The Peace Weekly recently interviewed the custodian of Magdalena House, a Catholic shelter for victims of prostitution. It provides counseling for those who are trying to leave the life of prostitution and return to a normal life in society. The woman in charge of the House, Consecrata, told of her work to help those who have died while working in the sex trade.
She remembers the many women who have come to the shelter and have died. Their pictures were shown to the interviewer, and she heard Consecrata reminisce about each one of the women. Each picture had a story to tell. One woman, who had lived as a prostitute but left the life to begin her own small business, was killed in an auto accident.
Since 1987 Consecrata has been involved with the funeral rites for these women. One woman was accepting a male visitor up to the moment she died. Consecrata was told that it was a heart attack. She told the police she believed it was murder and asked them to investigate. She was told "You must accept what was said, what do you know about this anyway?" Even the family did not want to know the reason for her death. She said prayers for her at the mortuary and took the body to the crematorium.
When she hears of prostitutes who are sick she goes to help them in their last hours. When she helped with the burial and the funeral arrangements, on returning to the shelter she was considered unclean and they would spread salt around the premises. But seeing the way she has given of herself for others, this attitude has gradually disappeared.
Last month, three women died. When she went to the crematorium she was met by one of the workers who guessed what it was all about. You do not see women carrying the coffin in Korea, and he offered to help.
The members of Magdalena House on New Year's day and Harvest Festival prepare a table for the rites of the dead. She is asked by some of the women: "When I die will you do the same for me?" The death of a prostitute is of little interest to others, but to Consecrata the time and energy spent in caring for those who are dying is a work of love. She is often told, "You must not die before me." The rumor that prostitutes have to sell their bodies for experimental purposes to have enough money for the funeral is no longer circulated. If the woman has no family, Consecrata takes care of all that is necessary; she doesn't want to be the custodian of an unknown grave.
When the anniversary of their death comes around, she often gives friends of the deceased money to buy vegetables to prepare for guests. These women have lived a difficult life, filled with shame. Consecrata tries her best to be with them when sick and facing death, and to fulfill their wishes for the funeral rites. In a Buddhist funeral, the more bows the better, and on one occasion, she bowed so often she returned home with her legs shaking.
These women have been treated as objects. Consecrata's desire is to make their final moments on earth like all the others in society. She sees their dignity and is responding to it.