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Guatemala: Sant'Egidio opens “Hogar Papa Francisco”, the first family home for poor old people in Alta Verapaz

With the support of a parish and the diocese, the house is home to sick indigenous elders living in makeshift shelters

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For several months, the Community of Sant'Egidio of San Pedro Carcha, in the district of Alta Verapaz in Guatemala, has supported a group of indigenous old women that lived alone in makeshift shelters in extremely precarious conditions. The youth of the community are working to find accommodation. Eventually they managed to get the help of a parish that has given them a home where they can accommodate the elderly living alone. Thus, “Hogar Papa Francisco” was born, the first family home for the elderly of San Pedro Carcha.
The elderly known to Sant'Egidio belong to different indigenous groups, speak local languages and, with great difficulty, a little Spanish. They are extremely vulnerable and poor people, often not registered in the civil registry, illiterate and tied to a rural world increasingly peripheral. In Guatemala they still do not provide a public service for the elderly, there is no social pension or any kind of contribution in favour of the elderly. With the weakening of the physical forces and the onset of any symptoms of dependency, these old people, if they have no family to turn to, they end up getting lost between one village and another.

The Community of Sant'Egidio decided to make itself close to these poor confused and sick old people. From this simple and personal meeting, the challenge came to find a place, a house to house them to live with them that covenant between generations invoked several times by Pope Francis. Today, the “Hogar Papa Francisco”  hosts 6 old people that no longer had relationships with their family and lived in extreme poverty. For each of them, to become part of this new family has been a blessing and a challenge in getting help from much younger people.

For Macaria, who was suffering from kidney infections and gastritis, it was patiently introduced medical treatment recommended by the doctor without making her give up immediately medical herbs of the Mayan culture of which she continues to be so fond. Instead Victoria, abandoned by all for many years, no longer believed in the power of words. She spent whole days in silence until she realised that the smiles and enthusiasm of young people in the Community were sincere and turned precisely to her. Maria is 77 years old and just by coming to the Papa Francesco house could she find some serenity, she suffered from seizures and had never been taken care of, but now she can take medication every day and is already much better.

The “Hogar Papa Francisco” is financially supported by the parish and the diocese, Sant'Egidio is in charge of day care to the guests, including medical care, while some nuns assist the elderly women at night. It is a synergy, a network of solidarity born from the commitment and insistence of young people that have sensitised the local church on the condition of the elderly of Alta Verapaz.

So the life of the Community of Sant'Egidio of San Pedro Carcha is intertwined with the history of evangelisation of this ancient land: precisely in these mountainous areas known as “Tierra de Guerra” by the Spaniards, Bartolomé de las Casas gave his preaching a very special intonation after 1539 in the company of some brothers. He set music to the rosary with the main mysteries of the faith, he made countless conversions so as to change the name to this corner of the world into Alta Verapaz. Following in his footsteps, a group of young people of Sant'Egidio continues to protect the poor, experiencing a deep bond with Rome and so many brothers throughout the world.

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