South Korea: A Miracle of Solidarity

A series of miracles happened in the last two years; now we are in front of the new Anna’s House, an unequivocal monument to the love and generosity of the people. It will welcome the poor and remind everyone of the goodness and generosity of people’s hearts. The founder of Anna’s house, Father Vincenzo Boldo explains what’s happened.

After a 20-year lease, we would need to leave the rented building where our centre which welcomes the homeless, the elderly, the jobless and street children—Anna’s House—is located. A subtle sense of pleasure invaded my mind: “Finally, after 26 incredible years on the road serving the poor, I am retiring. I can rest, enjoy long bike trips, pray longer and more regularly, write poetry and letters, read novels—in short, do what I was not able to do in the past half a century: care about myself.”

Other times, however, as I watched the faces of my marginalised friends as they entered the soup kitchen, I was caught by pain and despair. “Yes, I will rest but how about these brothers and sisters of mine? Where will they go for a warm meal? Who will take care of them?” I silenced my conscience by telling myself: “I can’t replace God. I did what I could do. Now it is up to Him, all the more, because there’s nowhere to go. No-one in town will allow me to build a new shelter for 550 homeless people next to their homes. They already have enough problems with their neighbours. All I have to do is to put my soul at peace and close down.” In this way, having soothed my conscience, I continued my service to the poor with enthusiasm, awaiting to leave the rented building – Anna’s House.

This went on until one day an official of the municipality who knew of our precarious situation, came to Anna’s House and informed me with visible satisfaction: “The municipality has dissolved the constraint of the 500 m2 green area across the street—right in front of your centre—and has allotted the plot for social works. If you want, you can buy it.” “How much does it cost?” “A million euros.” “And how much will it cost to build?”I asked. “About 3 million euros.” “Well, I will retire into private life! I won’t be able to start such a work. It’s beyond my human abilities.”

I was satisfied with myself. I had really done everything possible to avoid closing the centre, but it was inevitable, though I was reluctant after more than 20 years of activity and having served two million meals. So, I consoled myself at the thought of my not so far-off retirement: “I can finally relax.” While these merry thoughts rode my mind, sleepless nights troubled my spirit: “Yes, I will rest but these men and women, where will they go for help?”

A chain reaction of solidarity was unleashed across the nation (after the TV broadcast about Anna’s House). In one month, we got donations of more than one million euros. It was a real miracle of solidarity.

I spent the whole summer sunk in this grave dilemma: “What to do? How can I go on? My heart will cry if I stop.” One night, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, I confided to Jesus: “Lord, I am aware that this fragile and precarious life of mine belongs to you. I have felt, in these long years, your tender hand taking mine and guiding me through paths unknown to me. I perceived, in the Eucharist, Your strong and reassuring embrace that protected me from those who wanted to hurt me. I realised, beyond all imagination, that you granted me all the necessary means to serve the poor. I saw that you gave me health and courage to face the rugged life on the streets. I have experienced in my inmost being the truest and greatest happiness in giving myself to others. I am a happy person. I recognise that you unconditionally love the poor and protect those who devote their lives to them; I believe that what is beyond my poor human capacities is possible by your divine and glorious power. With this sure confidence, Lord, I will continue to commit myself to the last and build the new centre. Lord, I trust in you. Amen.”

A few days after this dramatic and liberating decision, I found myself broken in a hospital bed, by a trivial and stupid accident, experiencing severe pains throughout my body. There, I heard a voice that whispered to me, “Do not start this work. See you are not well. It’s too great a work for you and your health will hold you back. You’re too conceited. Where do you think you’re going to get all that money? You’ll inevitably fail. Don’t you think you’re being too arrogant? Stop while you can so that you don’t make a bad impression.” “Yes, it’s true,” I answered that wise, clever voice, “I have neither the health nor the experience or the money to face this great project, but I have faith in the One who loves me and has accompanied me with strength over all these years. In Him, I put my hope. For this trust in Him and the love of my poor sisters and brothers, I will do what I can to build the new Anna’s House.”

While I was troubled by these feelings, I got a call from the local bishop with a proposal: “I know you want to continue serving the poor at Anna’s House, but you haven’t the finances. I’m offering you a million euros. I only ask that one day, you let the diocese run the centre when you are no longer able to continue this apostolate.” I accepted enthusiastically. With amazement and joy, at the end of 2016, we managed to buy the building site. Meanwhile, an architect drew up the plans for us.

To start off, we had some small savings and the sum of about €500 000 which I had received from a large association called Ho Am Sang. In August 2017, with much faith in the Lord and hope in Divine Providence, we began construction. In November, a reporter from a local TV station contacted me and asked me for an interview. I accepted with joy and thoughtlessness: “It will be a simple thing because it is a small station and it doesn’t have many viewers. Therefore, I do not need to prepare much myself.” A few days later, I received a phone call from the television editors explaining the programme and the timetable for filming. I agreed with everything. The following week, when the journalists and camera crew showed up, I realised that they were from KBS, the most important national television station, and they worked for the programme called Human Theatre, one of the most famous and well followed broadcasts in South Korea. I almost collapsed. I tried to say, “There’s a mistake. I committed with a local television, not with you.”

We sat down. I explained to them that in the phone calls made and received in the preceding days, I hadn’t understood: I presumed I was talking to a young and inexperienced journalist; but now, I was face-to-face with the cameras of the most important broadcaster of the country. It was all a misunderstanding, but I could not pull out. It was too late. So, we started shooting. The programme was aired during the Christmas week, for five consecutive days, Monday to Friday, from 8:00 to 8:30 in the morning. It was a huge success! Everyone was talking about the new Anna’s House which was to be built. A chain reaction of solidarity was unleashed across the nation. In one month, we got donations of more than one million euros. It was a real miracle of solidarity.

In the following months, while the new house was being built, the outpouring of love and solidarity was incredible, indeed mind-boggling, so much so that day, 1 September 2018, without any debt to the banks, in the presence of 650 volunteers and benefactors, we inaugurated the new centre. It is a simple but beautiful house, both functional and welcoming. Our poor will have their home without fear of eviction or rejection.