It is February 25, 1940, when in the village of Siketim in Goa a little boy is born: Franklin Rodrigues. A boy like any other, who will later play football with his friends and siblings with passion, climb the highest trees and be faithful to life itself, even in the greatest danger. So it seems. For on this night, no one has any idea that the newborn child will later save more than 10,000 people, most of them children, by taking them off the streets, out of the vicious circle of bitter need and poverty, giving them a school and education to give them the basis for an independent, self-reliant life.
Franklin grew up with his brother and three sisters with his mother and grandmother in Navelim in Goa. His father works for the Indian Railway in Bombay. At this time Goa is still under Portuguese rule. Most of the people belong to the catholic denomination. Franklin is born into Catholicism in the fifth generation. It is his grandmother who tells him early on: "You will become a priest one day, my boy". The little boy is the second born. He has an older brother who, according to the law of tradition, will eventually take over the house. The carefree boy internalizes his grandmother's statement early. It is both an honour and a pleasure for him when his brothers and sisters dress him up as a priest as a small child and re-enact the masses. Franklin, wrapped in a white cloth, eagerly distributes the wafers, which they have previously cut from banana leaves. before and after the football match. Being together, sharing and ceremonies on the street and in the house become part of early childhood - just like the nearby lawn that they mark as a football field with friends. Finally, a football companion tells him about the Pilar Fathers. By this time Franklin is already 13 years old and determined to become a missionary. He dreams of being able to help shape the world a little better and more justly. At the age of 16, he attends the Lyceum to prepare for the Pilar Fathers' seminary. The Order of the Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier was founded in Goa in 1887. The aim of the local order was and is to bring Jesus Christ among the "ignorant". They wanted to achieve this by helping the poorest and untouchables. It is precisely these aspects that concern Franklin. Today there are 450 missionaries in total. The Pilar Fathers are distributed in four different provinces of India; Delhi in the north, Goa in the south, Kolkata in the east and Mumbai in the west. In 1986, the Pilar Fathers came to Bhopal and began pioneering work with leprosy patients. They also connected with the workers by giving education to the poorest of the poor and untouchable children by building schools, youth hostels, dispensaries and rehabilitation centres.
About 130 kilometers north of Mumbai, in Nagra Haveli, in the hinterland of the Arabian Sea coast, Father Franklin started his first mission. When he reaches the place, he encounters nothing but poverty, hunger and need. Education is scarce and certainly not provided for the children of the poorest of the poor. Franklin sees an urgent need for action. The order's funds are not sufficient for a home and a school. There is no state support. The young priest begins to establish contacts with the outside world. It is above all people and encounters with strangers, first with Americans, later with Germans, who support him in his plan to provide children with the basis for a self-determined life through upbringing and education. Through his energetic efforts to raise funds, he met the Catholic Relief Services of America, an international aid organization of the US Bishops' Conference, at the beginning of his work. They send sugar, flour, oil and butter to the mission station. Through his friend Father Ubaldo, with whom he works side by side, he receives contact to Germany in 1974. In 1975 he flies for the first time to Germany, to Bad Bergzabern. A deep friendship develops, which continues to this day, and the financial contributions - especially through private donations - from Germany increase, so that finally a school and a hostel for the children are built and the poor and sick can be cared for as much as possible. While in the middle of the 60's there were still 60 boys and 12 girls, who first found shelter in a small chapel by Franklin, at the end, that is 19 years later, shortly before Father is sent to a new mission to alleviate social ills and to build a new mission station, 200 boys and 300 girls live in the orphanage and attend school.
In 1986, the Order sent Father Franklin to Bhopal to help with the Archdiocese's relief work for the victims of the world's largest chemical disaster in 1984. Since then 32 years have passed. Victims and their relatives are still waiting in vain for justice and compensation. And yet his first impressions are as vivid as on the first day. Poverty, disease and hardship, as at Nagra Haveli, meet him here too. In addition, there is serfdom, which will not be officially abolished - at least not until 1996. Here, too, Father tries to transfer his model from the West, to invest in schools and orphanages, to give people a future. Untiringly he is trying to raise funds. He again receives much support from Germany. He cares for the sick, supports the construction of a hospital in the region and also founds a leper colony. It will be the largest in the state of Madhya Pradesh, where 90 people and their families live today. Franklin has been living and working here for 30 years now, though not alone and no longer with the same small structure of relief work. A community of Pilar brothers lives here in different communities. Shantinagar is the headquarters. Father Franklin would not have expected to stay here for so long, let alone to be able to give so many young people a future or at least to be able to give them a more dignified life
In 2003 Fr. Franklin was called from Bhopal to Kolkata. The streets of Kolkata are in a state of misery. In 2004, the Order decided to divide its activities in India into four provinces: Mumbai, Delhi, Goa and Kolkata. Father Franklin is in charge of the entire area over the province. Faced with the people who struggle between waste and dirty water, to find and eat nothing but food, and who die of disease and hunger on the streets, he launched the project "One meal a day" in 2006. Since then, he - and later his successors - has been driving through the streets of Kolkata every morning to give the poorest of the poor a warm meal and clean drinking water once a day. He also set up a medical supply station on the grounds of the Order.
Franklin's seeds in Bhopal are bearing fruit, growing and thriving, so the Order recalled him in 2008. Thanks to his vision, Bhopal and the region already look different today than when he first arrived. It is a complex with different apostolates, most of them focused on education of the underprivileged. There are three different main associations: Berasia, Bal Bhawan and Scholasticate. The apostolate of the Pilar Fathers Bhopal consists of kindergartens, Hindi and English schools for children and young people and social work for nomads, lepers and a dispensary. In 2016 there will be 1055 girls and boys living in the hostels and receiving an education. His contacts to Germany support him continuously and expand. "Without the help from Germany, none of this would have been possible," he emphasizes. And the children and young people also know that they have friends in Germany. So they draw pictures and send greetings and thoughts to their German friends as far as they can. The topic of education is also increasingly coming into focus. Thanks to Indienhilfe Deutschland, for example, a sewing school could be opened in Bhopal in 2013, where married women or young girls can receive training after school. Nurses are also being trained and apprentices in mechanical and electrical engineering. In addition, some of them study after finishing school, become doctors or engineers or return to their early school or another one in Father Franklin's sphere of activity as teachers. Those who were fortunate enough to receive schooling and training through Franklin and the Pilar Fathers, so that they could earn their own living, give back. So it is not surprising that the former students in Bhopal have already founded a fund a few years ago, in which each one pays ten percent of his salary, which goes to the respective missionary station. If one asks Father Franklin, after he has built a bridge from survival to life for thousands of people and has led several thousand other Pilar Brothers (social) orphans into a self-determined life through schooling and education, whether he still has dreams, then one reaps a radiance in the eyes of the 76 year old and experiences with a firm voice: "Oh yes, I would like to be able to give many, many more children a home and a future. Together with our German friends." "And," he adds, "I want to grow old with my children here in Bhopal."
Text: Simone Fischer