It All Began With a Vision

Mrs Yvonne Renaud, a very early member of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard and a Dedicated Member, told me this October on the Feast of Blessed Gérard: "I remember as if it had happened yesterday, that the young Father Gérard stood over there", and she pointed from the Hospice up the hill to the parish church, "and said that a hospice and care centre ought to be built here, that could assist people, who otherwise would have to die in poverty in the slums." That was in 1992. This vision has turned into reality meanwhile. A reality whose magnitude today nobody would have expected.

A large Care Centre and Hospice with a Children's Home and since 2003 a Clinic for AIDS Treatment.

It was a long journey getting there, though. At one stage members of the church community (among them Mrs. Clare Kalkwarf and the medical doctor, Paul Thabethe) came to the young religious priest and missionary Father Gérard and asked if it were not possible to put something in place to help the many poor and sick people in the townships and informal settlements. Father Gérard had previously been a volunteer with the German "Malteser Hilfsdienst" and had not forgotten how to organise help when he came to South Africa. He was not only a priest, but also a paramedic, a nurse and instructor and had even previously organised help out of nothing. Clare and Paul had met the right man and the motto "protection of the Faith and Service to the Needy" had not been an empty phrase for Father Gérard in the past but had already been a guide for his life. Thus the idea developed to jointly found a South Africa based relief organisation, that could truly help the poorest. They started the first projects but the need for help increased continuously until the vision of a Care Centre was born on one sunny day in South Africa. They subsequently developed the basis to make this vision a reality. It was very similar to how Blessed Gérard was confronted with poverty and sickness in Jerusalem 900 years ago and founded the Hospital of St. John. Therefore Father Gérard and the others decided,  following church tradition, to call the relief organisation in Mandeni the "Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard". It was probably not by chance that the young missionary Benedictine had taken on the name of the founder of the Order of Malta as his religious name. It probably was not by chance either that the co-founder and later manager of the organisation, Mrs. Clare Kalkwarf, celebrated her birthday on 13 October, the very feast day of the historical Blessed Gérard.

Of course, they had no money. And so they had to beg for donations and they have to do so still today. Right from the beginning all projects where financed solely by donations. Many people in South Africa and throughout the world began to support the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard in Mandeni.  The newly invented Internet enables these people to come into contact with one another. The Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard depends on the support of these people (that is all of us) even today.

The vision of the young priest and missionary has become a respectable humanitarian organisation. A hospice with the largest inpatient unit in South Africa, a large children's home, a clinic for AIDS-treatment and many more projects.

 The missionary Father Gérard, now a few years older, has another vision which must be put into action. Today he looks again from the hill onto the Care Centre and Children's Home and knows what we all know as well: Support is still needed. People are always dying in misery in the huts of the informal settlements and there is a need to develop a positive attitude toward treatment. Still today there are small children, who otherwise might starve to death on the roadside.

And so there is a new vision today. This new vision is to guide the help of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard into the 21st century. Now, as before, the needy people who are being looked after still have no South African rand in their pocket to spend. Therefore they depend on further donations. All of us can help here, no matter how small the help may be. Let us follow the vision of Father Gérard and continue the relief work!

The 1000th birthday of the Order of Malta will be celebrated in 2099 and maybe in the same decade the 100th birthday of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard in Mandeni.

Let us continue this vision of humanity! It is worth while for each individual person who can be nursed with dignity at the hospice and die there in dignity and for every happy day a child can have.

Andreas Heinze, MD

October 2010

This page is part of the Newsletter No. 30 of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard

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