“To serve and enlighten, to speak a redeeming word, to be a helping hand“, this is the motto of the jubilee year of the Brothers of Our Lady Mother of Mercy (CMM), in which they celebrated their 175th anniversary (1844-2019), derived from the rule of life of the brothers. The Brothers wanted to take their motto seriously. As part of the jubilee, they started the ‘Sheltering the Homeless’ project inspire by the 13 Houses Campaign of the Famvin Homeless Alliance.
The CMM, were founded in Tilburg, the Netherlands, by Bishop Joannes Zwijsen, to alleviate the poverty that he encountered in this quickly growing industrial town and in the countryside around it.
The Brothers are grateful for the donations they received for this purpose. With the financial support of brothers and sisters in other congregations and many other friends and sponsors, the Brothers have now started to realise their plans.
From a ‘building’ to a ‘home’ in Namibia
The Brothers met 75-year-old Elizabeth Katrina in Namibia. When she was younger, she worked for the Church and had a modest salary. The Church asked her to help with the reception and guidance of refugees from Congo and Angola in the 1990s. The parish in Windhoek provided a house where Elizabeth could live for free and where she could take care of the refugees.
When she retired, she had to leave the house. From her pension allowance she bought a piece of land and built a house. However, she couldn’t complete it nor furnish it, but she saw no other solution than to go and live in it anyway.
Because Elizabeth was always ready to take care of others and “shelter the homeless”, the Brothers felt that she was eligible for a helping hand from the Brothers’ jubilee project. The house needed water pipes, a bathroom with a shower, a kitchen, plastered walls and electricity. On October 1, 2019, Elizabeth finally had a finished house, a place to call home.
Beds in the Netherlands
Poverty also exists in a rich country like the Netherlands. There are families who don’t have enough money to pay rent and bills, who have debts and can’t afford healthy food. In these families, there is often also not enough money to buy a bed with warm blankets. However, parents prefer not to tell this to social services, afraid that they’ll think they are bad parents who do not love their child enough to give them a decent bed.
Sometimes, however, as a counsellor, if you get a trusted relationship with a family, you may know this ‘secret’. But even then, there is not a solution at had due to the lack of facilities that provide free beds: the problem was hidden, so a solution has never been organised.
The “Team against Poverty” in Tilburg found a charity willing to donate some money, so they bought beds, mattresses and bedding. Another organisation lent them their infrastructure and volunteers, so the beds arrived to several poor families in the city.
Soon a waiting list emerged, as it turned out there were more families in need than available money. The Team against Poverty did not want to disappoint the children, so they started looking for extra sponsors. They found the Brothers. Thanks to the Dutch Brothers’ jubilee project, another 209 children from 98 families have a new bed.
A bed and a blanket: it might not seem as a big deal for Dutch people, but for these children something essential has changed – they can now sleep well and go to school with more energy. They now also have the courage to invite friends, because they are no longer ashamed of their room, which used to have only a bare mattress. And the parents? They are very grateful for the generous gifts. Knowing that their needs are being noticed and partly solved is for them a great consolation.