I originally wrote the following for the Ars Longa North American newsletter, but there wasn’t space for the entire story. So I offer it to you here. It was several months before I could write about my experiences with Annamaria; the burden of abandonment – even at this level – is strong. My guilt is even stronger knowing that I have not been able to visit her at all this year. I suppose we cannot be all things to all people at all times, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to try.
This past weekend, several students went with English teacher Szabina for a
retreat and discussion time in the mountains. These students were those who had
faithfully visited some of the young orphans in the state hospital. Every Wednesday
afternoon, about 5-10 people make the trip over to Szölös, giving up the entirety of
their day’s free time. The children they visit at the hospital are young, all under the
age of three; some are truly orphans and some were abandoned by their parents.
The babies receive food and clothing and a crib and sometimes even a name from
the state, but our students go to offer something just as necessary to survival. They
go to hold the children, to bounce them up and down and kiss their foreheads, to
play with them, to laugh with them, to call them by their names
I had the privilege of visiting the hospital 3 or 4 times with the group of
students. I became especially attached to one of the children, Annamaria;
Annamaria was 3 years old, but developmentally she was like a child barely 1. Her
speech was minimal, but her energy was insatiable, and we played many games of
wrap-the-baby-doll-in-a-blanket or catch-the-falling-juice-cup or run-out-to-the-
hallway or press-your-face-to-the-window-and-watch-the-birds-in-the-trees-
Annamaria could always sense when it was time for us to go. She could see
the others putting the babies back in their cribs, she heard the change in our tone of
voices, and she struggled as I took her shoes off. When I placed her back in her own
crib, she would bury her face in the mattress and begin to cry, not a tired toddler
cry, but a desperate wail, so painful that each time I almost cried with her. Her tears
were an accusation, reminding me of all the things I could not do for her.
These students who come back every Wednesday have an incredible amount
of courage. They give pieces of their hearts to these babies and listen to them cry
every week when the visit is over; the children cry because they feel abandoned,
and the youth come back every week and brave that accusation of abandonment.
They give what they can and enact Jesus’ commandment to love the “least of these”
in whatever way possible.