QUEZON City, May 23, 2014 – Seminarians visit a leprosarium each year to reach out to its residents, who often feel rejected, useless and hopeless, as part of their formation, says an official of a seminary.
“Basically, the seminarians just go there and talk with the lepers,” Fr. Mark Adame G. Bakari, OFM, OLAS Rector said, “developing an empathy with the lepers.”
Throughout the year, third year Philosophy students at Our Lady of the Angels Seminary (OLAS) undergo formation at Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital’s Tala Leprosarium in Caloocan City.
The “ministry of presence” accomplishes two things at a time, Bakari said. First, visiting the sick is an apostolate. Second, the experience that the seminarians undergo at the leprosarium is, in itself, “formation”.
Many people are still sickened by the sight of a leper, he said. Acceptance and love for these people is what the seminary wishes to build among its students.
“We have to be with them, talk with them,” Bakari said. “We have to consider them as our brothers and sisters” to make them feel part of the society.
The seminarians visit the leprosarium once in a week for two semesters, he said. At first, the seminarians displayed reluctance to connect with the lepers. But later on, as they kept coming to the leprosarium, they eventually became at home with their presence.
“They began to develop affection,” Bakari said.
During a mass at the leprosarium, he saw a seminarian putting an arm around a leper’s shoulder. He also saw them swallow food in the presence of lepers, who ate across them.
The seminarians know them by name and vice versa, he added. The seminarians also call them “Tatay” and “Nanay,” an affirmation that a relationship was built.
Leprosy is non-communicable in the first place, the priest stressed.
The lepers are important to the Franciscans, Bakari aded. Francis of Assisi’s own turning point of conversion was when he encountered a leper at a time when people with this disease were banished from society.
“What seemed so bitter has been turned into sweetness,” the priest said quoting the saint as saying after kissing the leper.
Francis repeatedly mentioned the leper in his writings; this encounter, the saint said, was actually an encounter with God, Bakari said.
A bell was attached on the lepers during those days, so that people would be aware of their approach, he explained.
Last school year, 18 seminarians went to the leprosarium throughout the year, talking and eating with about 30 resident lepers, Bakari said.
At farewell time, both the seminarians and the lepers were teary-eyed after a year of close contact, he said.
The rector saw the life that the seminarians desire to pursue was strengthened by the experience. (Oliver Samson)