TANGUIETA: “The coexistence among Christians and Muslims, here in Benin, is serene: I often say that, if the relationship between the faithful of these two religions was like this everywhere, we would not see the dramas that cause so much bloodshed in many areas of the world today!” These are the words of Brother Fiorenzo Priuli, 70 years old, a surgeon, and a beacon for thousands of patients in Africa; a WHO (World Health Organization) consultant for AIDS and infectious diseases, who was awarded the Legion of Honor by the President of the French Republic. Of himself, he says: “I am grateful to the Lord who has called me to collaborate with him in the wonderful work of treating those who suffer and protecting life.” For more than 40 years, he has lived in a small town in the north of the country, Tanguiéta, where he runs the St John of God Hospital, a centre of excellence in African medicine, founded in 1970 by the Hospitaller Order of the Brothers of St John of God, known as the Fatebenefratelli. At the time, it offered 82 beds; now there are 415.
The history of this great hospital, which has also become a university centre, speaks of the beautiful bond that is manifest between human beings of different religions when they share responsibility towards an injured human, and ally themselves, giving their best to lift up the lives that have been downtrodden by illness: strong ties that transcend the boundaries of states.
A common goal: Healthcare
The hospital physicians, including interns, number 25, while the paramedic and administrative staff consists of three hundred people. “Many are Muslim (such as my deputy in the operating room, who recently married a Catholic nurse) and the relationships between all of us are excellent,” says Bro Fiorenzo. “We work together day and night, driven by a common goal: to try to provide the best possible assistance to the thousands of patients who come here, often after facing long and exhausting journeys. Every year, we have 18,000-20,000 new patients (of which 5,000 are children) who come from neighbouring countries (Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria): 14,000 are hospitalized, while others receive outpatient care.”