The HIV/AIDS Victims
The Twenty First Century is marked with so many advancements in technology and medicine. This is especially true in the West. Computers which used to be the size of a house are now condensed into a size of a small briefcase.
The HIV/AIDS Victims
The HIV/AIDS Victims
The Twenty First Century is marked with so many advancements in technology and medicine. This is especially true in the West. Computers which used to be the size of a house are now condensed into a size of a small briefcase. The same can be said about the telephone. Cellular phones have become a must have for people of all ages. In other words, we can find solutions to most technical problems and find cures for almost every known disease except for HIV infections and AIDS. Not more than a few decades ago HIV/AIDS announced its presence in Africa. It is a relatively new virus yet very deadly. HIV/AIDS has inflicted and destroyed numerous lives all over the world especially among the poorest of the poor in developing countries. Although information and knowledge about the spread of HIV/AIDS are plentiful, very few poor people have access to them. Furthermore, the government in developing countries such as Vietnam views the needed information on HIV/AIDS as pornography and bans them altogether. Thus, the unsuspecting infected HIV/AIDS poor unknowingly and innocently spread this deadly virus to their loved ones. This chapter will examine the condition of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam particularly in Saigon, look at Cardinal John Baptist Pham Minh Man’s plan to deal with HIV/AIDS in Saigon, study the works of Mother Teresa concerning HIV/AIDS victims, observe the works of the sisters of Missionaries of Christ’s Charity among the HIV/AIDS victims at Nhan Ai HIV/AIDS center, and reflect on the sentiments of HIV/AIDS victims whose lives were touched by the hands of the loving sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity.
10.2 THE CONDITIONS OF THE HIV/AIDS VICTIMS IN VIETNAM
The history of AIDS is only about 25 years old. About ten years ago AIDS made its appearance in Vietnam and became a social dilemma for the government and its people alike. The HIV/AIDS virus does not discriminate whether people live in the cities or the slums or on the streets. It makes no distinction whether the victims are young or old. Yet it seems as though HIV/AIDS virus tends to seek out the young and the poor more than the old and the rich for it is more rampant among street children and poor young people. The lack of HIV/AIDS’ education and prevention contributes to the rising rate in HIV/AIDS infection and death. “According to the official figures given by the government in December 2001, there were 41,622 HIV infected and 6,251 AIDS patients. About 3,421 persons died of AIDS. Compared to Japan, the number of infections in Vietnam is 10 times higher. According to some opinions, the reality is ten times more than the number given, but it is very difficult to know the objective situation.” It is estimated this number will be likely to increase to 197,000 by 2005. From the numbers reported, about 60 per cent of all the HIV/AIDS infections in Vietnam are the result of the use and overuse of needles for drug injections. There is a steady increase in HIV/AIDS infection among sex workers especially in the southern provinces such as Saigon. In Saigon, there are 7 hospitals which offer HIV medical examinations for a fee. With the fee for HIV/AIDS examination being so high, it is out of reach for most poor people. In June of 2006, a new HIV preventive medicine was developed in Vietnam but people have to pay 5,000 yen for each; a very steep price considering the average monthly income of slum dwellers are about 300,000 yen. Since the new medication has to be taken daily, they simply cannot afford the cost of the medicine.
Being fully aware of the pressing problem concerning the spread of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam, President Bush in his announcement gave three reasons for choosing Vietnam as the 15thPEPFAR country, “Firstly, the epidemic in Vietnam is serious and increasing rapidly. The Ministry of Health informed UNAIDS that the epidemic has reached a prevalence level of 0.44 percent of people aged between 15-49. Secondly, he highlighted the very positive moves by Vietnam’s government on HIV/AIDS. Thirdly, there is a historical link between Vietnam and the U.S. and Americans would like to assist Vietnam in this effort.”
