Lima, Peru is a city of contrasts: river valleys sweeping into majestic mountain plains. The sea’s serenity punctuated by the urban markets’ colorful beat. Summer transitioning to winter and back again, with no seasons in between. But perhaps its most striking contrast is the one between the wealthy and the poor -- one that too often leaves the elderly and the afflicted struggling to meet their own basic needs.
“Take water, for example,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “While it’s readily available and inexpensive for residents in more affluent parts of the city, those who live in the slums often must wait for deliveries -- and even then, they’re forced to pay three times as much for the ‘privilege.’ And they really have no choice in the matter. In many neighborhoods, impoverished areas are literally fenced off to keep the marginalized out of sight and out of mind.”
This vast inequality is a consequence of poverty and drives Salesian missionaries to serve in Lima. For more than 125 years, Salesian programs throughout Peru have focused on education and workforce development, to help ensure youth can gain the education and skills training they need to find and retain long-term employment. In Lima specifically, students fulfill these goals through the Salesian College and the Technical Vocational Center. Missionaries there also run a center for street children, which provides basic necessities, rehabilitative services and a pathway to learning.
Yet these programs do not address the needs of the older poor in Lima -- which is why the Refectory of Mary, Help of Christians was born.
Every day, this “miracle of charity” provides hearty, nutritious meals for dozens of elderly and sick adults who lack the means to purchase and prepare their own food. The kitchen is located on the main Salesian campus in the Breňa quarter of Lima. It is supported by 18 rotating groups of volunteers who fan out into the local community to collect donations of potatoes, onions, beans, squash and other provisions. They then assemble them into meals which are served around communal tables.
“We are grateful that, among so many problems, God has not forgotten us,” says Mr. Emilio Loo, an elderly resident of the village. At the age of 75, Mr. Loo desperately wants to support himself, but has been unable to find a job. He therefore depends on the Refectory not only for his daily nourishment -- but for the human contact and sense of community that keeps his spirits, and dignity, intact.
As long as there is a need, the Refectory will be there to help feed the hungry in Lima.
In this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Salesian Missions is highlighting works of corporal and spiritual mercy that -- for more than 160 years -- have been woven throughout the fabric of the service to the poor. Feeding the hungry is one such example. Through the kindness of generous friends, God’s love is brought to those in need.