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Romania – March 2006

For much of my life, Eastern Europe had been spoken of in muted tones – it was not a place to visit. Now I was on my way there. As we flew cast over Belgium, Germany and towards Romania, I was remembering some of the posters I had seen at Heathrow:

‘There is always more than one way of looking at the world’
‘An open mind is the best way to look at the world’

There is an excitement about the first visit to any new place and this was no exception. I noted the coming together of the old socialist way of life and the new western materialism; the juxtaposition of new poverty and old security; the obvious Orthodox way of life holding its place in an emerging cultural change. An open mind was certainly an advantage!

In the days that followed, familiar names and places became a reality. Budimex (Marie Curie) Children’s Hospital is a huge structure in the centre of the city and is always fully occupied. It was possible to pick out the children who still belonged to families – the mother or grandmother was main carer and staying with the child for the duration of treatment.

I met dedicated staff:

– Doctors Ionut Secheli and Marian Secheli – brothers who could earn far more if they treated adults but who have dedicated their lives and skills to the children.
– The Director who does his best to bring about better practice.
– Staff who give up some free time to provide support for the children.

These are some of the people who are effecting change. The elderly are always vulnerable in a changing economic environment. They are often the first to lose out – too old to work, watching pensions erode, without any resources to serve as backup. Women who have been widowed are especially vulnerable. But those I visited had a sparkle in the eye, a gracious smile, a joy that came from within. Rosemary and Katharina were a delight to visit and welcomed us into their homes. I was reminded of another poster at Heathrow:

‘Everyone looks at the world from a different point of view’

These elderly people certainly showed how it is possible to look beyond poverty and need to take each day as a gift and to add colour to what could seem a drab existence.

Romanian Children

Romanian Children

I was deeply moved when we visited the orphanage 30 km outside the city. The children and young people had not fully developed mentally and many were disturbed. They seemed like an abandoned group living out of sight and out of mind. But they were blessed with a dedicated Director, Mr. Adrian Cozma, who accepted whatever assistance was offered and who welcomed our visit. The children were excited, affectionate and keen to show off their play and school areas. They wanted to hug and be hugged, they wanted human contact. There was sadness for me in being with them – wondering what the future holds for each of them as they reach 18 and need to move on. To where, I wonder? And will they fall victims to exploitation?

In the midst of all the suffering I saw the splendour of the Orthodox Churches, the museum that told the story of the Romanian culture, stood in Revolution Square while hearing how lives were lost in the quest for freedom, and visited the parish priest who prays every Tuesday for the Sisters of Mercy.

 

Sister Philomena Bowers

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