Leaders in compassion for others

Photo: Fr Dan Harding SSC

Photo: Fr Dan Harding SSC

Sheltering the homeless 

Our parish is setting up a migrant shelter in a large house next to one of the chapels where nuns used to live. The residents will be mainly Haitian and Venezuelan, around 12 men.

Javier Nuñez is the first person to live there. He is a 33 year old Venezuelan. He has been staying with us in the presbytery but this afternoon will go to the brand new Migrant Centre - our first resident. Back in Venezuela he had been an administrator in a private health clinic and has a degree in administration. Then everything collapsed. He came to Chile eight months ago and looked for work and accommodation in Santiago. He became a friend of a parish family. He was one of a group of Venezuelan migrant refugee men who ate at the family's house and did their washing there. I met him then and got to know him.

He then got a job working in Antofagasta, 1500 kms north of Santiago, administrating a small sushi take away. This was a new business which never took off and eventually closed down. He ended up sleeping in a park and without a job and unable to pay for food and accommodation. He was homeless, hungry and desperate.

The family asked could he come back to Santiago and stay at our new migrant refuge. I said, of course. He had contacted Pedro looking for help.

Javier has his elderly parents back in Venezuela. He told me that things are so bad there now that the minimum salary is about US$3 per month. In order to buy food and medicines etc, one needs at least US$40 per month per person. His elderly parents cannot buy the medicines they need and barely survive with little food. He has not been able to send any money back to them. Even when he had the job all his very small salary went in rent and food. He was working without documentation because of the great difficulty getting a legal work visa.

Venezuela is a total tragedy and disaster, with millions fleeing. Javier said he does not honestly know how people in Venezuela survive. It is heartbreaking.

Javier will stay at our parish migrant shelter until his legal visa requirements are fixed up and he can get a job with a proper legal contract and get back on his feet. He has a strong work ethic and with the chance we are providing, I am sure he will in time get a good administrative job.

We will be asking the residents to pay a very minimal rent to cover light and water and food. They will have to keep the place clean and the garden in good condition.

Please keep the success of this project in your prayers.

Fundraising for Myanmar 

The parishioners of San Columbano parish in Santiago, Chile, were very moved when Columban Fr Rafael Ramirez shared with them in March 2019 about his ministry at an orphanage in Myanmar. Fr Rafael is the chaplain at the St Francis Xavier Orphanage in Myitkyina, Myanmar. He is a young Chilean Columban and was ordained priest several years ago in San Columbano parish.

At a parish meeting, more than 100 people sat listening as Fr Rafael, home on holidays, spoke of the 140 children in the orphanage. Many of these children are there because their parents cannot afford to keep them at home because their parents are drug addicts, or because they are in prison. Some of the children have been born with HIV Aids.

Even though the parish of San Columbano itself is located in a poor area, with high unemployment, gangs and drugs and overcrowded housing, the parishioners decided to form a group called, 'The Friends of St Columban', that would meet regularly to pray for Columban missionaries overseas and do some fundraising for them.

During Holy Week 2019, more than 200 trays, each containing six Hot Cross Buns, were sold and the money raised was sent to Fr Rafael in support of St Francis Xavier Orphanage. As well, 200 trays of Cup Cakes delicately decorated with tongues of fire were sold at Pentecost.

The most recent fundraising event by 'The Friends of St Columban' in support of Fr Rafael and the Orphanage was an International Food Festival held at the end of August. Over 350 tickets were sold, allowing people to enter the Festival, where different dishes from seven countries were offered. Migrant communities living in the parish - Haitians, Venezuelans, Colombians, Koreans and Bolivians offered a selection of their national dishes.

From Myanmar Fr Rafael has sent 'The Friends of St Columban' two videos of his work alongside the Religious Sisters working there and with the children. He even taught the children a hymn in Spanish to send back by video to the parish. Fr Rafael’s videos from Myanmar have been shown at Sunday Masses and other meetings in all seven churches of San Columbano Parish.

Fr Rafael is very grateful for the support that the parish of San Columbano in faraway Chile has offered him and his ministry across the world in Myanmar. He knows he is not forgotten, that a parish is praying for him and is making great efforts to raise funds for his ministry.

Columban Fr Daniel Harding is the parish priest of San Columbano parish, Santiago, Chile.

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