L’Osservatore Chicago: Aiding needy a task of the Church
(POSTED: 11/29/12) My favorite meditation for the month ran in The New York Times on Nov. 9. It was about bringing joy to kids who have no joy: former boy soldiers in Rwanda, kids who lived through the massacres in Darfur, school kids in Uganda and Kenya and Afghanistan, and kids whose playgrounds are the pavements of El Salvador.
For all of them, and thousands more worldwide, the only joy available in their harsh lives comes through playing soccer. You don’t need much equipment for soccer, but you do need a ball. The Times story told how balls are becoming available to those kids. Not flimsy balls that split on rocky fields but indestructible balls that last for years of hard play.
Balls, the universal toy, the classic symbol, the tool of childhood.
Entrepreneur Tom Jahnigen, carpenter, chef, lyricist, determined he would make a super soccer ball when he saw a documentary about Darfur kids playing soccer with balls made of garbage and string. “Kicking a ball around provided such joy in otherwise stressed and trying conditions that the children would play with practically anything that approximated a ball,” he told the reporter. Field conditions were so harsh in Darfur that ordinary donated balls quickly ripped or deflated on the rocky dirt. Jahnigen could see the children needed an indestructible ball . He made up his mind to find – or invent – one.
As I read the story, I was overwhelmingly reminded that giving people what they need is the task of church. To paraphrase George Eliot, what is the church for if not to make life easier for everyone?
You can see the Church responding to need in its history in America. Early on, priests came to establish structure and community, to provide ritual. Mother Cabrini came to found hospitals for the poor, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s daughter took care of cancer patients, Katharine Drexel and her nuns founded schools for blacks and Indians, Dorothy Day housed the homeless – and fed them. Thousands and thousands of sisters tended the sick and availed those needing to learn to read and write.
In a way, they were all answering a life-saving need just as Jahnigen was answering a need when he searched for a ball that wouldn’t go flat or need a pump.
In time, and with lots of money donated by his singer-philanthropist friend Sting, Jahnigen found PopFoam, the miracle composition, a type of hard foam made of ethylene-vinyl acetate that would fly from hand to hand and foot to foot for hundreds of hours without disintegrating.
The ball can last for thirty years.
It is strange to think of a ball as a metaphor for church. We’re used to the Church taking its metaphors from medieval Europe or Roman days. It’s joy that is the connection. I was filled with joy when I read about PopFoam balls. I want to give PopFoam balls to kids everywhere. That’s church.
Margery Frisbie, a graduate of Mundelein College, has raised lots of kids and written lots of columns. She is the author of several local histories, two graphic histories published in Europe, and An Alley in Chicago, the Life and Legacy of Monsignor John Egan.
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