Sochie, Easter angel for the poor and the sick in Ta Khmau
by p. Mario Ghezzi

A 40-year-old mother of three travels each day on her scooter into the poorest areas south of Phnom Penh, bringing smiles and hope to those forgotten by society. In his Easter letter, Fr Mario Ghezzi, PIME missionary in Cambodia for 16 years, talks about her.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – A few months ago I prayed as follows: Lord, I need an angel here in Ta Khmau, a real angel, someone who can help deal with all the despair I meet in the nooks and crannies of this quiet and sunny town.

I meet too many situations full of suffering: sick people, poor people, children abandoned by their parents, children with a dirty nose because no one is there to wipe it for them, or taught them how to do it. Some of the sick languish in "houses" that are so hot that one could bake bread in them. They languish because they do not have the money to pay for transport to the doctor.

With all this, conscious that I could not deal with every situation, or provide an answer, or sometimes even offer a moment of relief, I prayed powerless: Lord, send me an angel.

Sometimes one prays without too much hope, but the Lord knows what we really need. And my angel did come true! As unexpectedly but timely as only angels can be. This angel is called Sochie, 40, a Catholic mother of three children with a failed marriage she is trying to mend.

She has been fighting the evil of depression for some time, but she told me, "Father, I learnt to live with it, control my feelings and negative emotions, and go forward with the strength that comes from praying and my closeness to the risen Jesus."

Thus, on her scooter, Sochie takes off every day, crosses the city and goes into countryside, to virtually every possible home or hole, knocks (when there is a door) or pulls the curtain, goes up stairs to find all those who lost hope. She finds them there, looks at them, speaks to them, and above all, smiles and laughs with them.

Visiting the sick with Sochie is like carrying around the paschal candle: light arrives, the joy of the resurrection comes into that house, and, for a moment, however brief, everything changes.

Indeed, Sochie is not a slave to her depression. She overpowers it by bringing a smile to the sick and the poor. Her scooter changes according to needs: taxi, van, ambulance, and anything else that a scooter and a frail yet strong woman like her can do.

Yesterday, she took me to meet her "beneficiaries" in the streets, up the stairs, in houses, through gates, inside nook and crannies, holes, slums, hospitals, a never-ending number of places. Children were overjoyed when they got a bag full of shoes from Italy.

At one point, she disappeared from sight. I heard her shout, "Father come upstairs, quick!" I went up the staircase, which was so rickety I thought it might collapse under my weight, then stepped over holes, and some trash, and around the corner, I found an open room with three walls, a beautiful three-year-old child playing alone on a balcony.

The "house" is bare but tidy. The mom is sitting in a corner, thin body, a gaunt face, breathing laboured. She clearly has a heart condition (pictured). The dad is a bricklayer and comes home from time to time but does not have enough money for the hospital. She might need an operation but it she has never thought about it because it is beyond her means.

Sochie asked her, "Would do you like to come with me to the doctor. Don’t worry; it is free.” “Yes, I would like that,” the woman said. Next day, Sochie turned into an ambulance driver; now, the sick mother will probably have an easier future. At least, I hope so.

Still, what about all the others? What now? I do not know, Lord. Children who cannot go to school, families who have too little to eat, who live in makeshift homes, sick people who cannot even afford aspirin. I am just a pastor in a parish that does not yet exist. Anyway, no one can deal with everyone’s needs or imagine they can solve them . . .

This morning, as I was meditating on my bike on my way to church to say mass at the Sisters of Mother Teresa, I caught myself thinking, "Yesterday you brought a smile. My angel was with you, the light of the paschal candle lit a flame in each one of those hearts that you met. I am truly risen! Thank you for letting me meet those sick people, and the poor."

Thank you Jesus for this thought and thank you for your angel Sochie. I and the poor whom she meets every day needed her.