Since its earliest days when its Greco-Roman branches grafted themselves on to its Judaic roots, Christianity has advocated the pursuit of truth through education. While it is true that in the course of the ensuing millennia some “branches” of Christianity have eschewed education as a dangerously worldly distraction or have regarded it as the privileged gnosis accessible only to an elite few, for the most part Christianity has championed the collaboration of reason and faith as an educative force which effects both the spiritual and physical betterment of all the world.
What hope can there be for a city and country whose youth are paralyzed by ignorance? And, where can one find even the seeds of hope?
It is, of course, increasingly clear – certainly in the United States – that education can be attempted even when this wholesome collaboration is abandoned. Reason, then, becomes in its crippled state the sole and limited source of instruction and exploration. And, our society is the poorer for it. But, education within a Christian context – especially within a Catholic context – preserves and promotes this vital link between the revealed and the discerned. Communities blessed with such education advance.
Students of history will recall reading about the so-called “Dark Ages” when in the ruins of the collapsed Roman Empire Europe had lost the civilizing force which to some extent had unified it. It was during these times, in the West at least, that the lamp of learning was kept aglow in monasteries. At the beginning of the second millennium of Christianity, universities (first established, significantly, by the Church) became the loci of learning and this light was able to touch a larger portion of the populace. The foundation of modern Europe was laid.
Today, the post-colonial Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) finds itself faced with challenges similar in magnitude to those of pre-Renaissance Europe. During the 40 years of political turmoil and mismanagement, we read that the nation’s budget for education has been reduced from 30 percent to 1 percent. It is reported that once free public schools now charge tuition fees which the majority of parents cannot afford because of lack of income due to unemployment. Scores of colleges have been shuttered in the past year alone because they were not economically viable. The next generation is not being educated.
For young people in Kinshasa – a city of eight million souls – the sad and inevitable consequence of this tragic lack of education is what one would expect in an urbanized environment rich in human potential and poor in opportunity. Kids turn to drugs, prostitution, smuggling and even warfare. What hope can there be for a city and country whose youth are paralyzed by ignorance? And, where can one find even the seeds of hope?
The Bertozzi Foundation is planting seeds. Founded in DRC in 2009, this fledgling philanthropy envisions a DRC where all students, irrespective of family income, have access to education. The foundation is implementing its vision by working with Catholic parishes (there are over 50 in Kinshasa), by providing parishes with tutors, each of whom will work with 20 to 30 students daily by teaching them both in the traditional manner and through electronic media (curiously available in spite of abject poverty). The estimated payment for each tutor each month is $100! Like monasteries in the Dark Ages, it will be the parishes of Kinshasa that keep the torches of education burning.
The foundation is named after Bertozzi Mposo, a student at the University of Connecticut who had come to the United States with her family from Africa to seek a better life. Ms. Bertozzi was also a member of the Saint Thomas More Chapel community at Yale University. When she died suddenly in 2008 her father dreamed that the Lord had a plan for him. As the Foundation’s literature records God said to him: “I want you to provide the same type of education you provided to Bertozzi to the thousands of my other sons and daughters who do not have access to a better education all around the world.” Prompted by this dream, the Mposo family select DRC as a starting point.
Anyone acquainted with Scripture is familiar with the efficacy of dreams, especially ones where divine intent manifests itself. Imagine how far the advance of the Kingdom would be if the Bertozzi Foundation dream is only partially realized!