Father Jean-Claude, could you tell us about your childhood in the Congo?
I was born in Kinshasa, the third of eight children. I have two sisters, one is the oldest, one is the youngest. All of us in the middle are boys. My dad is an electrical engineer. At home we actually spoke six different languages! French, Lingala, and some other ones. I completed my elementary school in Kinshasa. I had a good experience there; I went to a good school where high-ranking people had attended. The grandson of Mobutu actually went to the same school as me. I decided that I wanted to be a priest at age ten, and when I was twelve I left home to study in a seminary in the Bandundu Province.
How did you decide to create JPF?
While I was at the seminary, I was shocked to see the poverty of people in the countryside—their housing, their standards of living. I thought to myself, “Someone must do something to change it.” After my studies, I decided to create JPF at the first parish I was sent to, the Catholic Mission Bengi. JPF was officially created on December 4, 1999. I had 200 villages to cover, and the last one was 80 kilometers from the Mission Center in Bengi . I had no car or bike; I was walking to say masses. Our first initiative was a housing project for seven villages. Later we added our first healthcare initiative by delivering fridges to clinics. I was then sent to the Archdiocese of Kinshasa to work, and started our streetchildren/orphans project.
How did you end up coming to the U.S. and creating an office here?
I was invited here by friends and partners of the World Mission in Pennsylvania for meetings and plannings of our partnership initiative. I had also meetings with the Catholic Mission Board and other organizations. JPF became a U.S. organization in 2004. I did not know any English until I came to the U.S. I learned by reading and speaking with people.
What is your vision for the future of JPF?
I want JPF to play a big role in bringing support to many African countries. My first and foremost motivation is to be a good priest; it has been since I was ten years old. But the vision of my priesthood is also connected to social welfare. Matthew 6:25-34 serves as an inspiration and a motivation for our Mission to empower the poor. This Gospel presents God as a God of providence, and it invites us to be the manifestation of this providence to the needy.