10.3 AN INTERVIEW WITH CARDINAL JOHN BAPTIST PHAM MINH MAN
The Roman Catholic Church is well aware of the HIV/AIDS dilemma especially in developing countries. In his address to the president of the United Nations, H.Em Cardinal Claudio Hummes, said, “HIV/AIDS has and remains one of the major tragedies of our time. It is not only a health problem of enormous magnitude; it is a social, economic and political concern as well…It is also a moral question, as the causes of the epidemic clearly reflects a serious crisis of values.” Cardinal Claudio Hummes noted that 12% of care providers for HIV/AIDS patients are agencies of the Catholic Church and 13% of the global relief for those affected by the epidemic comes from Catholic non-governmental organizations. Inspired by the Holy See’s concern for the HIV/AIDS victims, the Archbishop of Saigon, Cardinal John Baptist Pham Minh Man in cooperation with the Vietnamese government has requested the service of 16 religious congregations to work at the Nhan Ai (Love & Mercy) HIV/AIDS facility. Most of the HIV/AIDS victims are at the last stage of their AIDS infection. In other words, they are in the state of full blown AIDS and there is no hope of recovery. The victims are waiting to die. The work is dangerous at the same time stressful. Every six months or so the religious brothers and sisters would have to rotate to prevent being burned out. Although the ministry to the HIV/AIDS victims yields abundant harvest Cardinal John Baptist is not content, “All that we are doing is preparing them for a peaceful death.” The Cardinal is hoping to open a center to care for HIV/AIDS patients where medications are readily available to help the patients not only prolong their lives but also to assist them to live productive lives. The government has agreed to the Cardinal’s proposal but they add two conditions: first, Cardinal John Baptist has to purchase the land himself; second, the government reserves the right to grant or not to grant permission depending on the location. Since then he has been tirelessly searching for an appropriate location. Whenever he finds an agreeable property the government would refuse to grant permission citing the land is reserved for future business venture. Consequently, Cardinal John Baptist has to search as far as Can Gio a city South of Saigon. The land there is very salty due to its close proximity to the seas and the population is sparse. There are some advantages to building the center in Can Gio for the land is cheap and the government does not oppose the site. Cardinal John Baptist hopes to build the center which will be called Trung Tam Phuc Sinh (Easter Center for HIV/AIDS) within two years. Here the HIV/AIDS victims will have the necessary facilities such as medical clinics to dispense medications for their illness, schools to teach and train in vocational trades, counselors to help them with their sexual and drug addictions, and spiritual advisors to turn them toward God who is the source of all faith, hope and love.
10.4 MOTHER TERESA’S WORKS AMONG THE HIV/AIDS VICTIMS
Unlike Calcutta where Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity tirelessly work among the lepers, the West does not have to deal with leprosy. With the aid of modern day medication, leprosy has practically been wiped out in the West. However, the West is far from being freed from cancer and disease. For more than quarter of a century, the lethal and deadly HIV/AIDS virus has reared its ugly head. Not knowing much about HIV/AIDS, the local population often fears and shies from HIV/AIDS patients. Mother Teresa was intellectually instinctive when she made the comparison between AIDS and leprosy, “The victims of AIDS were the lepers of the West, as people whom others might condemn as ‘unclean’ but who like everyone else was in need of love. So it was that in a speech to the National Council for International Health she defined the greatest pain for AIDS victims as being ‘the pain of the heart – of being unwanted and unloved, thrown away by society.’” She recognized the rejection suffered by the HIV/AIDS victims and struck a chord of recognition. In the pain, the anguish and the rejection of the HIV/AIDS victims, she saw once again Christ in the distressing disguise. Once the need was brought to her attention, Mother Teresa swiftly implemented her plan of action to assist the HIV/AIDS victims in the West, particularly in the United States. In her meeting with President Ronald Reagan on June 13, 1986, Mother Teresa told the president that she would do the praying and he would have to do the work when he encouraged her to open a second center in America for the victims of AIDS. With the invitation from Archbishop James Hickey of Washington, Mother Teresa opened an AIDS center where it would serve as a loving home for the AIDS victims. In this home, the AIDS victims could find care, compassion and peace.
