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'FATHER ED' IS COUNTING ON COMPUTERS TO HELP POOR

Most people establish computer schools to make money and to help people develop marketable skills. Father Ed does it to promote love of neighbor.

A missionary in Brazil for more than 50 years, the Rev. Edmund N. Leising believes that the only way to overcome hopeless poverty is for people to care about each other and work together to improve their situation.

That's why he is setting up 19 computer training centers in some of the worst slums in Rio de Janeiro. The string attached to the training is that individuals who benefit from the training must "give something back."

Teen-agers and young adults attending the classes are given sufficient training to qualify for jobs. But they also must develop an appreciation for the common good and promise to return to the slums to help others.

"They have to agree to come back to their people and share with them and bring other people with them," said Father Leising, 78, a native of Swormville and member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

"They can give their time. They can share their experiences. They can tell others about mistakes they have made," he said.

The most important aspect of the computer training, Father Leising said, is its emphasis on developing an appreciation for "the common good" through interfaith dialogue.

"The dialogue helps people understand that loving one another for the love of God is the most perfect type of religion we can practice," he said. "It teaches that the most perfect form of charity is giving ourselves. It is not giving things."

His ultimate objective is to "make Catholics be better Catholics and Protestants be better Protestants so they can be brothers and sisters," Father Leising said.

The project is unique, he said, because it requires that Catholic churches and Protestant churches, who ordinarily go their separate ways, work together to create autonomous organizations to organize and operate each school.

Five of the computer schools already are in operation, each training 100 to 150 people a week. The goal is to have all 19 operating within five years.

The first step -- determining where to establish the schools -- was undertaken with a $5,000 grant from the Gillette Co. of Brazil. The money financed a survey that determined in which of Rio de Janeiro's 700 slums the churches were willing to work together on the project.

About 25 percent of Rio's 8 million people live in slum areas with populations of 3,000 to 30,000 people.

Even though the project is new, Father Leising said about 300 used and rebuilt computers have been donated for the schools. Moral Rearmament, a Protestant ministry, provided 150 of them from a source in Italy. Others came from Brazilian businesses.

The National Electric Co. of Brazil is providing teachers to serve as instructors and to train the computer students to serve as teachers for others.

Father Leising currently serves as coordinator of the Ecumenical Center for Action and Reflection, an organization that works for social and economic change in the nation of 165 million people.

He formerly organized and headed Caritas, a Brazilian version of Catholic Charities, and later headed Brazil's Catholic Relief Services.

During his annual visits back in Western New York, he visits several Catholic Churches and meets with various groups, reporting on his work and exchanging ideas on the meaning of "love your neighbor."

His mission appeal talks yield "seed capital" to help with his work in Brazil.

Although he will turn 79 next month, Father Leising has no plans for retirement.

"I'm praying to the Lord that I can work until I'm 90," he said. "I'm not going to retire. It's too much fun working."

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