Every child is a holy history

Lilla Danilecka talks to Christiane and Pol-Marie.

Christine and Pol-Marie are Belgian and they are founders of the Belgian branch of the adoptive work called Emmanuel-SOS-Adoption. They got married 33 years ago and dreamt of having five children. Then God entered their lives and gave them nineteen kids, including nine disabled or chronically ill ones. They often smile, they are humble and their eyes are full of God's peace. Towards the end of April 2005 Christine and Pol-Marie came to Poland at the invitation of the Catholic Adoption Centre in Warsaw and the Polish Foundation of Raoul Follereau in order to encourage Polish families to consider adoption of disabled children.

LILLA DANILECKA: - You are parents of nineteen children and grandparents of seven. Did you desire to have such a big family when you got married?

Pol-Marie Boldo: - When we were engaged we dreamt of having a large family. We wanted to have four or five children. After our marriage we also thought of going on missions to Africa where I could work as a physician for some time. But it turned out that it was impossible and with time we indeed became parents of many children, much more than we imagined in the beginning.

Christiane Boldo: - I bore nine children and eight is still alive since one of our daughters died suddenly at the age of three months. It was after her death that we decided to adopt our first child. Altogether we have eleven adopted children from seven countries, including nine disabled or chronically ill ones.

- Some people are fascinated by your testimony and some have mixed feelings about it. What can you tell those who criticise families with many children and think that they bring about social pathologies, which also result from the lack of proper conditions for growth and which result from poverty? What is the recipe to live in dignity and joy in such a large family and do not feel worse than others although you do not enjoy material comfort as other people do?

Pol-Marie Boldo: - A big family is not a new social phenomenon. Throughout ages such a model has been a custom and nobody has regarded it as something extraordinary. From this perspective our family is not unique at all. But there is something that makes it unique. Living in such a big family every day we can see what richness it is and what school of life it is for us and for our children. Every day requires much effort and work. We would not have been able to cope with everything if we had not shared responsibilities and there had not been family solidarity. Then we would have had chaos and it could have led to pathology.

Christiane Boldo: - I would like to tell those who have mixed feelings looking at us: 'Do not be afraid of taking such a challenge. We are living in the social context where people are afraid of having many children. It is true that it is a difficult and demanding choice. From the beginning we knew that even raising four or five children that we had dreamt of would not be easy and the cost would be enormous. First of all, we had to learn how to give a lot: to give your time and strengths, just to give yourself. From the very first moment of our marriage we were aware of that demand and we both agreed to meet it.

- You say that one should not stress the differences between healthy and fit people and the disabled ones. Why? Actually, we can see these differences easily. Is it not too idealistic simplification?

Pol-Marie Boldo: - We do not say that one must not notice the differences. Daily life with disabled children has thought us, however, that we should relativize these differences. It is true that care for a disabled child demands some changes in the house, one needs to learn proper gestures and behaviour. At the same time, we have discovered ourselves that it is not our children who are disabled in some ways but also we carry weaknesses and disabilities, which we have not been aware of. None of us is 100 % physically, psychologically or spiritually healthy. The biggest disability of man may be that he/she cannot love another human being and cannot meet his/her needs.

- Currently, there are still ten children at home but there was the time you had all nineteen children. In order to run such a big house you needed extraordinary organisational skills and order as well as the ability to satisfy the present needs and be always available. How are you coping with all of this?

Christiane Boldo: - First of all, we are living every single day, trying to focus on what every day brings. Like in every ordinary family there are unforeseen situations but it is true that our life is ordered in some way, that it has its fixed rhythm, which we must keep in order not to get lost in organisational mess. Our house is not in fact an army barrack, but each of us has his/her own schedule. It also seems important to us that every child lives with the awareness that it has to fulfil a concrete role in our family, depending on his/her strengths and abilities. Every child is responsible for something so that his/her daily duties are done without hesitation and that the child is of use to all.

- In order to take up such a challenge one must be either mad or have blind confidence in God. And what about you?

Pol-Marie Boldo: - Literally everything has changed that we decided to make God first in our family. We got married as believers and we practised our faith but our faith was typically luke-warm. We went to church once a week and we lived our own lives during weekdays. When we began to deepen our faith - the way we are still following because man does never believe 'enough' - we saw how important it was to make a special place for God in our lives and to let him really control our lives. One can see that every day because we devote time for personal and marriage prayers. It is important to us to learn together to listen what the Lord is to tell us and what he expects of us.

- What would you like to share with young Polish people who are getting married or planning to have a family?

