01-09-2008 - Traces, n. 8

Rimini Meeting
Being Protagonists

Is Saying “Yes” to
the Mystery

Sickness and loneliness had brought her to despair, then Rose and the Uganda Meeting Point volunteers came along, and with them “the encounter that resurrected my life,” because
“if she can look at me like this, what can God’s face be like?”

by Vicky Aryenyo

I am happy to be here. I bring you love from Uganda, from my family and from the whole family of Meeting Point International. I want to share with you the journey of my life.
I grew up in a village in Eastern Uganda, where I lived alone with my mother. One day, she got sick with cancer, and as she was the only source of income, I had to leave school so as to help her to survive. In Kampala, I found work as a account assistant in a hospital, where I stayed for ten years. Then I got married and had two children. In 1992, during my third pregnancy, I began to have problems with my husband: he wanted me to have an abortion; he said that if I refused, our marriage would be finished. I couldn’t understand, and I decided to have the child anyway. I must say, my husband had told the truth because he left me. In 1996, the baby was showing symptoms of tuberculosis; the doctors explained to me that it develops when the immune system is no longer able to respond. According to them, once my child began to eat again, his immune system would recover. Life went on, only that a few months later I developed herpes, the symptom of another sickness, though at the time no one was prepared to tell me the truth.

Why me?
In 1997, I began to feel very ill and I had to stop work. I lost my job and life became harder. The sickness went on worsening until one day I fell to the ground and woke up in hospital. There, they asked me if I was prepared to have a test for HIV (naturally, I accepted; what else could I do?), and the result was positive. It was a very difficult time, and I asked, “Why me?” I was regularly married and had been faithful to my husband. Then I understood why he had not wanted that pregnancy: he probably knew that I would get ill or that I would give birth to a sick child. When, two weeks later, I was released from the hospital, it was already a miracle, because around me I had seen many dying. I didn’t know that it was to be the beginning of another journey. When I got home, I found that my son was seriously ill.
I asked for him to have the HIV test and, in fact, the test turned out positive. It was then that I suffered most. I asked myself, “Why him?” He had been condemned to death from the womb because of his father’s behavior. I had cared for him since his birth, but his destiny continued to follow him. If my husband had taken ill, maybe I would have been happy, because he was the cause of everything; but he was in perfect health. He had married again and no longer worried about us.
I couldn’t understand God: if I were the only one to be ill, I could have borne it, but not my son. And it seemed God was keeping quiet. Up to 2001, I lived as if on another planet; none of my friends came to visit me any more. What wrong had I done them? We had no money, no one smiled at us, they all hated us as if we had looked for the sickness ourselves.
One day, some people came to my home. They were volunteers of Meeting Point International, who had probably heard there was someone in the village who was dying. They came to tell me what they did and invited me to join them. For me it was nonsense! I had never met them before. It was impossible that they really wanted to help me; they were pretending. They came a few times and I simply refused to listen to them, closed up in a cocoon. In the meantime, my children were no longer going to school; even the third had left, because the teacher was calling him “skeleton” and the whole school was laughing at him. I had no one with whom to share this pain, and when I asked to speak with that teacher, they stopped me from seeing him.
The volunteers spoke to Rose about my situation and one day they brought her to my house. Rose came and sat beside me. I drew away, because I was not giving off a good smell, and moreover pus was running from my nose and mouth. I was alive, but my body seemed to be on the point of rotting. I kept moving away, but Rose kept on coming closer, to the point that I no longer knew where to move. Rose spoke to me, but even that time I closed my heart. One thing was sure: I did not expect any help from her. After they had gone, though, I remembered something Rose had said that had touched my life: “If you don’t want to come to the Meeting Point, at least give me your child, so that he can live.” These words kept echoing in my ears, and one day I decided to go to the Meeting Point.

“You are valuable”
When I arrived, there was music, and they were dancing! I could not understand how sick people could dance and be happy. I told myself: “It’s not possible!” and went home. The volunteers continued to take care of my son, and in the end they were able to “catch” me through him. When they were preparing him for therapy, I understood that perhaps I could trust them and I began to go there.
One day, Rose invited me to her office. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Vicky! You are valuable and this value is greater than the sickness! You can make it; you just need to find hope again.” I stood silent while she went on looking at me. These were her only words, but her eyes spoke much more than her mouth and invited me to believe her, as if she was saying, “There is something above you in which you have to place your hope.” She looked at me with eyes of love, and for me it was like a ray of hope. Meanwhile, with her lips she repeated these words: “You’ll see that the therapy will make your son survive. You have to find hope again, you have to live to see you children grow up.” But I was thinking, “Even if my child is saved, where will I find the money to feed him? How can I survive? What miracle has to happen?” Once I was home, something kept moving in my eyes, like a film. From the beginning of my sickness, I had been closed in on myself, rejected by everyone. Rose’s were the first words anyone had spoken to me since I became sick. I felt something inside me, something that I cannot express. So I began to look at those eyes that were speaking to me. That day, I encountered Rose. I had already met her many times, but I had never had an encounter with her. Even now as I tell you, I am seeing it again as in a film.

