Hope and Love
The scene is one full of children waiting eagerly for their Easter meal. Noise levels reach a climax. In one corner the little ones are playing a game I do not understand, but in Chile I have grown used to not understanding things. On the other side the bigger ones play soccer, and the ball ricochets in all directions. Miraculously it misses a head by inches. Their mothers chat in the middle, keeping an eye on the controlled chaos. Dogs wander around hopefully, sensing they too might get a bite to eat here.
The location is the comedor (dining hall) in a shantytown of Alto Hospicio, a town in the north of Chile. It is mining country in the Atacama Desert, the driest place in the world. The city has expanded from a population of 5,000 in 1992 to over 100,000 today, many attracted by the prospect of a better life in the mining or fishing industries nearby. The shantytown is home not only to Chileans but also migrants from Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and others. All are welcome to the comedor—a dusty outdoor dining area with few cooking facilities, just a few tables surrounded by makeshift walls and a newly installed sink. Hermana Dora and the local women have come together to create a gathering place to feed the kids, and support to those struggling to make ends meet. Though it's a tough place for kids to grow up, it doesn't seem to affect their spirits as they clamber around the tables and chairs.
Eventually large steaming pots of chicken stew and rice arrive, cooked by Norma, a local resident. They have been donated by the municipalidad (local government) for the Easter celebration. The food is shared out quickly on plastic trays, and the noise partially subsides as the kids eat happily. There is plenty left over for the parents too. I try to make myself useful in the activity of serving. Excitement levels rise again when the kids hear there are small chocolate eggs for desert as well as bags of sweets donated by the members of our Columban parish, Parroquia Sagrado Corazón de Jesús. It's great to see so many smiling children as the bounty is shared out.
For a couple of hours the Easter meal creates a busy place of activity and fun shared by the community. It is a center of hope and love amongst a life of challenge. Louis Évely once said, "The best proof that Christ has risen is that He is still alive. And for the immense majority of our contemporaries, the only way of seeing Him alive is for us Christians to love one another."
Originally from Ireland, Columban lay missionary Oisĺn Kenny lives and works in Chile.