Retired priest dedicates time to youth, aging overseas

by Jessica Langdon
jessica.langdon@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Retirement, at least the way Father Bob Hasenkamp lives it, requires a lot of work.

Like many retirees, the archdiocesan priest planned to do a little traveling when he turned 70 and retired five years ago.

But his travels are less vacation and more vocation.

Now, he hits the road (or hops a plane) about 25 weekends a year, visiting cities across the United States.

Hoping to inspire sponsorships, he shares with congregations the work that Christian Foundation for Children and Aging is doing in 21 developing countries to help families create paths out of poverty.

Blessed with good health, he saw this as a chance to keep his hand in priestly ministry while at the same time pouring his heart into a beloved cause.
Long before his retirement, Father Hasenkamp started sponsoring two girls in India through the agency, headquartered in Kansas City, Kan. His monthly donations helped provide their education and other basic needs.

That $30 a month goes a long way — and 93.6 cents of every dollar donated through CFCA goes to help the child and his or her family, he said.

“They were in about third grade, and I was able to sponsor them through college,” said Father Hasenkamp. “They got their degree.”

He has visited them — and other children he sponsors — over the years.
And it was seeing the poverty they face every day that inspired him in his retirement to want to do even more.

Sharing the story

“I know there’s poverty in this country,” said Father Hasenkamp. “But the poverty in these developing countries is far, far more extreme. There are no safety nets for most of these people. The government doesn’t help them, and they can’t even find a food pantry. There’s just no place to go if you’re poor.”

And there’s not really hope of rising out of that poverty without help.

So to find people who can help, Father Hasenkamp, who lives in Topeka, has traveled the country.

Closer to home, he visited this fall with parishioners at Immaculate Conception Church in Louisburg and St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee.

“We tell people that what we’re trying to do is give hope to these families, to restore their human dignity,” said Father Hasenkamp.

Even though physical changes might not be evident right away, the impact of CFCA sponsorship begins immediately.

“Just the fact that they know somebody cares about them, somebody is going to be walking with them through these difficult days, it really does restore their hope,” said Father Hasenkamp. “It just makes for a better life.”

And sponsorship benefits the whole family.

While many organizations help people living in poverty, CFCA fosters a genuine relationship between the child, youth, or aging person and the sponsor.

“You really get to know the child and the parents so that it becomes a mutual benefit to the sponsor as well as the child,” said Father Hasenkamp.

The two exchange letters, with the help of CFCA staff translators.

CFCA even organizes trips for sponsors to meet their young or aging friends and their families.

Lifelong friends

The girls Father Hasenkamp originally sponsored in India are now grown and married, and he visited them in January.

“They’re just really happy because they know that CFCA changed their lives,” he said. “They would not have had a chance to go to school if somebody hadn’t helped them.”

He now sponsors three more girls, two in El Salvador and one in Costa Rica, and visited the first two — 15-year-old Abbie and 12-year-old Jackie — on a sponsorship trip in October.

Education is a top priority in CFCA “Hope for a Family” sponsorships, and benefits are designed to fit the needs of each child and family.

Poverty beats on these people’s doors every single day, and the world doesn’t always even know they exist, said Paco Wertin, CEO of CFCA.

The work of Father Hasenkamp and other preachers introduces people to them as individuals and makes a real connection.

People like Father Hasenkamp are a true gift to CFCA, as they work to bring the marginalized to the middle and free people from the bonds of poverty, hunger and oppression, he said.

“He carries the authenticity of the message in his person,” said Wertin, who knew him first as a pastor and then as a dedicated advocate for CFCA sponsorships.

He sees in him someone who is not only welcoming, but who recognizes the dignity of every person, feels deeply, and “does something about it.”

“When I come back from one of these awareness trips, I just realize how much I have and how God has blessed me,” said Father Hasenkamp.

Touching lives

Father Hasenkamp treasures the letters he exchanges with the children he sponsors.

“They always draw me a picture,” he said. “I tell them about the weather. They’ve never seen snow, so I sent them a picture last year of me in the snow, and they really liked that. They tell us about what they’re doing in school and about their family, and I talk about my family.”

Though the circumstances in which these families live differ greatly from the lives many people know in northeastern Kansas, the families are very much the same at heart.

“These families are no different from your own,” said Father Hasenkamp. “They want the best for their children and their grandchildren. They just don’t have the means to give their children what they need.”

In El Salvador, for instance, parents find seasonal work picking coffee beans — ripe once they’ve turned red — and it takes 35 pounds of picked beans to earn $1.

So sponsorship is truly a way to change a life, he said.

When he travels on the weekends, Father Hasenkamp often celebrates at least three Masses, and that can make for a tiring — but extremely rewarding — couple of days.

CFCA sends ahead of him pictures of children needing sponsors and a few details on their ages and countries.

Then, at a sponsorship table after Mass, Father Hasenkamp said some people have felt God calling them to a particular child. Others discover a child who shares their birthday.

Still others with young children sponsor out of sheer gratitude for what they have and a desire to share some of it with others.

Father Hasenkamp finds inspiration in Pope Francis’ call to walk in solidarity with the poor and sees the message reflected in CFCA’s mission.

And although he is giving to others, he believes he and other sponsors receive a huge gift themselves.

“I really feel blessed to be part of this organization,” he said. “After a while, you realize how much it’s doing for you spiritually.”

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