During World Youth Day celebrations in 2002, three pilgrim priests from Togo were provided lodging at Prince of Peace School in Toronto. In the evenings, Fr Thomas, Fr Nestor and Fr Jean de Dieu would return to the school office where they shared stories of the poor who had been “abandoned by the world” in their country. They asked that our school and church communities form a “partnership” with them.
Much serious soul-searching ensued. How could there be a partnership when “they” were the needy ones and “we” were the ones to whom “they” had come for help? Partnership implies equality and reciprocity, and what could the poor possibly have to offer those whose every worldly need seemed to have already been met? Could there be some hidden wisdom in this request for “partnership” from West Africa?
Development projects began to take shape. Travellers to Togo were deeply affected by the material poverty of their brothers and sisters. Several schools were built in villages, medical assistance was provided, a micro-finance initiative was undertaken.
Slowly, over time, a new understanding began to emerge. It was becoming more and more evident that the “poor” are not simply “over there”. They are also right here; we, the ones who seem to have so much, share in the condition of poverty with our sisters and brothers overseas. How? For every condition of material need in a far-off land there is a parallel or corresponding need right here within us and in our society.
“Mister, please ask Canadians to help us build schools for our children.”
There are numerous schools that are nothing more than grass roofs held up by poles in the ground – there is a dire need for better schools in many countries. What of us? When we are honest, we see that we require an education that will help us understand that the injustices troubling this world need our response.
“Mister, have mercy on this child.”
Kokou Azoukpo, a five-year-old boy living in Avati, a village in the bush, was ostracised by many of his neighbours because of a facial deformity. Doctors in Togo were powerless to help this child. Kokou underwent surgery at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto and is alive and well today. His story is now part of our journey of “faith in action”, a story that touched the hearts of thousands of school children and adults in Toronto, and in Togo as well. Such is partnership, when we heal and grow together!