The work with HIV/AIDS patients grew. Different homes to serve HIV/AIDS victims were being opened in San Francisco, Denver, Los Angeles and New York. It was during her visit at one of the AIDS hospice in New York when a young man motioned Mother Teresa to his bedside and whispered, “Mother…I get terrible pains, and I share my pain with the pain of Jesus had in the crown of thorns…with the terrible pains Jesus had when they scourged Him. And when I get pain in my hands, I share it with the pain of Jesus when he was crucified.” When he was admitted, he was bitter and angry for many years he had been leading a dissolute life away from the Church. The love he was shown by the sisters at the hospice humbled him to his knees and led him to ask for God’s forgiveness in confession. In thanksgiving for the mercy shown to him, he wanted to spend his dying days offering his pain in love for others. Although more homes were added, Mother Teresa was careful not to let the loving ministry of her Missionaries of Charity be watered down, she insisted, “There are many medicines and cures for all kinds of sick people. But unless kind hands are given in service and generous hearts are given in love, I do not think there can ever be any cure for the terrible sickness of feeling unloved.”
10.5 THE WORKS OF THE MISSIONARIES OF CHRIST’S CHARITY AMONG THE HIV/AIDS VICTIMS IN SAIGON
Having Mother Teresa as their shining example, the Vietnamese sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity fearlessly offer their service among the HIV/AIDS victims. As if the work among the HIV/AIDS victims is not strenuous enough, the sisters have to spend countless hours teaching the general population about the spread of HIV/AIDS. Not knowing much about the relatively new deadly disease, the HIV/AIDS victims suffered terrible prejudice and discrimination at the hands of the government and the local population. The victims are corralled and sent to an isolated island far away from any civilization. The HIV/AIDS victims have already been condemned to a physical death when they contracted this deadly disease. Now, they are slowly dying from the psychological and mental anguish as well. The HIV/AIDS victims need love more than judgment and forgiveness more than condemnation. At this Nhan Ai (Human’s Love) center, the sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity dedicate their lives to love and serve the HIV/AIDS victims. By the time the HIV/AIDS victims get to the sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity, they already have full blown
AIDS. Many of them are grossly disfigured and unable to eat or sleep. Yet, seeing the suffering Christ in disguise within these victims, the sisters lovingly minister to them by applying honey on their tongues to heal the sores, painstakingly bath them, carefully feed them, gently give them medication and mostly speaking encouraging words to them. Amazingly, love and dedications can do what medication often fails, the HIV/AIDS victims will themselves to live and vigorously fight to get better. Being shunned by society and even their own families, the HIV/AIDS victims feel love for the first time in their lives. Once they feel well enough to move about, they are encouraged to participate in different activities such as letter writing to family members hoping for reconciliation with their loved ones, and constructing Christmas and Easter cards as gifts to others so that they can feel a sense of worth.
