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The Kindness of Strangers

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Maureen Crowley

Peter Chiopsa was just five years old when his father passed away. This loss forced his mother to resign from her local teaching job in a rural village in Malawi and move the family to the city for work that could support Peter and his five brothers. She sold secondhand clothes and tried her hand at other small businesses.

Eventually, his mother remarried a man that Peter describes as "a drunkard and a heavy
smoker." Her income declined as she dealt with home front problems and the birth of another child. There was little peace.

Peter had felt the call to serve God's people as a priest since he was a young boy. Now, he wanted to take the step from Catholic primary school to a Minor Seminary High School. This meant that tuition must be paid. His mother sent him to his older brothers for assistance; they had by now left the Church and refused aid. In his home village, Peter found sympathy from his grandfather who offered to pay his school fees. Tragically, his grandfather died one week before school was to start. Peter was left to cobble together funds from his mother, relatives, and the sympathetic seminary rector.

Another time, in debt and at the point of being refused entrance back to school, Peter found help from a kind stranger who gave him the rest of the school fees he lacked: 8,000 Kenyan shillings -- about $58.

Peter returned to school but struggled as the news from home worsened. His family, angry
at his decision to continue onto the priesthood, abandoned him. Thanks to the benevolence of
the seminary rector, a donor was found to support Peter's remaining education. He had
no funds, however, to support himself outside of school -- even for groceries during his
summer breaks -- and depended on the generosity of others.

Peter says, "I am always a happy person, I don't grumble whenever I am lacking soap or
lotion or money to buy clothes and necessities; I offer everything to God. Because
I look happy always, the painful story of my life is not visible on my face. I really find solace in the book of 1 Samuel 16:7: "For the Lord sees not as man sees."

There are many young men in the missions like Peter, whose poverty keeps them from saying "Yes!" to God's call. Please help them! A yearly donation to our Society of St. Peter Apostle of $700 -- $58 a month -- will keep men like Peter on the path to priesthood. You, too, can be that "kind stranger" who saves a young man's vocation.

- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.

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