Colombia: Focolare co-President at Unidad Social Centre

Upon his arrival in Colombia, Focolare Co-President Giancarlo Faletti visits Centro Unidad in the “Los Chircales” quarter, a poor area on the outskirts of Bogota.

Joana is a teenager with flowing black hair. She sings a popular song, “Here is the Colombian traveler,” which describes the beauties of this country.
Giancarlo Faletti has just arrived in this land touched by two oceans. His first visit is to the site of a significant project where he is welcomed by boys and girls dressed in colorful paper costumes and are dancing in the crowded little hall filled with locals who have come to welcome the co-president.

The Los Chircales (Bricklayers) neighbourhood is located on the southern outskirts of Bogota. It is an expanse of disordered red houses, the color of the bricks for which the place is named. The surrounding landscape is rough with broken roads and walls that seem that they are ready to fall. This is where the Unidad Social Center is located.

Everything began in 1977. A group of city youths accepted Chiara Lubich’s bold challenge to “Die for one’s own people.” They went to this quarter within the parish of Father Luis and began to play with the children. Here they encountered the wounded but profound humanity of two bricklayers, Gabrielina and Macedonio, who were making bricks to be used in the attractive buildings of the grand metropolis of Bogota.

Thanks to their generous involvement, a group of social projects were begun in this neighborhood that had been forgotten by all (but not by Providence.) A doctor’s office was opened and a dental clinic, an attractive boutique that sells clothes at accessible prices, and an after-school program for the children of the quarter. The Bogota Municipality took notice of the people’s efforts to redeem themselves and provided for the installment of public electricity, a sewer system and running water.

Gabrielina and Macedonio are a witness to their hope that was transformed into reality. Now illiteracy and alcoholism are no longer their story. They are the living examples, and they have become reference points and advisers because of the human dignity they have regained.   

The Unidad Social Centre is a more than dignified place, in which educational programs are held for different age groups, and it has a fully-equipped computer room. Seventy-five students are supported by the New Families Association. Regular remedial courses are offered for seventy students and there are recreational activities that involve 120 children.

A few years ago a teacher heard about the Project and wanted to offer her professional skills to help mothers. A key role is played by this “community Mum”. Currently there are fifteen of these community Mums, who care for fourteen children in a sort of kindergarten where the children are taught early academic and social skills.

The time flew! “I discovered a great page of sacred history in this place,” commented Giancarlo Faletti, “I encountered the living Gospel. I’ll tell the president, Maria Voce, what a precious treasure you are for this neighbourhood and for the city.” This was followed by endless embraces, as is the custom here.

Alberto Lo Presti and Paolo Lòriga

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