10.6 SENTIMENTS FROM THE HIV/AIDS VICTIMS
Knowing death is knocking at their doors, the HIV/AIDS victims are fearful at first but their encounter with the religious brothers and sisters help them to accept the inevitable and live everyday to the fullest. One of the HIV/AIDS victims wrote, “Lying here with a dreadful and deadly disease which causes the whole world to tremble. This dread disease has caused people in society and my family to avoid me because within me is a mushroom of death eating away at me. Why are they afraid? They are fearful because they do not understand this disease of the century. They have not taken the time to be informed or enlightened. Meanwhile, the light of faith in me is becoming brighter. This faith has come about due to the arrival of the sisters. They are indeed my surrogate mothers because of their love and dedication shown in their service to me. They are truly worthy of the title mothers. In my mind and heart, they are Mother Teresa whose love for the poorest of the poor is well known all over the world. With arms wide opened, she embraced all the suffering souls who were contrite of their past sins. Dear sisters, I do not know much about the Catholic Church or its teachings, but from the bottom of my contrite heart, I would like to thank you and bless you for the love and care you have shown to me. When I was tormented by this horrible disease and went into a comatose-like state, you sat in vigil beside my bed for days on out. You served me in the most menial of tasks: a glass of milk, a morsel of bread, intravenous medication and a kind word of encouragement. You were always there cheering me to choose life, to overcome my physical and spiritual obstacles and put my faith in God. Even though, I am a non-believer, I believe God exists because I see Him in all of you. From you, I have come to know more about your loving and merciful God. I would like to ask God to forgive me of my sins and turn my heart from sinful ways. I do not know what to say except that God will afford you with good health so you may continue to bless me with God’s presence. I desire to know and love God the way you love Him. I would like to recite a prayer which I often heard while growing up; even though, I do not know what it means, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…’”
The second sentiment was written by Ta Nguyen Dan. “‘What day is today?’ I asked for I no longer remember what day or week it was because I had been tortured by a vicious fever the last couple of days. I was still delirious when a voice said, ‘Hello the room.’ Although, I did not turn my head I could recognize whose voice it was. It was a voice full of gentleness and kindness that had encouraged me to overcome my deadly disease over the last few months. It was a voice of a sister with a joyful and happy face. I asked her, ‘What day is today?’ She smiled and gently said, ‘Today is the first day of the week.’ Sister had a pleasant smile on her face. I think I know why because I have finally recovered from my fever. For the last couple of days, the fever had zapped my strength and caused me to feel very weak. There were times when the pain was so intense I wished I was dead instead. But that was not the thought sister wanted to hear from me for she taught me not to retreat in the face of suffering or give up because of difficulty. For the last couple of months, sister had meticulously cared for me from my daily meals to my frequent rest. She helped me realize that because of her thirst for life that she had devoted her life to make mine better. Because of this, I had made up my mind to live and live with dignity so as not to disappoint her. I would like to thank sister and all those who had made my last remaining days on this earth better and more pleasant. I will remember you always.”
The world as a whole is getting better and healthier thanks to all the advancement in technology and medicines. Yet the world is powerless in its confrontation against the deadly HIV/AIDS virus. It is especially true in poor developing country like Vietnam where information about HIV/AIDS is prohibited by the government for it is viewed as pornography and the preventative medications are too expensive. Compounded by the discrimination by the general population due to ignorance, the HIV/AIDS victims face an uphill battle. The escalation of HIV/AIDS infection is compounded by the underworld culture of sex and drugs use. The government is well aware of the need to do something to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS. The Roman Catholic Church as a whole is prominent in its mission to aid and help the HIV/AIDS victims. In Saigon, Cardinal John Baptist Pham Minh Man has made plans to open HIV/AIDS center to help the victims lead productive lives. Following in the footsteps of Mother Teresa and her works among the HIV/AIDS in the United States, the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity courageously minister to the HIV/AIDS victims, help them to be at peace with themselves, reconcile them with their families and God. As mother Teresa reflected that medication can heal or cure most diseases but no amount of medication can heal the feeling of being unloved. Only love can do that. It is evident in the sentiments left behind by the HIV/AIDS victims. With the younger generation dying off at an alarming rate, the older generation is left behind without anyone to care for them in their old age. The next chapter will touch on the plight of the abandoned elderly.
