Father Francois Laborde, a French Jesuit who spent decades among the poor of Kolkata, was buried on December 28 in a parish in the capital city of West Bengal.
Fr Laborde was considered the inspira-tion behind French author Dominique Lapierre’s “City of Joy,” a novel on the slums of Calcutta (now Kolkata).
He died of old age illness on Christmas Day in a hospital in Midnapore, near Kolkata, He was 93.
Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Calcutta led the funeral services on December 28 at Saint John’s Church.
“Father Laborde worked silently and with great humility among the poor for more than 55 years. Religion, caste and creed did not matter to him as he reached the poorest of the society,” said Archbishop D’Souza in his condolence message.
According to the prelate, the Jesuit priest was always just a call away. “And when praised, he would humbly say, he was just doing God’s work,” added Archbishop D Souza.
Born on February 28, 1927, François was educated up to the baccalaureate with the Jesuits. After a year of philosophy at the Sorbonne, he joined the Prado institute in order to become a priest among the excluded and the poorest.
It was in Paris, his hometown, that his proximity to the poorest was awakened. He was then 9 years old. Coming from a petty bourgeois family, he suddenly discovered that his best friend lives in an even less favoured situation.
“When I was invited to his home for the first time, I was amazed. His family lived on the sixth floor and he slept on a folding bed in a loft. A few days earlier, he had left my house crying… Since that day, I understood that it was necessary to go to the poor in order to understand them.“
In one such visit, Father Laborde met Doctor Sen, who later extended a helping hand. “I took a sick child to him and when I offered him money, he got angry. He said it was inhuman to charge money from the child and I knew I got a friend,” Laborde added. Now that Lapierre is unwell, Laborde has a message for his friend. “I have heard that Lapierre is very unwell. All I want for him is a speedy recovery,” he said.
In 1969, Lapierre came to Kolkata to research his book. Father Laborde literally walked Lapierre hand-held through the alleys of poverty and distress in Pilkhana and other slums for his groundwork for ‘City of Joy.’