Posts Tagged ‘Poor’


Monday, October 3rd, 2016

Doctor David Abdulai, a hero to me, went home to the Father last night. He died of stage four thyroid cancer after a life of public service in his native Ghana and years of medically treating the poorest of the poor and the most destitute in his two free clinics in Tamale, Ghana. I grieve his loss today deeply. Those readers who had children confirmed by me this year know that I devoted my homily to this good man in the hopes of striking a chord in the hearts of the young for service to the poor.

Doctor David Abdulai, his wife, Christopher Mertens and I last Christmas.

Myself, Doctor David Abdulai, his wife, and Christopher Mertens last Christmas.

David Abdulai was born a Muslim in northeast Ghana almost seven decades ago. His father had died of Hansen’s disease (leprosy) when David was still a young boy and most of his eight siblings also suffered from the disease. Irish missionaries saw intelligence and fire in the young boy and approached his single mother asking her permission to allow David to attend a Catholic boarding/elementary school in the small city of Tamale. She agreed and David started a Catholic education in the first grade that would accompany him until secondary school graduation. He was bright, exceedingly bright and an outstanding student.

After winning a scholarship to and graduating with highest honors from the University of Ghana in Accra, he chose medicine as his profession, specializing in surgery. He won a fellowship in surgery to a Medical College in Liverpool, England and came home with a wife and family and practiced his calling in Accra, the capital city.

As an adult, having been surrounded by Christianity and Catholicism in his formative years, he decided to become a Catholic and entered the Church with baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist on the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord. He recounted to me that moment last Christmas when I met and visited with him for what for me, sadly, would be my first and last time, that the readings that day from the Old Testament offered this line: “Comfort my people O Lord, comfort my people.” It would serve to drive his ambitions and desires for the rest of his life.

With his children largely grown, he returned to Tamale and served as the Minister of Health for that Ghana province. But soon he would make a life-changing decision, give all his fame and fortune up and open a clinic for the nation’s poorest of the poor. With acreage given to him by a tribal chief, he built and opened the first of what today are two Shekinah clinics. Here he treated all who came and who could not access, for whatever reason, the government health care system. And they came, for over twenty years.

He would arrange his daily schedule so that he could see 120 patients each day, ninety new cases and thirty follow-up cases. He erected an operating theatre where he would perform some minor surgeries, like hernia repairs.


The operating room at the clinic.

He scrounged and managed to stock a pharmacy. He built wards for the surgical patients to recover and huts for the lepers in which to live.


Wards and residences for patients and Hansen’s disease residents.

Through volunteers with gifts of food (Catholic Relief Services through US AID for many years provided food) he served all who came to the clinic, those who lived there and those who were simply overnight residents.


The kitchen and cooks at the Shekinah Clinic.

Several times the government tried to shut his clinic down but they never succeeded because everyone knew of the work of this great man, his wife and his volunteers.

So magnetic was his personality and deep his devotion that he assembled a team of volunteers who assisted him 24/7/365. No one was paid. Not even the doctor who lived off what he had saved from his earlier practice of medicine. He opened a second clinic, as people would cross the border from Burkina Faso to see him. When confronted with a patient with such a serious disease that he could not treat them, he would have them wait for him to finish his daily work and then would drive them in his jeep to the local government hospital and insist that they be cared for, not leaving until it was done.

Every Christmas he and his wife would feed Christmas dinner to the poor of the region at their home, a total numbering in excess of 3200 last Christmas. On the 27th, the day I arrived, he had a second Christmas dinner for the blind, deaf, lame, widowed and leprous who for physical reasons could not come on Christmas. Talk about feeding the 5000. My task that day was to simply give them a Christmas present of one super large bar of shea butter soap (from the region) and a new dishtowel plus some candy (all donated).

They called Dr. Abdulai “the male Mother Theresa of West Africa”. To watch him work and interact with people lacking in hope was life changing. His energy level far exceeded anything I could give. His love of his Catholic faith and the joy that Pope Francis brought to him was palpable. In both clinics there is to be found a small mosque at the entrance, a chapel where Mass is celebrated at times throughout the week, and a Star of David is painted on the wall of the examining room – his desire to show and share that all are welcome regardless of faith.

How did I come to know him? That is a story in itself but I will make it short. One summer two seminarians at that time, brothers, and one sophomore at Notre Dame talked to me about spending the summer working in Africa. I called my beloved Catholic Relief Services knowing that they had such a program, and they arranged for the three to spend ten weeks in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ghana. The Notre Dame student, Christopher Mertens, an Eagle Scout, the St. Petersburg Times male scholar athlete of the year in his senior year at Palm Harbor University High School, a member of the Diocesan Youth Council and son of an elementary school teacher at Guardian Angels school in Clearwater, was sent to the Clinic in Tamale and spent the summer with the Doctor.

His emails home to his parents and to myself radiated a respect for Dr Abdulai that spanned the ocean. Then Chris came down with malaria. Doctor Abdulai rushed to his side and prescribed the necessary medicines. Chris could have come home because of the malaria but he stayed. He lived in the clinic at bare subsistence level, but every new day brought new patients to the clinic and he helped as best he could. The love that the staff and the doctor had for Chris was abundantly evident when Chris took me to Tamale and to the doctor on Christmas day last year.

I’m off to my chapel to offer Mass today for this great man, thankful to God for having had the opportunity to meet him and see where and how he performed the works of mercy. I am thankful to Catholic Relief Services for their help to the clinic in the past and I am grateful to Christopher Mertens for unwittingly and unknowingly being the catalyst for allowing me one of the great moments of my adult lifetime. Dr. David Abdulai and the clinic staff welcomed us on December 27th and he was proud that his young American was then in his fourth semester of Medical School at Tulane in New Orleans. God takes and God gives. It happens all the time and we just don’t seem to want to notice it.

