This is a personal testimonial of one of our Courage brothers who visited the patients living with HIV/AIDS at San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.
On June 13, 2015, on the Memorial Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Feast of St. Anthony of Padua, Courage did one of two outreach activities planned for this year. We visited the ward for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) of San Lazaro Hospital to provide spiritual care for our brethren.
We all gathered at the Bambang LRT station at 8:30 a.m. and proceeded to San Lazaro together from there. We were met by our chaplain, Fr. E who in turn was received by the San Lazaro Chaplain, Fr. H.
We first visited the beautiful chapel inside the hospital grounds. This institution is dedicated to Lazarus, he whom Jesus loved and brought back from the dead. We knew in our hearts that this day will move us substantially and so we offered what was going to happen next to God.
We then gathered at an office by the chapel where our Courage brother L, who works there as counsellor, briefed us on what will happen. We were instructed on how to properly relate with them that will not put them in greater harm, physically and emotionally.
We then went to the ward, which is about a 5 minute walk from the chapel. At the ward, we stayed in a small room while they invited and gathered the patients to the ward lobby. When everyone was set, we sat on a big circle and prayed the rosary together. This was a most meaningful prayer of solidarity where we connected with our PLHA brethren in seeking the help of Jesus the Healer through His most tender and loving Mother. It was solemn, serene, and comforting --- as if the Lady herself was coming to each one of us and taking us all in under her maternal care.
After the rosary, Fr. E proceeded with giving the sacrament of the anointing of the sick to each of the patients who wished to receive it. I was among who followed Fr. E in the anointing and I was witness to how once the priest puts on the chrism on the patient’s forehead, a spiritual change happens. It is as if a heavy burden is taken off from them; their eyes move behind their closed lids and they take in a deep breath of air. Their faces then transform with a certain glow of peace. After the anointing, we gave each one a rosary scapular.
This is a common ward and so not all are Catholics. L warned us that based on his experience, not all patients will welcome receiving the sacraments. Some are even extremely skeptical while others will be too weak. But he observed that on this day, there was an unusually high number of patients who agreed to receive the sacrament and that the patients were very docile. There were a total of 22 patients that day and about 60-70% received the sacrament.
I believe that this is the work of the Blessed Mother. She opened the patients’ hearts to receive her Son, their one true Healer and Savior. And not just them, but our hearts too -- Fr. E’s and Courage members’. Fr. E was at his most pastoral when he joyfully administered the sacraments without fear or hesitation. He embodied what it is to be courageous for the Lord. To see the patients at their condition---so weak, so frail, so fragile, you would be very afraid to approach them for fear of hurting them. But Fr. E did otherwise. He knew Jesus would not be afraid to approach and touch them. And maybe the Blessed Mother made him see too the weak, frail, fragile suffering Christ on the way to the cross on the faces of the patients? Remember, the Blessed Mother saw the suffering Christ on His way to Calvary with her own eyes too and comforted Him despite her sorrow and pain.
We were all for sure changed by this. The post activity debrief said it all: loss of words, overwhelmed, shocked, in tears…deep feelings that linger. Inspired by the Immaculate Heart of Mary, this pierced our hearts and out came love for our PLHA brethren and for God, that moves us to serve them and to obey God’s will.
Joseph Anthony of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
"I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me." - Matthew 25:36