Saturday, September 24, 2016

Jesuit priest Pierre Tritz remembered for passion to help dropouts return to school

Father Pierre Tritz is shown with children in front of ERDA Foundation at 66 Linaw Street in Quezon City.
By Nancy T. Lu

Back in 1981 or 35 years ago, a documentary film titled “Les Trottoirs de Manille (The Sidewalks of Manila)” aired on French television, revealing the shocking poverty of out-of-school children in the Philippine capital. Unraveled dramatically was the heart-wrenching tale of survival of the children scavengers in the depressed neighborhoods of Metro Manila like the garbage dump site known as the Smokey Mountain.

A French-born Jesuit priest, the principal resource person of the TV documentary, realized the extreme importance of education to build a better future for these school dropouts born to families who knew only a hand-to-mouth existence. He reached out to help the streetchildren whose jobless parents could not afford to keep them in school. He undertook to raise money to pay for these sons’ and daughters’ uniforms, books, project materials, school supplies and even transportation allowances to enable them to avail of the free primary school education offered by the government.

The priest launched in the 1970s a school dropout project for the informal settlers called Operasyion Balik-Paaralan or Operation Back-to-School. His staff rounded up the streetchildren to put them back in school. For the parents, he gradually organized skills training programs to prepare  them for a regular and stable means of livelihood.

His name: Father Pierre Tritz.

Father Tritz was born in Alsace Lorraine, a region in France which underwent occupation by the German forces and later reversion to France. As a result, he was fluent in both French and German. His language proficiency proved helpful when he went fund-raising in Europe for his projects in the Philippines. In fact, strangers he met while traveling by train around Europe gave cash and wrote out checks as their donations after hearing Father Tritz share with them the plight of the impoverished Filipino children in need of education for a better tomorrow. 

Father Pierre Tritz, second from right, updates his friends in Paris on the progress of his campaign to keep children of informal settlers in school.

For many years, he encouraged individuals’ sponsorships of disadvantaged and marginalized children to keep them in school. He personally wrote letters to thank benefactors whether in the Philippines or abroad for their generosity.
Former French First Lady Daniele Mitterrand even made a special private trip to the country when her husband President Francois Mitterrand was still in office because of her foundation’s interest in helping Father Tritz in his meaningful work for the poor through his Educational Research and Development Assistance (ERDA) Foundation.
ERDA Foundation encourages corporate sponsorship of Christmas party for marginalized children. Father Pierre Tritz is seen with Alfonso Yuchengco  and  executives from Yuchengco's group of companies. 

Missionary greatness lies in inspiring others to generously spread love and work to help pull those mired in poverty and deprivation to arrive at a much better life. The soft-spoken Father Tritz touched so many lives throughout his years as a Catholic missionary in the Philippines.

Actually Father Tritz was ordained a Jesuit priest in Shanghai on June 4, 1947. His dream was to serve in China. But with the communist takeover in China in 1949, he was forced to leave, arriving in the Philippines on October 24, 1950. He spent the next over half a century showing his full commitment to making people aware of the importance of investing in the education of the young. He gave up his French citizenship to become a Filipino by presidential decree and concentrated with missionary zeal on work among the poorest of the poor in his adopted homeland.

The well-loved Father Tritz passed away at the age of 102 last September 10 at the UST Hospital in Manila. But for many who knew him, he continues to live and be remembered for his passion and greatness in inspiring caring for the poor.  The ERDA Foundation, his legacy, rallies those with the means to help bring down the high incidence of school dropouts in the Philippines.

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