PARAGUAY, Maria Fischer •
“The schoenstatt.org article about your visit to the prison for minors brought me to the Prison Ministry,” a young member of the Mother’s branch told me. For some time, she knows where she is every Saturday afternoon: The Visitation of Mary, visiting the youngsters at the Itauguá Children’s Penitentiary, the largest in Paraguay, with almost 220 prisoners aged between 14 and 18. “This visit touched me so much.” “Me too,” I thought, because even though I’m only able to visit these youngsters once a year, having accompanied Fr. Pedro Kühlcke and some members of the Prison Ministry for catechism and lunch for the first time on 7 May. Here, in this place, where I drank my first tereré [herbal infusion], receive bear hugs, a lump formed in my throat and I spontaneously gave all the money I had in my pocket (so little amidst such great need) and was filled a deep sorrow when I looked into the faces of the children (yes, they are children), all lower class who never had a choice to live a life like mine or that of all the children who grew up around me.
We passed security, handed in our passports, rings and watches, and entered the prison. Among us, we carried packets of sweets and chocolate milk from the car to the door where some youngsters were already waiting for us, ready to help carry the awaited food to the multipurpose room that doubles as a chapel, where our Mother Thrice Admirable wished to set up her home among the most vulnerable and forgotten children.
With flowers for Mary
“Come and let’s all strive with flowers, with flowers for Mary, who is our Mother, with flowers for Mary, who is our Mother…”
As I enter the multi-purpose room, in the chapel, I see a statue of Our Lady of Caacupé on the altar, and in her arms, a bouquet of flowers. I am alone with a boy who is about 15 years old, somewhat shy and he doesn’t answer when I tell him: “How happy Mary must be with these flowers you’ve given her, just like Pope Francis always does before he leaves and arrives from his trips…” The boy looks at me and at Mary, at the bunch of flowers, takes the flowers and runs out…I follow him and see that the flowers have been thrown on the ground. Why? Did I say something wrong?
Some five minutes later, he’s back with a bunch of flowers in his hands. “The other one was dry,” he said. “It must be a pretty flower.” Shyly, he puts the bunch of flowers at Mary’s feet. “Put them in her hands,” I tell him, “she is so happy now with your gift. Gifts should be placed in the hands…” The boy looks at me with astonishment and emotion…together we place the flowers in Mary’s hand and smile. It is the month of Mary, it is May, let us go with flowers for Mary…they are the most beautiful ‘May Flowers’ I have ever given the Blessed Mother.
Here we are again, you and me
“Here we are again, you and me,” one youngster says in greeting. A strong hug. “How good of you to visit me again, Aunt Maria.” Yes, we know each other. He was there last year, he left and returned within a few weeks. He didn’t know how to survive without stealing. Here we are again, him and me.
Alberto (name changed) comes forward. “I have a photograph of us,” he tells me. Alberto remembered my first visit so well! This time we cannot take photos A hug, a smile.
Fr. Pedro greets the first group, introduces me and asks who remembers last year’s visit. There are many of them, more of them. In the morning, we celebrate that the Mother House in Tupãrenda already has a roof. The work will soon be completed, which will give a home to 20 youngsters who desperately wish to be free, with the single objective of never returning to this prison…
While Fr. Pedro stayed outside for those who wanted to confess or talk (in the end, it is the same thing), we read the Gospel of the day, gave a simple catechesis that God loves everyone, calls them, forgives them. Those who want to prepare for baptism can do so with a member of the Pastoral team. We pray the Our Father together and have some time so that the youngsters can make their petitions: for freedom, for their families, for a friend who died the previous week…
The wished for lunch
Afterwards, the food is shared, assisted by two of the boys in the prison, and so begins the wished for lunch. Even though these boys do not go hungry, they are always hungry. “Until now, we’ve never been short of taking something for each one,” commented Ismelda Vásquez, “even though sometimes we don’t have money to buy something for everyone until the last minute. Sometimes, I put it in myself…” she says. I know how much it is. The meal for next Saturday is my contribution to this important apostolic work. With $100 we can buy lunch for these 180, 200, 220 youngsters. “We cannot lose hope…we are all they have.” Mother of Tupãrenda, Queen of bread, medialunas [meat pies], chipas [traditional cheese buns] and cold drinks, show yourself as the admirable mother…
Visits and more visits
“I was in prison and you visited me.” Fr. Pedro and some of his collaborators, not only go to the prison, but also go and visit those who are under house arrest, allocated to the various settlements and places in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of Luque, Asunción, Itaguá…
Their visits bring closeness, blessing, food, shoes, nails to reinforce tin rooves, and prayers to strengthen their new way of life…
“Will you come back?” they ask me. I will come back to see you, next year, I promise each one of my friends from the prison, although in truth, I don’t want to see them in the prison, but free, perhaps learning a trade in the Mother House at Tupãrenda….
I want to help…
A lunch — €100/$100. For one boy: €0,60/$0,60. You can be part of the joy…
Bank account in Paraguay
Account Number. 001-065259-003
Congregación Padres de Schoenstatt
Bank account in Europe
Schönstatt-Patres International e. V.
IBAN DE91 4006 0265 0003 1616 26
Reference: Fr. Pedro Kühlcke – Prison Ministry
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