Rest now in the peace of the Lord you servant, good doctor to the poor, and may the Divine Physician embrace you for your life lived on earth.



Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Last night, approximately 3100 people gathered at Tropicana Field for the annual Spring Nehemiah Conference of FAST (the acronym for “Faith and Action for Strength Together.”)




FAST and the Nehemiah Conference are no strangers to this blog as I have written about them now almost yearly. Each year I am strengthened by the growing participation of the various church and synagogue communities which belong to FAST, by the dramatic increase in attendance by committed congregants, and by the growing political maturity of both the organization and the elected representatives they invite to come and participate.

Once again this year, they asked me to open with Nehemiah Conference with a prayer and I want to include it here because I hope it set the proper tone for the evening. By the way, accountability and transparency mandate that I share with you that I am not the author of the prayer, Father John Tapp of Holy Family parish composed it for me, but I embraced it fully:

Father of Mercy, Father of Justice,
        we thank you for gathering us together this evening
        for our 10th Nehemiah Action Assembly in Pinellas County.

In the spirit of your prophet Nehemiah,
      we assemble here this evening
      because we have listened to and heard the cry of those most in  need.

We come from different backgrounds, religions, and ethnic traditions,
      but you have joined us together as one,
      working as one,
      so that YOUR justice may rain down upon the earth
      and guide the hearts and minds of those who lead us. 

In this time when our Jewish sisters and brothers anticipate
      the great feast of Passover,
      we think of Moses demanding that Pharaoh “Let my people 

We think of the new life won for your Chosen People,
      the journey from slavery to freedom,
      from scarcity to abundance,
      because of his selfless dedication to the Lord and his people.

Give us that same spirit this evening.
      May our focus be on your people – especially those most in 
      May we constantly commit ourselves to the good work of 
      May our efforts be mighty and fruitful.

      As we celebrate Passover as a perpetual institution,
      May we continuously work for greater justice in our world.

We also find ourselves in this holy season of Lent – a time of
prayer, fasting and giving alms.
      During this time, we remember the words of the prophet

      “THIS is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound
      unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free
      the oppressed, breaking every yoke.”

Give us the grace, the courage, the persistence, the wisdom
      to do this great and holy work.
      May we always be aware, that what we do for others,
      we do for you.

May our quest for justice in Pinellas County
      serve to build up your Kingdom in our midst.
      And may those who see our work give glory to you, our living
      and true God.

We offer this humble prayer in faith,
      confident that you hear us and help us,
      giving us what we need – today and at every moment.

And let us all cry out together: AMEN!

This year, FAST chose three areas of concentration and I wonder what person of sound mind could object to any of the three.

First, a note that last year the City of St. Petersburg committed to requiring that any city funded construction contract in excess of $700,000 would only be awarded to contractors binding themselves to hire local labor, which includes people who have committed felonies in the past but have reformed their lives in the present. Now, again, in the interest of honesty, I have to admit that because of our SAFE ENVIRONMENT PROGRAM put in place to protect children, this diocese and its entities can not hire or allow to volunteer anyone convicted of having committed a felony. I regret this but understand it, hoping that some day we can move beyond it.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was unable to be present but his deputy mayor was present and indicated that the Mayor would like to expand the commitment to construction projects well below the $700,000 threshold. That was a YES even though the exact threshold amount could not be identified last night.

The second area of concentration focused on youth arrest for less serious crimes. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and State Attorney Bernie McCabe were asked if they would work to implement a program which would direct first-time offenders for less serious crimes away from jail time and toward programs of changing behavior leading to non-repeat. Florida, by the way, arrests and places in jail more youth that any other state in the union, many for crimes which, while felonious, are by their nature less serious than others.

Both men affirmed their intention to use alternate forms of punishment short of incarceration for such crimes and McCabe passed the proverbial football right back into the laps of the attendees saying that the communities’ best interests were best served when the whole community works together to see that youth and law enforcement never meet. Another YES recorded to the delight and satisfaction of those in attendance.

The third and final issue of the evening was addressed to the Pinellas County Commission which had four of its members in attendance. This issue concerned making dental care available to the indigent and poor and a story was related by a member church of a woman who died because she was unable to access care for a dental abcess. The request made of the commissioners was to use $5.9 million dollars of the projected county surplus (due to an improved economy and rise in taxes and assessment revenues) which is currently estimated to be about $20 million for this fiscal year to give access to no-cost dental coverage for the truly indigent. All four commissioners promised their support but one noted that the spurplis predicted needed to be attained before a final number for the program could be agreed to. The assembled took these responses as another YES.

As the Catholic bishop for this area, I am proud of the achievements of FAST and its Hillsborough counterpart HOPE which is holding its annual conference tonight (I am with the Franciscan fathers this evening for Mass at St. Joseph in south St. Petersburg and then dinner with Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiga who is their guest for a chapter meeting so I am unable to attend). But I swell with pride when I see my pastors and associates sitting either on the dais or with their people in the crowd.

And I am even prouder of the Catholic participation in FAST which is substantial. To those priests and parishes which have not yet chosen to participate, I simply remind them that FAST is a good way to reach out to Pope Francis’ “peripheries” and bring Christ to the desperate poor. The elected officials are learning how to handle FAST better than some of our own people.

A great night at the TROP and as Father John Gerth, who summarized the results said at the end of the evening, a “grand slam” had taken place on the Trop’s outfield.

Congratulations, FAST, and good luck tonight, HOPE.