The Abandoned Elderly
11 .1 INTRODUCTION
After having spent most of their lives laboring and working to raise and support their families, the elderly do not ask for much in return in their old age except to have their children nearby to care for and love them in return. Growing weak from the burden of years, the elderly are at the most vulnerable stage of their lives. What they need is to have their children and grandchildren nearby to ensure them they will be taken care of and bring joy to their old age. Recognizing the vulnerability of the elderly, most if not all cultures has a healthy respect and love for the elderly in their rules of law. The Eastern countries are renowned for their reverence and respect for the elderly especially their grandparents and the Vietnamese culture is no exception. Yet the elderly are being abandoned in large numbers especially in the Eastern countries. People can not help but ask themselves questions such as: Has the culture eroded so much and so fast? What about the Church’s teaching? Is there no one leading the fight for the abandoned elderly? This chapter will closely examine the Vietnamese culture concerning the elderly, the fourth commandment and the interpretation of the Roman Catholic Church, the works of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity among the abandoned elderly, the works of the sisters of Missionaries of Christ’s Charity in Saigon in their Mercy’s Home and the sentiments from abandoned elderly who are fortunate enough to be in the Mercy’s Home for the dying and destitute.
11.2 THE VIETNAMESE CULTURE AND THE CHURCH IN REGARD TO RESPECTING AND HONORING PARENTS
The Vietnamese culture has a saying, “Tien hoc le hau hoc van.” (First learn mannerism only then learn reading, writing and arithmetic). This saying is taught and ingrained into all children on their first day of school. It emphasizes the importance of good manners over the excellence in academic skills. Good manners are more preferable in Asia and therefore it is taught with great emphasis. The students are taught to stand up when the teacher enters the room. They are then to bow and greet the teacher. The students shall remain standing until the teacher gives them permission to sit down. The same respectful manner should be exhibited on the streets when the students come upon an older person. They are to bow and greet him/her as he/she passes by. At home, the children have to show even greater respect to their parents and grandparents. They are to bow as they greet them when leaving or coming home. Asking for permission is a must prior to getting up from the table after a meal or going outside to play. Coming into contact with a minister or a priest, the people in general would bow and greet him regardless of his age.
The reverence for the elderly is reinforced and emphasized in the Ten Commandments as well. The fourth commandment teaches, “Honor your parents.” The fourth commandment shows that God has willed that after Him, we should honor our parents to whom we owe our life and faith which they pass on to us. We are to honor and respect those whom God has sent to lead and guide us. The fourth commandment spells out the duties to be fulfilled to parents by their children. This commandment is addressed to children in their relationship with their father and mother. It also ties to relationships between members of the extended family. It requires honor, love and gratitude toward elders and ancestors. Obeying and observing the fourth commandment brings great reward, “Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” With such reverence for those in authority within the culture and the Church for parents and grandparents, how is it possible for the elderly to be abandoned? What causes children to abandon their own parents and grandparents? Poverty is the cause for abandonment. If money is the root of all evil then poverty is the cause of all evil. Poverty can break down even thousand-year-old traditions and cultures. It uproots families and tears them apart. The need for self survival prompts the younger generation to leave their elderly parents and grandparents behind and migrate to the big cities hoping to find employment; so they will be able to send money home to help their elderly parents. Unfortunately, there are more people than jobs available. The young unskilled migrant workers often fall into hard time. At home their elderly parents and grandparents, instead of enjoying the latter part of life, end up abandoned. Having to fend for themselves, many abandoned elderly end up begging and dying on the streets.
11.3 MOTHER TERESA’S WORKS AMONG THE DYING AND DESTITUTE
With the elderly being neglected and abandoned to die in the streets and slums of Calcutta, Mother Teresa prudently opened many homes for the dying and destitute to accommodate the growing need. The homes for the dying and destitute are intended to serve a dual purpose. First and foremost, the homes are to assist the abandoned elderly to die with peace and dignity. Second, the homes are used as training grounds for the Postulates (those inquiring about religious life). Mother Teresa wanted the Postulates to identify with the Christ whom nourishes them in the Eucharist to the Christ disguised in the abandoned elderly. Mother Teresa recounted, “According to our rule, the very next day after joining our society, the Postulates must go to the home of the dying and destitute in Calcutta. Before this sister went, I told her, ‘You saw the priest during the Mass, with what love, with what delicate care he touched the Body of Christ. Make sure you do the same thing when you get to the home, because Jesus is there in a distressing disguise.’ So she went, and after three hours, she came back. That girl from the university, who had seen and understood so many things, came to my room with such a beautiful smile on her face. She said, ‘For three hours I have been touching the Body of Christ!’ And I said, ‘What did you do? What happened?’ She said, ‘They brought a man from the street who had fallen into a drain and had been there for some time. He was covered with maggots and dirt and wounds. And though I found it very difficult, I cleaned him, and I knew I was touching the Body of Christ.’”
