Korea: Christmas among the poor at ‘Anna’s House’

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Missionary Vincenzo Bordo, a pioneer of the social charities of the Korean Church, welcomes the homeless and marginalised in Suwon. And he has ‘found life again’ thanks to Pope Francis.

Christmas among the poor in ‘Anna’s House’, a shelter on the outskirts of Suwon, consists of sharing, smiles and simplicity. Above all, it is imbued with the values of closeness and evangelical charity that flow from faith in Christ.

The Italian missionary Vincenzo Bordo, who knew and helped the poor long before Korean parishes became aware of them, tells Vatican Insider how the evangelical spirit pervades a work that is not mere human solidarity: ‘Jesus Christ teaches us the values that make people happy and make this world a better place. They are love given unconditionally; forgiveness offered sincerely; joyous welcoming of others; generous sharing of the talents that each one of us brings; the search for peace in a non-violent way; dialogue with those who are different from us’.

Anna’s House, which Bordo opened 22 years ago in Suwon, belongs to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and it is a shelter for lonely older people, abandoned youths, homeless men and the unemployed. Korean society ‘did not recognise the new poor. People claimed that there were no homeless in Korea. The very ecclesiastical community, even though there are many priests, did not understand and did not know what to do’. Bordo rolled up his sleeves and started from the suburbs. There, he met the homeless, the vagrants and the marginalised who live by their wits. He started a shelter that grew and became meaningful for the area.

Bordo explains that ‘every day, 500 homeless people benefit from a dinner and shower. Then there is a dormitory. We offer social, psychological and medical assistance. We aim to bring these people back to society. For this reason, we have also opened a centre for professional development’.

Over the course of 20 years, the shelter, which was built on the land of the dioceses, has grown to become an NGO recognised by Caritas and the Korean government. The project has also expanded to reach out to ‘youths on the streets, who have fled their families. Today, there are three buildings specifically designed for them. In the first one, they are welcomed for about 9 months, a time when we try to understand their problems. Then, there are three possible ways for the young people: they either go back to their families, or they go to one of our young people’s homes to study, or they go to another home to enter the job market’. 

It is a work of evangelisation ‘which relies especially on lay people. We have 25 lay employees and other volunteers. ‘Anna’s House’ costs around 1,300 euros a day and is supported by donations. We have never lacked anything; Providence helps us’, says Bordo. Confirmation and comfort are also given by the many exhortations from Pope Francis to ‘go to existential peripheries’. Bordo claims that ‘these words comfort me a lot and give me strength and energy for the future’.

The Pope, in his trip in August 2014, left a permanent mark in Korea. ‘He spoke of reconciliation, dialogue, attention to the poor. Above all, he performed actions full of tenderness towards suffering people: lonely elderly people, disabled people, victims of the sunk ferryboat, the “women of comfort”. Embracing the small people, he has cured the wounds of a whole nation. Now, after those unforgettable days, it is up to us Christians to gather his inheritance and continue on this path’.

Living with the poor and ‘always touching the sores of the poor Christ reminds us that a relentless race towards economic riches – Korea is one of the richest countries in the world – brings destruction and the demise of a culture. Korea also boasts, among his records, one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and a low birth rate, while young people say they are the ‘most unhappy’ among the 40 countries of OCSE’. Bordo adds that ‘when I came here, 25 years ago, I found strong human values and happy people. Now I see around me much richness and much unhappiness’.

Christmas among the poor takes us back to the essentials, to ‘Christ who became poor to make us rich through his poverty’.

Source: vassallomalta.wordpress.com (Dec. 28, 2014)