Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)

The other day, Fr. Nemoto Akio that works in the Franciscan Care Center of Johannesburg (South Africa) with terminal cases of AIDS patients returned briefly to Japan, as he does once every three years, and I had the opportunity of listening to him, after a long time.
I interviewed him. The theme of interest was AIDS. Patients have jumped to 5 million 2 years ago, but what was happening to this violent disease? How widespread was the Anti Retro Viral treatment (ARV)?
He mentioned that patients have increased again in the last two years. The reason is that newborn babies have become HIV infected, not so much due to sexual intercourse than to the use of drug injection shots, and, as a result patients do not diminish.
Another reason is that official figures do not include cases of people kept hidden because of family reasons. There are still many cases of HIV patients who are rejected by society and family relatives, with the result that such patients do not come into the open. The Franciscan Hospice selects mainly that type of patients, but since it can only accept 60 people, most patients are unable to be treated there. Out of the patients taken care by the Franciscan Hospice, 317 died, just in the year 2003.
Concerning the treatment of ARV that controls the symptoms of AIDS, Fr. Nemoto remarked that the main difficulties were: lack of refrigerators to preserve the medicine, the medicine must be used regularly, once a patient starts drinking the medicine s/he should continue its use all his/her life and naturally that is a heavy burden to patients and families. Besides that, medicines are expensive, as much as 5 or 6 times monthly incomes, and the poor cannot have access to them. The majority of the population of South Africa is poor and consequently only a few patients are able to buy the medicines. Realistically speaking, their widespread among the poor is still a long time to come.
Since in the Hospice where Fr. Nemoto works people die everyday I asked him about it. He answered, "I made a decision to come back again, but it's painful to see young people dying. The other day a 17 year-old high school student passed away and I baptized her before, giving her the name Jean d'Arc, because she asked for a "strong body." In reality she could not win over AIDS. She asked me before dying, "Give me the body of Christ." I have always ready the Eucharist, the Holy Oils and Holy Water, because I don't know when someone is going to die. The high school girl received Holy Communion just a few hours before passing away. Her face was shining at the time of receiving the Eucharist. I cannot forget her smiling face. In confronting each person that dies I meet with Christ. This is why it is so difficult for me to be absent from there." Being so far from South Africa, Fr. Nemoto keeps always the patients in his mind.
I, finally, asked for the future of the Care Center. His answer was: "Besides the Hospice, a place where persons can die with dignity, there is a need for education. One of the main reasons for AIDS in South Africa is the slums, hotbeds of drug addiction, and poverty that produces those slums. I would like to put more efforts in both, the Hospice and the education of the local youth. This time I'm looking for possible places that would like to accept in Japanese educational institutions leaders to be trained. In fact, in the vicinity of the Care Center there is St. Antonio Education Center for technical and basic education, but it faces critical financial problems, because of lack of official assistance." Recalling the words of Mother Teresa: "my work is nothing more than a drop of water in the ocean, but I prefer to continue being a drop of water all my life," Fr. Nemoto continued, "I want to dedicate myself to this work with the conviction that such drop of water is certainly enriching the ocean."
South Africa has been selected for the World Soccer Cup and the government has to face how to solve the problems of AIDS, poverty and security issues. No matter the importance of official policies, I feel that, at the same time, an honest involvement in the issues offered is also very important.

For those who would like to help the Hospice and Education Center, please, contact Tokyo's St. Joseph Franciscan Convent. Tel.03-3403-8088 (ext.208)
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