Ministry with L’Arche in Honduras
After years of responsibility in the L’Arche community, Sister Pat Dowling has become more of a resource person. As is L’Arche’s practice, local people now administer the program. Now she visits families, makes herself available for advice based on her experience, helps with the formation of assistants and volunteers and prepares for the weekly radio program, which reaches out to the country people.
“I visit families with children who have developmental disabilities and am able to be with them in mutual relationships,” she says. “As a person who is privileged to live with people with different ability, I also try to transmit the spirit of L’Arche, making society more conscious of the equality of persons and of the special gifts of mentally challenged people. They have gifts of the heart that are often lost in our modern world, gifts that are most needed.”
Nicholas, one of the people she visits, is paralyzed and has spent 36 years on his cot. But he has a “divine smile.”
“My aim in visiting is to let the person know he or she is important and has become my friend. Even if he can’t talk, I can see by his eyes that he is aware of my presence and hears me. My visits also show others how to begin to take that person into account,” says Sister Pat. She goes on to say that sometimes the mother, most often the caretaker, wishes to talk to her as well. Sister Pat will take time to affirm her since often the mother’s day is “pretty lonely” and she is very burdened. “I return home so very nourished by the ‘light’ and God’s presence transparent in their fragility,” she says.
Sister Pat continues, “If I am walking or doing something with, say, Rosita, and choices come up, for example in choosing something to drink, I always offer her a choice. This lets her know that she was taken into account; she senses touch and attention. It also reminds others not to always speak for her or make decisions for her.”
“It is also beautiful to see how one family helps their daughter get involved in marketing in a small way,” says Sr. Pat. Karen, pictured right, whom she visits, has cerebral palsy.
At her home, Karen runs a little store selling bags of chips to those who come by. In this way, she is involved with her neighbours and school children, whose fear of her lessens. She also develops self-confidence while earning a little. Her sister speaks for her and puts the money in Karen’s purse. And she is so proud when she gives her mother the money to go to the market and buy in quantity chips and candy for Karen to re-sell in her very poor neighbourhood.
Those important gains explain L’Arche’s production workshops. The picture below shows three different items being made. “What we sell most is the mops,” says Sister Pat. In the foreground of the picture below, a young man is gathering the strings of the mop. Participants also weave hammocks inside rectangular frames, pictured in back, left, as well as cleaning coffee beans (participants separate the beans from the chaff) which are then roasted and ground.
“Participants’ great joy and satisfaction is at the Saturday market where they sell their own products and are integrated into town life,” says Sr. Pat.
L’Arche’s therapy workshops, where participants learn daily living tasks such as household chores, personal hygiene and skills like dancing and painting, help raise the self-esteem, dignity and self-worth of participants.
“Our greatest witness is through our gestures, our being,” Sister Pat advises the new attendants during formation. “Formed by those with different abilities, attendants grow to become better spouses, parents and citizens of Honduras. The vulnerability of the core members reveals to us who we really are. And by revealing to us our gifts and weaknesses, we are enabled to grow.”
Here is how Sister Pat describes what has kept her in L’Arche: “I was called by the authenticity of the life, the discovery of the humanness of the persons who previously I might have feared. I was faced with how they feel, intuit and sense everything, how they forgive before the sun goes down – quickly – unlike us. And especially how they accept everyone equally – the beggar or the president’s wife – they make no distinction. And so I see how much I need these gifts of the heart.”
By Gisela Côté
Photos supplied by Sister Pat Dowling