Mother Teresa would be the first to admit that her works among the dying and destitute are nothing compared to what the abandoned elderly gave her in return. She made her point by telling a story of past experiences, “Among the people we picked up, there was a little old lady who, due to her extreme condition, was near the point of death. I told the sisters, ‘Take care of the rest. I will take care of her myself.’ I was getting ready to put her in a bed when she took my hand and a beautiful smile appeared on her face. She only said, ‘Thank you,’ and died. I assured you, she gave me much more than I had given her. She offered me her grateful love.” Mother Teresa constantly reminded her sisters that being joyful is the first and best way to minister to the poor. The thing that truly pleased Mother Teresa was to see the restored human dignity in the dying and destitute. In their struggle in life, the dying and destitute made many compromises and in the process lost their dignities. Mother Teresa’s goal in her ministry was to restore that dignity to its’ original purpose. Again Mother Teresa shared her heart-touching encounter, “I took a man I had picked up from the street to our Home for the Dying in Calcutta. When I was leaving, he told me, ‘I have lived like an animal on the streets, but I am going to die like an angel. I will die smiling.’ He did die smiling, because he felt loved and surrounded by care.” 
11.4 THE WORKS OF THE MISSIONARIES OF CHRIST’S CHARITY IN THE MERCY’S HOME FOR THE DYING AND DESTITUTE
The truth is that parents are faithful in raising their children but children often fail in their duty to care for their elderly parents. In Vietnamese there is a proverb which says, “A mother can raise 10 children but 10 children cannot care for one mother.” Whatever the children lack in their love for their parents, it is made up by the loving care of the dedicated sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity. Sister Mary Martin Kim Hoa is one of the thirteen sisters who presently minister to the dying and destitute in Mercy’s Home. She has been the director of the Mercy’s Home for the last 10 years. Sister Mary Martin knows all the names, histories, personalities, illnesses and sorrows of all the 60 men and women who are presently taking refuge in the Mercy’s Home. It is sad to say that all 60 of the elderly are abandoned because they do not have anyone to care for them or their children are simply too poor. The elderly are very thankful and well aware of the fact that they are more fortunate than many other abandoned elderly who are living elsewhere. The living conditions at the Mercy’s Home are still very limited but each elderly has his/her own room and bed. The rooms are small and simple but very clean. They are served three square meals a day. When sick, they receive the very best medical attention from the sisters who are all registered nurses. Indeed, the elderly at the Mercy’s Home are better cared for than most elderly who stay at their own home with their children taking care of them.
