Many avoid speaking of poverty in Africa. Many Christians are losing hope regarding the situation in the Third World. Scripture challenges us with a simple question, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1 Jn 3:17). Sometimes it seems that poverty belongs in a completely different world far away from us. So, why worry about that? We can simply repeat Cain’s words, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).
My time in Ireland has taught me many beautiful things that will remain part of me as long as I live. One of these is an awareness of poverty in the world and a willingness to help people in need. Why Irish people are so special in this respect, I do not know. Maybe it’s because of the hardship in their own history which has been anything but easy. However that may be, they have been to me an example of real Christian life.
Monday, October 28, 2002: An Irish Jesuit Scholastic, Declan Murray, ran in the Dublin Marathon and collected sponsorship money for the Jesuit Mission in Zambia. This was the first Marathon I had ever seen. I often wanted to run in a marathon but had never summoned up the courage to do so even though I was a sportsman in my teen-age years. The idea of combining running with charity work seemed perfect to me from the beginning.
So, a spark became a fire and, after some training, on May 2003 I ran in the Belfast Marathon to try myself out, as well as to pray for peace in N. Ireland. My experience was wonderful.
Monday, October 27, 2003: I joined Declan, and ran in the Dublin Marathon. Together we collected money for the Jesuit Mission in Zambia. This was my first time to run for charity. After the marathon my feelings were indescribable. I asked myself: Why don’t we try to do something similar in my own country, Slovenia? At home, this way of promoting charity is unknown even though contributing to charity is widespread.
The idea was well accepted. In particular, students who collaborate with Jesuits were enthusiastic. The Jesuit Scholastic Marjan Kokalj already had some experience of the organisation of such events and brought together a team of young people who took care of promotion and organisation. Our purpose was to support the work of the Slovenian Jesuit Fr. Stanko Rozman in Malawi. We focused especially on water supply, a huge problem in Malawi. We wanted to raise money for constructing wells. So we called the project Ziva voda, which means living water. We also opened our own web page www.zivavoda.org. On the streets, in newspapers, on radio and TV stations we promoted our project and the result was beyond all expectation. The best Slovenian marathon runner and holder of the Slovenian marathon record, Roman Kejzar, and the EU Ambassador to Slovenia, Irishman Mr. Erwan Fouere, joined us as well and made huge publicity for Ziva voda.
Sunday, October 24, 2004. Almost 200 runners joined project Ziva voda and ran in the marathon in Ljubljana (capital of Slovenia) Marathon. With yellow T-shirts and our special IHS logo which showed a runner, we stood out very clearly. The national TV station highlighted us on the main news. The atmosphere was very favourable to us. The amount of money we collected was almost 8.000 EUR. Very good for our first effort.
Our success encouraged us to continue to develop our project. Besides T-shirts, we made special runner jerseys and shorts. A bottled water company donated a large amount of bottled water and we put our own labels on them.
Sunday, October 23, 2005: As in the previous year almost 200 runners joined us to support our project and we did even better than in 2004. The amount of money collected exceeded 11.000 EUR. However, money for water was surely not our main reason for running, important as that was. By means of our project we wanted to remind ourselves and others that there are still many people on our planet without basic vital necessities and, at the same time, we wanted to bring them hope as well as “to make poverty history”. Or perhaps what we have been doing in Slovenia was well expressed by the Live Aid Concert in London as: “We didn’t ask for your money, we asked for your voice, and you shouted back in your millions”.
Sadly, in the comfort of life in Europe we soon forget the starving and dying millions who are begging us for help. I have no doubt in the world that is hope for them and for us. There is one thing I learned in Ireland and enabled others to put in practice in my own country. It is that we can persuade people who possess more than enough to share in God’s own generosity to those in need, provided we make them aware of those needs not just now and then but every day.
Is there anything more noble we could do with our lives than spread this culture of compassion? Not only is it guaranteed to make us feel better; it will make us more truly human.
After all is said and done, we really are our brothers’ keepers. Well, aren’t we?