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Which way for Roman Catholic institutions?

"Which way for Roman Catholic institutions?" Continued...

Issue: "A warmer Chile," Nov. 9, 2002

Comunidad director Rodrigo Barros stressed that his center did not teach religion and was up-to-date in the most advanced counseling techniques for helping teens who have been, or feel they have been, mistreated. His charges go home, generally to mothers and grandmothers, on weekends, but live Monday through Friday in the Comunidad and spend time in group therapeutic sessions that are supposed to ease their pain. For example, Mariano, 17, was hurt eight years ago when his parents separated, and often became angry. He could readily explain the Comunidad rationale-"If one boy is mad at another, he's supposed to talk about it with the other"-but when asked, "Does that make things better?" he still grinned and said "Non." But he wants to be an electrician, and the Comunidad school will help him get that training.

Mariano's friend Claudio-also 17 and from a mother-grandmother home-wants to be an electrician, thinks the Comunidad will help him achieve that, and is willing to put up with psychobabble. Bernardo, 15 and assigned to the Comunidad by a judge, was not so sure of the pain/pleasure ratio. He did not like therapy sessions-"They're so long, they're so boring." He kept asking for cigarettes and money, and listened intently when Mariano quietly asked, "Are there more drugs in the U.S." or here. Told "about the same," Mariano said, "Guess I'll stay here." But Bernado said, "I would go to the land of the towers."

Many Hogar groups are more traditional, but Chilean priests and ministers frequently expressed concern about the organization's bureaucracy and the tendency of some employees to emphasize material help, just as if it were a governmental organization, and neglect spiritual dimensions. Regardless of Mr. Egenau's disclaimers, some Hogar groups still do both, as do explicitly Catholic groups such as Fundación Las Rosas, which attempts to throw some light into the remaining years of the poor and lonely elderly.

The religious head of Las Rosas, Sacerdote Andres Ariztia de Castro, explained his program while sitting in an ornate room that included a plush couch on a plush red-and-blue rug. He and others sat below a chandelier that threw its light onto a wall gallery of paintings of baby Jesus with angels, Joseph and Jesus, Mary and Jesus, Jesus on the cross, Mary by herself, John Paul II, and other popes. Wearing a metallic blue short-sleeve shirt, gray pants, black shoes, and a black collar, he explained how Las Rosas runs 39 homes for the elderly and raises funds to pay 5/6 of the costs of caring for 2,800 ancianos and ancianas; the government pays 1/6.

Las Rosas homes show the need and the nightmare. At one, the abandoned elderly sat with heads bowed in wheelchairs under a sign, Con tu ayuda vivire feliz los ultimos dias de mi vida ("With your help, I will be happy during the last days of my life"). In others, bedridden men and women stared at the ceiling, sans television, sans books, sans anything. But in all the homes, nuns in habits quietly shuffled in and out of rooms, smiling rays of sunshine. "We make a big effort to bring in the relatives. We bring in pastors from other faiths," Father de Castro said. "Yes, they are lonely, but we try to help a person in meeting with Christ. An old man or woman should meet Jesus every day. The deepest loneliness is loneliness before God."

After the tour, as evening came, Father de Castro offered a snack in a dining room at the Las Rosas office that had beautifully ornate dark wood moldings, damask tablecloths, and elegant wallpaper slightly gone to seed. He spoke of how mistrust made development of programs difficult: "Chileans know that government social programs don't work, but those on the left believe that the right wants to abandon the poor. We have to prove with our actions that we have compassion for the poor." He explained that not only the old but the very young often lack protectors. He estimated that in Chile, where abortion is illegal, about 150,000 abortions occur every year. That is the numerical equivalent in the United States of 2.7 million abortions, twice the current amount. He expects that little by little the government is making it possible to legalize abortion in five or 10 years.

In the dark rooms the darkness deepened, until a driver anxiously hinted that it was time to leave so as not to be caught out on the roads late in the evening, the hours of crime.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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