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The Priest Who Helped an Orphan Through College

WEB African Man in Classroom 001

Julien Harneis

Joan Soler i Ribas - published on 05/13/14

When he comes dressed as a young businessman, with his briefcase, with all his dignity, I can feel proud, says the priest.
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“How easy it is to succeed when everyone is on your side! But how difficult it is to succeed when everyone is against you! Isn’t that so, Father?”

This is the question that one of the young men in the parish asked me. His father and mother were both dead.

He and his siblings lived with an uncle who got drunk more often than not and stole the corn they had to eat and that they kept in their room. An uncle who too often let loose with beatings.

Everything was taken away from him. His sister was forced to get married. His brother had to leave school and learn a trade. But he did not give up.

How many times did he come home wishing there were something to eat! How many times did he experienced the shame of begging to get a basic medicine! How many trips in deplorable conditions to neighboring countries to pay for books: the cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast, paddling in Burkina, in the open gold mine on the border of Ghana, where many young people live in terrible situations… but he endured it all.

He has lived in hell, a hell where the flames were extinguished by the force of his tears.

And at the end, when everyone had already given him up for dead, when he had suspended the final year before college, when people told him: "What did you think? That you could get ahead? You will be poor as we are all poor” – he tried again.

Even I had discouraged him. "Learn a trade," I told him. But he wanted to try. How difficult it is to succeed when everyone goes against you…

And I still remember him like it was yesterday. He descended into hell. I know he has not told me everything he had to do to get ahead. One day he came into my office and burst into tears.

“What is it?”

“I passed!” he said.

“Why are you crying?”

“No one believed in me.”

“What now?”

And he looked at me. “Help me to live.”

And I said, “Come next week.”

I spoke with some of the teachers of the parish and we found a way for him. He would not be able to go to college, but he would be able to pursue a technical specialty in trade.

And I can assure you that every month, when he comes to receive aid to pay the monthly fee at the Institute for Higher Studies, when he comes dressed as a young businessman, with his briefcase, with all his dignity, I can only look at him and feel proud. And he knows it.

No one will suffer what I have suffered. And in his heart there is no longer any wound. There is only the thankfulness of a young man who knows he has succeeded. And this Easter, when we speak of the Risen Christ, he will understood like no one could understand.

Because he too was dead, but has come back to life.

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