Every day, on the eastern outskirts of Lima, Peru, the Focolare community supports people living in situations of extreme poverty by sharing many things – food, material aid, literacy skills and Gospel experiences.
Huaycán is located in the eastern suburbs of Lima, Peru. It has a population of approximately 200,000 and 90% are immigrants from the Andes, people who arrived to escape from poverty. They preserve their traditions and their language, Quechua, the ancient language of the Incas.
The people living high up in the hills are often experiencing situations of extreme poverty. Their houses have dirt floors and consist of just one room (beds are in the kitchen), they do not have a clean water supply, electricity or a sewage system… Many of the people are street vendors. Some women do house cleaning and some men are construction workers or scrap collectors.
The community in Lima has seen that these people are living in a situation that is like the “wound of Christ” and has chosen to love them in a special way.
“We first visited Huaycán in 1998,” Elsa recalls, “when Tata, Carmen, Maria and Milagros and I brought the Word of Life to a community close to the ‘Fe y Alegría School’ run by the Franciscan Sisters. Then Elba, Mario, Lula, Yeri, Fernando, Cristina and Eury… joined us. We went higher up in the hills and shared Gospel experiences with the poorest of the poor. Many of the people had poor health and were suffering from a variety of different illnesses and family life was very difficult: violence, promiscuity, unemployment, drugs and hunger were part of their everyday experience.”
“At first, we would sit on the ground,” Elba says, “but then as the people began to feel more secure, they would pull out their chairs and offer them to us. In the winter, they would invite us into their humble houses. There we met Olinda, the school cook, who opened her home to meet us. She is a beautiful person – the “heart” of the community for us . We suffered together when her eldest son died suddenly.”
The community in Lima community has begun several initiatives to support the many needs of these people: these include material aid, educational support for children, training and literacy for adults, psychological support, follow-up and health care and the sale of second-hand clothes.
“Every year we celebrate Christmas and Mother’s Day together. We also organize trips and some of the people take part in the annual Mariapolis,” Mario recalls. “One couple followed a preparation course and then got married during the Mariapolis, in the presence of their five children and other relatives. It was a turning point in their lives, just as it is for many others when they meet the God of Love.”
“With the pandemic,” Cristina continues, “many people have lost their jobs and do not have enough to feed their children. Working with some families we managed to procure food and distribute it to those most in need. One woman installed an oven, which had previously been disused, to produce bread. From March to June, we distributed 140 baskets of food and 12,720 loaves of bread. We met with the poorest community, Granja Verde, because we needed a kitchen and dining area to prepare and serve food. We began to organise what we could do: they offered a piece of land and laid a concrete floor. We provided essential utensils for the kitchen and a 2,500-litre tank for drinking water. The dining room was inaugurated on 15 November 15 2020, and started working the following day. Today we produce 100 meals a day. We know, as Pope Francis reminds us, that if we forget about the poor, God will forget about us. Huaycán, Christ’s “sore spot” is our favourite place and where we most clearly experience God’s blessing.”
Gustavo E. Clariá