Left, residents help Sister Lucia decorate a Christmas tree at CARE/Housing. Although they may not be able to spend Christmas with their loved ones, they at least have a place they can call home - a place to rest and be cared for, and fellow humans to share theirpains and joys and celebrate Christmas with.

"I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers, you did it to me"

(Mt 25:45)

SINGAPORE - Paul Tang* is one of these brothers that the Catholic Aids Response Effort (CARE) has given shelter to.

"I felt like ending my life," Paul, who is 49, recalled his reaction when he was first diagnosed with AIDS in 2001. He felt that he would be a burden to society and to his family. Those were confusing times for him, he said. He did not know what to do with himself.

Like many People with Aids (PWAs), Paul has a complicated family background. He says that his family is like "rojak", a complete mess. His father passed away when Paul was 12 and left behind his mother, one elder brother, younger sister and a stepsister. Everyone went their separate ways and his mother remarried. Paul's wife of 13 years committed suicide in 1997.

As a result of his health and strained relationship with his family, he is unable to get any assistance from them.

"It's not that they don't want to help me but they have a difficult financial situation too," he says in their defence. He admitted, though, that it was "so depressing" having no home to return to.

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Today, he is learning to accept his condition with the help of Sister Lucia Chan, who recognises his needs and pain and does all she can to alleviate them. Sister Lucia is a Canossian sister who started CARE/Housing four years ago.

So far, the home has taken in 46 residents of both genders. CARE receives its main funding from the Catholic Welfare Society, the St. Vincent de Paul Societies from the parishes of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as from private donations. It is currently home to 14 PWAs.

Unfortunately, like the lepers in Jesus' time, these PWAs are still shunned by society today. Little wonder then that they keep an extremely low profile.

"As religious, we want to minister to those whom society rejects," Sister Lucia says. She realises the importance of providing a place where PWAs can feel at home. AT CARE/Housing they are given a chance to live out their lives with dignity and acceptance. Here, they are also encouraged to let go, forgive themselves and finally return to their Creator in peace.

PWAs suffer from multiple disadvantages, Sister Lucia explains. "They lose their health, suffer much pain, lose their sense of dignity, and put up with the social stigma of the disease. They also lose their place in society, their jobs, their home and sometimes their family.

"Towards the end, some even lose their spirit, as they go through extreme spiritual and emotional anguish."

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Despite this sad scenario, Sister Lucia remains focused on her mission.

"We are not here to give them a good life but to help them go through their sufferings and pains, and to (help them) use their situations and make the best of it to go on," Sister Lucia says. "In one way or another, they can find God in their own way."

Paul is not a Catholic, but he understands this mission well and is grateful.

"I appreciate the Catholics who give me this place to stay," he confesses. He is aware that without CARE, he would most likely be sleeping on the streets. It is how other PWAs live. Only those who are very sick, bed-ridden or are in their last stage of AIDs with just about three months to live are able to take refuge in wards in the Communicable Disease Center (CDC) or Tan Tock Seng Hospital. The rest either sleep on the streets, in void decks or under bridges if they have no home to go to.

While a few of the 14 Residents at CARE/Housing have jobs, most do not and they occupy some of their time helping to keep the place clean.

It is not just the residents who grow from this Catholic mission though. Sister Lucia has personally grown from her experiences at CARE. Although she has suffered greatly from watching many PWAs pass on, she still remains hopeful.

"It's almost a consoling thing to know that he (God) is still the one who controls and knows all things," she says with hope. "We are only the handmaids of the Lord," she adds.

Sister Lucia leaves CARE at the end of the year and prays that "those who take over will do well with compassion of heart." Till then, she will remain at CARE/Housing, urging the residents to sleep early, take their medication regularly, eat their vegetables and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

*Not his real name.

(A Mass for ‘World AIDS Day' was celebrated by Father Adrian Anthony on Thursday, Dec 1 at 6.30pm at Novena Church. For more information on CARE, visit http://www.catholic.org.sg/care)

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