human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Nothing can replace human presence

Reminiscences from Macedonian Caritas

I dreamt that a certain person came to me and took me to a bright, lovely, beautiful room, which was full of amazing people.

This is how Roze started to narrate her recent dream. She is 91 years old and lives alone in a place that is 15 km away from the centre of Skopje, where she is surrounded by an intact nature and fresh air… But Roze can enjoy these only a little as she is visually impaired and hard of hearing. Yet, she is still mobile, walking bent with the help of a cane and climbing the old wooden stairs while holding onto the handrail.

Sister Natalija brought her a hot meal and an abundant package of groceries. Her eyes gleamed with happiness. ‘Yes, I am hungry, but I am more in want of a human word. Here’s the TV set I have received recently (seemingly a piece from a museum), and although I neither see nor hear very well, I turn it on so that I won’t be alone. Do you want me to turn it on?’ Roze had joyously looked forward to the visit of Sister Natalija: it was what she was going to live from in the following days.

Roze’s life story is full of suffering: she has a son who has his own family and there is no space for the grandmother. All of a sudden she was homeless. After a long time, she moved, not without great difficulties, into this ruined house in a deserted village. The early spring temperatures during the night are expected to drop to around 0°C. For heating she uses wood supplied by good people, who are also becoming a rarity.

In front of the house yellow spring flowers are in bloom. In the midst of poverty that one can see and that leaves no one indifferent, these flowers are a breath of fresh air. ‘These are mine: I love flowers,’ she proudly shows us her garden. ‘God bless you,’ she greets us. In this blessing, which is a prayer and a greeting at the same time, we experience very often the gratitude of the people we support.

The case of Ivana is very different from that of Roze. She used to have a husband and a son who died suddenly at a young age from a disease. She couldn’t come to terms with his death, which was soon followed by the death of her husband. She was suddenly alone in her flat, in which everything reminded her of them, with thousands of questions to which she coulnd’t find any answers. In her despair, she ended all her friendships.

It is very hard to deal with loneliness, and now with the coronavirus everyone is afraid to pay you a visit. My life rhythm has changed completely… I only wish I could call someone!

Ivana needs someone who would listen to her carefully, who has an open heart and the time available. In the city of St. Mother Teresa, who is the patron of Macedonian Caritas and who continually inspires us, I cannot help but remember her words about how loneliness and abandonment are the greatest poverty.

How many nuances of suffering do people from the margins of the society experience, and each and every one of them is different, whereas loneliness, abandonment and exclusion are a common feeling.

These are only two of the forty beneficiaries Sister Natalija and the volunteers visit regularly, on a monthly basis or more often if needed.

The pandemic rendered everything more difficult and many are afraid of the visits; nevertheless, we have never interrupted our activities. The ‘Hands which offer hope’ project, which we implement in cooperation with Caritas Bolzano, has made it possible to remain in contact with our beneficiaries uniterruptedly during this period. During the first weeks of the pandemic, we used to knock on the front door just to see them, to bring their packages, considering our beneficiaries are mostly the poorest. Frequently, we used to contact some of them by phone. Last spring, with the arrival of warmer days and by following all the sanitary measures imposed by the government, we continued to pay visits to our beneficiaries. Nothing can replace human presense and proximity. Sometimes it is enough to enter into their homes, to ask how they are feeling and to listen to their last diagnosis or experience. The annual gathering of our beneficiaries for the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, with the Holy Mass, presided over by Bishop Stojanov, is a special occasion, with prayers, group lunch and joyful socialising.

While we were going to visit Roze, we met a group of young people who were shooting a film in the village. An Oscar nominee at last year’s Academy Awards – Medena zemlja (Honeyland)has beautifully portrayed a woman who personifed and sympathised with nature. Will there be a new production to narrate the feeling of loneliness whose whisper we can hear in the desolate villages, in the streets of the city or in our buildings?

Until then, it is nice to be part of Roze’s dream: to give a slice of heaven to those who are alone, forsaken and isolated, and to realise that the building of the Heaven in the skies to which we aspire can already start here on earth.