Blessed Gérard Tonque (d. 1120) was a French Benedictine monk and the guest master of the Benedictine Monastery St. Maria Latina in Jerusalem. This monastery provided shelter for pilgrims who came to see the places where Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead. Because the journeys in those days were very strenuous, most pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem exhausted and/or sick.
Therefore the guest house of St. Maria Latina functioned both as a hospice and an infirmary and was known as the Hospital of Jerusalem. Apart from nursing the sick, the Monastery used to accommodate abandoned children, feed the starving, clothe the needy and care for discharged prisoners. Blessed Gérard founded the Brotherhood of St. John of Jerusalem as a charitable organisation to run the hospital.
This community is the historical root of the Hospitaller Order of St. John, the oldest Hospital Order of the Church, which is today known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The rule and spirituality of the Order is based on the Benedictine principle of hospitality. The stranger is to be welcomed as Christ himself.
Blessed Gérard and his Brotherhood considered it an honour to serve the needy as they represent Christ. The members of the Hospital Order made the promise "to be servants and slaves to our Lords, the sick." On the other hand the sick also benefited from the pastoral care of the hospital which regarded itself not only as a health-care institution, but also as a spiritual community. The Brothers and the sick they cared for mutually represented Christ, making life in the community of the hospital a mutual encounter with the Lord and therefore an event of salvation.
The Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard was inspired by this spirit of the Brotherhood of St. John. It seeks to revive the charisma of these origins and adapt it to the context of our present time and life situation.
On the 28th of October 1992 the Parish Priest of Mandeni, Father Gérard, Mr. and Mrs. Kalkwarf from Mandeni and Dr. & Mrs. Thabethe from Sundumbili founded the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard as a private association of Christ's faithful. On the 5th of November 1992 the Bishop of Eshowe gave his approval and on 20th of April 1993 he acknowledged the Brotherhood as a church association through a formal decree. On the same day the Sovereign Council of the Order of Malta in Rome acknowledged the Brotherhood as a relief organisation of the Order.
The motto of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard is the ancient motto of the Order of Malta: "tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum" - "Protection of the faith and service to the poor" The Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard lives this motto by serving the poor as volunteers, by running charitable projects, no matter what creed, skin colour or political affiliation the needy may have.
The Brotherhood works in the greater Mandini area, approximately 100 km north of Durban. The population in this area is about 100,000 inhabitants comprising approximately 84% Zulu, 6% Coloured, 6% Indian and 4% White South Africans.
The dominant settlements in this area are Sundumbili, populated by the workers of a large nearby paper mill, and iSithebe, a large industrial area which provides employment for about 23000 workers.
The attraction of a job has drawn many Zulu people away from their communities, with the resultant breakup of family and community structures. The long distances permit many of them to return to their homes only once or twice a year. Sadly, wages are so low that they hardly suffice to build even simple houses. Thus extensive slums have arisen in iSithebe and Sundumbili, where people live in very small, primitive huts, patched together with corrugated iron, planks, old sacks, pieces of car wrecks and cardboard. In those informal settlements there is no fresh water or electricity. Neither is there adequate provision of education for the children in these settlements. This establishes a vicious circle of poverty which, if not broken, seals the fate of these people. Insufficient education leads to unemployment, unemployment results in hunger, hunger makes people sick, sickness creates poverty and one who is poor cannot afford education.
The Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard has undertaken to break this vicious circle and to make a life of human dignity possible. Through the Bursary Fund the Brotherhood fights insufficient education. Through its Community Development Centre the Brotherhood fights unemployment. Through its Feeding Scheme the Brotherhood fights hunger. Through its Health Education and AIDS Prevention programmes the Brotherhood fights sickness. Through its Care Centre and Poor-Sick Fund the Brotherhood fights poverty.
