Stephen Chen

Every 1 December is World Aids Day, the day we remember all those who have died of AIDS, or still suffering from the disease and the discrimination and social stigma associated with it.

The Catholic AIDS Response Effort (CARE), a member of Caritas Singapore, was set up in 1991. It runs a shelter for people with AIDS who are homeless and rejected by the community, as well as a non-residential programme for female sufferers and their children.

Breaking barriers of fear

I was first introduced to CARE in 2014. A full-time staff with CARE invited our Legionaries of Mary to volunteer at the shelter to give much-needed spiritual support for the residents, most of whom were Chinese or dialect-speaking. Her words stirred my heart. As Legionaries, called to be “brave soldiers of Jesus and Mother Mary”, if we were afraid of ministering to the marginalised and the poorest of the poor, then we would not be living up to our identity!

My first contact with people living with HIV/AIDS was on Easter Sunday 2014. This first attempt saw many fears and psychological barriers to be overcome. Many members changed their minds after registering because their family members were afraid they would contract the virus.

But we were not deterred. The Easter celebration went ahead with dishes contributed by the respective Curia and shared by everyone – guests and residents alike. We began with playing ice-breaker games, then saying grace before the meal followed by the singing of old hymns and songs as we ate with the residents. Their warm reception put us at ease, and encouraged and assured us – it was such an eye-opening experience. Praise the Lord! His grace helped us to overcome our inner fears.

Building bridges of hope

We decided to continue serving CARE. Despite the shelter’s subsequent relocation we did not stop praying for residents who were unwell or hospitalised; we also attended the wake of a resident whose funeral rites were held at the shelter. Our faith-sharing and befriending continued at CARE’s new premises.

During our visits on the last Sunday of each month over the past five years, we spend about an hour taking turns to share our faith journey with the residents using material and reflective questions extracted from the book “Knowing Christ in Thirty Lessons” written by Fr Paul Tong, followed by the singing of hymns. Then we have dinner with them, providing meals mostly home-cooked by a fellow volunteer and his grandmother. Meal times are very meaningful for us as then we build rapport and have in-depth conversation with the residents.

Praying before the start of the session.

Conquering hearts for Christ

The power of the Word of God enables it to take root in the hearts of the listeners. Despite our limited time with them, we firmly believe that the Word will slowly lead them to find the true meaning of life. In 2018, we witnessed the baptism of four residents who had attended the Chinese RCIA at Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One of them had approached me to be his godparent, and with blessings from God, I now have a godson!

People living with HIV/AIDS are children of God too and deserve a share of His love. We thank and give praises to our heavenly Father for affirming us as the sowers of the seeds of His Word, but we always remember that only God can make those seeds of faith germinate and grow in His own time.

Steadfastly soldiering on

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, we have not been able to visit CARE’s shelter for more than 10 months. We look forward to return as soon as the restrictions on visits are lifted.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, I am with you.” We hope that when life goes back to normal after the pandemic, more people will come forward to bring God’s love to people living with HIV/AIDs. Besides our companionship and listening ear, the best gift we can offer to them is the gift of Christ and His redemptive grace. They will gift you the same in return. Don’t be afraid!

CARE also conducts advocacy programmes to help the community understand the difficulties faced by people living with HIV/AIDS and the plight they often find themselves in. For more information, please refer to our website – www.care.org.sg

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