MINISTRY to the sick and dying with AIDS is a common aspect of parish life in the Zambian capital of Lusaka.
Fr Eugene O’Reilly, a member of St Patrick’s Missionary Society from Ireland, spoke about his work during a holiday on the Gold Coast recently.
Fr O’Reilly is involved in the training and formation of parishioners who volunteer to care for AIDS sufferers in their homes.
In a country where 25 per cent of the population is HIV-positive, ministering to the sick and dying in their homes is a major pastoral challenge for the Church.
Fr O’Reilly said the community home-based care programs were based in parishes, around small Christian communities at a neighbourhood level.
‘Each community is asked to offer members who would take on this ministry,’ he said.
They would give three to four hours a week voluntarily.
Even without the AIDS crisis, life is a challenge, with 70 to 75 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, having an income of less than $1 a day.
‘It’s typical of most Third World countries – we’re working with people who are struggling to survive,’ Fr O’Reilly said.
He said many children were orphaned because of the AIDS pandemic. Zambia has more than 750,000 orphans out of a population of 10 million.
‘It’s a huge challenge for the Church as well as for the rest of the country.’
The AIDS crisis takes a heavy toll economically as well, because most of the victims are aged 18-40 years, affecting a large section of the workforce.
Fr O’Reilly said ministering to sufferers was constantly challenging because the carers were working with people who were dying.
Few patients recover because their poverty prevents them from acquiring the drugs necessary to help them.
‘It’s (a matter of) helping people die with greater comfort and greater dignity,’ Fr O’Reilly said.
Personally, he said he felt privileged to be able to provide some support and comfort.
‘To be part of a program making a significant contribution, while it’s painful to be part of, it is a privilege to be able to make a contribution.
‘You’re at the cutting edge of what pastoral ministry is about.
‘It’s what the Church should be about.’
It was also inspirational for him to witness the courage of the people in their suffering – ‘to have hope and spirit of life’.
Fr O’Reilly’s message for Australians was to be appreciative of what we have and not to take for granted the benefits of our nation.
He encouraged Australians to remain conscious of the suffering being experienced by people on the African continent and elsewhere in the world.
‘You can be with people in prayer – hold them in prayer – and remember them,’ he said.
Fr O’Reilly urged Australians to continue to support aid programs targeting such suffering.
He is returning to Ireland for a few months before heading back to Zambia in August.