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The Franciscan's way: If you build it, they will come

Fr Alberto Gauci

It's Gauci with a 'c,' not Gaudi with a 'd.' But like his near namesake from Barcelona, Franciscan Fr Alberto Gauci has a passion to build. He works on works in Honduras, reports David Agren for the Catholic News Service. 

Fr Gauci's field of dreams unfolds in a remote corner of Central America, far from the limelight of the recently concluded World Cup. His soccer stadium sports a full-size pitch, floodlights for night games and covered seating for 20,000 screaming fans. There's even a parking lot.

It is nearing completion, more than five years after the priest first convinced parents, parishioners and local leaders they should construct a stadium in a rugged region marked by emigration, corruption and increasing cocaine shipments touching down as traffickers carry cargo from South America to the United States. Even more improbably, Father Gauci found $40 million Lempiras (US$1.9 million) to fund the stadium -- which still lacks a turf and finishing touches and will eventually host youth leagues and the local second-division soccer squad, Juticalpa F.C.

'I told parents: We have to do something about drugs,' he said from the stands of the stadium as workers pushed wheelbarrows across the pitch.

'It's hard to tell a kid to stay off of drugs. You have to give them another option,' he added.

Fr Gauci is a futbol fan, foreigner and Franciscan living a vow of poverty, embodying Pope Francis' vision for a poor Church serving the poor and creating a culture of charity and generosity in area rife with mistrust, inequality and injustice.

The Maltese priest also has a passion for social projects, which include an orphanage, home for the elderly, kindergarten, nutrition center and even a prison -- all constructed with contributions largely collected from a population considered impoverished and politicians prone to misappropriating public money.

He is understated about his accomplishments, but concerned about crime and corruption in his adopted country and why it careens from crisis to crisis -- currently an outflow of thousands of children heading, unaccompanied, to the United States.

'After 40 years here, I've often thought, "This should be one of the richest countries on earth", he said at his residence, a single room in the minor seminary he shares with a Rottweiler he received from'a family after delivering a ransom to rescue their kidnapped relative.

'For them it's not corruption,' he said of those misappropriating money. 'No one goes to confession about it.' 

The skinny, chain-smoking Franciscan, 67, drives around the Diocese of Juticalpa in an aging Toyota Land Cruiser. He wears shorts, sandals and a singlet in the scorching hot temperatures of Juticalpa, saying, 'I'd die wearing a habit.

He attributes his powers of persuasion to persistence, keeping promises and fidelity to his Franciscan values, along with finishing the projects he starts. He also sees the church in Olancho -- an area of 500,000 residents the size of Massachusetts, but with only 20 priests -- carrying out social commitments 'the government really should be doing' and gaining creditability in the community.

Full story: With passion for projects, Franciscan works to give Hondurans options (Catholic News Service)

Related story: Seize the Franciscan moment (NCR)


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