FATHER FERNANDO AZPIROZ, CASA RICCI SOCIAL SERVICES – We spread the Gospel by serving (2)

– Marco Carvalho

We are talking about health needs, physical needs. Does Casa Ricci also attend to spiritual needs? Or that’s not the focus of the work you do?

You cannot separate the two things, because we are one person. The dignity of a person … Even when a person is dying, he or she will need all kind of care and reassurement. Actually, in most of the centers we are working with the government. It is not just we. When a person is dying, the first thing we will try to see is if we can save him, physically speaking. But then, there are a lot of social needs, psychological needs and spiritual needs altogether. They need to reconcile …

For instance, we had a case of one person who came to the center in Hunan. It was a woman. She came alone, actually. We only had one month to accompany her in the process of dying. During this process she become reconciled with herself. There is a lot of guilt, a sense of guilt. They feel that something went wrong with their life. There’s guilt and also anger, all kind of feelings. Besides the physical pain, there is also a very deep spiritual pain, psychological pain, social pain that has to be addressed altogether. We never separate those things. I made the story short. This was ten years ago. Two weeks ago I was in Hunan and then one girl came. She was, I would say, thirty years old and she said: “Well, my mother died here, in this place. I never knew about her. Nobody told she was my mother, but I knew she died in this place. Could you tell me where she died, how she died?”

I said: “No, she did not die alone. The Sisters were with her.” She smiled: “In some way the Sisters represented me. I did not know, although I had the hope that she didn’t die alone.” The healing went behind her mother. It also went to the daughter. These kind of things are very difficult to separate. We are not evangelizers in terms of “We will tell you about the Gospel.” We spread the Gospel by serving.

By example …

By serving. Serving is exactly what we do. By serving with solidarity, by building solidarity, we share joy. And joy means everything to this people.

Is it easy to develop this kind of work? China is not an easy place. You try to evangelize by serving and to keep things apart. Is it absolutely the right thing to do in a country like China?

When I said we evangelize by serving, what I mean is we share the Gospel by serving. We share. It is not easy. It is not easy but the fact that we have been doing this for 30 years means that there is a lot of dialogue in between. Not only dialogue with the people who are suffering … The same thing happened with the Government. After 15 years of dialogue, we are working very closely with the authorities. There’s a lot of mistrust, a lot of presuppositions, but through a dialogue of service this relationship started to become a relationship of friendship. Friendship means a dialogue between two persons who are very different, but through dialogue they started to look at the differences as a point of encounter, between a Church and a Government who probably has a lot of concerns regarding the Church.

Nevertheless, working together, looking at the problems from a common perspective and sharing what we have and what we don’t have together, we managed to build an understanding. China is difficult and challenging for every one. It’s not only for us. It is a country that is continuously developing and developing in a very fast way. The secret is how you adjust to it. 

Did the social care provided by the Government improve during this last 30 years? Did things change in that aspect also? 

They did change quite a lot. At the beginning, it was an issue for them: they did not have the resources to address the needs they were facing. Little by little, I think that one of our very small contributions was to make the people become more and more involved in the daily life of this people. We become like a bridge between this two realities. Resource wise, the Government has invested quite a lot. Now, from the material aspect, they tried to improve the technical aspect and, more important than the technical thing, they tried to improve the soft abilities: how to help patients that are in need, people who were being marginalized and being marginalized was the main reason behind their sickness, I would say. That’s clearly the case with leprosy and HIV/AIDS. The Government has been improving and in this process we try to share what we have with the Government. In the time of Matteo Ricci, there was a cultural dialogue. Now, there was a dialogue in terms of social services. It is a language that the Government and we have in common; a dialogue of serving people who are in need.

Casa Ricci organized a concert last week to raise funds in order to help the work that it develops in China. Is money an issue?

Money is always an issue. Everyday. With all this services together, we spend more than 1.2 million dollars, so it is quite a lot. We have been doing this not because we have four or five big enterprises helping us. It’s common people that live everywhere in the world that support us. Some of them are people who have been helped here in Macau by our founder Father Ruiz, who wanted to payback the support that they had. This is a year-on-year thing. Every year, when we start we won’t know if we will have that money or not but so far, thanks be to God, we could continually do and even develop things. So, one of our big aspirations is … could the people in Macau start to be more and more involved? Because I think this is a service from the Macau community, more than an international thing. How can Macau and the people of Macau play a role through our work to make a difference in Chinese society, so it can become a more humane society, a society of solidarity, a society that is more and harmonious and a society which is full of the Gospel.

Casa Ricci’s action is mainly focused in China. Do you still do any work in Macau?

In Macau, we keep a few things. We are starting to renew a few of those things. I told you before that one of the schools that was built by Father Ruiz was Ricci School. We are still giving scholarships to children from migrant families, who have no support from the Government. We keep that tradition. And then we have started to work together with the Government … One of the persons who are working with us is a former vice-director of the Social Welfare Bureau, Peter Ao. One of the things that we want in is the social work system in Macau so it becomes more standardized and he has been helping, by working in a Commission with the Government, so through Casa Ricci we are trying to finish this. Actually, the first social workers in Macau were trained in an institution started by Father Ruiz and another sister. So, there is a tradition here that Social Work started in Macau through the contribution of Father Ruiz. Somehow, there’s a certain continuity here. But we are also trying to think about the things that we will be doing this year and next year. We are still developing.

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