Home > Archives > 05 - 2003 > Knock and it will be opened to you
from issue no. 05 - 2003

A comment by Don Matteo Galloni founder of the Love and Freedom community

Knock and it will be opened to you


by Danilo de Marco

Two street's kids of Kinshasa

Two street's kids of Kinshasa

Our community wants to serve the Lord and the very poor. We were founded in Italy in 1988 to provide a home for children who didn’t have one. We were doing the same six years ago when we built our first reception home on the derelict outskirts of Kinshasa. We took care of the under-aged and by and by, in the area assigned to us by Cardinal Etsou, we have sought, with our two Congolese priests, to guarantee pastoral and religious services. Some time ago the Cardinal told us that once a church was built in our area, he would elevate it into a parish. For us who thought we would only be looking after the boys of our home it means that everybody, grownups, homeless and the elderly, can knock on our door. We shall have to open our heart and arms wider. For many years now I’ve spent my time coming and going from the Congo, I’ve seen what the other missionaries did before us, and I’ve tried to understand the soul and the culture of the Africans, and in what our small community could be truly useful, given our small resources. The answer, as always, came on its own after a while, just as we were making the usual round of our “quarter”: there wasn’t even one school. The majority of the children of the poor don’t have and won’t get any education, they’re too busy trying to find something to eat once in the day and maybe some small consumer article to provide a bit of happiness. That’s how they grow up, with nobody teaching them anything. So four years ago we opened an elementary school which, according to the Belgian model in force in the Congo, takes six years to get through. It’s wonderful to see children growing and studying. But lately, when I looked at the bigger ones among them, I began wondering what they would do once they finished the first cycle of studies: they’d probably go back to their previous lives. So the last time I went to Kinshasa we took the decision to build a secondary school, with a great assembly hall. And to the first new building we decided to add a second, a larger reception home for the children, transforming the actual one into a workshop where to teach and practice carpentry, cutting and sewing and computer skills. For those who have an aptitude for study we’ll try to find bursaries so they can go to university, even though they are the children of the poor.
The third novelty is connected with the above mentioned decision of Cardinal Etsou to turn us into a parish. It’s normal here that somebody knock on the door to ask for charity, because they’re hungry or because they don’t have anything to take home to their families. For the parish priests and the missions it’s a daily occupation here dealing with a crowd of people asking and distributing a little to everybody, and it will be ever more the same for our community when we become a parish.
The average income of a Congolese is equivalent to about ninety euros a month: little, but enough to feed a family. We’ve begun giving the equivalent of one day’s work, three euros, to those who ask for help and asking them in exchange, where possible, to do a little job (tidying the lawn, moving the water containers, acting as watchman). That’s why those who visit our mission in Kinshasa always find quite a crowd, busy on a great variety of jobs (some of it obviously make-work). We think it’s better that way, that it’s also charity to make these men content at the end of the day to receive pay and not just to be helped for the moment and left to themselves. But our parish has seventy thousand souls, invent work as we may we’ll never find jobs for them all; and then what to do for the elderly, or for the children? The plot of land we live on lies between the airport and the shantytown, it was sold to us deliberately so they wouldn’t build illegally close to the runways, making it dangerous for the planes. Beyond the airport and along the Congo river I’ve spotted a huge fertile piece of ground and I’ve begun the negotiations to buy it for our mission, if I will find the necessary money. I’m also trying to get out of Italy a container of hoes and seed for planting and to find a suitable vehicle to transport the men to the land. I hope I’ll manage. We want to offer a job, and give each worker his pay each day. The produce from the land would go to the upkeep of the mission and of its inmates, who include (and will always more include) the invalids and the elderly. Some time ago a priest friend took me to a hut where we found an old woman on her own and by then close to exhaustion. Her sons had left to look for work, and there had been no further news or help from them, and the mother hadn’t eaten since who knows when. Life is often like that here with us. To those who have the capacity to help our work I explain everything in detail, I explain that ninety euros is worth the life of a family, that there’s no lack of land, water and the people to work it, that the prospects for an innovative agricultural project like this, could be immense and useful (not least to slow the emigration dictated by desperation, or to get those who have left to come back). In a word, we’d like to “adopt” fathers of families with the same missionary charity that our community had first with children in Italy and now in Kinshasa.
It’s a proposal, some people like it, and that comforts us, but it also still sadly happens that bureaucracy puts a spoke in the wheel. Patience, provided that in the meantime the hungry don’t suffer. That no. We don’t want flags and medals, we work for the Lord and for the poor.

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