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Hope Center Reflections

Columban Seminarians Share Their Experiences

By Columban Seminarians

I Am Still Lucky

I have just completed three months of pastoral work. Every Saturday I went to the Hope Center in Myitkyina. It is where HIV/AIDS patients are cared for, and I met patients from different backgrounds, ethnicity and ages. Most of the patients in the center are males. I learned a lot from them, but I also encountered many difficulties.

On my first day, I was very nervous. I did not dare to shake hands with the patients I met. I just smiled at them and said hello from afar. But I noticed they were also afraid to speak with me. I did not try to meet and talk with them. I just cleaned their rooms, sweeping inside and outside the house. I was really afraid of getting infected if I touched them.

Another struggle I had was lunch time. I could not eat the food with them. I felt like vomiting when I tried to eat because I knew that the cooks were patients, too. My first day was full of anxiety, fear and difficulties. I discovered that I had all these difficulties but that I could use them to mature in my spiritual life and vocation.

Saturday after Saturday, I started to talk with them. I started to spend more time with the patients instead of just cleaning the rooms and sweeping I slowly approached them and got to know them more. I listened to their feelings. I had many opportunities to talk with the patients individually. I learned that most of the male patients got infected by sharing needles when they injected drugs. They lived their lives without care until they got sick. Some of the female patients got infected through their husbands and the children through their parents.

One of the patients that I got to know more was a former religious brother. He was a quiet man. He did not talk much with others. On one Saturday, he was talking to a Sister so I went to join the conversation. He told us that he is from Myitkyina. He was also a former seminarian and a master student at the University of Myitkyina. He later lived with the St. Francis Xavier community for three years and decided to leave because he got sick.

I wanted to know how he got the infection but I hesitated to ask him. Before my pastoral work ended with the center, I decided to ask him. He shared with me that when he was in the seminary for pastoral work they had to clean a field used by many drug users. While cleaning, he got stuck by a needle. It was little, he thought. After a few years when he joined the St. Francis Xavier community, he became sicker and sicker. He went to have a medical check-up and found out that he was HIV/AIDS positive. That's the reason he decided to leave the community.

I felt sad and pitied him. I asked myself why God allowed this to happen to him – he does not smoke or even use drugs. God is unfair. I blamed God in my mind. However, he told me that he still felt "lucky." I did not understand why he could still say he is lucky.

During that time, the Typhoon Nargis destroyed the village where he used to live. Soon after he left the village, Nargis flooded everything and killed many people in his village. If he stayed in the community, he could have died in the typhoon. I admired his attitude towards life and his faith. I respect him very much. I learned from him that everything happens for a reason, good or bad. I hope I have shown love, kindness and care to the patients the whole time I was at the center. I hope I left something in their minds and hearts by encouraging them, being with them and listening to their stories. I am happy and proud of what I have done those three months of pastoral work at the Hope Center.

– Columban Seminarian Dominic Lum Zaung

God is Present Here

Every Saturday I went to Hope Center for pastoral work experience. The center looks after people who are suffering from HIV/AIDS. They are of different races and from different places. You will find men and women but also children staying in the center to get treatment. Many were drug users who shared needles. The children were infected through their parents. Sometimes an entire family is infected.

The first time I met the patients I was very afraid. It was difficult for me to approach them and talk with them. Some of the staff of the center are also HIV/AIDS positive who have recovered and regained their strength.

I have come to realize that service is one way of finding meaning in life. Through ministry I discovered a life of meaning serving patients. I came to learn about the reality of suffering and pain every time I went to visit them. Most of their family and friends do not want to help or serve them. It must be very difficult for them. Learning about this gave me more reasons to keep coming and helping them with their needs. Helping out in the center has deepened my understanding of my vocation.

I also learned that love is an important element in pastoral work. When you love someone, you are willing to sacrifice yourself for a loved one. Similarly if I look at the patients with love and compassion, I become more willing to serve them. Unless I had love for them, there are no reasons for me to be there. I learned from this experience that love is very important. My experience taught me not to hesitate to love and to help others, especially those who are suffering. They need love in their lives.

Finally, I learned from them that we should not discriminate people based on religion. In the center, the religion of a person does not matter. They live and work together – Buddhists, Christians and Muslims. When I saw that situation, I realized that even though there are many different teachings and beliefs, we can work together. As Christians, we can build good relationships with others through a dialogue of life. We should respect and value each other's religion.

God is present here. I encountered God at Hope Center.

– Columban Seminarian Paul

By the Grace of God

I volunteered at the Hope Center for my pastoral work experience. It is a medical center to treat HIV/ AIDS patients. On my first day, I saw many patients lying in their beds or sitting on benches around the center. I had many beautiful encounters with them. I would like to share one of them about a twelve-year-old boy who had been in Hope Center for just three months. He was from Kaw Lin, Mandalay Division. His name was Hpyu-Hpyu. He had lost his parents and was living with his three brothers. He told me, "my parents died when I was seven years." He was infected with HIV through his parents and had no opportunity to attend school. When I saw him, he looked very thin and malnourished. His eyes were hopeless and dying. He could not move, and we took him to the hospital. His older brother looked after and took care of him.

One month, I saw Hpyu-Hpyu sitting on the bed beside his brother. I looked at him. I looked at him again. It was very hard to believe that it was him because he had become fat and strong. He was able to talk with others and to move his body well. I tried talking with his brother for a few minutes to know what good things happened to Hpyu-Hpyu. The brother told me that everything was by the grace of God. When I heard this, I was profoundly touched and inspired to share this story with others.

This entire experience of volunteering at the center taught me how to be with people. I learned to find my way communicating with people – thinking and pausing when asking questions. It is very important to be sensitive to the people and patients we deal with at the center. I also learned to have confidence in myself to approach and talk with people. Most of all I learned to be patient and kind, to care for and help those in need.

There were big challenges and difficulties. One challenge I found was that I was initially afraid to approach and talk with the patients. I was very afraid that I might get infected. I did not know much about how to deal with patients to begin with. Despite these challenges, I overcame them by the grace of God. God called me His follower – to be able to serve those who are in need and used me to create joy and peace for others as much as they had brought joy and peace to me.

– Columban Seminarian John