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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 98 (Suppl.), August 2005


Rev. Fr. Placido FONSECA

In-charge of the Pastoral Care of Street Children 

 in the Archdiocese of Bombay





Today you shonld remember Mario Borelli, the man from Italy who is the “father” of all children of the street.

What I am going to share with you today (I’have written nothing) are just some ideas in context of all that is going on, and what we are doing. I hope it will be some sort of a pastoral answer, although I am looking for better ways to reach out to these children.

When we first passed that boy with a saxophone today, just because he was a little fellow I saw many people giving money, and this is a very typical attitude: “You take this money, but don’t touch me”. I almost invited that boy to come here and play for us, but because of the language I could not communicate with him. Then somebody said that you must ask permission from the Archbishop, but I told him, “We do first, and then we inform”.


Like my friend Gilbert, I also had to put on my shoes, to practice walking in shoes before I came here. I never wear a coat, but I brought one, because somehow it does not go with the work that we do. We talk about, we discuss the poor, without inviting them.

As I said, most of this would be my reflection. We bring God to these children through our sense of service, through the values that we inculcate, and the examples that we give, because an example speaks louder than words. First, we must be men of God. In these children we build trust by giving trust. I cannot tell these children about God as father, because many of them had more than one father, and they learned from their father, if they had one, about who God is.  

What I ful very much is a sense of family, and this is something unique that we are doing in Bombay. What about Bombay? Many of you have heard about Bombay. Bombay goes on the same level as New York, Tokyo, San Paolo and London. All the estate rates are the same in all of these five countries. Bombay is so important that every tile on the road is paved with gold. It has the largest stock exchange, the Mecca of finance. The position that Bombay holds and the power that Bombay wields out of all the six capital cities (Calcutta, Delhi, Madras, Bombay, Napuna, Napol and Hyderabad), is the most important. It is called Mombai because a lot depends on the government. The previous government emphasized the local language, so from Bombay it became Mombai.

A sense of family: I do not know if some of you know the definition of family. What does family stand for? F-A-M-I-L-Y: Father And Mother I Love You, that’s it. Even husband and wife: husband stands for something, wife also stands for something. I could not get all the words for husband, but I could give you the words for wife: W stands for washing, I for ironing, F for food, and E for entertainment. For husband I could only get a few. H is for housing, U, I could not remember, and A-N-D stands for “and never demanding”. By choosing family we run street children’s homes and we put a family in each home to give the children some sense of family. Those surrogate parents are there to teach these children that they, too, have parents: a father and a mother. How did we choose them? Very, very difficult. In fact, from the parents I only ask two main conditions: they must be well mannered and they must love children. In other words, the marriage must be solid and they must love children. These are the two main things I expect from a family, if they have to look after these children. And over the years, I developed four conditions from a family that has to look after 25 to 30 children, on which our whole thing is run. I used to — now I am no longer there, but I worked for about 35 years with these children — and this is what I advised: that the parents must sleep with their eyes open, they must listen to what the children are not saying, they must know how to make it thin, and the parents must be able to do ten things at one time.

Because of the government and the political situation in our country, again I had to devise another way. Anywhere you go people have their own sense of God. They put up pictures of their religion, and so I also put up pictures of Jesus, Mary, and the Cross. If you do not give children religion when they are small, they will never get it. So I also put, but I said my idea in bringing up the children is to make them whole, not holy. This answers every political situation and party because even Mother Theresa was accused of conversion. Many Catholic institutions were accused of converting children, of forcing them. When children want to be baptized, I insist that they must be 21 years old. The government insists that they make an affidavit saying that they were not forced to be Christians. This was in the previous government; the present government is more tolerant, more understanding. I say that the children must become whole, not holy. Holy faith only God can give. I cannot give anybody faith. I can love them, also their mother can love them, but only God gives faith. So those who want to get married, I say you go out and you do what you want after you are 21. When children come to us, the fear is so big and the child is so small. Our idea is, after some time, to make the child so big and reduce the fear. How does that come about? Through a sense of being, like the freedom to be rather than to do (“être pas faire”).

Father mentioned some other things in Portugal. Children can come and go, it is true, but then the house becomes like a hotel. You can go when you want, come when you want, but afterwards you have to put a limit. Children who are brought up in an institution like this have two difficulties: one is dependence on the institution, and the second is a lack of responsibility. How do we overcome that? We will have to see. Many of us who run organizations do not have the patience to wait, and what these children teach me is the ability to wait and to wait until they are ready to come. Because we are very, very impatient. Another important thing to remember is that the child, who comes to the institution, is the one who makes the decision to come and to stay, not you. Even in this, in every relationship, remember that if you are not steeped in God, nothing will happen. You can break your head. Children will come, children will go, dealing, as Gilbert said, with the worst of criminals, if there and then you do not pray for whatever God wants, not for what you want. They decide to stay or leave, not me. How often did we allow children to get the long end of the rope. 

……Most of us want to possess them, to hold on to them, and they know that when you possess something you lose it. Remember, there is nothing like going home. The family is where every child must be, so the policy is how do we reinstate the child as soon as possible to his family, if it can be located. They will give you 2000 reasons to stay in the institution, but we have to see, in the long run, what is for the good of this child, because the institution, no matter how good it might be, cannot replace the family.

With this thing in mind, some years ago, when I went over to the States, I picked up their nine line, 999. Any child in need can dial 999, but in Bombay we started the thing […]

The children are stranded when the father or breadwinner dies […]

This way you follow the family to see that the children do not get back on the road.

This, I think, in a nutshell, is what occurs to me, and I am fighting as Gilbert was saying. I do not have a cassock; I never go anywhere in a cassock. But the word goes around that Father came, Father so-and-so, and in this way I managed to handle a lot. In fact, credibility is what is more important than the work one does which, in its own way, speaks for itself. Other small things are how do we make compromises with children. Sometimes we are very, very strict. We want our own way, but if you fall in line with the children, with all that they are doing, perhaps the thing can work out.

These are offhand what I could think of because I did not feel that I was systematic enough since I did not have time to do it, but I just put all my thoughts together.