“Who today are those whom Jesus called “the smallest amongst my brothers”, the least?”
He came from a working class family, and after spending some years working in a factory and later in the seminary, in 1972 he obtained the diploma of social assistant and found his calling, choosing to live the spirituality of the focolari as a volunteer, committed in the social sphere.
“No man can live alone”. This is what he wrote in large letters on his van. And this motto became his way of life, with the help of the spirituality of the focolari. He was the first director of Caritas in Herten, and worked to recuperate and integrate the refugees of his territory, to ensure better living conditions for the most emarginated: “If nobody is responsible, I am responsible”.
Fundamental for him is spiritual sharing with the volunteers of the Focolari. Thus, one of them tells us: “Hermann often told us about his experiences, all of them inspired by the concrete living of the Gospel.”
The first “of the smallest” for whom Hermann started to give his life together with the other Caritas operators (with whom he worked for over 20 years), were the homeless of the shanty town of Herten, and he did not hesitate to even go and live with them. After 14 years of work he succeeded in finding better housing for the 63 families of the shanty town, and the quarter was finally closed down.
With financing from Caritas and public funds, Hermann saw to the building of a block of 5 small independent apartments for the disabled and the St Francis of Assisi home: a large structure with more than 170 apartments for the aged, right in the centre of the city. “We even have too much peace and tranquillity!” the aged living there told him. The results are surprising, considering the dynamic and independent quality of life that they are assured, and studies are carried out on his manner of operation.
His last initiative, in 1988, is in favour of 300 political refugees, who arrived in Herten during that period. He remarked after some time: “Now there are persons who help to find houses, restructure and renovate them. Many of my fellow citizens have become friends of the refugees. As soon as personal relationships are formed between the two sides, the prejudice and fears disappear.”
The illness that afflicts him reveals, in a special way, the depth of Hermann’s soul. He writes to Chiara Lubich on 12th April 1990: “Now I am really suffering. It costs much always to say yes to God, I would not have believed that it costs so much. But I must love up to the end. Only if we love, and love up to the end, will people believe.”
He passed away shortly afterwards, on 24th April. At his funeral, a Syrian Moslem prayed over his coffin; an alcoholic, emerging from the crowd, deposits a red carnation on the coffin; all the local community of the focolari gathers around him, and still feels him alive with them. In 2004, through Caritas, the Hermann Schafers foundation is born, to prolong his work in the city of Herten. The website of the foundation reminds us that his life and work have been based on this: the profound conviction that “God is love”.