12/29/2017, 19.10
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PIME sisters celebrate Christmas with lepers in Khulna (photos)

Sr Roberta Pignone heads Damien Hospital, a facility dedicated to leprosy and TB patients. Staff and patients took part in Christmas celebrations. Some Muslims and Hindus took part in presenting Gospel stories. The Christian staff took part in a moment of reconciliation. “I felt even more like a mother responsible for their lives,” the sister said.

Khulna (AsiaNews) – The Damien Hospital in Khulna, southern Bangladesh, joyfully celebrated Christmas on 22 December. Organised by the medical staff, Christian and Muslim, celebrations were held on the facility’s terrace with the participation of patients affected by leprosy and tuberculosis.

"The staff organised the event for a specific reason: to reiterate that we missionaries are not here by choice but because Jesus has sent us,” said Sister Roberta Pignone, a missionary with the Immaculate Conception* and a medical doctor who heads the facility.

“Through them we wanted to keep in mind why we are here and explain the meaning of Christmas,” she told AsiaNews.

"We do not proclaim the Gospel directly, but we preach it through our lives. It is nice that our collaborators can bring the message of Jesus to others as they see him in what we do."

The PIME nuns set up the hospital in 1986 to treat leprosy patients and prevent its spread. Since 2001, the facility has also admitted patients with tuberculosis. Their goal is to create a local network to identify more effectively new infections and reduce the impact of both diseases.

In 2017 alone, "we identified 35 new cases of leprosy and treated 400 TB patients," Sister Roberta said.

Speaking about the Christmas celebration, she explained that “Some 60 people attended the party, staff and patients included. We sisters were mere spectators of activities prepared by the staff."

“A staff member, a Muslim, explained who Jesus was,” the nun noted. “He said that he (Jesus) was the one the Father sent to earth to bring peace and teach love."

The celebrations included "Sketches and typical Bengali Christmas carols. One of the things that stood out was the presentation of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, waiting for their bridegroom.”

The young women who put on the show “also interpreted pain and tiredness, when Jesus comes to heal people, bringing peace and serenity." This is what happens in the hospital, with the nuns’ loving care.

One interesting thing in the event was "the participation of two young women, one Muslim and one Hindu, in the presentation of the Gospel story. It was good to see people of different religions come together to present the teachings of the Gospel."

For Sister Roberta, it was important that "the patients stayed until the end of the show; no one forced them. They could have retired to their rooms. Instead they accepted the message that we wanted to give them: about who Jesus is, what he did, why he came to earth and above all the reason for our presence as missionaries."

"One moment that touched me a lot occurred the day before the party, when the Christian staff met for a moment of reconciliation. I organise confessions in our chapel, a time for community penitential celebration.”

"At such time, I don’t feel that I am only the head of the facility, the chief doctor who rules the hospital,” she said. “I am also a nun who takes care of patients’ spiritual journey and souls.”

“I feel even more like a mother responsible for their lives when I hear, in a simple language, ‘Thank sister for having organised all this for us’."

* Female congregation associated with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME)

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