By Martina Liebsch
In a little house, like any other in the street, around 30 people from different nationalities live together, all for different reasons of need. Sr Mercedes Lopez is the head of the Caritas funded “Hogar del Migrante” – the home of the migrant. She has been responsible for the centre since 2004 and has worked for the Church with prisoners since 1995. This pastoral work is called “Pastoral of Hope”, as she explains to me while we stand in the little chapel of the house and shows me the logo of her congregation: Broken chains and walking feet.
“This is the perfect symbol for my work, ” she says.
Among the people staying at Hogar del Migrante, there are migrants coming out of the local prison. Some of them were caught by the police while trying to traffic drugs. Other people there come from remote areas of the country for urgent medical treatment and have nowhere to stay. Some are simply just stranded and need a home. Over the past few years, Sr Lopez says more than 300 people must have passed through its doors.
The centre helps with the rehabilitation of prisoners. For example, Carmela came from Spain to Peru to work as a drug carrier. She was arrested by the police. She received support from the centre while in prison and is staying with them now as she serves out the rest of her sentence on parole.
There are people in the migrants’ house from Peru, Spain, UK, Germany, Cuba and sometimes Colombians too. Some of them have children. One of the mothers has a Spanish husband who is a drug addict and in prison. The young manwants to go to a rehabilitation centre to get rid of his addiction and live with his family when he is released from prison.
Sr Lopez says that people who come to the house must respect the rules and must participate in the activities, like cleaning and taking care of the house, they mustn’t use drugs and they should respect each other. She says who does not is out, otherwise it would not work.
While they are there, Mercedes and the staff try to regulate their situation with the embassies with whom they are in regular contact, to see how and when they could go home.
“We survive from year to year, through the help of Caritas, the work of volunteers, donations from friends and department stores, support from some embassies and the Bishops’ Conference,” says Sr Lopez.
Msgr. Miguel Irizar, President of Caritas Peru and Bishop of Callao, emphasizes the importance of the spiritual aspect of the work and the little chapel in the house is an oasis of peace. The centre also cares for the children of this poor area of the city. They are offered lunch every day in the same structure.