When I saw him I could only think of Lazarus at the gate, the searing parable Jesus told the Pharisees in St Luke’s gospel (Lk.16:20). He spoke of a poor man lying at the gate of a rich man’s house, covered with sores which the dogs licked. Here in Myitkyina in 2012 I met a Lazarus, a young man with AIDS, thrown out of the family home, abandoned by all and living in a little hut nearby. No one spoke to him. No one visited him. His brother would push in a plate of food to him once a day without saying a word.
Du Hkawng, a small man, was in his early thirties, unmarried and belonging to a fairly well-off family. He had taken anti-retroviral drugs for a while but decided to do without them and gradually got worse as his immune system broke down. Unable to walk or sit up, he lay day after day under a piece of tarpaulin, unwashed, incontinent, stinking. I am sure if there were dogs around they would have come ‘to lick his sores’ (Lk 16:21). It was in this miserable state that I found him, this poor modern-day Lazarus. I tried talking to his ‘Catholic’ family but to no avail. His elderly mother, his uncle, a brother and sister-in-law wanted nothing to do with him. Fear of AIDS was deeply rooted in them and they dreaded ‘catching’ it. Their son, their brother, was a non-person in the family and nothing would move them on this. We have nearly 70 people, young and old, with HIV/AIDS in the Home we built two years ago. I would have brought him there but he was too weak and the journey would have been too much. So, with Lucy, the wonderful woman who works with me, I went to get some clean clothes and we washed him and gave him a nourishing drink. His emaciated body, full of sores, some with maggots, was a dreadful sight. We did what we could to make him comfortable; this man, who, like Christ himself, was forsaken by all.
On returning to the Home that evening, I spoke of poor Du Hkawng to some of the residents. They knew what it was to be ostracized; they too had felt the pain of being unwanted in society; they had suffered the stigma of having AIDS. But now, thanks to good medication and good care they were up and walking. Some of the men came to me. “Sister, if you can get us there we will visit Du Hkawng and look after him.” And from then on two of them went each day and washed and cleaned poor Lazarus, fed him with soft foods and talked and sang to him. From the depths of their own suffering humanity they cared gently for their brother. I went with them most days but even when I could not be there they never failed to look after him. I was deeply moved by their love and by the kindness they showed. Out of their own poverty they gave all they had, ministering to this ‘least of the brethren.’
Du Hkwang died shortly after, alone in his little hut. He had never talked even once in the weeks we knew him. I feel sure that, like Lazarus, ‘he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom’ (Lk 16:22). May he have joy now, he who knew so little of it on earth. But I do believe that, in those last weeks, he met angels here too in the persons of the men who unfailingly nursed him and knew him to be a brother. In my heart I called them our ‘AIDS Angels’ and thanked God for the blessing they were, not only to poor abandoned Du Hkawng, but to all of us.
Sr Mary Dillon worked for many years in Korea before assuming her present assignment in Burma.