AIDS Angels

Columban Sr Mary Dillon tells us about her work with HIV/AIDS patients at the Hope Centre in Burma (now Myanmar) and relates her work to the gospel story of Lazarus:

Last year in Myitkyina, Burma I met a Lazarus, a young man with AIDS, thrown out of the family home, abandoned by all and living in a small hut nearby. No one spoke to him. No one visited him. His brother would push in a plate of food to him once a day without saying a word.

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). He spoke of a poor man lying at the gate of a rich man’s house, covered with sores which the dogs licked.

I found out that his name was Du Hkawng (below). He was a small man in his early 30s, 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 his immune system broke down. Unable to walk or sit up, he lay day after day under a piece of tarpaulin, unwashed, incontinent, stinking. It was in this miserable state that I found him, this poor modern-day Lazarus.

I tried talking to his Catholic family but to no avail. His elderly mother, his uncle, a brother and sister-in-law wanted nothing to do with him. Fear of AIDS was deeply rooted in them and they dreaded 'catching' it. Their son, their brother, was a non-person in the family and nothing would move them on this.
We have nearly 70 people, young and old, with HIV/AIDS at the Hope Centre, the home we built two years ago. I would have brought him there, but he was too weak. So, with Lucy, the wonderful woman who works with me, we washed and clothed him and gave him a nourishing drink. His emaciated body was a dreadful sight and all we could do was to make him comfortable; this man, who, like Christ himself, was forsaken by all.

On returning to the Hope Centre, I spoke of 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; they had suffered the stigma of having AIDS. But now, thanks to good medication and good care they were up and walking.

Later that evening, some of the men came to me and said, "Sister, if you can get us there, we will visit Du Hkawng and look after him." From then on, two of them went each day to Du Hkawng and washed and fed him with soft foods. They talked and sang to him.

On the days that I could not go with the men, they went alone to look after their brother. I was deeply moved by their love and by their kindness. Out of their own poverty they gave all they had, ministering to this 'least of the brethren'.

Du Hkawng died alone shortly after in his hut. He had never talked even once in the weeks we knew him. I feel sure that, like Lazarus, 'he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom' (Lk 16:22).

I believe that in those last weeks, he met angels in the persons of the men who nursed him and knew him to be a brother.

In my heart I called them our 'AIDS Angels' and thanked God for the blessing that they were, not only to poor abandoned Du Hkawng, but to all of us.

Columban Sr Mary Dillon has worked in Myanmar (Burma) since 2002. She has developed a home care health program for people with HIV/AIDS and established a respite house (Hope Centre), to enable people from distant places to avail medical care.

(Duration: 5.17mins, MP3, 2.41MB)

Read more from The Far East, March 2013