Sister Elizabeth Harare, Zimbabwe
|CC Images courtesy of Sokwanele-Zimbabwe on Flickr|
They Call Them Rubbish!
In a place out of Dante’s Inferno, you will find Laura.
Laura has AIDS, as do her mother and father. Together, with two malnourished children, they live in a box made from refuse.
The box sits by an open sewer, which runs through a wending warren of trash-slushed alleys. There are other boxes – innumerable boxes – boxes to the sun-baked horizon – all filled with people.
Some have AIDS, some have tuberculosis, most have dysentery. They are on the outskirts of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. And they are known as rubbish.
That’s the name for them, coined by the sloganeers. Men, women and children, countless tens of thousands, poor, living in squalor, sick to the point of death – they are rubbish. The bulldozer is taken after them, and the policeman’s baton, and the butt of a rifle.
The English philosopher Edmund Burke never set foot in Harare, in the sea of misery blanketing its hills. But he spoke to it as if knowing it intimately, as if it were before his eyes. He said of evil, that evil that calls men, women and children rubbish simply because they are poor, simply because they are sick – he said that the only thing necessary for such evil to triumph was for good men (and women) to do nothing!
Our Sisters refuse to do nothing!
But what can our do, and the Sisters who work with her, as they look out upon the expanse of boxes, as they set foot down the alleyways, as they cover their faces with handkerchiefs walking along the sewers?
Ask Laura what Sister Elizabeth can do.
Sister Elizabeth visits Laura’s box when no one else will. She brings nurses, food and medicine. She sits by the cots of Laura’s parents, holding their hands. She manages to bring laughter and conversation about small things. The two children – she finds a nursery to care for them during the day, and provide them meals.
She brings Christ!
Sister Elizabeth, and her Sisters alongside her, are the voices in the wilderness, the light in the darkness, the hands of Christ in a place turned upside down. They follow St. Julie’s command to have hearts as wide as the world. In so doing, they serve as a counterbalance to evil.
They do not allow Laura and her family to be abandoned. They are with them for whatever the future holds.
Sometimes our Sisters' work are in the realms of what is clearly understandable: tutoring, job-training, chaplaincy. And sometimes they are in realms not understandable. I do not understand people referred to as rubbish simply because they are poor, or simply because they are sick. I choose to stand with Sister Elizabeth, and with Laura. Please, please stand with them, also, that evil does not triumph.