Cities of Children
A priest’s mission to hear the voices of the new Europe
In reports from the emerging economies of Eastern Europe, the top economic indicators often leave a grim picture. There are other stories less often told, however, of a few men and women who are listening from the "bottom-up".
One of them is Father Georg Sporschill SJ, founder and director of Concordia Sozialprojekte working with children in Romania and Republic of Moldova, children trapped in the throes of economic transition and social change. It is their voices Father Sporschill attends to, voices that may well define what the New Europe is to become.
Romania and Moldavia have their own special difficulties becoming European: Romania with the continuing aftermath of the Ceausescu regime, Moldavia as a divided state that has border disputes with neighboring Ukraine and Russia over the renegade province of Transnistria. As usual, the poor and the children are caught in the crossfire.
The 62-year-old Sporschill was born in Feldkirch, Vorarlberg, in the first difficult years after the war. He entered the Jesuit order in 1976 and was ordained in 1978. Much of his career has been involved with youth and the homeless under the auspices of Caritas. In 1991, he was sent for the first time to Romania to intercede for children left homeless in the aftermath of the political and economic upheaval.
Since then, he and his co-workers at Concordia have founded centers in Bucharest, a training farm/trade school in Aricesti, Romania (1992) and a center in Ploiesti, Romania, (2000). In 2004 a center was established in Chisinau, Rep. of Moldova and work begun on the now completed "City of Children "in Pirita, 30 km from the capital.
These centers have cared for, housed and trained more than 1500 children and youth who have now made their separate ways into the wider world.
At present, there are over 1000 children and youth housed in communities and being trained for trades in Romania and Moldova, and 250 committed youth workers caring for them and teaching them.
Two visits to the "City of Children "in Pirita showed a village-like compound comprised of ten houses where house parents and children of different ages live in family groups. The compound has a new athletic/event center, sports fields, chapel, medical station, library and a "store" where toys, sweets and books can be bought with coupons earned by doing extra jobs. The house parents are trained to care for kids with special needs: these children come in scared, suspicious and often wild.
As much as food, clothes and safety, they crave acknowledgment of their self-worth and community. They find these and a secure place and most eventually learn to trust and assume their position in the family. Each house has its own yard and vegetable garden and every child has his or her age-appropriate responsibilities. The older kids help care for the younger ones. I watched, unobserved, as a five year old authoritatively showed a three year old how to sweep the walk properly.
Every child is celebrated on birthdays and special occasions and has his own bed, space and belongings. They are especially proud to show off their donor-supplied clothes and whip open the cupboard door to prove that they have a modest but neatly stacked selection of shirts for tomorrow.
Successes are celebrated even more than birthdays. Costel is 25. His mother left him at the hospital immediately after his birth. He went through various orphanages and experienced much brutality, ran away, lived in the streets and stole food, stowed away on a train to Bucharest and ended with a swarm of children there in the train station. Father Sporschill and a co-worker invited him to come with them. He stayed for 15 years, eventually trained as a baker at the Concordia trade farm outside Bucharest and now has a job in the bakery of a supermarket. He is one of the success stories from the family of Concordia.
But there are also the difficult cases. Moise lives in Bucharest, sometimes in the train station, sometimes in a sewer pipe…and when Pater Sporschill is there, then Moise comes to the Concordia center. But when Pater Sporschill leaves, Moise leaves, too. He’s addicted to street living, to his "independence ," to thieving to support his drug habit and sleeping off bum highs in a cold train station. Yes, he’s a "difficult case ", but he and others like him won’t let go of Pater Sporschill’s heart. Its kids like Moise who keep Pater Sporschill going back to find the one that’s lost.
"For me, the children save and broaden Europe; they are a balance, a counterpoint to the economy that the advance of the European integration requires." and "He who saves a child saves the whole world. "
He calls his charges "Children of Hope." As the world economy teeters around them, they offer a sign that a top economy without a solid bottom is out of balance.
While Father Sporschill is certainly the galleon figure for the operation, he insists that success requires a small horde of dedicated workers and donors.
True enough. However, one can’t help but see that his sense for the urgency moves everyone who draws near. This kind of energy and passion for his work are very hard to ignore
See, Georg Sporschill, Die Zweite Meile,
Ueberreuter, ISBN 3-8000-7211-4
Donations: Concordia Sozialprojekte
P. Georg Sporschill, Raiffeisen Bank,
BLZ 32000, Konto 7034499