Throughout the 10 years ministering to the elderly, none has made an impact on Sister Mary Martin Kim Hoa like an elderly named Thiet (Truth) Thi Nguyen. Mrs. Thiet was born in Phan Thiet into a very happy family. When she was of age, she got married and had a family of her own. She was very proud of the fact that her son attended Talbert Catholic School which she often reminded people. Her husband and children have since passed away. She struggled to make a living on her own by selling fish at the market. Her profession in many ways had conditioned her to become tougher and meaner. She had a foul mouth and often uttered curse words and vulgar speech not knowing that living in the Mercy’s Home for the dying and destitute, she no longer had to put on this tough façade in order to survive. Even now as she lives out her last remaining days of her life, she continues to be abusive. Whenever things are not done according to her liking, she utters blasphemies. Outside of the sisters, who else is there to listen to her verbal abuses? Sister Mary Martin is the one who suffers the brunt of her daily abuse. Mrs. Thiet used to call Sister Mary Martin a bitch. Not only was Thiet vulgar in her speech she was extremely dirty as well. Knowing that her verbal abuses did not get a rise out of sister, Thiet would take hold of a handful of her own feces and throw it at sister when she wasn’t looking. Fortunately, sister was prepared for Thiet’s tantrum. Sister ducked just in time; however, the feces splattered all over the wall which created a lot of unpleasant cleaning and disinfecting for the sisters. Not long after that incident, Thiet realized that Sister Mary Martin had her best interest at heart. Thiet had a change of heart and began to worry for sister for she had yet to be married. Obviously, she was oblivious to the fact that sister was a professed religious. Thiet would remind sister the need to be married and have a family. She gave sister advise on how to pick a right husband, “If he brings cheap wine he will not be a good husband. If he brings Cognac he will make an excellent husband.” Sister Mary Martin is proud of the fact that she doesn’t have just two parents but she has 60 parents in the abandoned elderly. Her daily duty
involves not just feeding, clothing and monitoring their health but also honoring and loving them.
Where did the sisters get the energy to do all these works? In the small and simple chapel where the sisters are spirituality fed through the daily Eucharist, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and community prayer, hung a small crucifix and the word, “I thirst!” Below the crucifix is the picture frame of Mother Teresa their spiritual mother. Mother Teresa was known for her charitable works but it was her spirituality that gives direction to her works. It was during her daily prayer when Mother looked up at the crucifix and she clearly heard the terrible cry uttered by the dying Jesus, “I thirst!” Since then she had spent her life quenching Christ’s thirst in the persons of the poorest of the poor in the world. It is Christ who is dying of thirst in the person of the poor. On Sister Mary Martin’s part, she hears the tender words of Jesus saying to St. John at the foot of the cross, “Behold your mother!” Sister sees the abandoned elderly as her own fathers and mothers whom Christ has sent to her to behold as Christ’s own mother. Indeed, God is all powerful and can do all things. But God does not want to do everything by himself; instead, He deems it is more redemptive for us if we share in His works. At the foot of the Cross, Jesus gives all of us the duty to care for His Mother when he entrusts St. John to care for His Mother. Jesus wants St. John to have the honor of caring for His Mother. The abandoned elderly, whom Sister Mary Martin minister to, are indeed our own fathers and mothers just like our Mother Mary.
11.5 THE SENTIMENT FROM THE ABANDONED ELDERLY
Most of the abandoned elderly who arrive at the Mercy’s Home carried with them deep scars of abuse and neglect. Yet time has a way of softening the most hardened souls. Gradually, the abandoned elderly realized the sisters truly cared for them and loved them. Imitating the caring and loving care of the sisters, the elderly were transformed from being fearful into grateful and trusting adults. One of the elderly wrote, “I want to thank God for his loving providence. God has blessed me with many blessings especially the blessing of living in the Mercy’s Home in peace and tranquility in my old age. I want to thank the sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity for their service to the abandoned elderly who have nowhere to turn to. The Missionaries of Christ’s Charity is a blessing for me for they have invested all their energy and love in serving the down trodden. I do not know what to say except to pray to God for you and your congregation with good health and increase in vocations. I have been here at the Mercy’s Home for the last 9 years. I count myself among the fortunate for I get to participate in the daily Eucharist and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Through the daily prayers, I have come to know the love of God through the works of the sisters. I am so happy knowing I am being nourished both physically and spiritually. This joy is more than made up all the pains and sufferings which I have to endure my whole life. Words cannot adequately express the gratitude I feel for the sisters’ love and dedication. From feeding to giving medication, from the moment of sickness to the dying moment, the sisters are always there every step of the way. Even at the moment of death the sisters are there. Although the works are hard and often strenuous, the sisters always appear to be joyful and uplifting. I am confident and at peace with my impending death because I have witnessed what the sisters did for those who have gone before me. How the sisters stayed up all night praying for them until they breathed their last breath. May the almighty and loving God bless the sisters and the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity for revealing Jesus to me through your loving presence, words and deeds.” Conversion stories from the pregnant teenagers, the orphans, HIV/AIDS victims and abandoned elderly are always heart moving but conversion should occur naturally without coercion or force. Conversion according to Mother Teresa meant the changing of heart by love. Conversion by force or bribery was something which she regarded as a shameful thing and the relinquishing of religion for a plate of rice a terrible humiliation. Mother Teresa did not intend to make everyone a Catholic convert. She said, “If coming face to face with God we accept him in our lives, then we are converting.”
