In the early 1990’s, when I was around 10 years old, I happen to realise that every Thursday, Sisters from St Mary’s Mission, Lobamba, would visit my home area for their outreach satellite clinic. It is so vivid in my mind as I remember these encounters, for I would accompany my mother as she took my two nieces to the clinic for immunization, and sometimes, I needed treatment myself. Of course, the next Friday I was back at school having fully recovered, thanks to the care of those sisters.
Across from my parental homestead, there is the home of a well-known local traditional healer. He was so popular that, at some point, he had to admit some of his patients to stay in his ‘clinic’. He was a very good man and respected by the community. I could see that he was so advanced in thought that, somehow, he had embraced other opinions, including western medicine, to cure people. It was on these
Thursdays, after the sisters had finished doing the immunizations and treatment of other illnesses, that I would see them entering into this massive compound to assist the traditional doctor in his work.
To me at the tender age of 10, I felt scandalised, but I can understand now that these wonderful sisters were only concerned with reaching out to the peripheries – going out and ministering to people, including those in society who were considered to be “witch doctors”, as they still used traditional treatments. These Cabrini Ministries were way ahead of their time, as even back them, they were able to understand that shepherds ought to smell like their sheep.
It resonated with me when I had just finished my priestly formation, that
the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangeli Gaudium”, had been already written in the
hearts of the sisters. The Holy Father gives us a sense that through reading the Gospel, our hearts are filled with joy for we encounter Jesus in it. “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7). Sr. Anna Maria and others, to me, affirmed the assertion that the Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice. It calls us to rejoice when we encounter Christ in those who are oppressed, marginalised, especially in my country, during the time people were seriously affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. They understood way back in 1991, that being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with a Person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.
I cannot but be so grateful of them in my Diocese. During my priestly formation, at holiday time, I would also get an opportunity to go with them to visit the homesteads of the orphaned children. Not only was it a sorry sight to witness their poor homesteads, but to find out that a mere 12-year-old was the head of the house, was unbearable. Making matters worse, the stigma of the HIV virus was so prevalent at the time. The orphans felt divorced from their community, yet people who had encountered the Lord were able to come to be with them. Indeed, the MSCs were willing to move out of their comfort zones and be with the people.
Having spent some three years in Rome for study, I am now back in my Diocese again. I have reflected on the MSC’s modus operandi, & I wish to continue to assist them in their ministry. People who see Christ in others, irrespective of their backgrounds, are people I personally want to form a collaboration with. It is worth it, and ought to be embraced by all. St Frances Xavier Cabrini pray for us!
Thanks to Father Ncamiso Aloysius Vilakati!