Fr. Alfredo M. Tortorella
At Building 15 of the Frederick II University Polyclinic of Naples on Tuesday 15 June, as a result of the initiative of a lecturer in ophthalmology, Dr. Paolo Lepre, a special lesson was given to students specialising in this noble branch of medicine. This was a lesson on…Africa!
Equipped with powerpoint, Prof. Lepre offered a true testimony of missionary experience in Benon which he had engaged in with the association Konou Konou Africa Onlus. Thus association had been created within the Second Polyclinic of Naples whose ophthalmology section then launched the ‘Let’s see Together’ project which was directed above all else at the treatment of cataract or glaucoma, or both together. These are pathologies which if not acted upon in time lead to total blindness, not only in adults and the elderly but also in children and adolescents. Prof. Lepre was coordinated in his work by Dr. Stefano Schiemer and Dr. Mariantonia, who are both engaged in specialist courses, and by the nurse Flaviano de Lucia. The team left from Naples and carried out 80 eye operations and more than 350 clinical examinations, for the most part at the ‘La Croix’ Hospital of Zinvié of Camillian religious and at the Gbemontin Centre of Zagnanado which is run by Sister Julia Aguiar, a Spanish religious famous for her care for patients with Buruli’s ulcer.
The ‘lesson’ of Prof. Lepre very quickly became a personal memory of the people whom he had met and the events that he had experienced. This memory was almost visible to all the public thanks to the ‘images’ above the photographs of powerpoint because they sprang from the hearts of those who gave and at the same time received the gift of the experience of mission: from the memory of the nurse Benoit who ‘made do’ as an anaesthetist with kindly and deeply moving ways of doing things to the young man aged thirty-two with glaucoma in both eyes who had reached the hospital with a white stick to guide himself, a stick which would be thrown away immediately afterwards because he had reacquired his sight.
But what struck one about this ‘lesson’ given one ordinary afternoon, in a hall like any other of the university hospital of Naples, was not so much that one was listening to an account of what had been done in Africa with pictures projected onto a white screen: exotic photographs portraying natives in their lively costumes and stronger pictures for eyes that do not know about operating theatre…What struck one is that there are still those, in areas such as the academic world, who remember that medical care is not only a question of ‘science’ but also one of ‘conscience’: learning to give gratuitously and learning to provide care with a true heart. Sensitising the new medical generation to solidarity was the authentic intention of this special ‘lesson’.
Pope Paul VI affirmed, as we very well know, that the modern world needs witnesses more than teachers: true lecturers, true teachers and transmitters of knowledge are those who effectively – as happened at the department of ophthalmology of the Second Polyclinic – speak about the beauty of an encounter and the richness of a gift that has been made.
The hope is that this event will generate new teachers-witnesses and an increasing number of medical doctors inspired by solidarity!