Something beautiful for God in Peru
THE city of Iquitos in the Amazon jungle area of Peru is home to some 400,000 people. It is the largest city in the world that cannot be accessed by road. Extreme poverty plagues its neighbourhoods, many of which are on the banks of the river and it is a place where tuberculosis, pneumonia and HIV/AIDS pose an omnipresent threat. Indeed the city has the most HIV/AIDS patients in any city in Peru.
In the past, HIV/AIDS patients used to go to the hospital and doctors would send them home because there were no anti-retroviral treatments available. There was a 100% mortality rate and many who had contracted the disease felt helpless and abandoned.
Into that void came Fr Raymond Portelli, a Maltese priest and qualified doctor who had been living in the city since 1995. From his parish of St Martin de Porres he began reaching out and giving hope to those living with HIV/AIDS.
The catalyst for this was time he spent in prayer with a young man who had been abandoned in his home and who was dying from the disease. Fr Raymundo
knew the importance of prayer and gave this young man the Anointing of the Sick. However, seeing HIV/AIDS patients abandoned in their homes and in the streets, dying due to a lack of care and medical treatment, he realised the need to reach out and do more.
“That encounter piqued my conscience,” Fr Raymundo said. “I understood that it was not just a question of prayer, it was a question of doing something concrete for the poor.”
Starting from scratch, Fr Raymundo and his parish rented a small home, found a doctor and two nurses and then on the streets of Iquitos they found Josias, their first patient. They named the hospice Algo Bello Para Dios, which translates as ‘Something Beautiful For God.’ The hospice was initially set up as a palliative care home, but with the introduction of anti-retroviral drugs, patients now have a second chance at life.
“The objective of the house is to give patients a certain quality of life, a place where they are cared for, a place where they receive proper medical attention and where they wont die alone,” Fr Raymundo said.
Algo Bello Para Dios is not the only project run by Fr Raymundo and his parish, however. There is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation programme and a shelter for elderly homeless men, as well as a new built vocational training centre that offers courses in hairdressing, tailoring and IT.
“What I like about the projects we have is that they have become a part of the church and a part of the community here in Iquitos,” Fr Raymundo said. “People here feel it’s a part of their work, a part of their Faith.
“The people here have taught me to enjoy life more. They have taught me how to live my Faith. You can reboot your own Faith by being more open and doing things for others. There are so many ways to do it; you don’t have to go to Peru! Just visit someone in a hospital, visit an elderly person, give a hug, talk to somebody, enjoy life!”
Fr Raymundo’s example, and that of many of priests and religious supported by Missio Scotland all over the world, should inspire us all to reach out in Christ’s name, open our hearts and minds and seek to help those in mission countries and territories worldwide where the need is great. In doing so, we will truly live out our Faith.