Healing Lepers

July 8-21, 2004
Healing Lepers
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
Binghamton Native Has Spent His Priesthood as Missionary to the Poor

BINGHAMTON — When Charles Delaney boarded a train to join the Holy Cross congregation, he thought he’d be home in six months. He was wrong. That journey has lasted 62 years and has taken him to Mexico and Chile as a missionary. Growing up on Binghamton’s east side, Father Delaney enjoyed sports and dancing, and thought he was an unlikely candidate for the priesthood. He worked at neighborhood grocery stores and earned enough to pay his first year’s tuition to Notre Dame, where he wanted to study to be a lawyer to defend the poor. Instead his life took a different path. Father Delaney was ordained 55 years ago in June. He spent the last month in the Syracuse Diocese, preaching at four different parishes asking for support for his work in Santiago, Chile with alcoholics and drug addicts and their families. During a sermon at St. John the Evangelist in Binghamton on Father’s Day, he spoke of the importance of families.

“Most of the talk today is to invest. Where are you going to invest? What’s the best investment? I’ll tell you one thing is truthful. The best investment that you have is your family. That is the investment of life,” he said. Father Delaney said it’s important for families to forgive. “No one is perfect. We all have our faults and our failures and if we want our Father, God to forgive us, we also have to forgive others.”

Time spent together is also significant. “Even I have my family back in Chile. I live with one other priest and two brothers,” Father Delaney said. “If I don’t want to go home, if I hate to go home, then that’s not going to be a happy family.” He also stressed the importance of communication, particularly listening. “Most of the time we don’t listen to one another. While the other one is speaking while we have a disagreement or so, we’re thinking about how we’re going to answer and we’re not listening.” There are other ways to communicate as well. “All they do in Chile is kiss,” he notes. “It’s another way. But I think you should not be afraid of hugging, especially the children and the youth. Give them a good hug, a good kiss. It’s worth a lot to them.” Father Delaney said each person should be recognized for his or her gifts and talents. Individuality is prime for every person, from childhood to the elderly. “If they are happy in their homes, don’t worry too much about them becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs,” he said.

In an interview after his homily, Father Delaney spoke of his 47 years working with several generations of addicts and alcoholics in Chile. He starts with education of the very young, children four of five. “I am very convinced that the best prevention is early education. A child, when he becomes a teenager and has the first temptations or offers to use any kind of drugs, that he will say the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ depending on his knowledge,” he said. “Not only because a father or mother says so. I believe very much in that.” Father Delaney added that education in all subjects can allow for discussion of addiction problems from time to time. About 150 patients receive treatment at the clinic in Chile. Some have been off drugs or alcohol for as much as 35 years. “I always feel that we don’t have lepers as lepers.” said Father Delaney. “Today the alcoholic is not a leper, but he’s not accepted. The other drug addicts are more lepers today and you don’t want to see them around.”

To learn more about addiction, Father Delaney traveled twice around the United States by bus. “I didn’t really understand what it was before,” he said. “So that helped me very much. And I learned a lot when I was a child from my own family. I had maybe five uncles who had problems. I learned a lot from them that helped me a lot later.” When he speaks in the diocese, Father Delaney looks to raise money to pay for his work because most patients cannot afford to pay for themselves. But he’s also looking to raise awareness.

“It’s to get a message across. To understand the church is a big church, a wide church. We’re all members of the same body,” he said. “I don’t think there’s been a mass in all my time preaching that there hasn’t been a person who shakes your hand or gives you a kiss and you know why. And that’s a person afflicted with it.”

On June 30, Father Delaney returned to his home in a poor section of Santiago, a city of 5 million people, to continue his work among the alcoholics and drug addicts. “I’ve thought many times in the past it’s a losing proposition. They’re not good patients, they don’t pay their bills and they don’t keep their medicine, “ he said. “I see them differently. I’m very happy I can help some.”

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