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15,000 children in Mozambique, a missionary – and a football player named Leo Messi

Lionel “Leo” Messi is arguably the world’s best and most famous footballer, at least to his diehard legions of fans. As a celebrity, and his otherworldly skills on the pitch, there’s little about him that could surprise anyone anymore, although he’s still known for his sleight of hand wizardry on God’s green turf to pull rabbits out of his hat at a sudden twist of his magical body with the ball glued magically to his feet.

And now another most delightful, and definitely heartwarming, surprise to surface about this gem of a footballer is the revelation that, through his Lionel Messi Foundation, 15,000 destitute children in Mozambique are able to have breakfast daily because he pays for them. And as the breakfast is served in the schools across Mozambique, this meal is also an incentive for them to attend and receive a proper education. And all this has been happening quietly since 2016 without any fanfare.

The foundation’s work and contributions are coordinated by an Argentinean missionary, Father Juan Gabriel Arias, who has been working in Mozambique for years. Father Arias is the parish priest at the parish of San Benedict in Magundze, 150 miles from Maputo, the capital, and 22 miles from Xai Xai, the capital of the province of Gaza.

The foundation’s work has primarily served to ameliorate the plight of the children as they previously had to travel several kilometers to attend the region’s school, and this major inconvenience resulted in a high rate of illiteracy. They also faced a much more serious blight as the area suffers prolonged periods of drought, resulting in a lack of food. The children, as the missionary himself explained, sometimes only had enough food for one meal every one-and-a-half days, leading to severe malnutrition.

The breakfast campaign of the Leo Messi Foundation ensures that 15,000 children from 40 schools receive food daily and attend school. It’s a direct way to contribute to the improvement of the country, which is among the poorest in the world.

Father Arias himself is highly regarded in the region, having arrived there with 6 other priests for a 3-month missionary stint that has since grown into a permanent tenure of passion and commitment. A quotation in the third person commentary aptly sums up his initial experience in the country, “his mind was blown and he fell in love with the people of the country.” Those who know him voluntarily send support from other countries across all continents. This has given rise to initiatives such as selling masks sewn with Mozambican printed fabrics to raise funds for Fr. Arias’ work. All this largely due to the pioneering, and continual, work begun by the Lionel Messi Foundation whose main commitment is in contributing to the “School Breakfast Program” for all schools in Mozambique and the agreement is renewed annually.

With truly caring, warm-hearted celebrities like Messi and Marcus Rashford impassioned with the call to ameliorate the daily plight of schoolchildren, there’s certainly hope yet for this world.

*For those who’d like to follow the Foundation, Father Juan Gabriel Arias shares news about his work on his Twitter account.