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First Sunday in Lent - by Fr Paterne Mombe, SJ

A Call to Grow in our Identity of Children of God

Lent is a journey of conversion during which we are called to commit ourselves in a special way to the renewing and perfecting our relationship with God (prayer), with ourselves (fast) and with others (charity). A spiritual journey during which we are called to reaffirm our identity of children of God and true disciples of Christ.

On this 1st Sunday of the Lent Season, the gospel set before us the model to follow in this spiritual journey. It tells us about Jesus who, before starting his mission was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where he spent 40 days praying and fasting, just as Moses and Elijah in the Old Testament. A time of a heart-to-heart with God retreat which culminates into a time of temptation. The threefold temptation which tells about our own experience in a time of vulnerability, willing to impose on God our ways and means, or to go about the realities in our lives according to our own way and not that of God.

This temptation is not less at the heart of the experience of our brothers and sisters plagued with HIV and AIDS, or any other challenging condition like (imposed) poverty. I remember, shortly after I joined AJAN as Director, I had the visit of a friend who is living with HIV. He just had an experience that left him shocked and disheartened. Joining the thousands of people living with HIV from Eastern Africa and beyond who were hoping for a miraculous cure, he traveled to Loliondo (Tanzania) where a pastor was reported with a special power to cure HIV with prayers and a concoction.

The medicinal preparation made from plants known by the pastor alone was served in limited quantity every morning. Patiently my friend made his way to the pastor, after spending days in the queue, and received his share in the healing beverage. He then rushed for HIV testing to find that he was still HIV positive. In fact, many are our brothers and sisters aspiring to miraculous healing who go to ‘men of God’ who invite them to abandon their therapy which consumption would be a sign of lack of faith and to come for fasting and prayers to be healed. Nevertheless, behind this aspiration, there is also the strive to escape from the heavy burden of stigma and discrimination as well as unjust deprivation from the treatments and services they need for their welfare.

Above all, through his example, Jesus sets for us the path to follow in this Lenten Season: to grow in our identity of children of God, making of God’s will our daily bread and living in total confidence, knowing that he hears and responds to the cry of his children. He will be with his children in their time of distress to deliver them. As this may come to us as a message of hope, it is also an invitation to us to live the call to perfect our relationship with others. It is a call to become God’s loving and caring presence in the lives of our brethren in distress. Eventually, for people living with HIV, there is no that best healing than this attentive hears to their plea, loving and caring presence that includes them and defends their dignity. May the Lord grant us a fertile Lenten season.

 Fr. Paterne Mombe, SJ from Bangui, Central African Republic is a Former director of AJAN