Cross Countries

Feb. 26-March 3, 04
Cross Countries
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Sister Caritas brings her grace and charity to the Southern Tier

Binghamton — Sister Caritas Barajingitwa, LSOSF, welcomes a visitor to St. Mary of the Assumption Rectory with a smile that warms a sunny, but cold February morning. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise from someone who tries to see the face of Jesus in everyone she meets. It’s a point made in her biography. “When I see those smiling faces, I just thank Lord for such joys. I share the pains of the peoples and sometime it is painful to feel helpless before them. I just pray that His will be done.” Sister Caritas, whose name means “charity,” is currently a pastoral minister at St. Mary’s, visiting the homebound, the sick in hospitals and those in nursing homes.

Growing up in Burundi, Sister Caritas attended Catholic schools and was very devoted to the church. Her family home was a stop for people on their way to a Protestant mission in the area. She recalls a night when her father wouldn’t let one group stay in the house. Only after she offered to stay outside with the people to face the danger of wild animals, did her father relent and allow the travelers to sleep inside. “Even Jesus cared for the least of people,” said Sister Caritas. “Faith comes with actions.” In secondary school, she spent time each week assisting at an orphanage. She thought it would be nice to marry and adopt two orphans, but God had other plans, as she noted in her biography. “The Lord who loves us all as we are used the wars and other hard events to detach me from earthly attachments that were holding me from doing His will. But in whatever the event, He gently led me through. He always answered my prayer,” she wrote.

Six years after she became a teacher, civil war forced her to flee from Burundi. Leaving family behind, she walked for three days, ending up in Uganda. “I didn’t know English; I didn’t know any local language,” said Sister Caritas. “So how could I survive but anything with just my diploma and education? They said you had all your studies. I said I can sew.” She found work as a tailor and matron at a boarding school. It’s a job that lasted for two years until she became a candidate of the Congregation of the Little Sisters of Saint Francis. Three years later she made her first vows. Sister Caritas studied in the U.S. and Canada. Her Master’s thesis turned out to be a project that is now benefiting 30 children orphaned by AIDS in Uganda. Holy Family Orphanage opened just over a year ago with 22 girls and 8 boys. The children, ranging in age from 7 to 16, share the five bedroom house. Each is given three meals a day. There is running water, toilets and showers from water tanks. They attend nearby schools, rather than walk long distances. Medical care is provided, as is some clothing.

The orphanage compound is stretched to the limits. That makes expansion on the site difficult. “Enough for beginning, not enough for the future,” noted Sister Caritas. The orphanage’s motto is “With Love and Work We Grow.” Growth is being made possible through help from parishioners at St. Mary’s. A down payment has been made on 215 acres of land not far from Kampala, Uganda’s capital. “It is near the road. It has water. Everything is possible. We can get a telephone and electricity,” she said. The site offers opportunities for building and farming. A school is expected to accommodate 500 children. Two-hundred orphans would attend, subsidized by the tuition of 300 tuition paying students. Skills training will be a big part of the school.

“Once you have such skills you can make a good citizen,” Sister Caritas said, recalling how sewing helped her when she first arrived as a refugee in Uganda. “That’s why I want the children to get something in tailoring, in sewing, in carpentry, agriculture, music, arts, crafts.” Sister Caritas is urging people in the Syracuse Diocese to visit the orphanage and meet the children. A group from the Binghamton area is already planning to go to Uganda later this year. For those who can’t make the journey to Africa, Sister Caritas asks for money, moral support, and prayers. “We are praying not to win, but to help,” she said. “I trust in the people. I trust in the Lord. This work is really the Lord’s work and not mine. All of this that comes to pass is the Lord’s work.”

For more information on the Holy Family Orphanage, visit the web site: www.holyfamilyorphanage, send an e-mail to Sistercaritas@cs.com or call Sister Caritas at (607)723-5383. Donations can be sent to Holy Family Orphanage, c/o Sr. Caritas Barajingitwa, LSOSF; 191 Hawley Street; Binghamton, New York 13901.

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