In 1998 Fr. Vincenzo Bordo, O.M.I. opened a shelter in Seong-nam, South Korea to provide services to homeless, elderly and unemployed men, women and children. He named it Anna’s House, and word quickly spread about the priest who was sharing the love of God with people in need.
Soon hundreds of people were showing up at Anna’s House asking for help. Then hundreds became thousands. Recently Fr. Vincenzo and his staff at Anna’s House served their one-millionth guest.
Last year Anna’s House served more than 83,000 evening meals. More than 1,100 sick people received medical care and nearly 1,000 received psychiatric help. More than 12,000 people received free clothing – and 1,600 people even received free haircuts.
But Fr. Vincenzo doesn’t like to get caught up in the numbers. Rather, he prefers to focus on one person at a time. Persons like a man named Hong.
One day Fr. Vincenzo found Hong standing outside Anna’s House in tears, holding the hand of his young son. He wanted to share his story with Fr. Vincenzo.
Between sobs Hong said he had once owned a small business, which allowed his family to live with dignity. But business began to slow and Hong fell deeply in debt. One day he arrived home to find a note on the kitchen table. It was from his wife. She said she was leaving him and their son.
Hong plunged into an abyss of despair. He even contemplated suicide. Then one day, as he and his son were sleeping in a city park, he was told by another homeless man to “go to Anna’s House and find the priest there who helps people like us.”
Today Hong and his son live in a small room provided by Anna’s House. He has a job and his son goes to school. Their dignity and self-worth have been restored.
“His story is what Anna’s House is all about,” said Fr. Vincenzo. “We are not a center that can resolve the infinity of problems that the poor carry on their shoulders – only God can do that. But we are a place that is able to welcome whoever is in need and give hope to whoever is suffering.”
“We take a holistic approach to the person,” added Fr. Vincenzo. “While we are helping with basic needs like food, health, clothing, through the counseling and educational programs we try to give the person the opportunity to overcome his or her disability and build a new life.”
Father Vincenzo arrived in Korea from Italy in 1990. He immediately went to work serving the poor in the city of Seong-nam, south of Seoul. He helped to run a soup kitchen and a center for elderly people. He also managed an educational program for underprivileged youths.
Many of the activities at Anna’s House focus on the needs of children and adolescents who live on the streets to escape dysfunctional families or domestic violence.
At first the young people are offered food, clothing and medical care. Eventually, when trust is built, they may be offered an opportunity to move into a shelter or group home where the staff at Anna’s House help them with their educational and career goals.
Eight employees staff Anna’s House in addition to Fr. Vincenzo. They are joined by an army of more than 400 volunteers. About ten percent of the organization’s expenses are covered by the Korean government. Donations from Korea and Europe cover the other 90 percent.
Father Vincenzo said Anna’s House has motivated and inspired many ordinary people in Seong-nam to share their resources. Not only are they giving of their material possessions – they also share their love, concern, time and talents.
“Yes, feeding 450 people every day is a great work,” said Fr. Vincenzo. “Offering the poor medical care, showers, clothing, legal and employment advice is also very helpful. But without a doubt the biggest service we offer to the street people is giving them hope in their difficult and arduous journey of life.”