PARAGUAY, Alexandra Garcete de Sánchez •
The First Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean was held from November 21 to 28, 2021 in Mexico City, at the feet of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of Latin America. It is a meeting that brings together the entire Latin American continent. On the 4th day, November 25, 2021, Alexandra Garcete, from the Family Federation of Paraguay, spoke about the Prison Ministry and the Mother of Tupãrenda House Program explaining the commitment with the most needy and marginalized. The readers of schoenstatt.org know her as the author of a testimony about the Family Missions in Malgarejo in 2015. —
We share her testimony:
Good afternoon to all the assembly members, it is a pleasure to be able to share with you my testimony from Paraguay – heart of America. I belong to the Apostolic Family Federation of the Schoenstatt Movement and I am representing the National Coordination of the Laity of my country.
When I was asked for my testimony, I felt in my heart one of the challenges that came up in the sharing of group 5 and that Pope Francis had already enlightened us: not to forget to listen to the voice of the most needy, forgotten and underprivileged.
That is why I decided to share the experience we have as a family of giving our material and spiritual support to the Prison Ministry and the Mother of Tupãrenda House Program, as a concrete way of responding to this voices of young convicts and ex-convicts, showing them a church that is going out, that is close and interested in them, that brings them the Good News of Christ, that gives them hope and also gives them back their dignity, giving them new opportunities.
House Mother of Tupãrenda is a program of work and social inclusion and personal development for young people who, after having been in conflict with the criminal law and deprived of their freedom, have obtained their freedom, either definitive or conditional, and whose objective is their rehabilitation, personal development and insertion: work, family, educational and social, offering them psychological, legal and social work support, addiction treatment and giving them the possibility of learning occupations such as: horticulture, textile manufacturing, bakery and pastry making.
Prison visits for young people
It all began in April 2014 as an apostolate of the Men’s Branch, accompanied by Fr. Pedro Kühlcke, and then these Saturday visits to the Itauguá prison became more frequent, where there are about 100 to 140 young people aged 14 to 18, all from the most disadvantaged social classes, mostly coming from dysfunctional families, with drug addiction problems, with very difficult histories of poverty, abandonment, street life, and with the various crimes that many of them committed because of poverty or addiction.
From the beginning the young people were very open to the faith, with much interest in prayer, in the sacraments, and in a sincere change of life, this Prison Ministry led by Father Pedro and a very committed team of lay people of the Schoenstatt Movement was strengthening and every Saturday there is a good snack for everyone, songs, sharing and hygiene items, clothes and shoes are handed out. For those interested, a brief catechesis is offered in preparation for baptism, first communion and confirmation, with the requirement that the youth participate regularly on their own free initiative.
Over the years, more than 200 baptisms, almost 200 first communions and about 150 confirmations have been joyfully celebrated.
Not a single post-prison social and labor insertion program in all of Paraguay
But the biggest challenge was to see that when the young people finally got out of prison, they did not find support to start a different life. That is why the recurrence rate was very high – it is estimated that more than 60% return to prison. There was no post-prison socio-labor insertion program in Paraguay. Therefore, it was decided to create one, to be able to give an effective response to many young people who were asking for help, work, an opportunity to get ahead and not relapse; from there the “Foundation for the promotion of values and prevention of violence” was created, with members of the Schoenstatt Movement for this purpose.
Thanks to God and many benefactors, and with the support of the government, in 2016 a house could be set up on the grounds of the Schoenstatt Shrine of Tupãrenda, a few kilometers from the jail.
The program lasts nine months, in these years with satisfaction 43 graduates have graduated from the program. Many of them are already working, most of them as professional bakers. Some have already been able to build their own homes and form beautiful families, leaving behind the nightmare of living on the streets, amid abandonment, drugs and crime.
After graduation, they are followed up personally for a whole year. So far, only 2 out of 43 have returned to prison.
I ask you to pray for the Prison Ministry and for the “Mother of Tupãrenda House” Program, and for each one of these young people who are struggling to get ahead and to be able to have the beautiful life that God dreamed for them.
I hope that this example will serve to awaken in many lay people the courage and commitment to take on the challenge of being true Disciples and Missionaries of Christ who seek not only to evangelize, but also to restore dignity to so many of God’s children who are forgotten or discarded by our society, as Cardinal Marc told us in this morning’s panel: “to share with everyone in charity the grace of being missionary disciples of Jesus, going to the poorest, who are as much in need of the bread of hope as of daily bread”.
Thank you very much.
Original: Spanish 2021-11-28. Translated by: María Aragón, Monterrey, México