Modern Day Lazarus

Occasionally I write stories about the wonderful mission work of the Columban Sisters. Today, the Sisters intercultural missionary presence is found in 12 countries on four continents where their various ministries bring the mission and message of Jesus. Myanmar (also known as Burma) is home to several Columban Sisters. Columban Sr. Mary Dillon lives and works in Myitkyina (pronounced ‘michnia’) where she ministers to people living with HIV/AIDS. She recently wrote to me about meeting a modern day Lazarus, and I knew that I should share this incredible moment with you.

When I saw him I could only think of Lazarus at the gate, the searing parable Jesus told the Pharisees in St. Luke’s gospel (Lk.16:20). Jesus spoke of a poor man lying at the gate of a rich man’s house, covered with sores which the dogs licked. In 2012 I met a Lazarus, a young man with AIDS, thrown out of the family home, abandoned by all and living in a little hut nearby. No one spoke to him. No one visited him.

Du Hkawng, a small man, was in his early thirties, unmarried and belonging to a fairly well-off family. He had taken anti-retroviral drugs for a while but decided to do without them and gradually got worse as his immune system broke down. Unable to walk or sit up, he lay day after day under a piece of tarpaulin, unwashed, incontinent, and stinking. It was in this miserable state that I found him, this poor modern-day Lazarus. His elderly mother, his uncle, a brother and sister-in-law wanted nothing to do with him. His brother would push in a plate of food to him once a day without saying a word.

We have nearly 70 people, young and old, with HIV/AIDS in the Home we built two years ago. He was too weak to make the journey to our Home. So, with Lucy, the wonderful woman who works with me, I went to get some clean clothes, and we washed him and gave him a nourishing drink. His emaciated body, full of sores, some with maggots, was a dreadful sight.

On returning to the Home that evening, I spoke of poor Du Hkawng to some of the residents. They knew what it was to be ostracized; they too had felt the pain of being unwanted in society. But now, thanks to good medication and good care, they were up and walking. Some of the men came to me. “Sister, if you can get us there we will visit Du Hkawng and look after him.” And from then on two of them went each day and washed and cleaned poor Lazarus, fed him with soft foods and talked and sang to him. From the depths of their own suffering humanity they cared gently for their brother. Out of their own poverty they gave all they had, ministering to this “least of the brethren.”

Du Hkwang died shortly after, alone in his little hut. I feel sure that, like Lazarus, “he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.” (Lk. 16:22) I do believe that, in those last weeks, he met angels here in the persons of the men who unfailingly nursed him and knew him to be a brother. I thank God for the blessing they were, not only to poor abandoned Du Hkawng, but to all of us.

Sr. Mary’s work in Myanmar is made possible by you and other generous benefactors. Like the men who tended to Du Hkwang, your loving care for others, for the “least of,” means so much to us and those to whom we minister around the world.

We promise to use your gift wisely to support the important work of the Columban missionaries like Sr. Mary Dillon, in Myanmar and beyond. In gratitude for all you do, we will remember you and your intentions in special Masses and prayers throughout the month of May.  Donate to help those in need.