11.6 THE FUNERAL
Life and death are two sides of the same coin. People in general have learned to embrace and appreciate life yet most of them fear death. Death comes to all for it does not discriminate against the young or the old, the rich or the poor. The moment we are born we are steadily marching on the path toward death; the longer we live the closer we are getting to death. As much as we love life, we have to learn to accept death. For us who believe in God who is the author of life, death does not end a life; life simply changes. When people asked Mother Teresa whether she looked forward to death, she answered, “Of course, because I am going home. Dying is not the end, it is just the beginning. Death is a continuation of life. This is the meaning of eternal life.” Learning to accept death and be at peace with it is something the abandoned elderly have come to term with as they live out their days at the Mercy’s Home.
Mercy’s home is a refuge for the dying and destitute where abandoned elderly come to live out their remaining days. But thanks to the loving care of the sisters, some of the elderly live a long time. One elderly has been in the Mercy’s home for over 10 years and is still alive today. Sadly enough, death eventually comes for all. When there is a death, the sisters burry them according the custom of their own religious customs. The funeral rites are carefully planned and celebrated with reverence and grace. If the deceased was Catholic, a priest would be called on to preside at the funeral mass. Traditionally, most well to do elderly have their caskets made to fit before hand and placed them at the side of their beds in their homes. In the case of the abandoned elderly, caskets are made for one size fits all. The caskets are donated by the locals and put into storage. Burial lots are also given by generous people. Death and sorrow is a reality at the Mercy’s Home, yet the abandoned elderly are not fearful for they have come to accept and understand that death is a means to new life.
It is safe to assume that most cultures have a healthy respect for the elderly. It is especially true in Vietnam where children are taught at a young age to bow and reverence their elders. The Ten Commandments raises the position of parents and grandparents to a lofty statute by obligating the children to honor their parents. Cultures and religions do this to ensure the elderly will be taken care of in their twilight years. Yet, there are increasing reports of elderly parents and grandparents being neglected and abandoned. It is not because the children are ungrateful. They are simply too poor to take care of their elderly parents. Poverty has a way of stripping away tradition and commandment. Fortunately, there are people who devote and dedicate their whole lives to make up for the lack of honor shown to the elderly in society. People such as Mother Teresa and the sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity in Vietnam opened homes for the dying and destitute elderly. Through the compassion shown to the elderly by the sisters, the elderly were able to live out their remaining days in relative peace and tranquility. When death called, the elderly gracefully accepted it as part of life. The sentiments left behind by the elderly testified as much to this. The sisters would do their best to burry the deceased elderly according to their religious custom. What a wonderful ministry the sisters are doing for the elderly. On the other hand, the sisters are grateful for the opportunity to serve for they are given much more in return. The sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity would like to share their ministry among the poorest of the poor with everyone. Heeding the sisters’ invitation, people of all ages and religious affiliations have responded generously. The next chapter will focus on the co-workers of the Missionaries of Christ’ Charity and how they can cooperate in the works of charity among the poorest of the poor and yet remain faithful in their present vocation.
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