“Where there is despair, hope” asks today’s line of the Franciscan Peace Prayer. The blind teenager whom Maria Fernandez met on mission had such dispair that when they met, he cried, “I just want to die.”
May this story from Maria’s time in El Salvador (2002-2005) remind us how we can accompany people through their darkest times. Even if we can’t take away their challenges, we can offer ourselves as a companion on the uncertain journey.
“Fr. Rob asked me if I could go to one of the outlying villages to visit a young man who was going blind. So the next day I went and found him, a 15-year-old boy.
“The boy’s mother told me that when her son was 10, he had eye surgery and was fine. About a month ago, his sight began to blur and now he was no longer able to see. She also told me that he had tried to commit suicide twice in the past month, that he had stopped going to school after his classmates began to make fun of him because his mother had to accompany him to class. The other boys would hit his head on purpose, since he couldn’t see who what hitting him.
So I went over to Wilfredo and introduced myself. I told him I was there to see how we could help him. His reaction was to start screaming and yelling that no one could help him. He began to cry and say: “I just want to die”. I just listened until he had stopped crying, then told him that I would like to bring him to see an eye specialist in San Salvador. Wilfredo again began to cry and tell me that he just wanted to die.
Finally, his mother and I convinced the boy to visit the specialist, who told us that there was about a 15 percent chance of retrieving part of Wilfredo’s sight with an operation which would cost $1,200. The family is very poor, so the parish paid for the operation, which lasted an hour and a half.
Three days later, we took the boy back to the doctor and when they took the bandages from his eyes he could see nothing. Once again he lost it and began screaming and hitting anything that was near him.
The eye doctor suggested that Wilfredo go to a school for the blind, where there is a psychologist who could help him. I drove the boy to the school and they told him that they could help him function well in society despite his blindness, but that he would have to live at the school for a time.
Because Wilfredo is an only child, he understandably said that he did not want to be away from his mom and dad. I offered to take him to the school in the city, two hours away, and bring him home every night. Under that arrangement we convinced Wilfredo to attend the school.
I had to be very patient with the boy, doing things the way he wanted and gaining his trust. I took him to the school every day for a month and slowly he began to believe that I would not do anything he did not want. He began to stay at the school overnight for a week at a time and that seemed to work out.
Wilfredo has attended the school for over six months now, mostly staying there and coming home only every other weekend. He has won first place medals in swimming and running, is doing great in school and will receive training in a specific area so that he can find employment when he finishes.”