Globetroting champion of the poor and homeless

jorgeGood Samaritan Father Eduardo Jorge Anzorena, Magsaysay Award winner in International Understanding, believes true philanthropy balances self—preservation and altruism.

Sirimas Chalanuchpong speaks with the globetrotting champion of the homeless.

A teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus. “Teacher” he asked. “What must I do to receive eternal life?”
Jesus answered him. “What do the scriptures say? How do you interpret them?” The man answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”
“You are right,”Jesus replied; “do this and you will live”.
But the teacher of the Law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?”
Jesus answered, “There was once a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when robbers attacked him, stripped him and beat him up, leaving him half dead.
“It so happened that a  priest was going down that road; but when he saw the man, he walked on by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also came there, went over and a Samaritan who was travelling that way came upon the man, and when he saw him, his heart was filled with pity. He went over to him, poured oil and write on his wounds and bandaged them; then he put the man on his own animal and took him  to an inn; where he took care of him.
“The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the inn-keeper. “Take care of him,” he told the inn-keeper, “and when I come back this way, I will pay you whatever else you spend on him.”
And Jesus concluded, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbour toward the man attacked by the robbers?”
The teacher of the Law answered, “The one who was kind to him.”

Jesus replied, “You go, then, and do the same”.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Father Eduardo Anzorena — better known as Father Jorge—is man with a mission. He is also a man of paradox. The 64-year-old Catholic priest has spent years crusading for a better life for the homeless and yet he doesn’t really have a permanent home of his own. He hops around the globe preaching to people and yet he seldom recognised as a priest. He preaches words of love and equality yet he finds it hard to remember which chapters of the holy books of Christianity he is quoting from.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Abraham and the rest—Father Jorge seems to have them all mixed up. He’s not a model servant of God in the scripture study sense perhaps, but his words of universal love are taken from the depths of his heart, and those of the thousands he has met along the way.

Soon after his arrival in Bangkok, Father Jorge was asked if he was really a holy priest as he was dressed like any other tourist coming to Thailand.

“I think we need to go inside ourselves to find out just a little truth about people. I think this is how we can understand the problems of the world.”

“I’ll tell you the truth. I don’t have a white gown because my work is a completely different to normal priests. I work with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and sometimes with Catholics—although not often.