On Christ’s shoulder
So, I began to regain hope and to attend the Meeting Point. Rose never repeated those words to me again, but her eyes spoke to me every time she looked at me. When I saw that, with the therapy, my child was regaining life, it was the beginning of the joy of my life and I began to understand that I could live, too, never mind the conditions. Every time I had before me the image of Rose’s face, I would think: if she can look at me like this, what can God’s face be like? In some way, God is looking at me through Rose’s face. She offered me her shoulder–it is Christ who gave me that shoulder to lean on. When no one else was there for me, Christ came to me and gave me hope, real hope. Everything began with an encounter that resurrected my life. When my hopes were resurrected, even my body began to rise and today I am the proof of this reality. I cannot explain how all this happened, but I have a companion, a Friend. Rose has always been there for me and made me understand that Christ is always beside me, in this process of suffering that I cannot even begin to describe.
One year later, I began the therapy, and I am still continuing it along with my child. We have had an encounter–and we still depend on it today–which gave us back our dignity. Everything began with Rose, who answered “yes” to a call. I think of the case of the ten lepers: Rose has helped a lot of people; I am one of those ten and I came back to her, but where are the other nine?

I am the miracle
I couldn’t understand why Rose behaved like that. It’s the only reason I came back. I saw that the Movement is alive, that it’s not just an association, but a person; the Movement has a life and generates life. We can even forget Lazarus, who, after all, was raised up many years ago… If you have never seen a miracle, look at me–I am the miracle! I was dead and I got my life back. That is why I am a “slave” of this Movement, which helped me to understand my destiny and to find hope again, accompanying me along the way. Above all, now I know I have a family, the family of the Movement. I have no mother, no father, no husband, but I have a shoulder to lean on. I am a “slave” of the Movement for the humility that I rediscovered in it. I saw the exhibition entitled “He Seeks Liberty, Which Is so Dear. To Redeem by Keeping Watch.” When I found out there were prisoners there, I said, “I am a prisoner, too. I have also been condemned (the virus is lethal), but I have my freedom.” Everyone can be free; there is only one thing you must do: you have to say “yes” when the call comes. Refusing to say “yes” to the call means to remain a prisoner.
When I got the results of my test, I made a vow never to do to anyone that terrible thing that my husband had done to me. I kept this vow to this day and I will never fail to keep it. I have learned that God is my husband and the father of my children. I have seen Him through Rose and through Fr. Carrón, in the Movement–I have seen God at work in my home. Someone might ask me what has happened to my husband. I am not the Judge; I have forgiven him. From that moment, my freedom has been total. We have learned to say “yes” to the call, to the bitter chalice that we have to drink. We have learned to say “yes” to the cross we have to carry, and Rose has agreed to help us carry it. The Movement is with us and we will not fail in this task. Thank you.

Fr. Carrón, What a joy I had to meet you! What changed my life was the eye of Rose, full of love and hope, so appealing. But then came another moment, another eye, an eye of life and resurrection. I can’t explain the immediate feelings I had when I saw you: I felt the power of resurrection just hit me suddenly, and that’s why I broke down in tears. It was so sudden and so strong that even my knees became weak and I couldn’t control my tears, even though [we were] in public. Your eye of resurrection will built many people whom God will always lead to you. I am just one of the many. This has given me a fresh and renewed commitment to the Movement. This reality is so vivid that I have become a slave of it, that which has become the beginning to my destiny.
Accept my love. Your daughter, Vicky
(from a letter written after the Meeting)

AHARON APPELFELD Writer and Holocaust survivor
“The past, even the most dreadful past, can not easily be separated
from you… A person without a past, as dreadful and shameful as that
past may be, is handicapped. Without connection, without connection
with parents and grandparents, without the values handed
down by his ancestors, man is a living body but without a soul.”

jean-louis tauran President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
“We do not believe in a destiny of history, in fate. No. We believe that man is not fundamentally bad. We trust in man because we know that God has endowed
him with an intelligence and a heart, and with His help man is able to be the protagonist of a better world. Therefore, I feel we should be united, so as to tell everyone that above all else humanity is a family in which God loves all equally.”

john milbank Professor of Religion, Politics and Ethics, University of Nottingham, U.K.
“I think that a lot of people think that religion is crazy. And again, as the Pope has argued, we have to show that unless reason participates in divine reason, it doesn’t really exist. All that exists is the irrationality of material forces. So we need to have faith in the infinity of reason to defend reason, and therefore to defend the European
project. Outside faith, there is only nihilism and therefore the abandonment of reason.”

javier PRADES Professor of Theology, San Damaso Theological Faculty, Madrid
“We have to relearn what the Christians of the first generations experienced.
In ourselves, the reason for our hope has to be always present.
We have to be people who live our faith and know it inwardly.
So faith is reasonable. Our responsibility, given how I feel about life,
is to bear witness. There is no external limitation that can defeat this force.”

SALIH OSMAN Sudanese lawyer, 2007 Sacharov Prize-Winner
“I have spent a week here in Rimini. I’ve seen thousands of you every day,
and I’ve seen how people were struggling to get in and listen to the speakers.
I now know that the values that I fight for (human rights, rule of law, justice,
human dignity) are also in your religious beliefs. Let’s work together.
I’ll be always at your disposal. I would love to come again and again to Rimini.”