Deacon Mark and Celia Carter visit - Christmas 2004

When we recently visited relatives in kwaZulu Natal, South Africa, we were able to accept the kind invitation of Clare Kalkwarf to visit the Hospice of Blessed Gerhard in Mandeni, which she runs together with Fr Gerhard Lagleder OSB. Many of you will remember them as British Association helpers on the recent Lourdes pilgrimages. We arrived for the Sunday service and were warmly welcomed. We were both offered a place in the chancel and Mark was invited to read the Gospel. In the attractive church, a large gold Maltese cross hangs from the ceiling and a wonderful crucifix carved by a Zulu also on the eight-pointed cross. There are also many flags, pictures and stained glass windows depicting Blessed Gerhard and other members of the order from the early days. The congregation was largely made up of patients and helpers and some were brought in in their beds. The church was built to allow this. Many of the children sat on small plastic chairs close to the altar. The helpers looked functional, practical and helpful and also pretty with their uniforms with the Maltese Cross. During Holy Mass we were particularly moved by the intercessions made for the British Association. Afterwards we were taken to a dining room, served a good meal and shown a video film explaining the work of the Brotherhood. This covers a number of areas beyond the running of the hospice and children's home and includes a development centre (sewing school), a kindergarten, a clinic for malnourished children, AIDS education, a medical fund, disaster preparedness, first aid and emergency services, a senior citizens club and a scholarship fund.

We were shown around the hospice building, which has three floors, only two of which are currently in use. It was built this way to allow for future expansion because there is no more land outside for an extension. All the facilities are of good quality from the kitchen to the medical facilities to the lift and everything is kept spick and span by cheerful helpers. On the ground floor, adult male and female AIDS patients are cared for, some of them terminal. On the upper floor are the children and the healthier ones are just playing with the helpers. Many of them had been neglected, abused and abandoned or even malnourished before they came to the home. Some are orphans. With proper support, the number of those being cared for could be doubled as there is great need in the area with over 50% unemployment and 80% HIV positive population.

All the volunteers in this centre of care and charity perform great acts of mercy in the name of the Order and our founder, Blessed Gerhard. The courage and dedication of Fr Gerhard and the co-founders of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard in building up this work in the short space of 10 years is impressive. It was a happy and memorable visit for us and we are very grateful to Fr Gerhard and Clare for their hospitality and we set off for Umhlanga with a lot of food for thought in our luggage. It was inspiring to experience the work of the Order and the realisation of the principles of our founder, Blessed Gerhard, in this rather remote part of Africa. His words have touched us for centuries: "Our fraternity will be everlasting because the soil in which this plant takes root is the misery of the world and because, God willing, there will always be people who want to work to make this suffering less and this misery more bearable."