By BISHOP JOEL M. KONZEN, S.M. | Published November 3, 2023 | En Español
I have just returned from visiting a Catholic school in Ghana, West Africa, that is more than a school. It is also a health center where people from the surrounding area, as well as the students in the school, can receive proper health care that is vital in the impoverished region.
This is a school in the Diocese of Ho, in the Volta region, that has been conceived and built primarily as a vision of someone, who until recently, resided in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The students are HIV-positive orphans who, without the Pope Francis School and Health Center, would not have the opportunity for an education and high-quality health care.
It is one thing to assist the venture from afar, as I and others have attempted to do for the past several years. It is quite another thing to interact with the students, to see the way the teachers inspire and care deeply for the students, and to note the active interest of the Bishop of Ho in providing for these children. A small group of us from the Archdiocese of Atlanta, including Father Anthony Baffour, a Ghanaian priest working at St. Patrick Church in Norcross, brought what we could to the new school—crucifixes and statues, soccer balls and uniforms, and especially the prayers and good wishes of many in our area who have wanted to help this project to realize its goals and reach completion. I was also able to formally dedicate the facility while there.
It has been inspiring to me to see the interest from people of good will here in the Atlanta area for such a project. I have often said that there is a special appreciation—and, I believe, a special grace—for those who are able to reach out to needy children in a faraway location, whom they will likely never meet, because of Christ’s injunction to feed the hungry and to care for those who would otherwise have no one to care for them. Such is the case for these children. If not for this school, complete with caring adults who live in the boarding school with these children, the youngsters would be left to a life of virtual servitude in the fishing industry that would almost surely end in further illness and an early death.
So, I want to commend all in our Catholic ranks who seek to support persons in need around the globe whether or not you have met them or know much about them. Some of us, in our youth, were encouraged to save our pennies and to assist the foreign missions. Well, the need is still great in so many impoverished locales. Of course, there is no shortage of worthy charities here in the United States. When Jesus tells us to give alms so that “everything will be clean for you,” He is saying that we follow his law and receive his grace when we work to lift others from their need or at least alleviate that need for a time. When he tells of the widow who gave the small amount she had as an offering, he is speaking directly to us as Christians, urging us to hear the pleas of the vulnerable and forgotten.
I am grateful to Mike Barry, the founder of the Pope Francis School and Health Center, for asking me a number of years ago to assist in making his dream come to fruition. There is still more to accomplish there before it will be finished. But it has been good for me and for many others to peer over the invisible wall that sometimes surrounds us to look into the needs of those we have not known except to affirm that they are God’s children and deserve our help so that they might live in peace and security on earth and one day come to receive the crown of heaven.