“The Way to Do Is to Be”

text and photos by Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.

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“The Way to Do Is to Be”
  – Upanishad

In a dynamic grassroots commitment to the poor, hundreds of congregations of Christian women serve tens of thousands in imaginative ways throughout the Near East. Camps, boardings, orphanages, clinics, convents, prayer huts, schools, and hospitals serve on the basis of need, not creed. Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) funds many of these programs.

Congregations of sisters, moved by the plight of their own people, have emerged in underdeveloped countries. They are native sisters serving in their lands with a vigor and faith comparable to that of early Christians. Having heard the word of Christ, they put the Word into action. Vocations are not lacking. And contrary to popular opinion, they have entered religious life not to escape their personal poverty, but to share the wealth of their spirit.

Women religious throughout India exemplify this response in faith. In a dominantly Hindu society, Christian women form and live out community among local populations. Most of these women are young. Foresaking a prohibitively expensive dowry system, which can amount to thousands of dollars, they opt for lives of religious service. Not only do they save face through this choice, they also deepen their faith while improving their society. Some also become highly trained professionals who work in Western countries as the sole support of their sisters back home. But their continuing local involvement shows how their ingenuity and commitment evolve into long-term hope and far-reaching solutions.

Two of the many religious congregations in India show their achievements.

The Assisi Santi Bhavan Health Center of Narayanput in central India was formed by a group of women with medical education. Their mission is to combat the high incidence of Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy. Their facility, the only one within some 70 miles, benefits Moslems, Hindus, and Christians with its special programs. Fourteen sisters provide therapy to eradicate the disease, do research and education, and grapple with financial and logistical problems. They fight disease with love and kindness, dispensed from a hospital which contains a pharmacy, laboratory, examination rooms, and twelve beds for in-house patients.

The sisters designed and helped build their compound. The facility includes the hospital, twelve “family huts” for longterm patients and their “tending” relatives, a communal well, as well as a vegetable garden and grazing lands – all securely fenced from wild animals.

The sisters recognize that symptoms mean little to the poor, who are accustomed to suffering. Among most people the fear of having Hansen’s disease and its social stigma make them reluctant to seek medical care. To break down the fear and to educate people to symptoms, four sisters take their healing ministry to 340 villages. A sister-physician and three sister-paramedics go from hut to hut to examine villagers. When necessary they provide medication and training for ongoing care.

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