Severe malnutrition in early childhood leads to permanent brain damage, which further incapacitates the child later in life. The Brotherhood has initiated a project to care for malnourished children. Mothers are counseled and taught how to care for their children properly. The Brotherhood's volunteers examine the children, weigh them and keep exact records of their progress. Where poverty is the reason for malnutrition and breast feeding is not sufficient or impossible, the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard provides milk, baby food and protein-enriched porridge free of charge.
Active members of the Brotherhood coordinate fortnightly meetings of the Friendship Club where senior citizens join them for a cup of tea and a chat and a different activity each time. For example, at recent meetings a doctor gave a talk on geriatric ailments, a nurse taught calinetics, they played games or did handcrafts. These activities serve to get the elderly out of their isolation and to make new friends.
The old aphorism "give a fish to a poor man, then he has enough for a day - teach him fishing, then he will always have enough" is still true and summarises the essence of what the Brotherhood aims to achieve in its Community Development Centre. The Centre's first programme was a modest, but very successful, sewing school. During 1997, 12 ladies completed this course. They began as unemployed people, with no marketable skills and no means to earn an income. By the end of the year they had progressed from not knowing anything about being a seamstress, to being able to make a variety of garments which they could sell.
The Brotherhood initiated an AIDS Education Program through its Medical Superintendent, Dr. Thabethe, in the Mandeni area by giving talks and courses on how to prevent the spread of this deadly disease.
Education is a key to a good future of every society, but many cannot afford the costs of educating a child. Every year, the Blessed Gerard's Bursary Fund enables a number of worthy poor students to achieve a higher standard of education.
In many more cases the Brotherhood helps people in sudden need. For example: to give food to starving families, to raise funds ad hoc for medical treatments or equipment, to give clothing to the poor, to give building material to needy people whose huts have burned down or just to counsel and give advice to those who have no solution to so many different problems.
Blessed Gérard's Care Centre and Hospice
It is a sad irony that sometimes persons in need of medical attention are discharged or turned away from hospitals because they are not sufficiently ill to warrant hospitalization. Often these patients have no support mechanisms outside hospital. Bereft of proper nursing care, they languish and often die from neglect.
The Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard runs a Care Centre and Hospice for needy sick people who cannot be nursed in hospital, but cannot be cared for in their respective homes either. This facility fulfils a vital role in the Mandeni area, which has no hospital and just a handful of medical doctors in an area with over 100,000 people.
The aim of the Blessed Gérard's Care Centre and Hospice is to bridge the gap between hospital and the patient's home. Hospitals often have no other choice than to discharge patients before they can really look after themselves. The idea is that those patients should be cared for at home. However, the patients' families are often unable to care for them because they lack the confidence, skills or means to do so.
The Care Centre and Hospice also assists those who can no longer be helped in hospital (e.g. terminal patients with cancer or AIDS) and have no adequate home nursing care.
The Care Centre and Hospice has a four-fold function:
The multi-purpose use of the Centre makes it highly cost-effective. By emphasizing training and enabling home-care, and by admitting patients only on a temporary basis, the Centre's impact is maximized and the chance of the Centre being used as a dumping ground for unwanted sick relatives is minimized.
The Care Centre's training facilities are not restricted to people from the local community, but are open for the whole area, especially for the training of educators (e.g. AIDS Education programmes). The Care Centre and Hospice also provides facilities for sick and disabled people to meet. All in all, the Care Centre and Hospice is a comprehensive and integrated system of care for the wider Mandeni area and beyond.
THE WIDER PICTURE
The Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard helps the poor and sick of Mandeni, but the problems it addresses concern all South Africans. AIDS and the vicious circle of poverty know no boundaries. By working in an area hardest hit by these problems the Brotherhood is making a very real contribution to the future well-being of our nation. However an organisation can only fulfill its aim if there are members who do the work and if there are funds to pay for it. That is why the Brotherhood appeals to all of you in the Archdiocese of Cape Town: Help us to help our Lords the sick and poor by joining us as a spiritual or financial supporter.
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Archdiocesan News ˇ A Publication of the Catholic Church of Cape Town ˇ Issue # 14 ˇ February - April 1999
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