Today, 20 December, we celebrate the International Day of Human Solidarity, which recognises solidarity as one of the fundamental and universal values that should underpin relations between peoples.

On this occasion we caught up with sister Anna Rosa C., sister of Charity who has made solidarity and the charisma of Jeanne Antide the guide for her path of service and care for her neighbour.

My name is sister Anna Rosa, originally from Emilia Romagna, Italy. I began my journey among the Sisters of Charity of Saint Jeanne Antide Thouret forty years ago, when I felt a force calling me. At the same time, however, I had many reservations. For me, those who had to give themselves to the Lord had to have specific qualities and know how to do many things, whereas I felt very small.

Despite these reservations, inside I felt something pushing me, and I told myself that at least I had to try and have this experience. So, after finishing school to become a nurse, I asked the Sisters of Charity if I could have an experience with them, so that I could see what their life was like. And that is how I realised that this was my path and decided to start postulancy.

After a year of postulancy I started the novitiate, and for me this was a very strong time, during which I looked at my whole life, the positive and negative things, in order to be able to rebuild my story on the basis of what the Lord was asking of me.

After the novitiate I started a period of juniorate, during which I worked in a hospital as a professional nurse. There I came into contact with suffering, and it was a tough but beautiful experience, because here I recognised the desire that had driven me to enter religious life: to transmit the Lord’s love to those who did not know Him or had not had the opportunity to know Him, and those who suffered injustice. This was what I carried within me, and what my mother and father had taught me.

I worked 4-5 years at this hospital, and in the 6th year, the year of preparation for perpetual vows, I was asked if I was available to go on mission. When I had entered the community of the Sisters of Charity I had the desire to leave, but I had then put it in a drawer, because I saw that it was a path that presented difficulties, such as learning a new language. However, there were no major difficulties, I took perpetual vows, studied French for three months in Besancon, France, and in 1993, in August, I left for the mission in Chad.

I did not expect anything so when I arrived I welcomed what I found, but at the same time I was on the defensive. I told myself: “If it doesn’t go, I’ll go back”. Now I have been in Chad for 30 years and I have not gone back.

My first experience was in a hospital in a small village, Goundi, where I stayed for nine years. When I first arrived, I was disoriented because the hospital was totally different from the facilities I was used to. We had to make do with what was there. I soon realised that I was able to do so many things sometimes with nothing, as if every day we could see miracles from the Lord’s help. We saw people recovering their health, and we welcomed the relationship of surrender and trust that the people who came for treatment had with the sisters.

In 2002, I was asked to go to a health centre. Here one person, acting as a nurse, was in charge of making diagnoses, prescribing and, from a small pharmacy, giving patients the necessary medicines. There was also a maternity unit attached, where we did pre-natal diagnoses and followed pregnancies. I, as a professional nurse, had to learn how to help women give birth.

One of our tasks was to give first aid to people who had had accidents, and who came to the centre because the hospital was so far away, about 80 kilometres. We happened to take in a little boy who had been thrown off by an elephant. His uncle had wrapped him in a sheet and brought him to us. we dressed him, sutured him up, gave him antibiotics. After 20 days he returned to his home on his own feet, much to his uncle’s delight. We always had to make do with what we had.

After four years in this health centre, I did a year’s suspension in Italy, took spiritual and also professional courses, to be able to run a health centre.

Then, when I came back, they asked me to change community and I left for the capital, N’djamena, and went back to work in a Jesuit university hospital. To ensure a higher quality of care, a medical university and nursing school had been established here. I found myself working there for 10 years in the operating theatre.

After a period when my mother was unwell and I had to return to Italy, I went back to the hospital in Goundi. In order to have fewer staff and have a better quality of service, we had amalgamated the wards, dividing all those that needed continuous supervision or intensive care (paediatrics, medicine and surgery) on one side; and on the other the post-intensive care service, which had no night watch. In addition to these there was also the maternity ward.

As nuns’ staff, there was me, who worked in the intensive ward, and another young junior nun who worked in the nutrition centre. It was an orphanage, rather than a nutritional centre, where children, orphaned by their mothers, were taken in. They could stay there until they were two years old, a critical period for the child’s growth, and then, after the two years, they would return to the father’s family. A nun supervised the feeding of the children and taught the grandmothers how to manage the child afterwards. We had good results and the children were healthy.

When I left as a young woman I had inner security, but I had so many doubts and I put up so many barriers, today I can say that I am happier, I feel more serene than when I left and I am more convinced today than yesterday of what I am doing, even though there is no lack of difficulties, which are found everywhere. I also had many trials in the family, but they were trials that fortified me and made me grow, and today they have led me to do things I would never have thought of doing.

What convinced me to apply to join the Sisters of Charity was an experience in a nursing home during postulancy. There I had seen how the sisters served these elderly people, the tenderness they used. This struck me very much, and it is what I see in my mission today: to bring and transmit this love of Christ.