“If I dress like Catholic priest, it may be difficult to work with the non-Catholics,” said Father Jorge.
But no one would have accepted Father Jorge as their faithful adviser on housing and homes if the grinning priest didn’t know what a home was made of.
Father Jorge left his home and his motherland of Argentina in 1960 to study for his bachelor degree in architecture at Mejei University, Japan. He received his masters degree and doctorate in architecture and philosophy at Tokyo University.
“My first time in Japan was a big shock because I’m Argentinian and everything is different in Japan-different language, different culture.
“Morever, I’m a Catholic and they asked me “Why? Why are you Catholic?” and “What do you do?” I tried to explain but nobody was convinced. They said “Oh, I see,” but they weren’t convinced.”
In Japan Father Jorge learned a lot of things, particularly about his religion. “I began to study philosophy. I found that being a missionary is not about bringing something to others but what one finds within themselves.
I found that if my religion was true, it should already be in me, and not something I need to convince others of,” said the priest. “The important thing is to try to see what is best for you. If something feels balanced, continue it. Cherish it.”
Father Jorge joined the priesthood at the age of 20. He says he doesn’t find it difficult to serve the Lord. “I try to think whose life is complete? It’s not just giving a part of a life to the homeless. To me, being happy means that each moment involves coming closer to enlightenment.
“In Christianity, there are two important things. The first is to love the Lord God with all your strength. The second is to love people with all of your heart.”
He said with a hint of Spanish accent his basic aim was to discover what life really is. The normal life of a person is very closed. People have friends, family and their children and that is their life. They work, but often it is not meaningful work.
He speaks fondly of his NGO counterparts who work for the poor. They are men and women who sacrifice their futures for what they feel are meaningful.
“It’s not easy to dedicate your life to this work, but being in contact with these people makes me feel that we have hope. I see how people struggle for their survival. They still maintain hope and are able to laugh in these places (slums).
“I think there is something much more important than money-hope.”
“These people (NGOs) work in an important area. Take the people who are living under bridges. They feel that all these people speak the same language we speak. They are human beings like myself but they haven’t been lucky. I was born with my parents. They weren’t. They were just unlucky to be born very poor families.
“For me, just being able to be in contact with all these people make me a little wiser, a little more universal. Your heart certainly goes out.
“I think we need to open up and go deep inside ourselves and find out just a little truth about people. I think this is how we can understand the problems of the world.”
This was how he taught his students at Mejei University. “My thesis was titled ‘University as a Place of Development,’ but I began to notice that most students don’t go to university to study.
“When I was trying to teach, people weren’t interested. They were simply developing something they already had inside. I was a teacher but the students weren’t so interested in learning. I stopped teaching and said, I won’t teach any more. You need to prepare a subject you are interested in. So they would have to prepare the class and I would be passive.
“Sometimes they wouldn’t prepare anything and I would say nothing for 20 minutes. It was very embarrassing for the students. Twenty minutes would pass as the teacher remained silent and they wouldn’t know what to say. Things changed, though, because they began to feel a responsibility towards the class.”
It was around this time Father Jorge discovered how he would like to serve his religion. With his studies completed, he went to Calcutta, India for a month. “I found many people dying on the street. It was then I understood what I had to do.
“Actually, I enjoyed teaching very much, but sometimes I thought it was too luxurious. It wasn’t really useful because these people were just looking for a masters or bachelors degree.”
Father Jorge started his work in housing for the poor with an NGO in the Philippines in 1977. He began to travel around the world and visit poor people and their communities.
“I tried to find out what the people were doing and what the problems in their community were.”
He is quick to point out that the housing problem is getting worse and worse. “We have a system that is very unjust. This system feeds one small group while the majority get less and less. The biggest problem is that the poor can’t maintain their livelihoods in rural areas so they come to the cities in increasing numbers.”
He explained that the small farmer can’t survive in the big system. They collapse. They all have the same problem—they don’t have money. He cited the examples of farmers in the north who are forced to sell their daugthers and those in India they have no money.
He thinks that Asia is reaching a crisis point. Only 30 per cent of the population live in urban areas at present, but over the next 15 years this will increase to as high as 40 or 50 per cent. Thsi would be a big problem even if the people didn’t have any more children.
“This problem, all these problems will be very much concentrated in the cities. It’s a very difficult situation.”
As a long-time resident of Japan, Father Jorge also speaks of the homeless people in that country. “This is just one country where people have centred their lives around money and how to get more of it. This is happening not just in Japan, but also in America and Europe.
“This is the system and Thailand is going to be like this. People say “I want to have more for myself,’ People aren’t content with what they have and they don’t think to help those less fortunate than themselves.”
What he wants to see is some real action. For instance, in Thailand and the Philippines there are still some real human values in people. People still assist children, the aged and the poor.
“In the morning, you give to the poor. This is something special. I think there should be many people like this. Perhaps we have five hundred, but we should have one million people like this.”
Although he has devoted so much of his life and time to helping the homeless, Father Jorge laughs when asked where his own home is.
“I don’t know,” is his first answer. He has been traveling for 34 years although every year he stays in Japan from April to July. “I will always be a foreigner. I can’t speak well in any language. Even in Argentina, people tell me I speak funny Spanish. But certainly I feel happy to be Argentinian and I am extremely happy to have spent a large part of 34 years in Japan.
“Landscapes, houses, places….are very similar in many parts of the world, but when I have a friend, there I feel at home.
“I have a mixture of being a foreigner and being at home in my life. It is only by looking at things through the eyes of a foreigner that we began to understand the real world.” — The Nation