There is no dentist for people suffering from dental problems in our United Nations camp of 35,000 people displaced by war. So our Catholic community organized an outreach team. With the approval of the doctors at our hospital for U.N. staff and soldiers, we are bringing four people daily, Monday through Friday, to the dentist’s office.
The people here have not seen a dentist since coming to the U.N. camp in 2013, and many have severe dental issues in need of treatment. After they are treated at the hospital, we accompany the people back to their simple tent or tin sheeted homes. They thank us for giving them the opportunity to find healing from their pain. It is a humbling experience to receive gratitude from people who are suffering here in South Sudan.
In my ministry as a lay missioner here in El Salvador, accompaniment has taken the form of sharing everyday moments with the people of the community of Las Delicias. This includes picking coffee in the fields, riding the local bus, visiting families, sharing a meal together and attending kids’ birthday parties, graduations and baptisms.
Some of the most impactful moments have come from playing games and sports with young people. Just recently, one of our soccer coaches, Esau, was able to build a relationship with a 12-year boy who has never gone to school. Through this relationship, the boy’s mother confided to us that her children do not go to school because they don’t have birth certificates. Now we are working with local institutions to help the family get these documents so that the children will be able to go to school.
Meanwhile, our scholarship students have volunteered to teach the kids to read while they wait for the birth certificates to be processed.
Many years ago, I was working in a very poor parish in Kowloon, Hong Kong. One Sunday morning, an embarrassed and clearly distraught man came to our center. The day before, he had sold a pig; the proceeds were to support his family during the months ahead. His wife, who had some mental challenges, had taken the money and put it in the Sunday Mass offering. The poor man was desperate.
We made a quick phone call to our pastor, who had already known that something was “not right” when the large bundle of bills was dropped into the collection basket. Five minutes later the understanding pastor arrived. The pig farmer — one very relieved and grateful husband — left with the money, along with our advice about opening a bank account.
A wise Brazilian once told me that our dedication to rituals can be a measure of our emotional balance and mental health. One of our family traditions, which comes from my husband, Flávio, is visiting and decorating his family burial plot on All Souls Day. This is a national holiday in Brazil, where I have been a Maryknoll lay missioner for over 25 years.
The yearly pilgrimage takes us to Flávio’s tiny hometown in the rural region of the northeastern state of Paraíba. There, I look around in the cemetery, witnessing a familiar scene — a family remembering and honoring departed loved ones. Leading up to Nov. 2, family and friends decorate gravestones and burial plots with flowers and then keep watch for the entire day, lighting candles and telling stories about their loved ones.
Recently as our family was keeping vigil, Flávio noticed that a nearby grave only had only one simple flower. He lit a candle and placed it next to the flower in silence as all around us the cemetery hummed with activity, love and mourning. My friend’s words rushed back to me. Tradition and devotion bring stability and health to our lives.
Featured image: Paul Jeffrey/South Sudan