God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensée of a Catholic priest

23.08.2009 The last birthday…

The last birthday
Little Fareed’s death – a common outrage in Africa

Fareed is emaciated and he breathes heavily. For a ten-year-old boy he weighs too little and his eyes seem far too big for his face. And yet, Fareed is one of the luckier children. He has been admitted into a hospital, the Ithemba ward at Tygerberg Hospital. Fareed’s sister has sat by his bedside for days. She holds his hand, helps to change the bedding, comforts him. When I meet Fareed for the first time, volunteers have just made up his complexion with base. His big, sunken eyes look at me with quiet determination. Fareed has a yearning desire: he wants to have a birthday party. He was there when a little girl in the next room had a birthday party, organised by colleagues from HOPE Cape Town. It had a cake with candles and presents and all the trimmings. He would like that too. But there is one problem: Fareed will not live to see his next birthday. He has only days to live.
We decide to grant him his last wish anyway. We bake cakes, buy gifts, and decorate the room. And two days later we celebrate his “eleventh birthday”. Fareed cannot get up, so all the children are gathered around his bed, the birthday cake with burning candles on the sidetable. We help him to unwrap his presents – he is too weak to do even that. Our chorus of “Happy Birthday” sounds more like a swansong. I struggle to hold back my tears, as does everybody else. It is a cheerful horror party which I won’t forget as long as I live. But little Fareed is happy. A smile frequent smile floods across his face; he doesn’t have enough strength to animate his joy. A week later Fareed dies. These beautiful memories are distorted by a rage that this child had to die because at the time the medications which might have relieved his suffering and extend his life were unaffordable. It was an unnecessary, senseless death. And yet it is this particular death which revitalises me in times of despair, when I’m about to give up, when the sheer enormity of the suffering I see threatens to crush me. Fareed, a fleeting acquaintance in my life, has seared himself into my heart with a scorching intensity. When doubts start to take over, I think about him and remind myself why I am involved: on behalf of Fareed and all the children and adolescents I have watched suffering and dying from Aids, some in calm serenity, others crying in pain. Every such child, every such adolescent, represents the dying cries of the crucified Jesus in our times.

Excerpt from the German book: “Gott, Aids, Afrika” – B.Grill/S.Hippler – Kiepenheuer & Witsch Verlag (gebunden/ hard cover 2007 ), Bastei Luebbe (Taschenbuch/ Paperback 2009)

Filed under: General, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Reflection, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

HIV, AIDS and HOPE – thoughts of a Catholic priest

Being a Roman - Catholic priest and working in the fields of HIV and AIDS in Africa is often a challenge. Living in Africa has also its challenges. On the other hand I feel very much blessed having all the three. So you will find stories and reflections about my work, about the church, South Africa and Africa and essential information and developments in the field of HIV and AIDS. And in between personal stories and thoughts. You are most welcome to leave a comment or to get in touch with me - blogs - "thinking loud" so to speak is a ways of communication and exchange of ideas.

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