On his first missionary assignment on the Zambian-Angola border in the 1980s, Friar Charlie Hanley made regular visits to outstation churches in the bush. Alongside the Eucharist, Hanley always made sure to bring at least one of the following: salt, soap, or corn meal. “Some people would go for six months without a bar of soap unless they made the trip to the smaller towns, which meant not working in the family fields for those days,” he explains.
If getting access to a bar of soap was a challenge, what might the difficulties be for these communities in responding to the AIDS pandemic? Spotting an urgent need to be met, Hanley and his fellow Capuchins began assisting HIV-infected people and their loved ones. Later, in 2001, they established CHAS (Capuchin HIV/AIDS Services) in Lusaka, Zambia, where Hanley is now the director and jack-of-all-trades, doing everything from counseling to the accounts to visiting clients in CHAS’ trusty 1986 Isuzu pickup.
About 2.2 million people in Zambia, or about 20 percent of the population, are HIV-positive. CHAS works with established NGOs to assist people of all faiths who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, providing free pastoral care, counseling, testing, and other assistance, from being a comforting presence at the bedside of a lonely person while they sleep to finding a donor for shoes so that the child of an infected parent can return to school.
Hanley recently took time to share about his 31 years of ministry in Africa, which started out as a temporary cover assignment. “There was always such great need that I just remained,” he explains. “‘The poor you will always have with you,’ and the Capuchins will always live with the poor, as the poor, and for the poor! Whatever it takes.” To read Father Hanley’s interview with Catholic Digest, see the August/September issue. To read two stories by Father Hanley about his interactions with the people he serves, click here:
Help Friar Hanley’s mission
To learn more, and to help Friar Hanley in his mission, call 201-863-4036 or visit CapuchinHIVAIDSServices.org, as well as CapuchinFriars.org (click on “Missions”). Donations may be sent to:
Capuchin Franciscan Friars
Office of Development and Missionary Activities
P.O. Box 839
Union City, NJ 07087
Please indicate in your letter or on your check that you wish your donation to support Zambia.
How the friars came to Zambia
“The Friars from Ireland first came to Zambia back in the 1930s,” shares Hanley. “They were given the responsibility for Livingstone and over the years they followed the Zambezi River north, opening missions as they went. When it came to evangelization they were like a bush fire with a heavy blowing wind behind it. They where everywhere, and just when you thought the fire died out there would be a gust of wind and it was off again.
“Many a road, medical facility, and school was constructed under their supervision, by the strength in their arms and badger-like determination.
“Friars would just pack things up and go on safaris to the distant Church communities for Mass and the sacraments. Or, as they would say, even when it was raining, ‘Sure it’s a grand day for a walk!’ Neither government office nor the poorest compound was left untouched by their presence, their unending work for the poor, and their joyful kindness.”
Today the Capuchin presence in Zambia consists of primarily Zambians (25 in perpetual vows), along with 10 Irish friars and Father Hanley (American).