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We Can Just Hope That Life Will Change For Many

June 10th, 2009

We are in 2008 and before arriving in Bucharest I had wondered what changes I would see since my last visit 2½ years ago.  Certainly the journey from the airport showed signs of improvement:

Sister Philomena Bowers & The Lawside Romania Project

Sister Philomena Bowers & The Lawside Romania Project

Just 19 years ago there was a Revolution in Romania – against dictatorship and for freedom. Between three and five thousand lives were lost in the revolution, most of them young students in search of democracy. I was in Romania just two weeks before the 2008 Parliamentary elections and saw the campaign efforts. Different political parties had set up their booths by the Metro station, there were banners on lampposts, posters, vans (equipped with megaphones) touring the streets. Even free pens! No doubt the candidates were promising many changes if elected. What a sadness to hear that maybe 40% of those eligible to vote will do so.

 

     –     the building of a flyover and underpass is well advanced to cope with Bucharest’s ever increasing number of cars (1 million cars on roads designed for 200,000);

          new office blocks and hotels;

          signs of industrial estates.

 

In the city the same familiar rush of cars, the same casual parking on the pavements (someone said ‘In Bucharest the pavements are built for cars!’), some new shops stocked with a great variety of foods. And, unfortunately, evidence of poverty in the number of people on the street or struggling to make a living. But always we need to look for the signs of hope. 

 

In the children’s hospital there are many such signs. Newly painted wards and corridors, up-to-date hygienic facilities in the operating theatres, good incubators in the neo-natal wards. None of this would matter without the team of dedicated Doctors, Nurses and Carers. Those like Doctors Ionut and Marian Secheli who have devoted their lives to the care of sick children and seem to do the impossible at times.

 

And none of this would matter without the dedication of Sister Mary Aloysius who looks out for all the children but especially for those who have been abandoned at birth. And now she has a band of volunteers from the parish who come on a regular basis to lift the abandoned children and try to ensure they have enough comfort to start them on their road of intellectual and social development.

 

I met some of these volunteers – gathered by Rita, the parish coordinator, a woman with a heart for those in need. Some mothers volunteered and told their daughters who now are volunteers. And now sons have heard from their mothers and they too have volunteered. And friends have joined. So the work of Sisters of Mercy ripples on and who knows how many lives will be changed for the better?

 

With Rita and Traian Despa I went to visit some of the elderly in the parish.

 

     a grandmother and her 18 year old grandson living in one room and with a pension of £35.00 a month;

     a son who is caring for his mother, paralysed following a stroke 30 years ago. (I asked him how he had learnt English and he said “From listening to the Beatles’ songs!”);

     and what a joy to see Rosemary again still in a tumble-down house, yet still with a great spark for life and tending her flowers.  (She presented me with a bunch of chrysanthemums – a gift of great value).

 

Traian Despa drove me to the Orphanage at Tancabesti.

Tancabesti Orphanage - The New Playroom 01

 

 On my last visit, I was impressed by the Director who was responsible for about eighty orphans aged 3 to 18, all with mental disabilities and brain impairment. That Director has moved on to another post and his wife is now Director – a small, energetic woman who seemed unfazed by the task of caring for this number of young people, all now aged 11 to 18 years. Many of the young people tower over her (as they did me!) but she knew them all and in the classrooms there were small groups with their teachers, attempting to do whatever was within their ability.

 

Tancabesti Orphanage - The New Playroom 02

 

The rooms were bright and colourful, well furnished and with reasonable resources. There are plans to set up specialist rooms and we saw the room for computers, for biology, for nature study. Many of the young people are mobile. Many love to take a hand or put an arm around visitors. One boy was intrigued by my white hair, not a common sight in Romania. He kept rubbing my head, not sure if the hair was genuine, perhaps? And what excitement when the camera is produced!

 

 

Tancabesti Orphanage - The New Lavatory

 

 I came away with great faith that this Director and her Staff will make a real difference to the lives of many of these young people, and of the other twenty who join the orphanage on 1st December 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And there were other memorable moments:

 

     visiting “Nazareth” again and meeting Mr. & Mrs. Bucura who, with their three sons, provide a stable, loving home for five orphan boys. The boys entertained us with songs and poetry (even one in English about a donkey!);

     being invited to lunch in the Parish house with five priests of the parish – Fathers Nicu, Augustin, Riba, Marius and Petricā;

     meeting a group of young students, each with a traumatic start to life, who have stayed in education, been helped to find apartments and been supported by the Lawside Project.  They were proud to tell me of their achievements, to express their dreams and even to offer a political view of their country!

     meeting Sister Rose Carmel (Sisters of Mercy, Leeds) and hearing of her ministry in another sector of the city;

     visiting the oncology ward and meeting children and mothers;

     visiting the Orthodox Patriarchy and Cathedral;

     touring the magnificent Parliament Building.

 

Our last task, on the way to the airport was to take a bag of food to Bonita, a grandmother who supports herself, her son, her daughter-in-law, her five grandchildren. As I waited with her a young man coming from the Kiosk had bought her a bag of goodies. The security guards kept an eye on her many bags while she went into the hospital to warm up before starting her journey home by bus and train. She was a very small lady, her face wizened by age and bad weather, looking to me in need of care. And I couldn’t help thinking “She should not have to do this”. I can just hope that life will change for her.

 

With Traian Despa translating, I told the story of Catherine McAuley a number of times, recognizing that the story of some of the young people was not unlike her own, aware that volunteers and helpers are responding in Mercy to those less fortunate.  I realised that here in Bucharest we could say of the Mercy Mission:

 

“It commenced with two…” – Sisters Mary Aloysius and Marie Therese. And from that beginning, a network of awareness, support and activity has been created that has transformed lives, the working practice at the hospital and the attitude of many to those who are vulnerable in our world. 

 

Sister Philomena Bowers

Congregational Leader

Mercy Union Generalate

 

 

 

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