“The influx of immigrants at the border is growing by the hour. The economic crisis that is bringing the country to its knees brings pain both to those who stay and those who decide to flee.”
The words of Silvano Roggero, a Venezuelan and son of Italian immigrants, show the drama that an entire people is living through. For the last three years he’s been living in the Focolare center in Lima, Peru.
“Despite enormous difficulties caused by the sudden and unexpected entry of hundreds of thousands of people, the neighboring countries, with the usual generosity of these lands, are attempting to take them in. I have personally witnessed one of the many dramas that today’s ‘humanity at the periphery’ is living through.
“Just yesterday the director of a school in the peninsula of Paraguaná, in the north of Venezuela, wrote to me. Something different is happening in the office there: a number of parents have come to withdraw their children. They have been forced to leave.”
It’s an exodus of biblical proportions, caused by an extremely serious economic and social crisis, one that is overturning the makeup of an entire country. Inflation has skyrocketed, and food, medicine and raw materials are running out.
“In December 2017, Ofelia and Armando from the Focolare community in Valencia (the third-largest city of Venezuela), moved to Lima. At first they managed an early childhood center.
“Then Ofelia had a dream: find somewhere to offer a preliminary welcome to the swarms of people arriving after travelling seven days over land. We’re talking about close to 300,000 Venezuelans arriving in Peru over the last year and a half!
“Ofelia and others,” continues Silvano, “organized a welcome dinner in the Focolare for a small group of Venezuelans. Some already had heard of the movement, but there were some who did not know anything about our group. Our guests came from different parts of the city, some as far as an hour or two away. They find it difficult to get around in this metropolis of almost 10 million inhabitants.”
It seemed like a drop in the ocean, but what motivated them was to welcome these people as if they were Jesus in person who turned up at the door.
“As you can imagine, faced with their difficult situations, we did not have preconceived solutions. We had no idea where to begin even, although what we could do was offer them a hot meal and listen.
“One of them had been robbed: skillful pickpockets had stolen their phone and everything they had to survive from their backpack. Another did not know what documents they needed for their residence visa. Ofelia, who is by now well-versed in how to do such things, put together the entire procedure and offered her experience.
“Someone else shared how they had found a bit of work, more than two hours away, for 10 Euros a day (although there are some who will even work for just 4 Euros). There was also someone else who had a resume that was a bit too good and as a result had not been considered for a job, in the fear that they might try to take the shift manager’s place.
“What moved everyone most was the chance to share stories, show photos and hear each of them speak of their families.”
“Everyone’s most urgent need was to find work. It’s far less important if they have to sleep on the floor, even without a mattress, or if there’s little to eat. Their biggest dream is to be able to send 20 Euros home every once in a while.
“We agreed to stay connected. Lately a small sum of money and two winter jackets had arrived from what we call the ‘pile’ – a collection from the community. These were providential, since the cold season is about to start, and we gave them out.
“Four hours later, as we were about to get up from the table, a new SOS came, this time from a person who lives in the Canary Islands.
“‘Eleven teens have started walking from Venezuela, heading for Lima. They are desperate, without money or cellphones, and they have only what they are wearing. My friend’s cousin is among them. Can you help them? Especially to help them avoid falling into the hands of crooks or organized crime who want to profit from their vulnerability. We estimate that it will take them around 30 days.’
“New arrivals, new people who will knock at the door. Yet they all have the same name: Jesus, the extraordinary guest. We’ll be waiting.”