In the disabled center of Uzratuna, Parolin caresses the crucifixes of Juba

The last stage of the Foreign Minister’s journey to the ‘village’ of Ovci, where the small apostles and lay co-operatives serve. Dramatic scenes of children with malformations and severe disabilities: for them medical treatment and psychological support for family members. The cardinal brought the pope’s blessing to all: “Jesus is represented in the sick”. Mass in the morning in the large seminary and visits to the community of students and teachers from the Catholic University

Salvatore Cernuzio – Sent to Juba

They have the color of ebony, but the fragility of a crystal. Moses, Juma, Adia, Mam-Ghereng, Emmanuel and Majok, 2 years, hydrocephalus, in the arms of the mother who cradles her, paying attention to the movements of the head, is the face of children’s ailments in front of which, as she has said many times the pope, there is no answer, but only tears and prayers. They are only six out of the approximately 400 young guests at the Usratuna Center for Disabled Children, an Arabic name that literally means “Our Family”. This is the service that OVCI- Our family has performed for years in Africa, a voluntary organization born in Italy forty years ago for cooperation and development.

“Whatever you do, do it with love”

In the house of Juba, a really big house, for such is the atmosphere thanks to Daniela, Elena, Gisellas, Anna, Titiana’s work and dedication, consecrated women from the small apostles lay with the primarily Italian staff, they offer care not only to the sick – mainly those with spina bifida and hydrocephalus – but also to their families. Especially for mothers who also need psychological support. In this village where you are greeted by the sign “Whatever you do, do it in love” (“Whatever you do, do it with love”), Cardinal Pietro Parolin spends after Mass at St. Peter’s Major Seminary and a visit to the Catholic University the final stage of his journey to Africa, which began on July 1 at. Democratic Republic of the Congo and concluded in South Sudan.

Welcome to Cardinal Parolin at the Uzratuna Center

Welcome to Cardinal Parolin at the Uzratuna Center

Children protagonists of the journey

A journey accompanied all the time by the presence of children: those who dance and dress up in public fairs, those who are crowded in the Bentiu displaced camp, among flies and puddles just waiting for someone to press their hand, them barefoot in a wide range of roadsides, outside the tukul and inside the pits where the waste, according to a new order from the mayor, is to be incinerated. Now it is still the children, but the sick, who complete this collection of faces and smiles, which the Cardinal of the Foreign Minister brings to Rome, as a gift to be transferred to the Pope for the purpose of his next apostolic journey.

The Pope’s devotion

Also to the community in the center of Usratuna, Parolin, as in all the events of these African days, confirms the devotion of the Pope, and in his name he encourages them and gives them strength; in his name he gives the blessing; in his name he caresses them, paying attention to their physical fragility, to the attached infusions, to the bandaged arms, or simply to their fear of seeing a gentleman in white, with a wreath of festoons squatting for to press his hand. . “No, no, do not cry,” said the cardinal to a little girl, older than the others, hiding in her mother’s clothes.

Parolin with mothers and children

Parolin with mothers and children

Handicapped children’s choir

The foreign minister was greeted at the entrance by a choir of children wearing orange t-shirts. One of them, without arms, delivers a bouquet of flowers. It is a symbolic and powerful image. Another curly-haired boy, blind, sings a tune into the microphone held by a colleague: “Welcome dear cardinal”. The reception is lively, but when you turn the corner, the impact becomes violent. Parolin walks through the two corridors, where mothers with their children, with obvious disabilities and deformities, sit on the ground on colored sheets, all in a row ready to greet. “God bless you, God bless you,” the cardinal repeats, accompanying the gesture with caresses and crosses on his forehead.

Caresses for mothers and children

Then go into the different rooms where some of the therapies are going on, which also includes sessions for autistic children. There are two of them, one dressed in pink playing the xylophone in honor of the famous guest. “How good!” Says Parolin. Meanwhile, the mothers smile, some have dull and tired eyes, they do not even notice the flies on their children’s faces, but when the cardinal passes they show their children happy. They have long since overcome the influence that instead hits those who see these images for the first time, like a kick in the stomach.

A little Christ on the cross

Parolin also seems impressed. He tries to greet everyone without forgetting anyone: he leans forward, kneels, stretches out his hands, pats his cheeks. Only once does it stop, almost as in contemplation of what looks like a little crucified Christ. He is a child of just over 8 years. Instead of nails, he has IV syringes; on the head not the crown of thorns, but a part of the jaw completely offset to one side; the stretcher instead of the cross. He is under special care, maybe he does not have much time to live. “We rarely have the strength to accompany these difficult cases. Spiritual and psychological strengths are also often lacking, ”explains Matteo, a 33-year-old Bologna cooperative in Juba with his wife Carola. “People here seem to be more accustomed to death as a natural cycle of life. For us, it’s devastating.”

“They represent Jesus …”

After stopping at the pharmacy, Parolin moves to the main yard and asks for one Our dad along with mothers and children, to whom he repeats that he went to the center as a messenger for the pope, for his devotion, for his desire to be with them. Immediately after, he drives to St. Mary’s College, a college inside the center that helps the same family members of the sick specialize in helping the disabled. Singing and screaming, flower petals thrown from baskets, chants of “Wow! Allelujah!”, Greet the cardinal who encourages them to continue in the care of these little sufferers: “They represent Jesus”.

The cardinal plants a fig tree in the garden of the Catholic University

The cardinal plants a fig tree in the garden of the Catholic University

The accompanying church

And about suffering – for women, young people, children, war victims – the secretary spoke to four students from the Catholic University of Sudan and South Sudan, a reservoir of hope in the country that prepares tomorrow’s leaders for a future of peace and reconciliation. Cardinal Parolin met them during his visit to the community of students, teachers, operators, also characterized by music, dance, throwing flowers. Tuik, Clementina, Christine, Helena, the latter asked especially where the Church is in situations of suffering. “The church is present in these situations, it is a sign of hope,” Parolin replied, recalling the experience of the Bentiu camp, where there were catechists and missionaries with the displaced. “We are there, we are not leaving, we are close, we are also going into difficulty”.

We are not alone

It is important, the cardinal said, because it confirms “that we are not alone”. Hence another question, this time from the cardinal: “You tell me what the Church does, but I ask: who is the Church? We are the Church. Of course there are hierarchies, priests, nuns, but all the believers are part of the Church. So the question is: what do we do for these people? We really have to commit ”. At the end of the question and answer, the cardinal planted with a hoe and a watering can a fig tree, a symbol of rebirth for the university, which has just turned twenty. “You have a short past, but a long and bright future”.

Cardinal Parolin’s last day in Juba

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