In preparation for Easter, I recently went to the Stations of the Cross at the Marianhill Monastery Cloisters on Good Friday. This community was founded in 1882 by a Trappist abbot and was taken over in 1909 by the Marianhill Missionary order. It is now situated in the slum quarter of Pinetown (about 20 minutes outside Durban) and has developed into an important training center for Black South Africans. Having heard about the Stations early in Lent, I marked it on my calendar and was looking forward to it even before I really knew what it was about.
We arrived on Friday morning and soon, a locked door was opened for us, an entry into the beautiful gardens on the inside of the cloisters… a reflective setting for what we were about to witness and participate in. The German priest who lead the Stations with the help of two young African brothers prefaced the meditation by telling us that ten years ago, the Archdiocese of Durban had used HIV/AIDS as the Stations theme, using adapted, real-life stories to reflect each Station of the Cross from the Gospel in a modern way. They were able to use genuine names and life situations of those infected and affected by this disease and because of this unexpected version of the Stations, I was deeply affected in a way I was not anticipating; it’s meaning went beyond just praying the Stations of the Cross. As the priest spoke, I could think of someone I know or have taken care of that would fit the appropriate Station. So instead of using the people intheir reflections, and with my ministry to HIV/AIDS in mind, I am going to create my own reflection with those who have become a part of my life here in South Africa.
The First Station of the Cross… Jesus is condemned to death. Ntombizonke’s mother, severely affected by post-partum depression, comes to the hospice with Thulani, the baby’s father. She is disinterested in the baby, not wanting to hold or even look at her AIDS affected, beautiful child. Thulani is surprisingly HIV negative, leaving me 99.9% sure the mother is positive. I do my first HIV test, after having just learned how to earlier that day. The lines on both tests turn red within the 5 minutes required to wait, indicating she is HIV positive. I counsel her about how it will affect her life, who her support systems are, how she will now take care of herself. Yet, just like Jesus, she received a death sentence that day in the small room we sat in.
The Fifth Station of the Cross… Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross. Mzwakhe, weakened by the constant diarrhea and vomiting, only has enough energy to make slight movements in his bed without assistance. So getting him from the bed to the wheelchair, from the wheelchair to the car, and from the car to his small home down the side of a mountain was quite a physical challenge. He could not do it alone. Despite the fact that I worried about his physical well-being even if it was just for a one night pass out from the hospice, I knew the emotional benefits of spending a night at home with his wife and children would heal him in a way no medication could. So we carried this man of about 100 lbs. down a steep dirt path to a small home made of tin, mud, and wood. Just like Jesus, Mzwakhe could not do it alone.
The Twelfth Station of the Cross… Jesus dies on the cross. The gift of the lives of Joseph, Roy, Bongekile, Shalazile, Zodwa, Thulisile, Mhakosi, Rose, Sibusiso, Qomofuka, Nontobeko, Zandile, Dumisani, Roseline, Tholasile, Malcolm, Stanley, Bulelani, Bonisiwe, Tholakele, Ngenzeni…. and so many more. Just like Jesus, they died on their cross… the burden of AIDS.
Each Station now has more incredible meaning for me… keeping in my mind and heart those from my ministry here whose sacred lives and deaths fit so appropriately into each step of Christ’s path right before He died for us.
Let us be mindful of the new life in this Easter!
South Africa 2005-2006