On his first day of volunteering with children with disabilities, a boy broke Antonio Carlos Tavares de Mello’s heart when the boy asked, “Do you want to be my father?”
De Mello, a Catholic from Brazil, was just 25 at the time, still single and living at home with his parents, according to the National Catholic Register. But he felt God’s call to care for people with disabilities.
Thirty years later, De Mello is the adopted father of three and the founder of a charity that cares for more than 100 people with disabilities in Brazil and Portugal, according to the report.
Many of the people who receive care at the Catholic Community of Jesus Menino (Child Jesus) are abortion survivors, De Mello told the Catholic newspaper in a new interview.
“We care for children who’ve survived abortion and those who have been abandoned,” he said. “It’s a Catholic humanitarian mission for children, to protect human life. Most of those we care for have survived an abortion.”
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One boy, Alex, suffers from brain paralysis after an attempted forced abortion by his father, he said.
Another, Joao, 9, has been at the ministry since he was a baby. De Mello said his mother took drugs to abort him, but he survived. When Joao was born, he was diagnosed with anencephaly and given just a few months to live, but, nine years later, the boy is doing well, he said.
“There are of course nurses with him, but he laughs a lot when we come into the room. He sees Jesus when we don’t see him. It’s a miracle of life,” De Mello told the Register.
In his early 20s, De Mello said he felt called by God to care for children with disabilities. At age 25, on his first day of volunteering with one charity, he said his experience with one young man tugged at his heart.
“The first day I came I met a 15 year-old-boy, Alexandre, and he asked me, ‘Do you want to be my father?’” he remembered. “I said I couldn’t as I was 25 and he was 15, but I told him, ‘I can be your father in my heart.’”
But De Mello kept praying and he consulted with his local bishop about his calling to help children with special needs. A year later, De Mello adopted Alexandre and eventually began the Catholic Community of Jesus Menino to care for many more children like him, according to the report.
Today, the Catholic Community of Jesus Menino has three facilities in Brazil and Portugal that care for more than 100 children and adults with special needs, the report states.
De Mello said they hope to expand even more in the future to help pregnant mothers who are considering abortion.
“We’re trying to build a house to welcome pregnant mothers who are thinking about abortion, often for economic reasons,” he told the Register. “This house should therefore welcome them during their pregnancy and care for them for a year once their child is born so they can provide for them, and so they will be deterred from having an abortion.”
Though their work is difficult (many patients live short lives because of their disabilities) and finances are always a struggle (the charity operates solely on donations), De Mello said they strive to be joyful and trust God in all that they do.
“We have a priest and a psychologist to support us, and the staff are trained to deal with this reality, to be ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’ as we call them,” he told the Register. “We are all trained to deal with a hard life but also death, because it’s close, as are the people we help support. This is all important to keep the work flowing and to do it with joy.”