Pol-Marie Boldo: - We want to congratulate to all those who have chosen the call to marriage, that they have decided to serve life. Do not be afraid of inviting the Lord of Life to your families, to your daily lives. Do not be afraid of dedicating yourselves and your future to his love and will. Let God lead you through the words of the Holy Scriptures and through the people in the Church that he will place on your way.

- You are listening to God who speaks to you through the Holy Scriptures and inspirations during your prayers. Moreover, you follow the teaching of the Church in the issues of protection of the dignity of human life. What do you consider the most precious thing for contemporary Christian families in the teaching of the Church?

Christiane Boldo: - Our greatest encouragement and support in life have been the encyclical Evangelium vitae by John Paul II. Our call is to accept the life of a child as it is, respect it, serve and enjoy it. This encyclical is really a programme of our family life. It confirms our choice and reassures us of our responsibilities that we have assumed in the service of life.

- The work Emmanuel-SOS-Adoption, which you founded in Belgium, has helped to find adoptive parents for almost five hundred disabled or chronically ill children, including several children from Poland. Adoption of a disabled child is still a taboo in Poland. What can you say about this on the basis of your experiences?

Pol-Marie Boldo: - It seems to me that the most important thing is the awareness that we are trying to give disabled children what they have the right to, namely the right to family where they will feel loved. The key to understand the foundation of our work Emmanuel-SOS-Adoption is exactly our deepest conviction that every child has the right to grow in family that will embrace it with love and due care. Disabled or ill children have the same rights to family as their healthy peers, the difference being that their chances to find a real home are much poorer. Therefore, we need people who will do their best to help them.

Christiane Boldo: - Every child is a holy history. We are deeply convinced that every human life is unique and thus precious and sacred. So one must do his/her best to make this life worthy, which John Paul II stressed very strongly.

- In Poland there are also many generous people who would be eager to accept an orphaned disabled child. However, the situation in our country, financial collapse of the state and anti-family legislation cause that many people regard such a decision as unreasonable. What does the situation look like in Belgium?

Pol-Marie Boldo: - It is true that the situation in Belgium differs much from the situation in Poland. We have a well-functioning system of family benefits and the state fully refunds children's rehabilitation and the equipment they need. Many families, who do not necessarily have disabled children, enjoy numerous privileges and facilities. I know that in Poland the situation of big families is much worse, especially in the light of unemployment and impractical laws. I think that it is very important to make society aware of the rights and that people demand their rights. And the right to healthy family policy is one of the most important ones. One must not give up; one should fight for proper rules. On the one hand, we rejoice that we help to find Polish handicapped children families in Belgium but on the other hand, we think this is improper. For one year we have been members of the same European Union and it is not fair that one member state does care for family and another does not.

- You are living in the neighbourhood of the famous Marian sanctuary in Banneux, Belgium, where there were apparitions of the Mother of God in the 1930s. Do you feel her presence and help in your family?

Christiane Boldo: - Yes, when we took the fundamental choice and decided to dedicate ourselves to adopting disabled children 24 years ago, my husband had to close his doctor's practice in order to run the work Emmanuel-SOS-Adoption, which had just started. His pay decreased five times. We had to sell our house and then the diocese proposed that we could use a large house in the neighbourhood of the sanctuary in Banneux, without any rent, because Emmanuel-SOS-Adoption was recognised as the work of the Catholic Church in Belgium. So the house we are living in now is not ours but is the property of the shrine in Banneux. We see a special sign of the Blessed Virgin's protection in that as if she took us to her and constantly shows us her motherly care. And in fact, when she appeared in Banneux, she called herself the Mother of the Poor and the Mother of the Nations. I think this perfectly applies to our family. - Indeed. Your family is actually an international family.

Pol-Marie Boldo: - Yes. Our children come from as many as seven countries of the world, among others from Columbia, Cameroon, Haiti and India. Thus we feel citizens of the world a little and brothers and sisters of all people regardless of their colour or background.

- Have you some words that are the motto of your life and at the same time can become the message of our conversation?

Christiane Boldo: - I think that what supports us and helps us to follow our way each day of our call is the assurance that only God's love saves us.

- Thank you for the conversation.

School of Life and Service in Banneux
If you are 18-28 years old and want to dedicate a year of your life to serve disabled children and youth, if you want to live one year in a community and if you are ready to take the vows of chastity for that period; if you want to deepen your relationship with God and your Christian formation and spiritual life, if you need time to discern your call, if you know French and are ready to spend a year in Belgium (from the beginning of September to the end of July), write to us:
La Cité Notre-Dame de la Vie
Myriam et Christian Levaux lub Pol-Marie et Christiane Boldo
Rue du Pere André 8
4141 Blindef-Louveigné

"Niedziela" 2/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl