AFRICA/CONGO – The Franciscans: a mission of proximity with street children
They offer food and lodging, take care of them, help them to study and learn a trade. Thus, for over 20 years, the Franciscan friars of the Republic of Congo, in their mission of fidelity to the Gospel and of proximity to the poorest, help street children in the capital Brazzaville. Until about 30 years ago the problem of street children was almost non-existent in Africa. The big blended family was able to take charge of the orphans. Today the social structure is disintegrating and the traditional structure cannot guarantee a peaceful life for those who are abandoned. There are currently around two thousand children in Brazzaville who are being followed by various welfare organizations. According to some observers, however, the children who live on the street who sleep in makeshift shelters are at least twice as high. It is a scandal for a country rich in natural resources: oil, natural gas, precious wood, diamonds. “Congo Brazzaville – Friar Domenico Domenici, a Franciscan missionary, explains to Fides – is a rich nation. But wealth is not equally distributed and poverty reigns: over 50% of the Congolese live below the poverty line. Among the first victims there are children and little girls”.
Many are abandoned because they are considered “baby sorcerers”. Others because they remain orphans. Others because grandparents or relatives who took charge of them can no longer keep them. Others because they flee violence. “At the base – continues friar Domenico – there is always poverty. They cannot study, they do not learn a trade. They are often prey to petty crime. The police often take them to the community asking us to welcome them”.
The community of the Franciscans of Brazzaville was born in 1991 and in 1998 the friars gave life to a host community for minors. Friar Domenico observes: “I already had a similar experience in Makoua, a town 700 km from Brazzaville, where I worked as a missionary for a few years. In the capital we have created a structure that welcomes about seventy young people assisted by us religious and by a group of volunteers”.
The friars have tried to rebuild a family environment in which young people can rediscover the serenity they lost. They offer them accommodation, pay for their studies and professional training. “Thanks to donations – concludes friar Dominic – we are able to offer them the opportunity to learn a job. In Congo the sensitivity grows towards those who need help: it is a positive sign”.