BLOG: She loves Jesus, she believes

Posted on: April 19, 2018 10:00 am

Sister Maria Christina Hennig, SND, (back row, second from left) with volunteers and guests at Mötesplats Caritas in Stockholm, Sweden.

by Sister Maria Christina Hennig

I am happy to be able to visit more freely and provide pastoral care at a hospital here in Stockholm, most recently with patients experiencing mental health and psychiatric issues. The staff has little knowledge about religion or religious matter. People like me, who serve as chaplains and pastoral caregivers, are regarded as very strange and to some extent even dangerous. Meanwhile, the staff has welcomed me and now they even make referrals, which is usually very rare here. I suppose the staff wonders about when I visit, talk the patient's language, and enjoy my time with them.

There have been moments in the lives of "my patients" that have accelerated a mental distress in them. One patient, for example, claims to be a victim of witchcraft and possessed by evil spirits. There are patients who believe in a vengeful and punishing God. Victims of rape see themselves as guilty and carry shame. So to some extent it is understandable that the staff is skeptical of me and my outreach to these varied cases. However, I see my ministry among theses patients as life-giving and important.

One of the patients with whom I am working more intensively is a refugee from South Sudan. Her story started as she was only a child and ran away from home. Like so many of the children escaping as refugees, she suffers a psychosis. This seems to be the only way for many to cope with the violence, abuse, rapes, and trauma they are exposed to. She is still rarely able to talk about what happened to her. How can you put those cruelties into words? This patient uses images, symbols, and figures to express her story. A victim of war, she never learned how to read or write. She also has difficulties in drawing, as she never had paper and pencils. She is Catholic, prays, and keeps her Bible under her pillow, so that "the Holy Spirit will give her the words." She asks for oil and holy water as she believes in the healing power, that is was she needs most. So that is what I bring her, and the love of God, which will set her free from all the "demons" she says she has.

In our conversations, I sometimes think we found an opening and the next time we meet, she is seemingly back where we started. There is so much fear. It can be dangerous "to touch the demons of the past." I am sure that with a lot of time, prayer, love, and the healing power of our Lord Jesus, she may come to a point where she will not suffer so much. I take her for walks, we pray together, and recently she sang for me. We have some real joyful moments. She laughs and the love of God shines through her. In all of this disaster, she loves Jesus, she believes.

Back at the little convent I call home, it feels like a kind of a small Christian "siblings" community. We serve each other and people in need, in prison, in hospital, and in hospice. ...Incarnating the love of our good and provident God.

Sister Maria Christina ministers at Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge, Stockholm, and with Mötesplats Caritas (a Catholic Charities organization) in Sweden. She serves in the areas of psychiatry and hematology at the hospital, providing pastoral care to patients, families, and staff. At Caritas, Sister Maria Christina works with migrants, most of whom are women and children. 

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Date: on May 8, 2018

Praise be Jesus for you sister!

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