Christ's Love for Blind, Handicapped Serves as Inspiration for Catholic Missions Helping the Poor

National Catholic Reporter, November 25, 2011 | Go to article overview

Christ's Love for Blind, Handicapped Serves as Inspiration for Catholic Missions Helping the Poor


In the ninth chapter of the book of John, the Apostle describes Jesus giving a blind man sight to glorify God. In the story, John shows how faith and a simple dab of mud were used as instruments of a miracle--ultimately giving new hope to the handicapped man.

Even today, thousands of years later, we recognize this act as an amazing example of our Lord's power and love.

When Sister Emma Kulombe looks to this story, she wishes she could, like Jesus, smear mud on the eyes of deaf/blind children to cure them. She and the other Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary ache to have their wards transformed.

Since she hasn't been so blessed with a miracle, Sister Emma does what she can instead. She helps the children blossom and find hope in other ways.

"These children have something to offer that the world needs. We help them glorify God through their faith, joy and talents," she said. "We work with them to bring those blessings out."

This service is not without its tears, however. Many of the children have histories of past suffering that pierce the nun's heart with grief.

Sr, Emma recalls one deaf/blind boy named John [his name is changed here to protect his identity] whose parents worked in remote fields each day and left him home alone while they toiled. The young boy ate nothing all day and slept outside of the hut at night because his parents forbid him from sharing the space with the rest of the family.

One day Sr. Emma visited John and saw he was naked while his brothers and sisters were clothed. Matthew 25:36 came to her mind: " ... I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me ..."

She immediately brought John some clothes and promised to visit again.

Sr. Emma said this kind of neglect is sadly common for physically or mentally handicapped children in Africa and around the world. In many countries, including Malawi, disabled children are considered a curse, and parents prefer to hide them away than endure the social stigma of raising a "cursed" child.

"Some children couldn't eat by themselves when we discovered them," Sr. Emma said. "We showed them how to eat, how to wash their hands, how to hold a cup and how to go to the toilet."

Worldwide, millions of handicapped children in developing countries live in the shadows like John, forced to the edges of humanity by social stigmas and, more often, extreme poverty.

Parents of disabled children in the developing world are too poor to properly care for them--when there's barely enough food for the family to eat, much-needed physical therapy, special schools and doctor's visits are out of the question.

"Physically and mentally handicapped children are largely ignored in many areas of the world," said Jim Cavnar, president of Cross International Catholic Outreach, a ministry alleviating poverty among "the least of these" worldwide.

"Even in cases where the parents are attentive, they are often too poor to provide the special care a disabled child needs to lead a fulfilling life. The poor can't afford surgeries to cure a club foot or cleft palate, nor can they pay for special boarding schools or therapy sessions. Poor families often live in deplorable slums or in far-flung rural areas, and it's a struggle just to eat each day and keep a roof over their head."

With support from its many American Catholic benefactors, Cross International Catholic Outreach is working to bring accessible care to disabled children in dozens of developing countries. …

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