PARAGUAY, by Maria Fischer •
“Lord, bless this house and fill it with your earthly goods. Protect your servants from all negative situations…” I have heard this blessing so many times in the homes of my friends and family. It never touched me as deeply as it did on that sunny morning on 5 May, on the outskirts of Luque, during the blessing of the humble home of my 18-year old friend Ángel (name changed), a single storey house with a small kitchen for this four-person family, who struggle to survive in conditions that are less than ideal.
Historically, a home is a place where the specific activities and relationships in social and family life are lived out, from birth to death of many of its members. It serves as a refuge against the rain, wind and the other elements, and gives protection against possible intruders (human or animal). It is also a place to keep one’s belongings and the property of its inhabitants, according to Wikipedia. This house is so much more. It is the fruit of a year’s hard work, of commitment, sacrifice, dreams of a dignified life. It is the promise of new life. Last year, I saw the first bricks and the humblest and most beautiful home shrine I had ever seen. A home shrine made from a sticker of the Virgin of Tupãrenda that Fr. Pedro was handing out to the youngsters at the minor penitentiary in Itauguá, and which Ángel took to the shanty made of tin, sticks and plastic where his family lived and where he was kept under house arrest.
I remembered this visit with Fr. Pedro, when Ángel told us his whole life story, what brought him to the children’s penitentiary, and how this blessed confession change the course of his life, how he now wishes to be able to return to school, be an altar boy at the Youth Mass in Tupãrenda, to build a more dignified house and be able to carry on so that one day, he can have a family without the danger that his children will find themselves in the same adverse conditions that forced him to steal in order to survive on the streets…
I fulfilled my promise and prayed for Ángel and his dreams, I prayed for a friend…
Off all the weeks of the year, this first week of May, this week of my visit to Paraguay
And now, I am in Tupãrenda at a meeting of the Men’s Branch and Fr. Pedro Kühlcke comes in to remind me of the visit to the children’s penitentiary and added: “Thursday we have to bless a house. The house of your friend Ángel.” The previous Sunday, Ángel was at the Mass in Tupãrenda (Thank you God, that he was able to be an altar boy even though he is not free) and asked Fr. Pedro to go and bless his house. “And I promised him that I would take his friend Maria, from Germany.” It’s incredible. Of all the weeks of the year, this first week of May, this week of my visit to Paraguay…Thank you God, you fulfilled a wish of mine that I hadn’t even asked for…
It is the Blessed Mother’s house
The day before the visit, Fr. Pedro asked me to get a picture of the Blessed Mother for the house blessing. With Susana S. who would take me to the meeting point with Fr. Pedro to go to Ángel, we found a picture in the repository of the Youth Shrine and we chose a small symbol of the Holy Spirit — and in my handbag, I also had a box of foreign chocolates from Germany, “celebration chocolates” I thought.
It’s a hug that never seems to end…the reunion with Ángel, after a year and a month is a celebration, the time that has passed between the conversation with tereré and this moment seems to vanish.
If we can only save one boy with all that we do with the prison ministry, it’s worth it. I remember the sentence shared among those who committed themselves to Fr. Pedro’s prison ministry and the Mother House of Tupãrenda, which already has a roof, and from June will be able to accommodate 20 youngsters who have left the children’s prison. Ángel’s eyes shine with joy, his radiant face seems to say: we did it.
We give him the picture of the Blessed Mother and I don’t know whose face is more radiant, Ángel’s or his mother’s! Together we find the place and together with the house blessing, the picture is also blessed and now there is one more home shrine: a Home Shrine of Hope and Solidarity and Real Friendship to the poor.
A friend’s house
We celebrate by visiting the new house and simple hut by preparing tereré, sandwiches, soft drinks and pizza for everyone. We share the table among family, among friends, we chat. Ángel joyfully shares that he will be able to continue his studies in July. Finally. He wants to carry one – and he has the ability to be a great businessman, I tell him.
He helps Fr. Pedro find the house of another youngster under house arrest, and Fr. Pedro promises to find him special nails so that the roof of his simple house won’t be taken away by the wind and rain.
We speak about the Youth Mass the following Sunday in Tupãrenda and invite Ángel to participate. He accepts joyfully.
We leave with the feeling that we’re leaving a friend’s house. This time I promise Ángel not only my prayers but also a visit a year from now.
Guardian to the Blessed Mother’s house
We say goodbye, but not for a year, because we will see each other the following Sunday. It turns out to be a very rain Sunday….and my last day in Tupãrenda. Before the 11:00 Mass I’m waiting…and waiting… Ángel doesn’t arrive. We have to be realistic…it’s a long way and there was a lot of rain.
Ten minutes after the start of Mass, Ángel arrives out of breath. “I had to take four buses to get here and one didn’t turn up, so I had to walk…and now I can’t be on the altar, dressed in white…” He doesn’t want to go to the sacristy, but joins in the celebration nevertheless. We pray and sing together and after Mass, we wait together to wait for Fr. Pedro.
The two chat. Blessed be Fr. Pedro’s work!
It is only when we are saying goodbye that we realize that Ángel needs to be at the police station immediately to do some cleaning as one of the conditions for his parole. Fr. Pedro askes Bernardino Portillo, responsible for the guards for the Shrine and my “taxi” driver to Asunción if he can make a detour to Luque to take our friend to the bus stop in time for the last bus so that he can arrive in time.
Bernardino accepts, and on the way to Luque, Ángel and Bernardino talk without stopping about their shared love: Tupãrenda! Bernardino invites Ángel to be a guard at the Shrine and join his other friends in this noble task…and in another of these attachments of solidarity, the imprisoned youngster who offered the house of his life and his family’s house to the Blessed Mother, becomes the guardian for the Blessed Mother’s house.
Thank you Bernardino, thank you Ángel, thank you Mother….let us carry on.