our fond wish that more people could visit these Hansen’s patients in Tala and bring them needed hope and light to their lives.
Jesus Among the Poor
Manila – The postulants of the Servants of Charity: John Baptist Nguyen (Vietnam), Mark Lanuza (Legazpi), Jhonnel Aguilar (Cam. Norte) and Christian Magdaong (Daraga, Albay) had their exposure to the depressed area and leprosarium at Tala, Caloocan City. They stayed for almost a week with the poor families. During the day they worked in Dr. Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital with Hansen’s (leprosy) patients. Before immersing themselves with the patients they feared that they might contract the disease. They were given a brief orientation regarding Hansen’s disease. They were informed that it is no longer contagious unless the patient hasn’t been treated. Long-term exposure is necessary before contracting the disease from patients. Their fear was converted to the desire to serve the patients. They made the patients feel special. Nobody is left alone for everybody is somebody. The seminarians were able to become hands for those without them, feet to the paralyzed, eyes to the blind and ears to the deaf. They even shared their joy through singing, dancing, sharing experiences and praying.
During the night they went to their ‘foster parents.’ In just the few days of their stay with these poor families the seminarians were able to truly witness the poverty in which families live. They heard a many stories that helped them understand what it means to be poor. They realized rich people worry about the taste of the food while poor people worry if they will have something for their children to eat.
The families and the patients were filled with joy because of their presence; but the seminarians learned a lot that they will carry in their hearts and that cannot be measured by anything else. They were so grateful for the opportunity to go to the peripheries where the poor are; where Jesus is.
Meeting Christ at Tala Hospital
Manila – Ever since the second day after my arrival in the Philippines seven months ago, when Fr. Charlton informed me of several possibilities for a week of immersion with different groups of poor, I had been eagerly awaiting the experience that we (Br. Joseph and myself) just participated in from January 27th to February 1st, 2013: an encounter with and the opportunity to minister to those who suffer from the effects Hansen‘s disease (the name now used for the disease commonly known as leprosy) at Tala Hospital, Caloocan City. What I did not realize until later is that this experience would turn into a double blessing because besides our time ministering to the Hansenites from 8 am- 5pm each day, we also lived with an impoverished family from Tala during the other hours of the day.
These experiences touched me profoundly on many levels—in fact, I am still struggling to put into words and am unable to adequately share what happened during that grace-filled week. But suffice it to say that I was keenly aware of the presence of the Lord in and among the Hansenites, and through kindness shown us and the extreme sacrifice made on our behalf by our host families. When we arrived in Tala on Sunday afternoon we met our host families, and right from the first minute they welcomed us and made us part of their family. My host family was a bit larger than most families in the USA. In fact there were 15 members staying in a house approximately 15‘ x 20‘. Although the house was small, the love was great. Throughout the week, the little children played and prayed with me, the older ones and the parents told me their stories, and they all sacrificed so much in order to share their meals with me. I was filled with admiration at the hard work done by the mother and father—most days they were taking care of the needs of their family from 4:00am-11:30pm. The little bit of work I offered was really quite meager in comparison. Likewise I was filled with respect for those persons with Hansen‘s disease who are permanent residents of Tala Hospital. During my experience among the Hansenites, I was reflecting upon the Gospel passage from Saint Mark that says, “A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Although Jesus willed to heal that particular person with Hansen‘s disease, I often wondered why He did not will to heal them all. While I still don‘t know the answer, after meeting and getting to know the men and women at Tala Hospital I think I have a little better understanding why. First, so that Christ could manifest Himself to His followers through them; thus giving us an opportunity to give ourselves to the most abandoned and suffering persons. Second, that we may become Instruments of God‘s Providence—awakening the virtue of Hope in them and revealing the love of the Father to them. It is certainly true that Hansen‘s disease can be a debilitating and devastating disease; and that there is still a stigma attached to (and a great misunderstanding of) the disease by many people—even by the family members of those who suffer from the disease—that is why many of the residential patients at Tala Hospital have been completely abandoned by their families. One of the most common myths is that Hansen‘s disease can be caught just by touching a person infected with it. While at one time the disease was easily spread from person to person, now the disease is easily treated, and the only way to get it is through continued and prolonged exposure to untreated patients, or by inhaling the airborne bacteria from an untreated patient. In fact, many of the healthcare professionals at Tala have been there for more than twenty years, and have been in constant contact with the Hansenites, and have not caught the disease.
In closing I would like to offer as a reflection the following quote from St. Francis of Assisi and then to encourage you to take time to visit and meet Christ in Tala: “This is how the Lord gave me, brother Francis, the power to do penance. When I was in sin the sight of lepers was too bitter for me. And the Lord Himself led me among them, and I pitied and helped them. And when I left them I discovered that what had seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness in my soul and body. And shortly afterward I rose and left the world.” (Bro. Bob Neimeyer)