One who serves - Mrs. Carmen Rojas
Carmen Rojas lives in the Los Lagos housing estate in the Chilean capital, Santiago. She is 52 years old, married with two sons, one 28 and the other 24. She has two grandchildren.
Los Lagos is a poor, marginalized working-class area with many of the usual social problems such as high unemployment, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, gangs, family break-ups etc. Originally the area was part of a large hacienda about 20 kilometres from the city centre. In 1990, Chile returned to democratic government after 17 years of dictatorship. The new Government bought land from the hacienda in 1991 to develop a public housing estate.
Columban priest Fr. Barney Martin from Ireland and Columban associate priest Fr. Jack Peard from the Toowoomba diocese in Queensland moved into a small house in Los Lagos at the same time as the residents were moving in, in 1992. When Barney and Jack were moving in, there was no Church presence or church buildings. Their aim was to set up a thriving lay-centred and empowered parish community from scratch.
Carmen Rojas and her family moved into the estate at the same time and have been living there ever since.
The Columbans left the area in 2000, leaving behind a thriving parish community, administered by Chilean diocesan priests.
Carmen Rojas has this to say about the work of Columban priests in the Los Lagos housing estate:
The Columban priests identified with the people. They lived as a part of the community. They were always concerned about human rights and the daily life including the problems of the people of Los Lagos. They seemed to have “human qualities”, or in other words, there was no great barrier between them and us because they were priests and we were the ordinary people. They were very good at visiting people in their homes and spending time with them.
They did not seem to work from above the level of the people. They did not go around giving orders. No, they were one of us and worked in teams. This is very important because we poor people are used to being told what to do, to follow orders. No, the Columban priests said to us, “You people have to run the place and take responsibility”. To help us do this, they provided various training courses. Thanks to them, we feel that we grew as people. We grew in confidence in ourselves, in taking responsibilities and in making decisions ourselves. The ordinary people became parish co-ordinators, and council members and team members. These are things we never thought we could do. We were treated as fellow team members in the parish ministry, and as adults who had something to contribute. They never imposed anything from above, standing on their authority. No, decisions were made in the community and in the parish council.
The Columban priests were also very missionary. They were not just interested in being involved with those people who go to church. No, they were concerned about all members of the community and friendly to all. They were very concerned about the people who are most marginalized by trying to do something for them such as the unemployed, women in abusive relationships, single mothers, drug addicts etc.
The Columban priests lived a simple lifestyle similar to the way the residents of the housing estate live. Also, when they celebrated Mass, it was always done in a very simple yet meaningful manner, never in a very formal, ceremonious way. No, Mass was celebrated in a simple but respectful manner that suits the level and lives of our residents. It was on our level.
Even though the Columban priests are foreigners and speak Spanish with foreign accents, they nevertheless really reached the people. They lived as neighbours, as members of our community, as one of us.
Mrs. Carmen Rojas Chile
"A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves." (Lk 22:24-27)