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Supporting HIV and AIDS Victims in Zambia: An Interview with Fr. Wilfreddo Sabarillo

Fr. Randy     Nov 9, 2016 9:00:00 AM


Fr. Wilfreddo Sabarillo, more affectionately known as “Pops” (because he was the eldest in his seminary class), is a native of the Philippines serving the poor in Zambia, Africa. Initially, he assumed his new home would be similar to the Philippines, but due to cultural differences like food, language, and family customs, it was a bigger adjustment than he expected. After seven years in Zambia, however, it feels like home.

Pops is currently working on the outskirts of Mulungushi, in a diocese that is only four years old, at St. Monica’s parish. The roads to the various parts of the mission is dusty and rugged and during rainy season it is difficult to travel, but that doesn’t stop Father from spending most of his waking hours traveling long distances in order to minister to the people, most of whom are subsistence farmers who depend entirely on the quality of the corn harvest for their income.

While the bulk of his ministry is pastoral and sacramental in nature, Pops quickly realized upon arriving in Zambia that the people he serves are also in desperate need of material help like education and medical care.

He regularly takes his parishioners to clinics and hospitals--in 72 villages there are only three clinics, and those provide only the most basic medical care--when they have no other means of transportation.

Father Wilfreddo recalls a particularly intense day of ministry that involved both birth and death: “One time I was saying Mass and afterward a woman came up to me and said, ‘Father, can you help me? My granddaughter has been in labor since 6 AM.’  I was looking at my watch and it was already 5:15 in the afternoon! So, I brought the girl--she was maybe 15 years old-- to the hospital and went home to sleep. I’d only been in bed for an hour when another woman came to tell me that her daughter, who had HIV, had died in the night. I helped her find a coffin, transport her daughter’s body, and planned the funeral. That’s our job--not only giving the Sacraments but helping people with many other things. Later, I found out that the other girl gave birth to a healthy child and was back in the village. It’s quite rewarding to see that.”

Many of the people Fr. Wilfreddo works with suffer from HIV and AIDS but are not willing to get tested or even talk about their illness because it is a cultural taboo to do so.

Pops and his fellow missionaries work closely with NGOs who offer HIV testing and will even get their own blood tested to show the Zambians that there’s nothing to fear.

When asked about how Missionhurst priests support each other in Zambia even though, due to the distance between villages, they are not able to live in community, Fr. Wilfreddo smiled and said, “One of my confreres is running an orphanage--I support his work and he inspires me with what he is doing. We inspire each other. And sometimes we just go to town and have some pizza together.”  

While it is tempting at times to be discouraged and overwhelmed by the enormity of the task before Fr. Wilfreddo and his confreres, he insists that the support of Missionhurst donors--both spiritual and material--is key to their ability to persevere

“The support that comes from you is not for us missionaries, it is for the people who are in dire need. It is encouraging for the people to know that there are people out there who care about them enough to help educate them, provide them with healthcare, etc. Your support helps them to realize their humanity.”

Will you make a small gift of $5 to support the people of Zambia? Your support can bring life and hope to people in serious need.

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Topics: Stories from the Field, Relief & Healthcare

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About This Blog

Missionhurst Missionaries build Catholic communities in frontier situations: places where the gospel is not preached or lived. This blog is about their work in the four corners of the globe, and their holistic work in four areas of focus: relief and healthcare, socio-economic development, education, and pastoral work.

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