The Cross and Passion Sisters: Walking with the Crucified
In his invitation to write this article, Paschal suggested I might like to talk about how The Cross and Passion Sisters live true to the Charism of Elizabeth Prout and continue to walk with the crucified of today’s world. This invitation has given me the opportunity to put on record an experience the Sisters in Botswana had which was truly Passionist and life changing.
In 1952, with our Passionist Brothers, the Sisters answered the call to go to Botswana, or Bechuanaland as it was known then. The simple lifestyle of the Botswana people and the importance they attributed to community and everyone’s place in that community would have appealed to the hearts of Elizabeth Prout and Paul of the Cross – as it did to their Passionist followers. For the 30 years which followed, the Church in Botswana was Passionist. With hard work and living close to the lives of the people, we saw our schools, clinics and parishes flourish. Other Congregations joined us and they, too, flourished. The Government’s wise use of wealth, from the recently discovered diamonds, saw developments in many areas.
Then, sometime in the 1980’s, we heard of this thing called AIDS! By the 1990’s it was reported that Botswana had the highest incidence of this disease in the world. These were dark days. A positive diagnosis was a death sentence. The whole nation was shaken; every family was smitten in some way. What could we Sisters do? We took the decision to leave our institutions and work with and alongside the community.
The Government moved quickly. Hospitals could not cope; care for the most part had to be ‘home-based’. We all had to do whatever we could. A second major source of infection was in the home. Through living in close proximity and sharing the things needed for daily living with people who had open sores, carers, many of them older people or children, were putting their own lives at risk. Teaching these carers basic medical skills and how to protect themselves was a priority. Government ensured that local clinics were equipped with ‘home-based care’ requirements and social workers in villages mobilised teams of ‘home-based volunteers’. Here, the Sisters were able to help. We were there, day or night, with a truck or a car, to assist with this or that need.
Just as important were the hours spent in clinic waiting rooms or sitting with families grieving the loss of someone they loved. On Saturday mornings there were the funerals; as many as five taking place at the same time in the one cemetery. Very often these funerals were of students we had taught, colleagues or friends. Needless to say, our Botswana Sisters felt this suffering and grief most keenly.
In the mid-1990’s news broke; there was ‘treatment’ available and the government would provide it for free. Despite all those who might die in the short term, this was hopeful news. However, treatment was anything but simple. Drug cocktails were individual to each person, had to be taken faithfully at various hours of the day and night and ‘adherence’ was closely monitored. Every clinic in the country was computerised so that wherever a patient went their medical details were available. This might breach GDPR rules today, but it saved the lives of so many.
New priorities were emerging: Getting people to their numerous appointments, registering orphans so they and their carers could get the monthly food rations and other benefits are just some of the ways we could help. Aid was coming from many sources. Missions, Churches, NGO’s, the International Community all responded. Harvard had a research centre, Rotary built a special Day Centre for Orphans which they entrusted to one of our Sisters to run, the Baylor had a Centre of Clinical Excellence for Children with AIDS – to mention but a few. Children with AIDS, for the most part, were born with the virus having had it transmitted from their mother. Twenty years on, modern medicine has managed, to a large extent, to control the various ways in which the virus is transmitted and found more manageable forms of treatment.
Living through those years, those Passionist priests, brothers and sisters shared their daily stories with each other. For me, and I think for all of us, this was, and still is, a defining moment in our lives.
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