Blessed Sacrament Church parishioners visit a home for lepers to commemorate the canonisation of Blessed Damien of Molokai. Photo by Alvin Yeo

SINGAPORE – Although Grace Anne Marie, 40s, works in the social services – teaching and interacting with autistic children on almost a daily basis – having to interact with lepers on Jul 25 at Singapore Leprosy Relief Association (SILRA) Home would be a first and new experience for her.

Confessing to be initially fearful, Ms Marie said the information provided by the doctors that the residents have been treated and healed of their leprosy and thus no longer infectious helped to allay her fears.

“I think that although we want to assist, we’re afraid to do so. Maybe it’s because we’re not educated enough about the needs of the people and what they have,” Ms Marie said.

As the visit that Saturday morning approached, Ms Marie began to feel excited and looked forward to it. Ms Marie, from the St. Vincent de Paul society, is one of the 32 members from eight different ministries in Blessed Sacrament Church to visit SILRA Home along with assistant parish priest Father Gerardus Suyono.

The visit is part of the parish outreach efforts in commemoration of Father Damien of Molokai’s canonisation on Oct 11. Father Damien spent 15 years of his priestly ministry working with and administering to lepers, eventually contracting the disease and died.

Ms Marie said, “The organising committee and I felt that this was in respect to what Father Damien would have wanted. A small thing we could give back in honour of his canonisation was actually to visit the people he so much loved.”

The day’s events consisted of mostly English and Chinese classic songs performed by the parish Faith Music Centre for the mostly elderly Chinese residents. One of the home’s residents – Uncle Lim also contributed to the day’s entertainment by playing the harmonica with accompaniment from the music ministry.

Barring their physical afflictions, the residents also engaged in a simple game of passing the parcel with their guests. The guests also mingled with the residents during lunch and distributed goodie bags to the residents before leaving.

Ms Marie described the mood amongst the residents as cheerful. “The residents were very involved in the game even though they had trouble with their limbs and moving them,” she said.

Bernard Poon, 61, keyboardist from the Faith Music Centre said that the residents “responded gleefully to the songs they knew” by “tapping their palms against their chest” as a form of applause. He looks forward to the next opportunity to play and sing with the residents.

“The visit and concert performance at SILRA Home was a real eye-opener for me. Despite their situation, the residents are warm and cheerful with a positive sense of self-dignity,” Mr Poon said.

Uncle Lim had also left a deep impression on Christabelle Ilankovan, 14. She said that even though Uncle Lim had partially lost his limbs and an eye, he could still play the harmonica and live life to the fullest.

Indeed Christbelle’s initial impression of SILRA Home was of shock and sadness at the sight of the residents who have lost their use of their limbs and their inability to walk. But the initial impression became an “interesting” and “meaningful” experience for Christabelle. “We made some people happy,” she said.

Meanwhile Ms Marie feels touched by talking to one of the residents who, although is a self-professed atheist, invited Ms Marie together with the others and a priest to return to SILRA Home to share and bring the good news to the residents through sharing love and music with the residents.

“I felt very at ease with the residents,” Ms Marie said of her experience, “the residents are very loving, very open, and very simple with a lot to give.” n

By Darren Boon
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