Announcing life and hope in Trujillo, a city in coastal Northwestern Peru, where poverty persists and the law of the strongest and crime triumph, becomes a challenge. Here is the testimony of a Comboni Missionary who has lived 32 years in the country.
Hope and projects of life seem impossible in El Porvenir on the outskirts of Trujillo, a city situated on the arid coast of northern Peru. The area is known for violent crime. But even the desert blooms, I can confirm. Just a bit of rain and some dew can make the desert of El Porvenir turn green and bloom.
El Porvenir districts are home to juvenile gangs engaging in murder-for-hire and extortion. What counts there is money and showing off wealth. But flowers have started to bloom again, even in this difficult reality.
You can see signs of life and rebirth, such as the uncertain writing of a child who has just learned to hold a pencil; or women who learn to cook, or to face and fight poverty, and who carry on their daily task of family management; sick people who, despite their loneliness and despair, learn to smile, and who embrace you and thank you. Maria Estela is the polar star that is guiding me now. She is at the end of her life, she is suffering, but she is also showing so much energy and serenity in this extreme moment of her existence.
During my 32 years of presence in Peru, I have experimented the most beautiful and most absurd experiences, the most complicated and the sweetest happenings, where beauty, fantasy and love are mixed with violence, contempt and delirium. I happened to find myself in a street fight with knives, I also came across the scene of a murder while I was on my way to the parish.
I still remember the hug of a 96 year old grandmother who had demanded a Catholic priest for confession and the sacrament of the Extreme Unction. I remember her eyes, she could hardly see, her feeble voice, her words of farewell to thank me and to ask for the embrace of God. All these happenings disorient and complicate my life, but at the same time they push me to accept challenges and force me to stay with these people of the outskirts.
Pope Francis teaches us that to accompany means staying with the needy, taking initiatives without fear, approaching everyone, shortening distances, touching the suffering flesh of people, being always willing to help others and celebrating every little victory with them.
I am here, near these people, near Emiliano and the other children who are learning to write and whose blackboard is the asphalt of the road. I stay here with Benilda, 47, who has suffered five brain aneurysms and who has been in a coma for one month now. Her 13 year old son hugs her while she is lying on her bed in the intensive care room, but she is not aware of that.
There are so many sad and difficult realities here, so many people that need help and protection. So I try to guide my small flock, I try to scare wolves away and whenever I meet somebody who can help I ask his or her help for somebody else. I try to create paths towards God in this desert.
During summer, we close our schools and open summer workshops for children, youth and adults, in order to keep them away from the streets, far from wolves. Especially teenagers might end up in juvenile gangs. So I keep on walking along with the children and the people of the outskirts, with the needy. We, together, try to build hope and rebirth and… the stars…. the stars in the sky over Trujillo smile and wink at life.
Father Daniele Nardin