Young People on Pilgrimage
August is the month of solidarity in the Archdiocese of Santiago. Each year, there is a pilgrimage of young people to the Shrine of St. Alberto Hurtado S.J., the great social apostle of Chile. This year, 20,000 young people walked through the streets of Santiago to pay homage to St. Alberto but also to profess their own faith and commitment to the Gospel which calls all Christians to reach out to the poor and marginalized. The young people are accompanied by batucados (drum bands), choirs and the St. Alberto’s famous green truck. The truck is a relic and a symbol of his commitment to the poor and to social justice. At night, St. Alberto would go to the streets and seek out the children who were forced to sleep beneath the bridges. He built the first hogar (home) for street children, and he was active in promoting unions. Monsignor Cristián Roncaglilio, auxiliary bishop of Santiago, reminded the youth of St. Alberto’s desire to be a “fire that inflames other fires.” He invited them to be a seed of hope for the Church, for Chile and to be protagonists for change.
Eighty young people from the Columban parish of San Matías took part in the pilgrimage. San Matías parish is located in an area known as Bajos de Mena on the southern edge of the sprawling city of Santiago. Bajos de Mena is considered to be one of the poorest parts of Santiago where the vast majority of decent and hardworking people must travel four hours each day to get to work and suffer the consequences of overcrowding, unemployment and drug trafficking. The social apostolate of the parish is active providing a number of services to those who are in need: soup kitchens, care for the sick, senior citizen groups and a shelter for immigrants from Haiti.
Also present in the pilgrimage was JUCOMI (Columban Missionary Youth). The members of JUCOMI are young men and women who participate actively in the missionary charism of the Columbans. They come from the parishes where Columbans are working or have worked in the past. During the month of solidarity, they go out on the streets of Santiago to meet with the homeless.
Homelessness is a growing problem in the city of Santiago. Before they go out, they prepare sandwiches and coffee which they will distribute to the men and women who are forced to live on the streets. They do not have to walk far, because the Columban Mission Center is located near Bustamente park. There they can find the homeless who sleep on the park benches or in makeshift tents. Embued with the spirit of St. Columban and St. Alberto Hurtado, these young missionaries recognize the basic dignity of every person. For that reason, they try to converse with the recipients, listening to them, and sharing their own stories of life. With generous hearts, these young people know that solidarity cannot be limited to one month of the year but must continue all year long.
JUCOMI and the youth of our parishes of San Columbano and San Matías are beginning to organize the second Columban International Youth Festival. The festival includes music, dance, workshops and prayer. Since it is meant to be international, the lunch always includes food from other countries. Last year, it took place in the parish of San Matías and this year it will take place in the parish of San Columbano. Inspired by Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Laudato Si’, the theme of the festival is Jóvenes: Guardianes de la Creación de Dios (Youth: Guardians of God’s Creation.)
After ten years of drought in the central valley of Chile, young people are the most ardent supporters of care for the earth. All the workshops are designed to help our young apostles to find practical ways to care for creation which our loving God has given to us as a gift that must be cared for and nurtured.
Columban Fr. Michael Hoban lives and works in Chile.